LAS VEGAS — If there’s anyone in Green Bay who will truly tell it how it is in front of a microphone, it’s team president Mark Murphy.
After the Packers’ annual shareholders meeting in late July before the start of training camp, he said at the podium inside Lambeau Field that Green Bay’s defense would probably have to carry the team for the first part of the season.
The Packers’ young offense has shown up in spurts through five games, but at no time has Murphy’s sentiment rung more true than on Monday night against the Raiders.
The Packers lost, 17-13. The offense was abysmal. Green Bay scored three or fewer points in the first half for the third consecutive game. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s the first time the Packers have done that in the same regular season since December 1990.
Quarterback Jordan Love threw three interceptions. One turned into three Raiders points late in the second quarter when he didn’t see linebacker Robert Spillane and threw it right to him at Green Bay’s 31-yard line. One ended a Packers drive inside Raiders territory on second down early in the fourth quarter when Love forced a pass to wideout Christian Watson and it got tipped and picked. The third interception sealed the game on third down with less than a minute remaining on an underthrown ball to Watson in the end zone.
First-team All-Pro kicker Daniel Carlson even hit the right upright with 1:56 remaining to keep the Raiders’ lead at four, gifting the Packers a chance to somehow win the game with the ball at their own 42-yard line and one timeout. They even botched opening the present.
“I think at this point it’s pretty obvious that the defense has to not give up any touchdowns,” cornerback Jaire Alexander said. “I think that’s the part of being self-critical of our defense because the offense is pretty young and they’re still figuring out their mojo, so the defense, we gotta do more to score and stop them from scoring.”
That’s where the Packers are at. One of their best defensive players is publicly saying that they can’t allow any touchdowns in order to win games because the offense is struggling so much. Alexander isn’t too far off from reality, either.
The Packers had 10 days between a Thursday night embarrassment against the Lions and Monday night’s visit to Sin City to rectify its first-half offensive struggles, but instead, they turned in another sinful performance.
“Obviously searching for a little bit of answers right now,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “I think this week will give us an opportunity to kind of go back and — you know, I thought we did that over the mini-bye — but we’ve got to find something to get us going, to jumpstart us.”
Spillane intercepts Love on the first play of the drive!
— NFL (@NFL) October 10, 2023
The Packers’ most dynamic offensive player, running back Aaron Jones, didn’t play again on Monday. After missing Weeks 2 and 3 because of a hamstring injury suffered on his 35-yard touchdown catch against the Bears in Week 1, Jones returned to play 20 snaps against the Lions. Then last Saturday, Jones didn’t feel right and the training staff, LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst decided not to risk it with Jones given how many games the Packers have left.
Sure, A.J. Dillon ran the ball better on Monday night than he had all season, but he still doesn’t pose the multi-dimensional threat that Jones does. Even so, the offense shouldn’t be this bad without just one player. And who knows how much of a difference Jones will even make against teams not named the Chicago Bears?
Maybe these are just the growing pains of a team finding their groove on offense after such drastic change on that side of the ball, but the Raiders are not a good football team. Their defense ranked No. 23 in scoring entering Monday night, allowing 25.3 points per game. The Packers barely managed half that. With two Las Vegas starting defensive backs out, the Packers’ longest completion to a wide receiver in the first half went for seven yards.
The only completion to a wide receiver of more than 10 yards came when the Raiders forgot to cover Watson and he pranced 77 yards downfield before cornerback Marcus Peters dragged him down with a horse collar tackle. The illegal move turned out to be the play of the game because while giving the Packers a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line, it prevented a touchdown and the Packers settled for a field goal on the drive.
“I don’t even think I should be in that position,” Watson said. “I should be able to outrun him at that point. I’ve just got to be faster.”
Speaking of Watson, whose connection with Love on deep balls left plenty to be desired, the second-year receiver playing his first game of the year not on limited snaps had one bomb go through his hands early in the fourth quarter. He had another fall in front of him toward the middle of the field late in the fourth (“I’ve got to find a way to track it a little bit quicker so I can adjust to it a little bit quicker,” Watson said) and the game-ender picked off in front of him by cornerback Amik Robertson on third down in the end zone. Watson said he needed to find a way to break it up despite Love taking the blame for underthrowing it after feeling Watson had Robertson beaten.
