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Remain calm? Packers must

By By Jason Wilde
Published On: Oct 08 2012 08:16:22 PM CDT
Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -

Mike McCarthy certainly wasn’t channeling his inner Animal House Kevin Bacon Monday. There was no Remain calm! All is well! All is well! coming from the Green Bay Packers head coach in the wake of Sunday’s 30-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

But beyond saying that his team must improve the quality of its practices pronto, McCarthy certainly did not sound like a man panicking about his team’s 2-3 record or the fact that all three of the Packers’ phases are in some form of trouble after the loss.

Their once powerful offense looks nothing like it did in 2011. Their defense is starting to look entirely too much like last year’s group. And their otherwise solid special teams group is asking why its previously reliable, strong-legged kicker Mason Crosby missed a pair of 50-yard field goals – including a potentially game-tying 51-yarder with 3 seconds left in the game – after being virtually automatic before Sunday.

It all adds up to the Packers being below .500 at this point in the season for the third time in McCarthy’s seven-year tenure. When it happened in McCarthy’s first season of 2006, the team needed a four-game winning streak to end the year at 8-8. When it happened in 2008 in Aaron Rodgers’ first season as the team’s starting quarterback, the Packers made it to 5-5 before a five-game losing streak led to a 6-10 finish. Those are the only two years the Packers have missed the playoffs on McCarthy’s watch.

On top of it all, the Packers' next game is against the Houston Texans, who took a perfect 4-0 record into their Monday night game at the New York Jets. The Packers play at Houston next Sunday night, the second of three consecutive games away from Lambeau Field.

“We’re a focused football team; we’re just not playing to the level that we want to play at right now,” said McCarthy, whose team reeled off 19 consecutive victories – six straight en route to the Super Bowl XLV title and 13 in a row to open last season – but has now lost 5 of its last nine dating back to last season. “That’s what we have to stay focused on. We have to stay focused on our habits, our discipline, our preparation, the process leading up to Sunday night.”

Compounding problems: Injuries to Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings, who missed Sunday’s loss with a lingering groin injury; workhorse running back Cedric Benson, who left Sunday’s game with a sprained foot; tight end Jermichael Finley, who suffered a shoulder injury against the Colts; and defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who suffered a sprained ankle in Indianapolis. McCarthy ruled Benson out for this week’s game while saying that Raji and Finley “have a chance” to play against the Texans.

But injuries are only part of the problem. On offense, Rodgers isn’t playing up to the 45-touchdown, six-interception, 122.5-passer rating standard he set last season when he was named the NFL MVP. He enters Sunday night’s game having completed 130 of 189 passes (68.8 percent) for 1,307 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions (a 2.1 percent interception rate) with 21 sacks for a passer rating of 97.0.

Last season, the Packers scored 560 points, the second-most in NFL history and an average of 35 points per game. Through five games, the Packers have scored only 112 points this season, an average of 22.5 per game – with two of their touchdowns coming on special-teams plays.

“It’s never the same from year to year,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t have rhythm coming out of training camp, we haven’t established it consistently through five games. That’s where we are.”

Asked about the team’s offensive struggles in Sunday’s loss, Rodgers replied, ““We just didn't make any plays. (The Colts) got a little more pressure in the second half. We turned the ball over and got them into a two-score game and then they kind of got back mentally into the game. And then we couldn't put any points on the board to put them away."

On defense, the unit that gave up the most yards in the NFL last season and set an NFL record for most passing yards allowed continues to give up huge swaths of yardage. One week after giving up 474 yards to the New Orleans Saints, the defense gave up 464 yards to rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts on Sunday.

The difference on defense is that the NFL’s most proficient turnover-producing team is no longer taking the ball away. Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward’s interception on a Luck pass intended for Reggie Wayne was just the fifth takeaway on the season for the Packers, who entered the weekend with the most takeaways (114) of any team in the league since defensive coordinator Dom Capers took over in 2009.

Last season, the Packers led the NFL with 31 interceptions and tied for the league lead with 38 total takeaways; this year, there have been entirely too many turnovers that didn’t happen because of officials’ calls, dropped interceptions or penalties that nullified takeaways.

“It’s a big difference because as we all know turnovers have such a deciding factor on the games,” Capers said Monday. “When you’re getting them, you’re stealing two or three opportunities and you’re talking about a game where there were 15 possessions (by the Colts offense). If you can get three or four takeaways and you get that down to 12 or 11 possessions, it makes a big difference.”

And while McCarthy praised the special teams units – “They’ve clearly been the bright spot from a performance standpoint of our football team this year,” he said – Crosby’s misses Sunday spelled doom.

Last season, Crosby was an impressive 24 of 28 and made the second game-winning kick of his NFL career on Dec. 4, connecting from 31 yards out as time expired to give the Packers a 38-35 victory over the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants. His first-game winner had been a 42-yarder against Philadelphia in his NFL debut on Sept. 9, 2007.

In between those two kicks, Crosby had missed three potentially game-winning kicks: A 52-yarder with 26 seconds left at Minnesota on Nov. 9, 2008; a blocked 38-yarder with 25 seconds left at Chicago on Dec. 22, 2008; and a 53-yarder with 7 seconds left in regulation in a tie game at Washington on Oct. 10, 2010.

Then came Sunday, when with 8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Crosby hooked a 51-yard attempt that would have forced overtime.

“I would say this: I would expect him to step up and make that kick,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. “He needs to help our team in that situation, (given) where that game was at, at that time. Obviously to go to overtime, he needs to make that kick.”

But despite all their issues, McCarthy described his team as “confident, disappointed” while acknowledging the “contradiction there.”

“We’ve got to win the next one. We’ve put ourselves in a hole,” veteran safety/cornerback Charles Woodson said. “The only thing you can hang your hat on is that it’s still early in the season and you’ve got a long way to go.” 

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