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Packers' offense not reaching elite performance yet

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Posted Sept. 15, 2012 @ 3:04 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

The Packers are not taking solace in the fact that the 49ers and Bears might just end up being two of the best teams in the NFL when it’s all said and done. They’re worried about what’s cooking in their own kitchen, and it’s not exactly finger-licking good.

Through two games, their offense has accounted for only 30 points — a total they reached in 11 different games last season. Turnovers have been one problem, dropped passes another thorny one (four in the 23-10 Week Two win over the Bears, each that would have resulted in big plays). The Packers, authors of the league’s second-best yards-per-play-average in 2011 at 6.6, have averaged a mere 5.1 yards every time they take a snap from center.

“I’d say we’re average right now,” TE Jermichael Finley told PFW after Thursday’s victory. “We can get a lot better and we have to get a lot better. We started turning it around in the fourth quarter, so we all just think we’re close to getting (back) on track.”

The fourth-quarter numbers backed up Finley’s claim only to a degree; the Packers scored the coffin-nail TD on a strike to a wide-open Donald Driver against a sloppy cover-2 Bears defense on the play. But the Packers averaged a mere 4.1 yards in the quarter and gave the Bears life on a bad interception when WR James Jones failed to cross the face of Bears CB Tim Jennings and come back to an underthrown Aaron Rodgers pass.

The Packers are a quick-strike offense, there’s little questioning that. But in attempt to forage a few clock-eating, long possessions, the team handed off to new RB Cedric Benson an uncharacteristic 20 times Thursday (no Packers back had more than 17 in a game last season). Benson was effective, averaging a workmanlike 4.1 yards per carry, also adding 35 yards on four receptions.

It says something that the team can practice two days in a short week and fix some of the problems in the run game from Week One, when Benson ran nine times for 18 yards. He showed more patience in the Packers’ shotgun run series that features a lot of delays and draws where blocks must be developed.

“I think I was a little anxious at first,” Benson said. “I’ve tried to stay keen on the way the plays are supposed to be blocked. The guys are making the blocks and finishing them off, so I need to do my job just as well when they do.”

Even with the Week Two run improvements, the lack of longer drives remains an issue. Through eight quarters, only four of the team's 22 offensive drives (not counting Thursday’s game-ending possession) have traveled 45 yards or more.

But the run game is not going to produce the Packers’ signature offensive performance. Another problem, and it must be said: Rodgers’ lack of pinpoint sharpness. He has not been the same deadly assassin this season to date that he was in 2011. Part of it can be blamed on facing the 49ers’ top-shelf defense, and partly because of not having WR Greg Jennings vs. the Bears. Still, Rodgers must be better, although head coach Mike McCarthy says he’s not concerned.

“Frankly, after two games … his quarterback rating — to me things don’t really sort themselves out (statistically) until probably Week Four or Five,” McCarthy said. “So I’m not concerned about Aaron Rodgers.”

Rodgers has looked off since the preseason, when he completed under 50 percent of his passes (48.8 percent). Jennings and Finley missed a lot of the exhibition action, Finley has continued to frustrate with his propensity for inconsistency (several drops, plus a fumble Thursday at the Bears’ 19-yard line), and even Jordy Nelson has been off to a somewhat shaky start with a few missed connections with Rodgers.

“I think Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback,” Finley said defiantly. “I think he’s playing well right now.”

Throw out Thursday’s incredible message-sending fake field goal that converted into a 27-yard TD, and the Packers have had only eight plays in two games that went for longer than 17 yards. Does McCarthy feel the need to go for such gutsy plays — the fake came on fourth and 26 — because the offense is not the same explosive unit? He said the following day he wanted to send a message to the offense, that it needed to match the intensity of the defense.

So far, the Packers have not achieved that goal, but OG Josh Sitton is not panicking yet.

“We’ve got to find a way to get a few of those explosive plays back in the offense,” Sitton told PFW. “You could argue we’re about five or six yards away (against the Bears) from scoring 35, 40 points. Couple of (pass plays) that were inches away. A couple of (third-down conversions) that came up just short.

"Who knows what happens if we hit on those? We’re close.”

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