“I think my number was called way too many times tonight for the amount of plays I made,” Watson said. “I’ve got to make some more plays.”
— NFL (@NFL) October 10, 2023
“I thought that there was some opportunity there,” LaFleur said of the lack of connection on deep balls to Watson. “Christian, he gives you everything he has every time out there. I just think there’s a tendency for wideouts — I think you see it in a lot of younger wideouts — when they look back for the ball, you’ve got to really accentuate your arm movement so you don’t slow down. And I think that is one thing that a lot of our guys need to continue to work on. We’ve got to do a better job of coaching that, stressing that and put those guys in position. But I don’t think it’s a lack of fight after the ball. I just think there’s some things that we can do better to maybe come up and come down with some of those big shots down the field.”
LaFleur said the Packers probably should’ve stuck with the run more. How many times have we heard him say something like that? After the game is too late to lament something you wish you would’ve done during it. In the same category of such regrets, how about covering Davante Adams with outside linebacker Preston Smith in the slot?
With 2:38 left in the third quarter and the Raiders trailing by three, facing a second-and-10 from the Packers’ 37-yard line, Green Bay’s 265-pound edge rusher lined up opposite arguably the NFL’s best wide receiver. To nobody’s surprise, Adams cooked Smith with a stutter step and slant for about as easy of a 21-yard gain as you’ll see. The Raiders took a lead they didn’t relinquish four plays later.
“That’s happened a lot when Davante was playing for us,” LaFleur said. “You put a receiver in the slot. You’ve got five bigs on the field and a lot of times that backer has to walk and you’re playing quarters coverage and that’s what happens. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s obviously not the most advantageous for us. Whether we can get a check and get out of that look for us, but credit to them. They schemed it up. They knew what to do when we put that personnel in the game … obviously want to have better answers than that.”
Davante Adams 1v1 vs. Preston Smith
— NFL (@NFL) October 10, 2023
The bottom line is this: the Packers have far more questions than answers right now. How do they show any signs of offensive life in first halves? Can the defense actually be consistent enough to singlehandedly give the team a fighting chance while the offense finds its mojo? Is it even a surefire “yes” that Love is the long-term answer at quarterback?
Green Bay’s only touchdown on Monday night came after safety Rudy Ford intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo and the Packers started their drive at Las Vegas’ 37-yard line. And it came after Dillon ran six times in eight plays, including on the final five plays of the scoring drive. The passing game, in particular, was nowhere to be found, which was quite the inopportune timing while the running game finally emerged after some time in hibernation.
The Packers seem to think they might be able to find potential solutions for their offensive woes during the upcoming bye week, but why should they believe that if they couldn’t find any in their week and a half since they last played?
“It’s a good break,” Love said. “I think we’ll just all come together and bounce back. That’s how it goes. It’s week to week. We’ve got to find a way to bounce back. Obviously, like you said, we didn’t this week. Now it’s onto the next week.”
For as bad as the Packers’ offense was throughout the first 58 minutes of the game, it still had a chance after Carlson’s rare miss from 52 yards. Defensive tackle Kenny Clark said he thought the Packers were going to win at that moment because he has full confidence in the offense. Both its own defense and the Raiders, in their inability to pull away, were begging Green Bay to extend an arm to the life raft.
Instead, the Packers drowned. Back-to-back drops by Romeo Doubs and Luke Musgrave preceded the underthrown ball in the end zone to Watson and that was all she wrote.
Murphy might’ve been right. If the last three games are any indication of what to expect from the offense for the remainder of the first half and even beyond, the defense is going to have to carry the team. Maybe even keep opponents out of the end zone entirely, as Alexander suggested.
Anything short of that and this could be a treacherous season in Green Bay, and the defense has done nothing to convince anyone it can repeatedly will this team to wins. Buckle up for a long winter, folks, because reality is setting in that this team simply might not be very good.
(Top photo: Ian Maule / Getty Images)
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