If there were ever a game the Packers could use a fast start, it might be Monday night.
Heading into Seattle’s noisy CenturyLink Field, the Packers have yet to score a first-quarter point through two weeks of the season. Another sluggish beginning offensively could play right into the hands of both an aggressive defense and a boisterous crowd.
“They’re one of the louder environments in the league, and they thrive off that ability to get that extra half step off the ball,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It’s going to be important for us to find some rhythm early, get the lead, and get them out of it a little bit.”
On Thursday, Rodgers wasn’t letting anyone disrupt his rhythm. He dismissed the line of questions about his leadership – which stemmed from outside Twitter comments from Jermichael Finley’s agent following Rodgers’ on-field discussion with receiver James Jones after an interception last Thursday – as “silly,” and Head Coach Mike McCarthy referred to the comments as “ignorant.”
Rodgers added that he’s “comfortable” with his leadership style, and several teammates backed him up on that.
What he isn’t accustomed to is the offense sputtering out of the gate. Last year, the Packers were held scoreless in the first quarter only four times, and six times the Packers were in double figures in points by the end of the opening period.
This year, three promising first-quarter drives have died in enemy territory, so it’s not as though the Packers haven’t moved the chains. There’s just been nothing to show for those efforts.
“We’ve been moving the ball early in games in our no-huddle. We just seem to stall out after about 40, 50 yards,” left guard T.J. Lang said. “We just have to find a way to finish those drives, getting the ball in the red zone and getting the ball in the end zone.
“It’s our goal every week to start fast. We haven’t done that, yet, but we know it’s going to come around if we keep working at it.”
The Packers have been practicing this week with crowd noise, which is standard operating procedure prior to a road game, but it takes on added importance heading to Seattle for the team’s first road game in a full month. The last road trip was to Cincinnati for the third preseason game on Aug. 23.
McCarthy said Seattle has one of the top home-field advantages in the league because of the noise, and Rodgers ranked CenturyLink with Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium as one of the loudest outdoor venues in the league. Rodgers added that it’s not as “hostile” as Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, but he called it an “intelligent crowd.”
“They’re going to be loud all the way until the end,” Rodgers said.
If that’s the case, a fast start will only go so far. The other counter to crowd noise is the big play, which the Packers also have been lacking thus far.
Both San Francisco and Chicago defended the Packers with two deep safeties, determined to take away the big play, and it worked. The Niners allowed a 49-yard pass to Jones and a 28-yarder to Jordy Nelson, but nothing else longer than 16 yards. Aside from the fake field goal, the Bears allowed a 26-yard TD pass to Donald Driver, a 26-yard pass to Nelson and a 28-yard run by Randall Cobb, but nothing else too damaging.
Getting fully healthy at receiver would help, but one of the Packers’ top big-play guys, receiver Greg Jennings, missed practice on Thursday due to his groin injury. McCarthy said Jennings’ rehab session on Tuesday didn’t go as well as he’d hoped, but he’s going to see how the rest of the week goes.
The statistics indicate the offense is waiting to explode. The Packers are averaging just 10.4 yards per reception in 2012 compared to 13.7 for all of 2011. Last year’s lofty number was the highest by a Green Bay team since 1983 (15.1), so it would be unfair to call that the standard, but the team’s yards per catch haven’t been below 12 since Rodgers’ first season as a starter in 2008.
Patience shall remain a virtue, however.
“We understand if we keep doing the small things right, the big plays are going to follow,” Lang said. “We played two tough opponents in the first two weeks, and this week is no different, but I don’t think we ever call a play saying this is going to be a touchdown. We just have to wait for it. We have to let it open and take the chunks they’re giving us.” Additional coverage - Sept. 20