Rodgers not happy with his performance
Aaron Rodgers’ appreciated the thought. And he also appreciated the performance by the Green Bay Packers defense.
But there was no way the reigning NFL MVP was going to take solace in the fact that his mistakes and the offense’s second consecutive week of underperforming – by their exacting standards, anyway – were easily overcome by another stellar defensive showing.
“That might make some our guys sleep at night,” the Packers quarterback said following the Packers’ 24-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams at Lambeau Field Sunday. “But that won’t make me sleep at night.”
Yes, the Packers are a perfect 5-0 on the season now, and they’ve looked more and more like a balanced team with each passing week. But for Rodgers, who threw a pair of interceptions – his first INTs at home since Dec. 2, 2012, a span of 586 attempts and 1,044 days – and also lost a fumble, the big picture also includes back-to-back substandard performances by the offense and by him. And that’s not OK – even if the defense made up for it.
“I want to be efficient and as close to perfect as possible. This [game film] will be studied pretty hard,” said Rodgers, who came into the game having completed 72.4 percent of his passes for an NFL-best 125.9 passer rating, with 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. “It is nice that our defense is playing so well. They’re rushing the passer really well, very opportunistic. Guys are stepping up.
“So I’m proud of those guys, and we’ll get better on offense, and we’re excited about being 5-0.”
The offense definitely has room for improvement, however, and not just Rodgers, who finished the day having completed 19 of 30 passes for 241 yards with two TDs, two INTs, two sacks and a passer rating of 82.8 – his lowest rating in a home game since a Dec. 9, 2012 victory over Detroit.
Playing without No. 1 wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who was lost for the season on Aug. 23 when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in an exhibition game at Pittsburgh, and without wideout Davante Adams, who was promoted to the No. 2 receiver spot after Nelson’s injury but has been battling an ankle injury since the team’s Sept. 20 victory over Seattle, the remaining would-be pass catchers have struggled to get open against defenses who see no reason to worry about getting beaten over the top.
That’s also had an impact on the Packers’ run game, which was so stymied Sunday – Eddie Lacy ran 13 times for 27 yards, while James Starks managed only 17 yards on his five attempts – that Rodgers was the team’s leading rusher (eight carries, 39 yards).
Meanwhile, the offensive line – where Rodgers repeatedly has said the team’s offensive success begins – has dealt with more injury issues in the first five weeks of this year than it did all of last season, when the preferred five starters were together for 17 of the team’s 18 regular- and post-season games.
On Sunday, just when the unit got right tackle Bryan Bulaga back after a three-game absence due to a left knee injury suffered during a Sept. 17 practice, it lost right guard T.J. Lang to a right knee injury with 5 minutes 58 seconds left in the first half.
“Yeah, we’ve been struggling the last couple weeks,” Rodgers admitted, speaking of the offense as a whole. “We’ve played three NFC West opponents now (Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis), and the division is really known for its defense. They bring it. That’s three really good defenses we’ve faced, and five difficult opponents for us to start the season.
“So [we are] happy to be 5-0, but we need to play a little bit better on offense. We’ve had some success at home over the years moving the ball efficiently, scoring points. [Today the] defense set us up with some short fields. We’re used to putting those things in the end zone.
“We struggled. We’ve got to adjust a little bit better, we’ve got to run routes a little bit better and we have to be able to get open outside better. And obviously, I’ve got to throw it better than I did today and clean some of those things up.”
Rodgers pointed to several throws he missed – one on a scramble to James Jones that should have gone for a big gain; one on which he led tight end Richard Rodgers too much – and the three turnovers, the most he’s had in a game in nearly six years. Afterward, his teammates spoke about him being “human” as if it was breaking news to them.
“He human sometimes, man, you know what I mean? But it’s very rare. It’s very rare,” said Jones, whose 65-yard touchdown was the game’s biggest play – and the Packers’ only touchdown after rookie Ty Montgomery’s easy-peasy 31-yard TD catch-and-run on the opening series of the game. “So when you get him without his cape on, you better catch it.”
Luckily for the Packers, Superman didn’t have to be heroic Sunday, thanks to a defense that was once again terrific. In the past two games, the Packers have allowed only 13 points, their best back-to-back performances a three-game stretch midway through the Super Bowl XLV season of 2010, when they held the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings to a combined 10 points over a three-game span.
“We can complain all we want on the sideline about [the offense not scoring] points, but would the defense want it any other way?” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who delivered a crucial fourth-quarter sack – one of three sacks by the Packers’ pass rush. “For so long now, this has been [an offensive team]. It still is an offensive team. But it’s nice when the defense can hold their own, especially in the last couple weeks of doing so, especially when the opposition is having a good defensive game and maybe our offense isn’t clicking. These are the types of games that we need sometimes and kind of show our identity.
“At the same time, we might have a day where the offense is going to have to score 30-plus points. We’re real happy to get this win. Wins are hard to come by in this league.”
The Packers, by being balanced, are merely making it look easy. Coach Mike McCarthy opened his press conference by praising a defense that he said delivered ‘big plays and the constant pressure,” and it’s hard not to feel as though the Packers – once the offense gets rolling again – are the NFC’s team to beat, even if they haven’t put up points at the record pace they did in 2011, the last time they started undefeated.
“We know that in order for us to be a championship-type team, it has to go through defense,” cornerback Casey Hayward said. “You can see from teams last year, from the New Englands to the Seattles, those are heavy defensive teams. They’ve got great defenses, top-five defenses, and we know that’s what we have to do to be even considered a Super Bowl team.
“That’s how you win championships. You play as a collective group. You can’t just be an offensive team. It has to be just a team in general.”
Rodgers understands this, which is why – despite being perturbed with his own performance Sunday and admittedly concerned about the offense’s below-normal production – he is thrilled with the way the defense has carried the day.
“They’re playing great,” Rodgers said. “It’s been fun to watch the last two weeks. We’ve struggled on offense, [but] they’ve been excellent.”