It was the talk of many of the Packers’ offensive mates, and whether the consequence is intended or not, it will function hopefully as an effective way to avoid the potential pitfalls of preparing to play a down-on-its-luck team like Dallas that’s in considerable turmoil.
“We need to worry about ourselves, really,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “We need to go out and perform well, offensively put some yards and points on the board. We haven’t done that.”
No, they haven’t. In fact, despite two wins in a row, the Green Bay offense hasn’t scored a touchdown since midway through the third quarter of the Minnesota game in Week 7. That’s 5½ quarters, and 14 possessions, without hitting paydirt.
Granted, this recent offensive drought has come against two formidable defenses in the Vikings and the Jets. And the losses of tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Ryan Grant to season-ending injuries, as well as other players like tackle Mark Tauscher and now receiver Donald Driver missing time, have factored in. But there have been signs of struggle for several weeks now.
Posting a scoreless second half, with two turnovers (plus another in the return game), against Detroit. Going a combined 5-for-26 on third downs in back-to-back overtime losses to Washington and Miami. Getting three overtime possessions in those games and not producing a single first down.
Then the receivers and the quarterback were not on the same page against the Vikings as a handful of sideline throws sailed nowhere near catchable range. And the third-down woes resurfaced against the Jets with a 2-for-14 showing.
In short, there are plenty of issues to fix internally, on the offensive side at least, that should prevent the Packers from getting caught up in the fact that everyone externally is expecting them to simply beat the Cowboys while they’re down.
It’s not going to be that easy, not with the offense, which seemed perfectly in sync the second half of last season and through the preseason this year, performing like this. And that’s what the Packers are focused on, moreso than anything the Cowboys are or aren’t doing.
“I think the biggest thing is we’re just not executing as an offense,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “Last year we had our struggles and then we came on strong, we were able to execute when it counted. We were really on top of our game and really came out with a mindset that we couldn’t be stopped, and we executed as such, whereas this year we haven’t gotten into that rhythm and that mindset to where we’re not going to be stopped. We can all think that, but as far as performing at that level, we haven’t done that.”
Jennings and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, just like offensive coordinator Joe Philbin earlier in the week, explained that there’s plenty of blame to go around. Receivers haven’t been precise with routes on occasion or have dropped balls. The few pass-protection errors seem to come at the wrong times. The running backs have missed holes or creases for potentially bigger gains.
Rodgers acknowledged a lot falls on his shoulders as well, saying he’s not playing to his standards and must play better. He kept referring to the third downs, which are opportunities to sustain drives, leading to more plays, and hence more points.
But Rodgers wasn’t about to say there’s a quick fix in sight, or that the offense is on the edge of busting loose. The unit needs a solid, all-around performance to build upon first, and it hasn’t really clicked since scoring three straight touchdowns against still-winless Buffalo back in Week 2.
“I’d like to say we’re close, but I think it’s going to take a couple back-to-back performances where we’re playing the way we’re capable of playing before I say we’re there,” Rodgers said. “We’re not where we want to be yet.
“We’re making enough plays to win games, but there’s a standard that’s been set here with the kind of points we scored last season, the kind of production we put up, and if you compare this year to last year, obviously we’re below the standards we set last year.”
To their credit, the Packers have overcome injuries and stretches of sluggish play to get to 5-3 at the season’s halfway point. There’s something to be said for finding ways to win three times in a span of five weeks when the point differential in the fourth quarter is six or less in every single game.
That’s what the Cowboys haven’t been able to do, despite all their big names and statistics. DeMarcus Ware is one of the league’s best pass rushers, Jason Witten a top tight end, the receiving trio of Miles Austin, Roy Williams and rookie Dez Bryant as dangerous as they come.
The Cowboys are fifth in the league in total offense and fourth in passing offense, even with veteran Jon Kitna having replaced the injured Tony Romo at quarterback for the last game and a half.
“We are playing a very talented football team,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “The same message that I gave the team last Wednesday was ‘trust the film’ when we were preparing for the Jets and ‘trust your preparation.’ It’s no different this week. There is a lot of productivity on the Dallas Cowboys’ film. There are a lot of good players. Things may not have gone the right way if you want to point to their record, but we’re looking for a knockdown, drag-out game here on Sunday night.”
One in which the offense needs to begin establishing what it’s capable of from here on out.
“Hopefully we’re turning that curve and we can get this thing on the page that we were on last year the last eight games of the season,” Jennings said.
“It’s a play here, play there. Assignment here, assignment there. A little detail here, detail there. I think we all recognize it. When we watch it on film, we see it. We can talk about it all day, but if we’re not going to do what it takes to make it happen, it’s not going to get done.”
Additional coverage – Nov. 3