2015 November : Packers Insider

Week 9: Panthers 37, Packers 29

November 8, 2015 by  
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From Michael Cohen, JSOnline

~Charlotte, N.C. — Somehow, after three quarters of unsightly football, of defensive incompetency and, for the most part, offensive stagnation, the Green Bay Packers cobbled together an opportunity to tie the game.

A gutty interception by rookie cornerback Damarious Randall, victimized on an earlier possession for a touchdown pass, handed the Packers the ball at the 22-yard line of the Carolina Panthers. Trailing by 20 points at halftime, the Packers needed just a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game, to rewrite a game that oozed abysmal for the 45 preceding minutes.

An encroachment penalty inched them 5 yards closer. A fourth-down completion to Randall Cobb yielded a crucial new set of downs. A scramble by Rodgers brought the ball to the 4-yard line.

Fourth-and-goal.

Rodgers took the snap and danced in the pocket, pressure coming up the middle from Kawann Short. He backpedaled. He threw desperately toward the end zone. He lofted a feeble pass that was intercepted by linebacker Thomas Davis.

Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers and Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers exchange words after their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. -Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A raucous, improbable and altogether stunning comeback was erased. The Packers, down by 20 and pulling within a whisper of tying the game, lost for a second consecutive week, 37-29.

Player of the Game: Newton. Erratic at times with his accuracy, sure, but Newton was simply terrific on Sunday. Like Peyton Manning last week and Philip Rivers two weeks before that, Newton found ways to expose and exploit a Packers’ defense that is in serious freefall after three straight horrendous performances. Newton was efficient with his arm (15-of-30 for 297 yards and three touchdowns) and churned out first downs with his legs (57 yards and one touchdown) in a game that was comfortable for the Panthers until the final eight minutes.

Turning point: Trailing 27-7 at halftime after an anemic start to the game, the Packers’ pulse flickered early in the third quarter. They took the opening possession of the half 80 yards on just three plays for an enormous momentum-swinging score, capped by a beautiful 53-yard touchdown reception by Randall Cobb. But the defense immediately wilted on the very next drive, and the Panthers marched 82 yards on 13 plays that melted more than six minutes off the clock. It was not until the midway point of the fourth quarter, when Rodgers connected with tailback James Starks for a 29-yard touchdown, that the Packers infused energy into the game. They compiled two breathtaking, no-huddle drives that produced 15 points in fewer than five minutes before falling short at the goal line.

Big number: 427 — Total yards for the Panthers, whose balanced attack slashed the Packers with runs by tailback Jonathan Stewart (66 yards) or Newton and carved up a secondary that was undermanned and, at times, non-communicative. After allowing 500-plus yards in back-to-back games, the Packers improved only marginally.

What went right: Little or nothing until the final minutes, especially on defense. The glimmers of hope came from the offense, which put together an 11-play, 65-yard drive in the first quarter to take the lead. It was an inventive possession by the Packers, with Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, Aaron Ripkowski and Justin Perillo all taking the field in a substitution-happy march down the field. The drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers. Later, to start the third quarter, Rodgers orchestrated a lightning-quick scoring drive to temporarily bring life back into the game. He found Randall Cobb for a 53-yard touchdown pass along the left sideline, pulling the Packers within 27-14. Two no-huddle drives late in the fourth quarter showed plenty of gusto, but the initial deficit proved a bit too large to overcome. Rodgers finished with 369 yards and four touchdowns.

What went wrong: For the most part, everything went wrong for the Packers on defense. Minus two key contributors in the secondary — cornerbacks Sam Shields (shoulder) and Quinten Rollins (neck) were sidelined — the defense struggled to contain a group of Panthers’ receivers that is mediocre at best and unenviable at worst. There was a blown coverage that allowed Jerricho Cotchery to run wide open up the middle for a 59-yard grab. There was another mistake by Demetri Goodson that opened a window for Corey Brown to haul in a 39-yard touchdown. And rookie Devin Funchess beat Damarious Randall for 52 more. By halftime, Newton racked up 209 yards and two touchdowns — and a 20-point lead on the scoreboard that barely held up.

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Packers’ defense making QBs look like MVP candidates

November 2, 2015 by  
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From Michael Cohen, JSonline

Denver — On the last snap of the third quarter in a game where the final 15 minutes meant almost nothing, the player whose passes wobbled and interceptions mounted zipped an age-defying dart toward the right sideline.

Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders hauls in a pass for a first down against the coverage of Packers cornerback Damarious Randall. -Photo from Richard Wood

He threw for receiver Demaryius Thomas, a specimen more than a wideout, and a player who amassed more than 100 yards in the first half against the Green Bay Packers. Covered by rookie Damarious Randall, the second player to try and fail to blanket that which can’t be shrouded, Thomas ran down the right sideline. He stopped abruptly, leaped with both hands high and plucked from the air a 24-yard reception while Randall unknowingly jogged a few steps more.

The crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High erupted for the umpteenth time in a three-hour celebration that functioned as a reawakening. At 39 years young and with his professional debut in the previous century, Peyton Manning conjured his past.

“Peyton is Peyton,” linebacker Jayrone Elliott said. “He’s a great one.”

Though he entered Sunday engulfed by the notion that twilight was turning to pitch-black darkness on a storied career, Manning sliced the Packers in a virtuoso performance that felt more like Aaron Rodgers than soon-to-be retiree. He completed 21 of his 29 passes for 340 yards and ravaged a secondary that lost two major contributors due to injury. Channeling a game plan unfurled by the San Diego Chargers two weeks prior, Manning and the Denver Broncos undressed the Packers, 29-10, to halt an undefeated season and etch a 500-yard scar into a once-stout defense.

“They were on fire today,” defensive back Demetri Goodson said. “I can’t take nothing away from them. We didn’t play our best game. We had some injuries. All that is just excuses, really. We just didn’t come out ready to play like we should have.”

But while the wounds were fresh, ripped open by eight receptions and 168 yards by Thomas, peeled open further by 101 yards from tailback C.J. Anderson and 60 more from Ronnie Hillman, the tools of deconstruction were revealed before the bye week in another gash-filled effort against the Chargers.

It was two weeks prior that quarterback Philip Rivers, a player with a heightened level of command in the same realm as Manning, turned to empty formations time and time again as a tool for deciphering the defensive coverage. Rivers, immobile as they come, avoided pressure with precautionary throwaways in the face of defenders. He played smart and played safe, and he nearly won the game.

In Denver, where no one is as adept at pre-snap manipulation as Manning, the empty sets returned, and the chunks of yardage remained. Manning, unable to move beyond the pocket, was never sacked and rarely pressured. He played smart and played safe, and his team did win the game.

Even as coach Mike McCarthy mentioned the deciphering tactic earlier in the week — he and his staff identified it as potential problem during their self-scout period — the Packers were helpless in trying to stop it.

“They put us in empty to try to see what we were in, just like how the Chargers did,” cornerback Casey Hayward said. “They had a great game plan.”

Said (Jayrone) Elliott: “The same thing Philip Rivers did. He did a great job of getting the ball out quick. Even if it wasn’t there he would just throw it up there and try to give his receivers a chance.”

The task of stopping Manning and the Broncos’ offense, which averaged 7.9 yards per play, grew more difficult almost from the outset. The Packers lost two cornerbacks to injuries in the first half, with starter Sam Shields and blossoming rookie Quinten Rollins both walking to the locker room nursing damaged shoulders.

Their absences worked against the philosophy of cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr., who elects his personnel for an upcoming game near the beginning of each week. The purpose, as he explained Thursday, is to allow the unit that will take the field an opportunity to gel throughout practice. More reps equates to more cohesiveness.

But without Shields and Rollins, it thrust into the fray the likes of Goodson, primarily a special teams weapon, and limited substitution patterns at altitude in Colorado. By the third and fourth quarter, the defense could be seen with hands on hips, and the scoreboard reflected a lopsided beating.

Manning carved them open with quick passes bolstered by yards after the catch. Then his tailbacks slithered through cracks to accrue demoralizing first downs.

“It’s hard on Dom when we’re not stopping the pass and we’re not stopping the run,” Hayward said. “If we’re not stopping the run, we can’t call certain things to try to stop the pass. And when you’re not stopping the pass, you can’t stop…”

Hayward’s voice trailed off. Because on this night, the Packers could not stop anyone.

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A smashing defeat for the Packers

November 2, 2015 by  
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From Robert McGinn, JSOnline

~Denver – Once, maybe twice a season the Green Bay Packers of Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers fail to even compete.

