As the Packers were getting stymied by the Vikings on Sunday night and Aaron Rodgers returned to the sideline after another drive gone wrong, the expression on his face conveyed anything but the five-letter sentiment he so staunchly avowed the last time Green Bay stumbled in the early going of a season. The look on the all-world quarterback's face, to me, looked like a combination of frustration, bewilderment and concern.
No, this was not time to R-E-L-A-X. Anything but. And, if I was reading that expression correctly, well, it's all for good measure.
The Pack looks adrift offensively. That's a bizarre thing to think and a strange sentence to write, but through two weeks that's very much been the case. They moved the ball in fits and starts in Week 1 against a Jacksonville defense that was absolutely exposed last Sunday in San Diego. And against Mike Zimmer's stout group in Minnesota on Sunday night the Packers could do almost nothing of note. Trying times, indeed, and right now for the Packers there are more questions that answers.
The return of Jordy Nelson from season-ending injury and the slimmed-down shape of Eddie Lacy have been less than transformational thus far. The Packers offensive attack lacks flow and consistency, which is bizarre given that Mike McCarthy is generally one of the master schemers in the NFL. His game-opening scripts are on point, his ability to adjust is top-notch, and his play calling often takes on the nature of an opera. He relies on each piece of his orchestra at the right time, each possession setting up the next, knowing when to feign and counter-punch and when to go for the kill.
The Packers offense this season, thus far, looks more like a collection of plays, often disconnected and disjointed. It's more like a hope and a prayer, with the Packers just holding their breath that eventually Rodgers will make something out of nothing and produce a ridiculous throw to get the ball down field and set up a scoring opportunity. If not for Rodgers' greatness Week 1, this might be a team still seeking its first win. The Jags very much hung around in that game and didn't get any help from the officials. In a league of parity, it's difficult to expect Rodgers to produce that level of heroics every single week.
So, yeah, there are some issues in Green Bay. It's not time to panic, but given the state of that offensive line and the team's across-the-board struggles on first down, it's going to take some real doing to get this unit back to the kind of uber-production we are accustomed to for this team to be a real postseason factor.
The whispers in the summer among some personnel execs about the state of the Packers roster are becoming louder each week. "This isn't a typical (GM) Ted Thompson roster," said one NFL exec who has watched Green Bay closely put it to me. "They need Aaron Rodgers to cover up more holes than usual. There has been some deterioration there."
Finally getting a home game will help, and Rodgers and McCarthy are one of the most dynamic duos in the NFL, but the Packers need to start reversing some ugly trends, and fast. That starts on first down.
Green Bay ranks last in first-down efficiency, which is the percentage of first down plays that go for four yards or more. The Packers are equally bad on the ground and in the air. They rank 31st in passes of four yards or more on first down and 30th in rushes of four yards or more on first down. So they are getting off schedule right away, and having to dig deeper into the play sheet.
Couple that with the fact the team ranks just 28th in the number of plays over 10 yards or more -- lacking the normal vertical thrust -- and that Rodgers has already been sacked six times in two games, you end up with an offense that ranks 29th in the NFL in percentage of drives that go three-and-out. And then, couple that with the fact Green Bay ranks 31st in average starting field position (21.5 yard-line) and you are putting the defense in a difficult spot as well.
The Packers rank 29th in yards per game and 30th in yards per play and where once they ruled the red zone, now they continue to struggle (29th in yards per play inside the red zone). Is it fixable? Well, I certainly expect some improvement given the brain power amassed there and the fact that Nelson should get better and better as the season goes on. I can't help but wonder, however, if at some point it might make sense for McCarthy to cede play calling back to assistant coach Tom Clements, to see if that can shake some more productivity out of this group.
We're about to find out a lot more about how deep some problems might run. The Packers face some brutal, largely-toothless defenses over the next six weeks -- Detroit, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Indianapolis -- so if this is not a top-10 unit by the midpoint of the season, I'd suggest this won't be the Packers' year. And if they tear through these kind of opponents the way they have during most of Rodgers' reign, then I suspect we'll see far more smiles than frowns from the quarterback between drives, and we'll all be heeding the words of Frankie Goes To Hollywood from way back when.