GREEN BAY – All eyes are on the quarterback. That’s just how things work in today’s NFL. For better or for worse.
So when a two-time MVP like Aaron Rodgers goes down, the initial reaction for most is to turn the attention to the backup, Brett Hundley, when analyzing performance and production.
But when evaluating where the Packers have fallen short during their recent three-game losing streak, the locker room will be the first to say that approach tells only part of the story.
“It’s a quarterback-driven league. It’s always going to be about the quarterback,” receiver Randall Cobb said. “We win or lose, it’s going to be about the quarterback. You all are putting it on Brett right now with the losses. It’s not him. It’s us as a team. That’s the way we always look at it.
“Obviously when you have one of the greatest, if not the greatest, to ever play the game, it’s definitely going to be a lot of chatter about him not being out there.”
A day after Head Coach Mike McCarthy called for players to step up in the wake of Rodgers’ injury, Cobb and several other veterans echoed the importance of the team, as a whole, rising to the meet the challenge of replacing Rodgers.
One has to no look further than the 2013 season for perspective. It was that season when unheralded players such as Eddie Lacy, Micah Hyde and Jarrett Boykin helped soften the blow of losing Rodgers through big plays in key moments.
It wasn’t pretty at first. The Packers lost their first three games without Rodgers before Matt Flynn rallied Green Bay back to a 26-26 tie against Minnesota.
The Packers then dropped a game in Detroit on Thanksgiving before squeaking out a pair of one-point wins over Atlanta and Dallas to keep their playoff hopes alive thanks to timely contributions aiding Flynn’s efforts.
The team looks vastly different today – only 12 players remain from the 2013 squad counting Rodgers – but the idea is the same.
“We always want to help our quarterback out,” running back Aaron Jones said. “Anytime we can make it easier for him, it makes it easier for the whole team. It’s always been our goal to make things easier for Brett.”
Cobb knows it starts with himself and fellow receivers Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, the team’s three leading pass-catchers who have more than 20 NFL years of experience among them.
Cobb was responsible for the Packers’ biggest play in Monday night’s 30-17 loss to Detroit, catching a quick slant from Hundley early in the fourth quarter and taking it 46 yards downfield.
The play was a catalyst to Green Bay’s first touchdown-producing drive. Yet, Cobb wants more. The sixth-year receiver says he must do more when it comes to breaking tackles and gaining additional yards after the catch.
It’s not just the yards. It’s the momentum generated off those particular plays that can swing the balance of a game.
“We always talk about it in the receiver room. The team goes through us,” Cobb said. “When we’re able to make those big plays, I think it provides a spark for this team. Not only offensively, but throughout the entire team.”
The offense the Packers are preparing to play is a complete reversal from the one it saw Monday night. Whereas Detroit featured one of the league’s top passing attacks behind Matthew Stafford, Chicago’s offense is almost entirely built around running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
The Bears’ offense, ranked 32nd in the league, is averaging 99 fewer passing yards per game than Detroit. On the other hand, Chicago’s run game is averaging almost twice as many yards as the Lions’.
Regardless of the construction, the Packers know they have to get back to making plays and getting off the field on third down, which was an emphasis this week after the offense went 2-of-9, while the defense was only 5-of-13 against the Lions.
Green Bay remains tied for sixth in the NFL in turnover ratio (plus-five) after forcing two fumbles (one recovery) on Monday night. The Packers know they need more.
“Make plays when you’re on defense … create more turnovers so (Hundley) can have more possessions and get comfortable,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “I feel like the more he gets playing time and sees a lot different formations, the better he’ll be, but we just have to continue to get him the ball back and give him the opportunity to make more plays.”
There are eight games left in the regular season and it’s uncertain when, or if, Rodgers will be back. Until he is, it’s up to everyone on offense, defense and special teams to not only step up their level of play, but also their energy and drive.
“Man, we lost Aaron Rodgers. That’s damn near 70 percent of this team, 75 percent of this team,” Clinton-Dix said. “Not even about his play, but his leadership and the energy we get from him. Right now, I just think as a collective group, we all have to come together and find that energy that can match what 12 gave us and win ballgames. It’s that simple.”