Packers 'find out a lot about' themselves in fifth straight loss
The Packers drop a fifth straight game for the first time since Aaron Rodgers' first season as the starting quarterback.
Just three weeks after head coach Matt LaFleur said the Green Bay Packers would "find out a lot about ourselves moving forward," the team's losing streak has now extended to five games. The latest loss, a 15-9 decision to the Detroit Lions, marks the first time the Packers have lost five in a row since 2008, Aaron Rodgers' first season starting under center. Making matters worse for Green Bay, Sunday's tilt saw more than a half dozen players leave the field with injuries.
Today's edition of The Leap examines the level of concern arising from Sunday's bodybag game, the continued struggles of a former first-round pick, and the rest of the fallout from Detroit.
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Which injury from Sunday should most concern the Packers?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: From a pure medical standpoint, Christian Watson's possible second concussion in two games seems the most concerning. If confirmed, he might not return for a considerable period of time out of an abundance of caution.
In pure football terms, an injury for Rashan Gary affects the Packers defense more than any other absence. Once Gary departed during the second half, the pass rush all but disappeared despite the meager protection afforded by the Lions' offensive line. Preston Smith and Kenny Clark remain good all-around players and Kingsley Enagebare has shown promise, but Rashan Gary stirs the drink for Green Bay's defensive front.
If Gary misses time, the Packers have no lever to pull in response. Jonathan Garvin hasn't shown any meaningful development as a pass rusher during his two seasons and change with the team and Tipa Galeai, when he becomes eligible to return from IR following Week 10, doesn't offer much more. In a scheme that relies on the defensive front to get after the quarterback without much blitzing, Gary's ability to generate pressure is the key to everything. Green Bay cannot replace him.
Peter Bukowski: I don’t know why I always let Jason go first because he consistently takes my answers smh. Because I’m the sporting type, I’ll go with Romeo Doubs because the offense has no juice if he’s not on the field in part because Christian Watson got hurt again. As Jason notes, Watson’s second concussion in two weeks would be cause for significant concern from a health standpoint and I hope the Packers take a more-than-is-traditionally-exercised-by-NFL-teams amount of caution with him.
But Doubs has been the only player on the offense consistently able to make plays in all parts of the field. Allen Lazard can’t live in the RPO screen world, but Doubs can. The rookie plays in the slot, out wide, in the tip of the spear in bunch, or as a traditional X receiver opposite the formation. There just isn’t another player currently on the team who can do all that and without him, we saw what happened to the offense.
It’s not that guys aren’t open but it’s that everyone becomes so much more siloed in what they can do, the job of calling plays and executing them winds up far more difficult.
What, if anything, can the Packers do with Darnell Savage?
JBH: In the short run, the Packers can't expect to continue rolling Darnell Savage at safety and expect his poor tackling and coverage not to surface repeatedly in critical situations. Savage's shortcomings hurt the defense last week, most notably on Josh Allen's long touchdown run. On Sunday, he appeared chiefly responsible for James Mitchell's touchdown.
Moments such as those negate whatever Savage provides with his physical traits, primarily speed and range. The Packers have to seriously consider whether replacing Savage at safety with Rudy Ford or Rasul Douglas might offer more assignment-sure play and reliable tackling.
That doesn't mean Savage couldn't see the field, however. The former first-round pick spent much of his college career playing in the slot and conceivably move there now. While his tackling would remain an issue on running plays, he has generally performed better closer to the line of scrimmage.
"I think Darnell Savage would be an unbelievable nickel, and we've repped him there at times over the years," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said this past week. "But in order to do that, if you're going to move him to the nickel-corner position, you got to feel comfortable with putting someone in at safety. I definitely, absolutely feel Darnell has the skill set to do that. There's no doubt about it."
In the long term, the Packers face more serious questions regarding Savage. They have already accepted his fifth-year option, guaranteeing him just under $8 million next season. With Adrian Amos headed to free agency, Green Bay might have to either roll out two new starting safeties in 2023 or give Savage another shot. Either scenario looks concerning.
PB: They did some of the things this week whether by design or necessity with Eric Stokes going out with injury and Keisean Nixon taking his place. Savage played de facto linebacker on some snaps, lining up more often around the line of scrimmage and I wonder if that’s the way they move forward with him thanks to the Stokes injury.
With Rasul Douglas now in need of playing on the boundary, the Packers could move Savage to the star and let Rudy Ford play more as a traditional safety in the back end.
That changeup with where Savage lined up nearly turned into an interception in the second half and Savage looked more comfortable taking on blocks and fitting the run from less depth than as a deep half safety which may seem weird, but he starred as a nickel back at Maryland doing all of the above.
With the injury, I’d much rather see Savage at the star than Nixon. That’s not because Nixon is a bad player, but because Ford has played well enough to earn more safety reps, and now is the perfect time to see what Savage has as the nickel in this defense.
Have you reached the point where you believe Rodgers, regardless of context, can no longer perform at an MVP level?
JBH: Yes. Aaron Rodgers probably wouldn't play as poorly as he has this season with a better supporting cast -- the early O-line configurations, a rookie-laden receiving corps -- but those types of issues didn't stymy him during his MVP campaigns. Just a year ago, Rodgers took an offense without any of its top three wideouts and its All-Pro left tackle into a showdown with the undefeated Arizona Cardinals and didn't blink. Now, the idea of Rodgers lifting a team in such a fashion seems like a distant memory.
While Rodgers' mobility had begun declining before his MVP campaigns from the past two seasons, his arm and ball placement remained at an elite level. That, clearly, has tapered off in 2022 with signs of regression apparent even before his thumb injury.
On Sunday, Rodgers underthrew his target on several critical plays, including …
… a deep ball to a wide-open Samori Toure:
… a slot fade to a streaking Allen Lazard:
… this attempt to thread the needle to Robert Tonyan:
Rodgers, of course, hasn't deteriorated to the level of 2015 Peyton Manning or end-stages Drew Brees. But the physical decline shouldn't go ignored, and even a healthy throwing hand and improving supporting cast won't bring the four-time MVP back on a permanent basis.
PB: Short of a Davante Adams hitting the reverse Uno card, it’s time to call it. That’s not to say Aaron Rodgers is incapable of being a quarterback who can win you games in the NFL, but it’s pretty clear he can’t play the way he wants to play.
I found it damning that he told the Fox announcing crew he wanted to “go down throwing” a week after the team rushed for 200 yards against the best run defense in football. They dropped some passes in that game, but even still, I don’t know how anyone comes out of that game going, “You know what the Packers have to do? Less of the dominating thing they did against the most dominant team stopping that thing.”
He wants to play McCarthy Ball, the irony of ironies. And this team desperately needs LaFleur’s scheme, the leverage benefits pre-snap motion provides, the schemed open nature of the heavy play-action game, and attacking the middle of the field when teams load up to stop the run. But Rodgers wants to play in shotgun, static pre-snap, and just let overmatched receivers try to go beat man-to-man coverage.
Funny enough, they did against the Lions but as Jason’s clips show, Rodgers consistently missed those opportunities. It’s not that Rodgers can no longer sling the rock like he used to, though he can’t quite drive it like he wants. It’s that he’s been emboldened by the team to demand more ownership over the offense and he’s decided they are will go down swinging his way instead of trying to win LaFleur’s. At some point, the head coach of the team has to decide he’s not going down like that.
JBH: A real moment from Sunday's game:
PB: If you thought losing five in a row, including losing to the Lions in a game Jared Goff was terrible, couldn’t push this team any lower, guess who’s coming to dinner on Sunday at Lambeau Field?