GREEN BAY – It wasn’t a normal week, so it wasn’t a normal game, either.
Mike McCarthy and his Packers did what they had to Thursday night. The funny thing was, the spread-’em-out, throw-it-short-here, downfield-there attack actually turned into a helluva ball-control offense.
As Green Bay’s defense was surrendering little and quarterback Aaron Rodgers was finding a groove, the Packers ran a whopping 81 plays to the Bears’ 45 and rolled up a nearly 20-minute time of possession edge (39:36 to 20:24) in a 26-10 victory over Chicago.
Whatever it takes, right?
“You do what you have to do and play how you have to play,” McCarthy said.
Added Rodgers: “To throw the ball 56 times and still have an overwhelming advantage in time of possession is probably rare I would say. We really feel good about that.”
They should, because the execution was impressive, and once the Bears’ banged-up secondary was on its heels, there was no reason to shift gears.
The tactics were born out of necessity. In the absence of Eddie Lacy and James Starks, the Packers were without a traditional running back to take the reins. Knile Davis had just arrived in Green Bay on Tuesday morning, and former practice-squad member Don Jackson exited early with a hand injury.
Judging by the early looks, neither was going to have a big role against Chicago anyway. McCarthy gave Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb a combined 14 carries out of the backfield to keep the Bears somewhat honest, but the better matchups were on the perimeter, and the Packers had to keep attacking.
“The challenge is for the line, to ask them to block for 58, 59 dropbacks tonight, that’s putting a lot of stress on them,” Rodgers said. “I’m proud of T.J. (Lang) fighting through injury. We like our depth there, but when those five guys are playing together, they’ve been playing really, really well.”
Lang left briefly with a hip injury but soon returned. Rodgers was sacked just twice in setting a franchise single-game record for completions with 39.
Rodgers got an energetic thumbs-up from the previously concussed Davante Adams before the game, and the all-purpose role of Montgomery’s that was in its infancy last week vs. Dallas continued to mature.
Jordy Nelson caught just one pass for 9 yards, but when the trio of Adams, Cobb and Montgomery is catching 34 for 293 yards and three scores, no one’s complaining.
The Packers haven’t employed this many five-receiver sets since 2011. Chances are they’re going to use them more than they ever thought after a training camp and preseason that focused on pounding the run game, but stuff happens. Plans change.
“This is how we’re going to have to play for a little bit until we get Knile up to speed and Don up to speed,” Rodgers said.
And maybe even after that, though Starks could be back sometime next month. Lacy won’t be, though, and McCarthy made no promises he could return after his minimum eight weeks on injured reserve.
The opponent will always factor into the offensive approach, so there’s no telling if Rodgers is really headed for more 50-plus passing games. Maybe this was truly a preview of what’s to come, even if it became a statistical extreme because the Bears were so thoroughly dominated.
Or maybe with more options at their disposal, the Packers become a backfield-by-committee team that rides the hot hand when there is one.
Either way, as currently constructed, it’s hard to picture the Packers’ offense returning fully to McCarthy’s preseason power-running vision anytime soon, because no one can really replace Lacy.
To steal McCarthy’s words, you play how you have to play. Thursday night was mission accomplished, and the quarterback sure looked like he was having fun.
“It’s fun to win,” Rodgers said. “Whatever you have to do to win.”
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