Another of those rare stinkers unexpectedly unfolded Sunday night when the Denver Broncos ran roughshod over the Packers, 29-10, before 77,043 at Sports Authority Field.

Coming off a bye week, the Packers strangely looked slow, stale and unfit to battle one of the best teams in the National Football League.

Statistics bore out the Broncos’ sheer dominance: 500 to 140 in total yards, including 340 passing from Peyton Manning compared to 77 for Rodgers.

The Broncos (7-0) performed like a team with a chip on its shoulder. They had been disrespected by oddsmakers, who favored the Packers by 2 ½ points. It was the first time Denver had been an underdog at home in 28 games, counting playoffs.

It would be hard to say if the Packers were more impotent on offense or defense. Despite their unbeaten record, they showed barely a pulse.

Their margin in the NFC North Division was sliced to one game over the Minnesota Vikings (5-2), with a major NFC test coming Sunday against the high-flying Carolina Panthers (6-0) in Charlotte, N.C.

“That’s a humbling loss,” McCarthy said. “I haven’t had my ass kicked like that in a long time.

Broncos safety David Bruton smashes into Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, drawing a penalty. Rodgers was harassed into one of the worst games of his career with just 77 passing yards. -Photo by Mark Hoffman

“Frankly, Gary Kubiak had his team playing a lot faster than I had my team playing tonight. That was evident early and often.”

Just the fourth meeting ever between a pair of 6-0 teams was a mismatch. The Packers had been 8-1 coming off byes under McCarthy but it was the Broncos that were the sharper and more physical team.

“Obviously, the bye really helped us as a team,” Kubiak said. “We just played fresh. It was the best we looked in a while.”

The Packers were seeking to become just the sixth team in franchise history to start a season 7-0. With a long gain of merely 17 yards, they had no chance.

“A good amount they (the wide receivers) were covered,” said Rodgers, whose passer rating was 69.7. “They were covering good. That’s all you can point to.”

On defense, the Packers laid a second straight egg after allowing 548 yards two weeks ago in a 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers, another AFC West team.

Manning, who entered the game ranked 31st in passer rating at 72.5, finished with 96.9 in by far his finest performance of the season.

“Obviously, he played spectacular tonight,” said Kubiak. “He’s the leader of our football team.

“We played well as a team. We played hard. We played physical.”

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was the focus of the Broncos’ game plan on offense, particularly when covered by cornerback Casey Hayward. Thomas, who had been dropping way too many passes, caught eight of his 11 targets for 168 yards, and much of the damage came at Hayward’s expense.

The Packers’ defense against the run was equally inept. Running back C.J. Anderson, who didn’t start, finished with 101 of Denver’s 160 rushing yards.

“Peyton had us in the right plays,” said Kubiak. “We did a lot of checking. I’ll give him a lot of credit.”

The Packers looked overmatched on their first three possessions against the Broncos’ top-ranked defense, all of which ended in punts. They had two first downs in the first series, one in the second and none in the third.

It wasn’t that Denver’s pass rush was overwhelming. The pressure was steady, but the Packers’ offensive linemen usually were able to bow up and seal the pocket.

Rodgers, however, struggled to find receivers open downfield and appeared reluctant to take chances trying to make a play.

Several times, he found a lane to extend the play but wasn’t able to make it successful.

“We got there but we couldn’t finish,” said Kubiak. “We covered extremely well, and then in the second half we got home more often.”

Meanwhile, the Packers’ ground game was neutralized by the active, stunting Denver front. The low point came in the second quarter when, facing second and 2, Eddie Lacy failed to gain a yard on second down and then DE Derek Wolfe tackled Lacy after a yard gain on third down.

Green Bay finally got it going midway through the second quarter. The drive appeared to be stymied when a third-and-six pass fluttered incomplete, but safety David Bruton was penalized 15 yards for roughing Rodgers.

By this stage, the Packers were making liberal use of Randall Cobb from the backfield trying to get somebody open. Cobb gained 10 on a reverse before Lacy eventually capped the drive on a 2-yard run.

Covered frequently by cornerback Chris Harris, Cobb’s lost that matchup with six receptions for 27 yards.

On defense, the Packers were unable to generate any pressure on Manning, who was able to step into his throws and riddle the Packers secondary. Largely immobile at 39, he wasn’t sacked.

“Denver ran its offense very efficiently,” said McCarthy. “It starts with the run. That was my No. 1 coaching point for the defense. We need to stop the run and get after their pass protection and make sure we get Peyton Manning off the spot.

