Week 11: Redskins Soar Past Packers in Primetime
Jon: It was a very ugly week for the Green Bay Packers. On November 13th, the Packers lose on the road against the Tennessee Titans. The next day, Mike McCarthy gives his infamous “I’m a highly successful NFL coach” press conference. Those could have been words that were printed on his tombstone as a head coach had a few other things gone differently.
That occupied the media cycle for a couple days in the Packers world, but not for the entire week, because on November 18th we get the official start of the “does Aaron Rodgers have family problems?” storyline. That was started by an article written by Ty Dunne – formerly of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and now with Bleacher Report. You can debate the merits of that article, but it did affect the storyline surrounding the Packers for the better half of the second half of the season.
As for the actual game, it seems to be a winnable one for the Packers, as good as the Redskins have been playing. Washington comes in at 5-3-1, having beaten the still-formidable Vikings the previous week. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is playing very good football, his passer rating is over 100 in four of the last seven games, and he’s completing 68% of his passes over that stretch.
Washington’s defense isn’t stellar, or even that good. It seems like if Aaron Rodgers is his normal Aaron Rodgers self, we could have a primetime shootout in Washington. Also, look at this. Ted Thompson’s making some moves before the game. Running back Christine Michael is claimed on waivers, but is ultimately inactive for the Sunday night contest.
Green Bay’s defense collapses as Cousins and Kelley go wild
Gary: The last two weeks, the Packers have fallen behind early. After a Titans game that felt over by the end of the first quarter, it’s a different story in primetime against the Redskins. Washington scores first, as Kirk Cousins throws a 17-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson with 3 minutes left in the first quarter.
By the second quarter, the Packers offense starts scoring points. Aaron Rodgers finds Jordy Nelson for a 13-yard touchdown in the face of pressure from Washington’s Su'a Cravens, and Green Bay even takes a brief 10-7 lead after Mason Crosby’s 36-yard field goal with 4 minutes left in the half.
Mike McCarthy’s end-of-half clock management goes awry, as the coach calls a timeout with 2:39 left after a three yard loss on first down from the Redskins 25. Two plays later, Cousins connects with tight end Jordan Reed for 26 yards and Rob Kelley scores on a 10 yard run with 39 seconds left in the half.
In the second half, the Packers cornerbacks were exposed. Jamison Crowder zooms past Quinten Rollins for a 44-yard touchdown, and Pierre Garcon blows past Ladarius Gunter on a 70-yard score in the fourth quarter. The Packers have now allowed 11 touchdowns on throws of 15 or more yards down the field, the most in the NFL.
Kirk Cousins avenges a mediocre performance in last year’s Wild Card round with a supremely efficient 375 yards and 3 touchdowns alongside completing a sparkling 70% of his passes. Kelley, a backup running back, scores 3 times and carries the ball 24 times for 137 yards.
Meanwhile, the Packers continue to struggle running the football. Rodgers’ three scrambles for 33 yards leads Green Bay in rushing as James Starks and Ty Montgomery split the carries at running back.
There are bright spots for the Packers, though. Aaron Rodgers finished with 351 yards and 3 touchdowns in his best statistical performance of the year so far. His favorite target was tight end Jared Cook, who showed for the first time since early in the season against the Lions that he could be a weapon for the Packers offense. Cook’s targeted 11 times and catches 6 for 105 yards and a score. If the defense hadn’t have collapsed late, this could have been a winnable game for Green Bay.
By this point in the season, there were three narratives about this team: 1) Too many injuries at key positions, 2) Aaron Rodgers’ significant on and off field issues are keeping him from playing his best, and 3) Mike McCarthy’s message as a head coach has become stale. What was the most likely cause for the 4-6 start to the Packers season?
Jon: Well, I think the last six games of the season redeems his year, but Mike McCarthy’s inflexibility during the regular season is a huge, undercovered storyline. Despite major personnel issues in the loss of Eddie Lacy and Jared Cook being beat up for most of the season, McCarthy seemed to keep running the same stuff, despite his personnel situation being so undesirable.
You mentioned the different personnel groupings he ran during the Tennessee game, and that’s one thing, but the plays that were ended up being run were not the sort of things you would expect to be effective. Richard Rodgers is a great example of that. The Packers had a rough situation with player availability in Atlanta, but McCarthy adapted and they did some great things on offense.
Once McCarthy got his feet back under him, he went back to the same stuff that we’ve seen from the Packers for years. It didn’t work with the players they had available. Richard Rodgers was a huge part of the offense over these last three games. He got 10 targets against the Colts, 7 against the Titans and 4 against the Redskins until Jared Cook finally exploded.
That’s not a winning formula, and the Packers just happened to get the right people back in place to pull the season out of a nose dive.
This conversation first appeared in Episode 19 of our weekly podcast. Blue 58, powered by WTMJ Mobile, goes beyond the headlines to help you become a smarter fan of the Green Bay Packers. Hosted by former WTMJ newscaster Jon Meerdink and his friend Gary Zilavy, Blue 58 brings you a unique, upbeat perspective on your favorite NFL team, as long as that team is the Packers.