GREEN BAY − Aaron Rodgers wanted to throw the ball. He wasn’t even off the podium in Buffalo last week, where the Green Bay Packers had finally discovered their run game against the NFL’s best run defense, and the quarterback made those feelings clear.
It isn’t necessarily selfish. Rodgers’ desire comes from a good place. No team in this league, where high-flying offenses thrive off the quarterback, can survive on the run game alone. The Packers had only their run game last week. It wasn’t close to enough.
The problem, proven once again in the Packers’ 15-9 loss Sunday at the woeful Detroit Lions, is their passing game isn’t close to enough either. And those issues might start with four-time MVP quarterback on the back end of his career.
Whether it’s age or his injured throwing thumb, Rodgers looked incapable of lifting a limited Packers offense. Against a Lions defense ranked last in the NFL, he threw three interceptions, the most he’s thrown in any game since 2017. They led to the Packers’ fifth straight loss, the first time since Rodgers’ first season as starter in 2008 he’s lost five straight games.
The only other time the Packers have failed to win in five straight games since then was 2013 when Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone. Four of those games were losses, the fifth a tie against the Minnesota Vikings.
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The game essentially ended at the Lions’ 17-yard line with four straight incompletions from Rodgers, despite having two timeouts with a minute left.
Here are some observations from a stunning loss.
Goal line offense is offensive
Aaron Rodgers’ miserable season might have hit rock bottom. The Packers’ first two drives ended inside the 5-yard line. Both ended with Rodgers interceptions. On the first, Rodgers threw a pass to an open Allen Lazard in the end zone that deflected off Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes’ facemask, dropping into Joseph’s hands for an interception.
The Packers faced fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on their next possession, but instead of punching it into the end zone with their vaunted run game, Matt LaFleur pulled a call off the back page of his playbook. Rodgers rolled right before throwing across the field left to left tackle David Bakhtiari, who was eligible as a receiver. Bakhtiari was open, but Rodgers’ pass was badly underthrown, intercepted by Lions defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson. A bad throw. A silly decision.
For the first time in his career, Rodgers’ had a pair of red-zone interceptions – potentially taking 14 points off the scoreboard. Rodgers’ six interceptions this season – in only nine games – is tied for the most he’s had in a season since 2017.
New offensive line, old approach
At this point in the season, it’s inexcusable to not feed the run game enough. Period. Sunday might have been even more inexplicable considering the Packers, for the first time this season, had their preferred offensive line. David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins finally started next to each other at left tackle and left guard, something that hadn’t happened since 2020. Center Josh Myers, right guard Jon Runyan and right tackle Yosh Nijman filled out the unit.
This was a group that should have plowed through the Lions defense. The problem, yet again, was a lack of carries. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for just 20 carries, compared to 43 passes. If the Packers have proven anything this season, it’s that they can not win by throwing the football all over the field.
Injury bug bites again
It was stunning how bad the Packers’ injury situation got Sunday. It started on their first snap when rookie Romeo Doubs caught an 18-yard pass on an in route and was wiped out by Lions safety Kerby Joseph, who tackled Doubs low from behind. Doubs hobbled off the field, where the training staff appeared to be looking at his heel, and was carted to the locker room with an ankle injury. Doubs did not return, nor did fellow rookie Christian Watson after his second concussion in as many weeks.
Bakhtiari left with a knee injury at halftime and was replaced by rookie Zach Tom at left tackle. Bakthiari returned for the game’s final drive. Runyan also left in the first half with a knee injury, but he returned. Jones left in the second half with an ankle injury and did not return. On defense, cornerback Eric Stokes (ankle/knee) and outside linebacker Rashan Gary (knee) had injuries.
Defense holds but it’s not enough
Before the season began, the Packers were built to win games with defense. What the Packers’ defense did against the Lions shouldn’t be forgotten. The Lions entered with a top-10 scoring offense in the NFL, averaging 24.7 points per game. They had averaged 35.75 points in four games inside Ford Field.
Even in a week when the Lions were remaking their offense after trading tight end T.J. Hockenson, holding the Lions to 15 points inside Ford Field is impressive. It’s just a little late in the season for the Packers defense to play like what it was designed to be.
Matt LaFleur’s desperation showing
The players aren’t the only ones pressing as the losing streak continues. LaFleur made a pair of questionable decisions Sunday that revealed a bit of desperation. The first was the trick play on fourth down near the goal line, a bit of nonsense given the talent in his backfield.
After the Packers’ lone touchdown in the third quarter, LaFleur made a decision that was more standard, but just as unnecessary. Because the Lions had gotten a 2-point conversion in the first half to take an 8-0 lead, an extra point would have put the Packers behind 8-7. LaFleur chose to go for 2 even though there were still 20 minutes left in the game.
When the conversion failed, and the Packers allowed a touchdown drive, it put the Packers down two possessions instead of one. That forced the Packers to kick a 25-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter instead of attempting a fourth-and-3 from the Lions’ 7-yard line, another trip inside the 10 that stopped short of the end zone.
Story Credit: usatoday.com