All but the finish for Packers' offense
October, 6, 2013
By Rob Demovsky | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Jeffrey PhelpsThis 83-yard TD catch by James Jones was the only Green Bay drive that finished in the end zone.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- About an hour after the Green Bay Packers finished off Sunday’s 22-9 victory against the Detroit Lions, coach Mike McCarthy went for a stroll across Lambeau Field.
With everyone from the record crowd of 78,200 already gone, McCarthy and a young girl -- likely one of his daughters -- walked the entire length of the field.
That’s something his offense had trouble pulling off most of the afternoon.
That’s not to say the Packers didn’t have their moments of greatness -- and we’ll get to those in due time -- but there’s a problematic trend developing with McCarthy’s offense: it has failed to finish too many drives this season.
Against a Lions team that was punchless without star receiver Calvin Johnson, the Packers lacked finishing power themselves. They failed to score touchdowns on both of their trips inside the Lions’ 20-yard line. After converting all three of their red-zone drives into touchdowns in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers have reached the end zone on just five of their past 12 trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard line.
“Our red-zone production is definitely not where we want it to be,” McCarthy said during his postgame news conference. “Anytime you kick five field goals, that’s an obvious statistic.”
At least Mason Crosby, who struggled last season to a league-low 63.6 percent conversion rate, made all five of them, including a season-long 52-yarder.
The lone touchdown -- a spectacular one at that -- was an 83-yard bomb in the third quarter from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to receiver James Jones, who smoked Lions cornerback Chris Houston for the longest reception of his career.
But against a team with more firepower than the Lions showed on Sunday, one touchdown drive might not be enough.
“It’s something we’ve got to tighten up,” said Rodgers, who bounced back from a poor performance in the Week 3 loss at Cincinnati by completing 20-of-30 passes for 274 yards and no turnovers against the Lions. “We need to convert, but it’s a real good defense there, very stout up front. We had some opportunities to convert and didn’t, so we need to go back and look at that and figure out the best plays we can call down there and execute them, obviously, a little better.”
The entire red-zone story can be summed up in one drive. In the first quarter on Sunday, the Packers plodded their way through 15 plays and held the ball for seven minutes and 50 seconds -- both season highs -- yet came away with only three points.
“It’s not very satisfying when you have a 15-play drive to start off the game and have to settle for three,” Packers right guard T.J. Lang said.
To be sure, the offense was not bereft of stellar plays and important moments.
Running back Eddie Lacy came up 1 yard short of giving the Packers their third different 100-yard running back in as many games following James Starks' 132 yards against Washington and Johnathan Franklin's 103 yards against the Bengals. In his finest performance to date, the rookie rushed for 99 yards on 23 carries. He might have reached the century mark had McCarthy elected to give the ball to his bruising halfback on either of the third-and-1 plays they failed to convert.
The running game accounted for 180 yards -- two short of the season high -- thanks in part to a spectacular, 67-yard rush by receiver Randall Cobb on a third-quarter handoff out of the shotgun. Cobb’s run took the Packers down to the Lions’ 11-yard line, where, of course, the drive went no further.
The offensive line kept Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh off Rodgers, who was sacked just once.
Receiver Jordy Nelson made another improbable toe-tapping sideline catch for a 31-yard gain that was reminiscent of the 37-yard sideline grab he made in the opener against the 49ers. That drive, of course, ended in another field goal.
And Jones nearly had a second touchdown catch, a 27-yarder in the fourth quarter that replay overturned because he did not have control with two feet in bounds, so -- you guessed it -- the Packers settled for another field goal.
This is a new problem for the Packers, who last season ranked third in the NFL in red-zone touchdown efficiency at 68.1 percent, which was the team’s highest rate of production since 1995.
“That’s kind of been something that’s been a theme this year,” left guard Josh Sitton said. “We’ve been driving the ball and not finishing all the drives. That’s something we really need to look at and make those corrections, something we need to focus on. The coaches always do a good job of self-scouting and seeing what’s productive and what’s not productive, so that’ll be something I’m sure will be a topic of this week.”