Mike McCarthy has gone over what he called all the “factors and characteristics” that have contributed to the offensive struggles through the first quarter of the season.
Now, it’s bottom-line time.
“The No. 1 objective is to score points,” McCarthy said. “We’re not scoring enough points.”
Never mind that the 28 points last week against the Saints easily could have been 35 had quarterback Aaron Rodgers not gotten poked in the eye and forced to leave the game with the ball on the 2-yard line.
It’s clear the offense’s performance in the first three weeks still bothers McCarthy. The Packers scored just 57 points in the first three games, an average of 19 per contest, and two touchdowns came from the special teams. That means the offense averaged barely 14 points per game in that time.
The Saints game was the first step toward turning things around, but just as the defense was saying after a lock-down, four-turnover performance against the Bears in Week 2, one game does not constitute a revival.
“Heading in the right direction, definitely,” Rodgers said earlier this week about the status of the offense. “We’ve put together a few quarters of better football. We’re still not playing exactly the way we want to. We’re a team that’s built a reputation of being very efficient.”
What Rodgers liked best about last week’s performance was the production in the red zone and on third down.
The Packers scored touchdowns on four of five trips into the red zone, the only blemish being backup QB Graham Harrell’s fumble near the goal line when Rodgers needed drops in his eyes. They also were 4-for-8 on third down, a healthy 50 percent, but even more telling was running 66 offensive plays and facing only eight third downs, an indication of the production on first and second downs.
It helped that 17 of running back Cedric Benson’s 18 carries gained three yards or more. His worst rush went for two yards, on his first carry of the day.
“Last week’s game was an opportunity not only to stay with the run game, but also Aaron did a good job with the controlled passing game, playing with favorable sticks throughout the game,” McCarthy said. “That’s something you’d like to accomplish every week.”
It’s worth watching whether Benson remains the workhorse in the backfield as third-year pro James Starks returns to health. Starks hasn’t played yet this season, but McCarthy said he’s “getting close,” and he wasn’t on the injury report this week for the first time since the regular season began. Benson, however, appears to be a back suited to a large workload rather than subbing in and out.
Starks said he’s not 100 percent over his turf toe injury, which occurred in the preseason opener in San Diego when he tried to push off with several tacklers draped on him.
If and when Starks is activated for a game, the role of the 2010 playoff hero remains undefined, and Starks admitted he’s simply playing a waiting game.
“Basically. I don’t know how (else) to describe it,” he said. “That’s what you have to do. I have to make sure I’m right. I’m sure coach is going to wait until they feel comfortable with me in there in the offense and things like that, so it’s always a waiting game.
“I’m anxious, just to get another carry out there, see what I can do, see how it feels to have contact with another team, break some tackles and help my team win a little bit.”
Another possible new face arriving soon is that of defensive end Mike Neal, who returned from his four-game suspension this week but has yet to be put on the active roster. The Packers would have to do so by 3 p.m. Saturday if they want Neal active for the game. Otherwise, they have until 3 p.m. Monday, when the one-week roster exemption expires.
“We haven’t made any decision yet on Mike Neal,” McCarthy said. “We need to have more conversations.” Additional coverage - Oct. 5