“We didn’t accomplish that at all.”

Manning went after Hayward on the first three plays of the game. Thomas beat him on an 18-yard curl before Thomas drew a long pass-interference penalty.

Julius Peppers pressured Manning into a short completion, and the Broncos had to punt. In the Broncos’ next three possessions, they mounted scoring drives totaling 17 points and 214 yards.

Manning was in complete control. Both the run and pass were working, and the Packers were off balance.

Mixing runs by Ronnie Hillman and Anderson, the Broncos covered 83 yards in nine plays. It was this series when cornerback Sam Shields suffered a shoulder injury and didn’t return.

After four runs gained 36 yards against a leaky defense, Thomas hauled in a 30-yard pass on Hayward with an outstanding run after the catch. Hillman piled over from the 1 and it was 7-0.

Manning also found success with short crossing routes against Micah Hyde, the starting nickel back. It was a 19-yard reception by tight end Virgil Green that began Denver’s second touchdown drive.

After a screen to tight end Owen Daniels picked up 13 following a missed tackle by Damarious Randall, Manning threw 47 yards off a play-action fake to Thomas, who beat Hayward on a takeoff route.

On first and goal from the 15, Hillman was bottled up over center. Suddenly, he spied an avenue to the left and outran Hyde to the end zone.

Starting from his 22, Manning hit Daniels for 18 on a shallow cross against the inside linebackers. On third and 2, Anderson made Nate Palmer miss near the line and turned it into a gain of 19.

The Packers, however, stiffened inside the 40 and Brandon McManus came on for a 50-yard field goal to make it 17-0.

Using another third-down penalty against Denver for impetus, the Packers swept 41 yards in 11 plays to set up Mason Crosby’s 56-yard field goal early in the third quarter. Safety T.J. Ward was penalized 14 yards for pass interference on a third-and-11 incompletion.

Rodgers scrambled for 17 on third and 10, but the drive fell apart when Bryan Bulaga was detected holding.

Immediately, Denver extended its lead to 24-10 on a 28-yard run by Anderson through the heart of the Packers’ dime defense. Other big plays were a 20-yard in route to Thomas against Randall and a 24-yard pass to Caldwell within a zone.

McManus’ 24-yard field goal finished off a 74-yard drive, and then Rodgers lost a fumble on a sack and the ball was recovered for a safety.

“I was trying to flick it to John (Kuhn),” said Rodgers. “He knocked it out.”

The Packers, in turn, were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten with their most lopsided defeat since 44-23 last year in New Orleans in Game 8.

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Packers’ offense exposed as fraudulent without Jordy

November 2, 2015 by  
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From Darin Gantt, PFT

~When it was over, and the numbers began to settle in, there was no denying the inevitable conclusion.

For the Packers, a 29-10 loss was magnified by the fact they gained just 140 yards, a ridiculously low total for a team that employs quarterback Aaron Rodgers, regardless what else is around him at the time.

“That’s a humbling loss. I haven’t had my ass kicked like that in a long time,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, via Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “They covered us very well. I thought we pass protected very well in the first half. There was a lot of green grass out there. I thought they did a heck of a job covering us.”

Rodgers was pressured on over 60% of his passes. A lot of that was on him and the WR’s for not beating the illegal contacts and clutch & grabs by the savvy Broncos’ DBs.

But there weren’t a lot of guys in green and gold getting open.

Yes, the Broncos are the league’s best defense, but the Packers only passed for 77 yards, the lowest ever for Rodgers in a game he didn’t leave with injury. His previous low was 142 in Minnesota on Nov. 9, 2008.

If nothing else, it served to get their attention, heading into next week’s trip to see another good defense at Carolina.

“This is the kind of thing that’ll make everyone a little bit maybe more on edge this week,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got another tough road challenge in Carolina, so these two games are going to show us how good we are after a 6-0 start. And we weren’t good enough tonight.”

That goes without saying.

Most of the credit belongs to the Broncos coverage, which kept the Packers receivers from getting open long enough to matter about the pass rush that was constantly forcing Rodgers to move.

“It’s kind of been a problem for us all year,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “Our defense has hid a lot of our flaws on offense for us winning some games for us. Offensively, we’ve got to find a way to get better in the run game, protection, getting guys open, whatever it is.”

It’s a long list. And fixing it starts now.

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