GREEN BAY – A Packers offense that has been up and down this season is entering the bye week on a very up-and-down game.
The up was scoring five times in nine possessions (excluding the game-ending kneel-down), producing 27 points in the victory over the Chargers. The down was the other four possessions were all three-and-outs, leading to just 49 total plays.
“We did have some lulls,” Associate Head Coach/Offense Tom Clements said on Monday. “They were partially due to our execution and partially to the defense’s execution.
“We told the team going in, ‘They possess the ball. That’s their MO, so we have to make each of our series count.’ We did a decent job of that, but you don’t like the three-and-outs.”
The primary culprit would appear to be third down. Going 3-for-9 on Sunday marked the third straight game the Packers converted one-third of the time or less on third down, though the team’s season ranking of 19th in the league in that category isn’t disastrous.
“We just need to be a little more consistent in situational football, that’s really the bottom line,” Offensive Coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “Our guys understand that.
“Our expectations were not met last night, but we know the areas we need to improve on, we know how to go about improving. When the guys come back we’ll roll up our sleeves and make the adjustments.”
The bye should help the offense get healthy physically. Receiver Davante Adams is a good bet to return from his ankle injury, while position mates Randall Cobb (shoulder) and James Jones (hamstring) have been playing nicked up. T.J. Lang (knee) and Bryan Bulaga (knee) have done the same on the offensive line.
Running back Eddie Lacy has not been on the injury report, but both Head Coach Mike McCarthy and Bennett referred to him as “banged up.” McCarthy had no regrets that Lacy got only four carries on Sunday compared to James Starks’ 10, noting that Starks getting the ball on the first play of the game was a nod to his strong play of late.
“We want to be a 1-2 punch,” McCarthy said. “Running back is an extremely punishing position. They take a lot of hits. You have to be conscientious of that, and Eddie has a bruising running style.”
Assuming Lacy heals up, McCarthy suggested his workload moving forward could mirror last year’s. In 2014, Lacy carried the ball more than 14 times just once in the first 10 games. Over the final eight games (including playoffs), he had 15 or more rushes seven times.
Meanwhile, Starks is ready and willing to play any role he’s asked. He topped 100 rushing yards in a game for the first time in over two years on Sunday, chalking up a new career-long run with his 65-yard TD in the first quarter.
“It starts with him being a really good teammate,” Bennett said of Starks, whose first position coach as a rookie in 2010 was Bennett. “He puts the team first and that’s what it takes in order to win championships.”
It also takes solid special teams, and the Packers are in a better place now than they were last year. Of the four core units (punt return and coverage, kickoff return and coverage), only one is ranked lower than 13th in the league. Ironically, it’s punt return, which was the team’s best unit a year ago.
“I think we’ve made some progress,” Special Teams Coordinator Ron Zook said. “The young guys are getting a feel for it. I still think we have a long ways to go.”
Receiver Jared Abbrederis acquitted himself well on his one kickoff return in place of the injured Ty Montgomery (ankle), taking the second-half kickoff back 30 yards to the Green Bay 40. The Chargers later pooch-kicked, and lineman JC Tretter fielded it safely and cleanly.
Fellow receiver Jeff Janis nearly made the biggest special teams play of the season, but he just missed blocking a Mike Scifres punt. With his arm, he hit Scifres’ leg rather than the ball, but he wasn’t flagged because the officials ruled he was blocked into the punter.
“He came to the sideline and said, ‘They’re calling my number out,’” Zook said of Janis. “I said, ‘That’s good. That means you’ve got their attention.’
“We’d like to move him around and get him to places he can do some things, to free him up or use him to free somebody else up.”