Week 4 Fixes
[Note - this article originally appeared on Bleacher Report on September 25, 2012.]
Few would have predicted this weekend's matchup of two of the last three Super Bowl winners would feature a combined record of 1-5, but that's what fans will see this Sunday at Lambeau Field, when the 1-2 Green Bay Packers host the 0-3 New Orleans Saints.
Both teams share plenty of question marks on both sides of the ball, but Green Bay's offensive struggles are particularly alarming for a team that was virtually unstoppable on that side of the ball last year.
But when you've lost two thirds of your games in a young season, you can hardly limit the question to one particular unit. Bad calls aside, Green Bay's defense didn't get it done when it counted Monday night. A sack, a batted ball or a dead-to-rights interception would have prevented a lot of heartache for Packer Nation.
What, then, needs to be done? Here are four things the Packers can do to get back on track for Week 4.
1. Figure out Jermichael Finley
Nobody denies that Jermichael Finley is big, fast and athletic. Those attributes create serious matchup problems whenever he steps on the field, and despite battling a severe, recurring case of stone hands, Finley has been able to snag 15 passes through three games. The question, though, is how Finley is being used.
With the Packers facing consistent deep safety coverage, it seems logical to use Finley's athleticism against slower, shorter linebackers underneath. But Finley continues to spend a lot of his time split wide as a receiver. The size disparity between Finley and most cornerbacks may be something of an advantage, but any advantage would seem to be negated by the consistent deep coverage from opposing secondaries.
Although he's admittedly not the most dependable receiver, deciding how Finley is to be used and sticking with it could stabilize at least a part of the Packers' passing attack.
2. Believe in the Run Game
The final numbers were relatively pedestrian, but during Green Bay's third quarter resurgence Monday night, Cedric Benson picked up 48 yards on 10 carries—a healthy 4.8 yards per carry average. Could Benson have done more in the first half? We'll never know, but he certainly didn't get much of an opportunity.
For a guy who preaches commitment to the run game, Mike McCarthy showed remarkable reluctance to utilize it in the first half of Monday's game. He called runs on just two of Green Bay's 29 offensive plays in the first half.
It's not like Seattle was just running away with the game, necessitating a steady diet of pass plays to play catch up. Sure, Green Bay faced a lot of long yardage situations, but some of those may have been avoided with a bit more of an effort to even try a run now and then.
Now that the "beat Green Bay" blueprint has been well-established by three of the Packers' last four opponents, it could be time to try something new. A bit more effort in establishing an effective, consistent run game may be that something.
3. Stop, or at Least Slow, the Opposing Run Game
If you head over to the "Team Stats" page on NFL.com, you may be surprised to see the Green Bay Packers sitting comfortably in the Top Five in several defensive categories, including scoring, total yardage and passing yards surrendered per game.
But the Packers also have the dubious distinction of sitting near the bottom of the league in rush defense, surrendering 4.8 yards per carry—the fourth worst average in the league. Regardless of how good the rest of the defense is, it gets really difficult to get off the field when you can't slow down the opposing run game.
Sacks are nice and interceptions are fun, but it always seems a little more difficult to establish an identity as a strong defense when you're getting gashed for nearly five yards every time the opposing team tries to run.
4. Keep Aaron Rodgers Upright
This should probably go without saying, but it's really hard for Aaron Rodgers to put up MVP caliber numbers when he's laying on his back. Just as a quick review, Rodgers' passer rating is 35.5 points lower than last season, he's on pace for almost 30 fewer touchdowns and his yards per attempt have fallen to career-low levels.
Obviously, a multitude of factors go into the poor offensive output, but it's hard to believe anything is playing a bigger factor right now than the simple fact that the Green Bay Packers simply can't protect their franchise quarterback.
It's worth noting that the Packers have faced some stellar defenses in the first three weeks of the season, but things aren't getting a lot easier from here on out. New Orleans may be 0-3, but they've got their share of quality players on defense. Houston is a top-five defense, and even St. Louis is much improved this year under the guidance of Jeff Fisher. Indianapolis is the worst of the next four opponents, but at this point it's difficult to assume that the Packer offense is going to go out and score points against any defense.
Whether it's keeping a tight end, a running back or both in to block, the Packers must do whatever it takes to keep Rodgers on his feet and throwing.