GREEN BAY – One total was 181. Another was seven. The first was fantastic, the second not nearly enough.
The numbers represent the Packers’ rushing yards in Sunday’s loss to the Saints, and how many times Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Martellus Bennett got their hands on the football.
When it came to reviewing the offensive performance, that discrepancy was something Head Coach Mike McCarthy was focused on. The big first number should have led to a much bigger second number, but it didn’t, and the Packers must capitalize on that moving forward with new quarterback Brett Hundley.
“When you call a football game, you have to get the ball to your playmakers, and we didn’t get that done yesterday,” McCarthy said on Monday just after dismissing his team for the bye week. “Jordy Nelson, Davante, Marty, Randall Cobb. Those guys have to touch the ball.
“How many times have we run for 180-plus yards? Not very often. You’re supposed to win those games. We have a lot to build off of.”
The building will continue with Hundley, who McCarthy remains confident will play better, particularly if rookie running back Aaron Jones can repeat his 17-carry, 131-yard rushing performance.
McCarthy laid out numerous factors behind Hundley’s struggles in going 12-of-25 for just 83 yards through the air.
Two failed third-and-ones in the first half, both coming on the heels of the defense’s two interceptions, contributed to Hundley only getting 50 snaps by game’s end. His “time clock and timing” were not sharp in the drop-back passing game. It was better off play-action, but McCarthy said there were a couple of protection breakdowns on those plays. Finding out on Friday that right tackle Bryan Bulaga would play but left guard Lane Taylor would not, the exact opposite of what the coaches planned for early in the week, led to some last-minute adjustments as well.
Those are the issues McCarthy is focused on, not the swirling suggestions or criticisms that the game plan was supposedly too conservative and didn’t allow Hundley the opportunity to make enough plays.
That said, there will be a process to Hundley’s in-game development.
“Was the game plan as big as it was the week before (with Aaron Rodgers)? Absolutely not,” McCarthy said. “And frankly, it’s going to get smaller. We need to be more creative.
“I feel the same way today as I did going into the week. I know this young man. I believe in him. That’s the direction we’re going.”
There’s plenty to clean up elsewhere, too. Four of the Packers’ eight accepted penalties occurred on special teams.
Also, because of players going in and out of the lineup during the game due to injuries, the Packers continue to have substitution problems on defense.
Once it cost them an early timeout, and another time only 10 defenders were on the field for Mark Ingram’s way-too-easy 12-yard TD run on third-and-1.
“It’s been excessive,” McCarthy said of the changing sub patterns and communication miscues. “Clearly not good enough.”
The loss of all-everything safety Morgan Burnett due to a hamstring injury the last two games hasn’t helped. If the defense has a glue guy from a communication and leadership standpoint, it’s Burnett, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers suggested his absence could be hindering the playmaking abilities of 2016 Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the back end as well.
At the same time, the play of tackling leader Blake Martinez and interception leader Damarious Randall, with three interceptions in the last three games, has been elevated. Rookie punter Justin Vogel had another field-flipping 60-yard boot.
The inconsistency in all phases can be maddening, but the most disheartening thing to McCarthy is seeing his team sharpen up some poor practice habits without getting the results in the game.
“We haven’t been very good the last two weeks. I told them before the Minnesota game they’re not practicing the right way, and this thing is going to bite us and we have to get on top of it,” McCarthy said. “We had a very good week of practice. We actually had our best week of practice. It happens. The Saints played a very good second half. We didn’t. So we’re not going to overreact to it, but we’re going to get better from it.
“We have to improve. You have to win your home games. To have opportunities and not take advantage of them, that second half of football, we have to be much, much better than that.”