Well, that was disappointing.
The 2014 season began for the Green Bay Packers very similar to how the 2013 season ended - inconsistency and injuries on offense, disappointment on defense, and a special teams unit that alternately made big and bone-headed plays. One half of this week’s Best and Worst was pretty easy to come up with (I’m guessing everyone knows which half), based on some initial thoughts.
#81 Andrew Quarless
With the injury to Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless saw his playing time increase, and he played well. There was only one drop or incompletion thrown his way that I remember, and he came up with several solid catch-and-runs all night. Quarless had a decent preseason as well, and if the tight end can continue to make solid if unspectacular plays in the passing game, his value to the Packers offense will continue to grow.
#44 James Starks
Eddie Lacy had a tough time getting going against the vaunted Seattle defense, and his physical style of play ended up hurting him again as he had to leave the game with concussion symptoms after one of his better runs ended with a vicious collision between himself and Seahawk safety Kam Chancellor. James Starks came in to replace him in the 4th Quarter and played a critical role in the only touchdown drive of the 2nd half for the Packers, stringing together two good runs back-to-back during the only time the offense seemed to get their new “hurry-up” mode in full gear. Starks ended up the night with 7 carries for 37 yards (as well as 2 catches for 11 yards), a much better rate of return than Lacy’s 12 for 34 on the ground, 3 for 11 in the air).
#63 Corey Linsley
Outside of one play late in the 1st half when he took too long to snap the ball to Aaron Rodgers, Linsley played a good game. The pressure, sacks, and penalties that hurt the Packers’ offense did not come from the center position. Considering the environment that he was playing in, and the level of competition he was facing, I think it’s safe to say the coaching staff was vindicated in thinking Linsley could hold down the fort until J.C. Tretter returns.
#56 Julius Peppers
Perhaps our expectations for Julius Peppers have been outsized based on what we’ll be getting, considering the defensive end-turned-linebacker is in his 13th season and is playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for the first time in his career. However, over and over again I noticed him out of position on a read-option play to his side. Of course, one of the greatest disappointments of the night was the Packer defense’s inability to play the read-option in general, so Peppers is probably becoming the scapegoat for the whole defense in this, but it was discouraging to see him out of position so many times.
Offensive Tackle Play
It was bad enough that David Bakhtiari was charged with several holding penalties at the worst possible times, but then fans were subjected to Derek Sherrod’s fill-in attempt for Brian Bulaga. Sharrod started strong and progressively got worse as the game went along, either missing blocks, drawing holding penalties, or letting defenders knock Aaron Rodgers to the ground and causing a fumble, which to Sherrod’s credit, he fell on in the endzone to only allow a safety, as opposed to a defensive touchdown. Of course, the only reason he had to fall on the ball was because he was the reason Rodgers got hit and coughed up the ball, but let’s face it - that was the only good thing I remember Sherrod doing in the 2nd half. Bulaga is currently doubtful for next week’s game with the Jets, so Sherrod had better tighten it up quickly or offer to pay for Aaron Rodger’s chiropractor for the next week.
I could just put “Coaching” in general here, but the issues that appeared on defense Thursday night in Seattle weren’t a surprise anymore - fans pretty much know that Dom Capers’ defense is going to have a hard time with a mobile quarterback in an option offense. Offensively, however, the lack of adjustments through the course of the game was concerning - and the adjustments that did happen made no sense. The running game was the perfect example. Eddie Lacy (before he was injured) and James Starks both had success running up the middle, but as the game progressed Green Bay ran outside more and more, where the team speed of the Seattle defense chased down the running backs before they could turn the corner. Also, one of the strengths of the Packer offense has historically been the accurate deep ball of Aaron Rodgers, but they rarely attempted to air out the ball. Of course, under the relenting pass rush of the Seahawks one could argue they didn’t have enough time, but in that case, you pound away on the ground at a spot that has had success (up the middle!), and when the edge rushers (who were eating up the tackles) start to hang back, you catch them flat-footed with a play-action pass deep. Rinse, then repeat. Unfortunately, we didn’t see that, and the game devolved into an embarrassing rout on national TV.
It’s easy to sit back and criticize from the comfort of a couch, and there are always more moving pieces to a game than fans can know from watching through a TV, but it was disheartening to see the lack of urgency that oozed from the screen Thursday night. Obviously it was only one game, against quite probably the best team in the league, but it did point out pretty vividly the long way the Packers have to go until they are truly worthy of being placed on that tier. Hopefully they can come out with more fire and a better, more opportunistic game plan on Sunday at Lambeau Field.