Grading the Packers in loss to Arizona Cardinals: Just one-half football

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Bob McGinn

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By BOB McGINN

His intention presumably was to distract the kicker. Offering apt commentary on the current state of the Green Bay Packers shouldn’t be ruled out.

As the Arizona Cardinals prepared to kick an extra point late in the third quarter Sunday, a chubby fan in a yellow jacket about 10 rows up stepped from his seat into the aisle directly behind the uprights at the north end of Lambeau Field.

The gentleman turned around and, for five seconds, mooned the field where Zane Gonzalez had his head down preparing his steps. In fact, he even swayed as he patted his ample backside.
It wasn’t quite Randy Moss, but you get the picture.

Team president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst probably felt like doing lots of things as they watched the Packers’ shameful performance. When the 20-17 defeat, believed to be the worst loss ever suffered by the Packers (13 ½-point favorites in the 62-year history of Lambeau), was done, Murphy went downstairs and fired Mike McCarthy.

On Tuesday night, the Packers issued a press release confirming that Winston Moss, the team’s associate head coach and linebackers coach, had been fired, too.

“We thank Winston for his contributions to the Packers over the past 13 years,” interim coach Joe Philbin said in a statement. “We hope for the best for Winston and his family moving forward.”

Shortly before the release arrived Moss tweeted, “The Packers have informed me that there letting me go. #thankstwitter!”

Moss followed with this tweet: “I have serve the Packers with all my heart and soul. I’ve given it my all. No regrets!”

Together with offensive line coach James Campen and strength coach Mark Lovat, Moss was one of three assistant coaches that had been with McCarthy for his entire 13-year tenure.

Around mid-day Tuesday Moss tweeted: “Ponder this … what Championship teams have are great leadership! Period! It’s not the offensive guru trend, it’s not the safe trend. Find somebody that is going to hold #12 and everybody in this building to a #LombardiStandard! Period! #losing sucks!”

No. 12, of course, is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the highest-paid player on the team and in the league. It’s a fairly safe assumption that Moss’ departure was tied to his tweet.

Upon close review, the Packers didn’t just lose Sunday to a 2-9 team before a frequently booing crowd that didn’t include an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 no-shows. It was the Packers’ indifferent approach, tepid effort and inability to finish that must have frosted the front office to no end.

Yes, the Packers probably would have won if safety Eddie Pleasant hadn’t dropped Josh Rosen’s wobbly lollipop that was right in his hands. As inexcusable as that was, a dropped interception by a brand-new player wasn’t as damning as what happened next.

On third and 23, the Packers rushed four. On the left, Clay Matthews stunted inside as Kenny Clark worked outside of him.

It was a risky call by coordinator Mike Pettine because he was asking a nose tackle to contain on Rosen’s throwing side. When Clark didn’t get there fast enough, Rosen was able to scramble outside him and find time to complete a 32-yard pass to a sliding Larry Fitzgerald. Pleasant was the closest defender but, given the down and distance, Jaire Alexander could have been deeper on that side of the field, too.

Matthews went to the sidelines after the play. Moss, the linebackers coach and one of several defensive coaches in the bench area, was at least partly responsible why someone didn’t replace Matthews. The staff was trying to argue that it wasn’t a catch by Fitzgerald.

Against a 10-man defense with nobody over the right tackle, David Johnson ran off tackle where the missing man was supposed to be for a gain of 7. Before the next snap, Reggie Gilbert entered the lineup as the 11th player.

The Cardinals gained 23 more yards against a sagging defense before Alexander got the unit off the field with an aggressive break-up of a third-and-3 sideline pass to Fitzgerald. Gonzalez’ 44-yard field goal made it 20-17.

Just as the defense failed to finish, the offense failed as well. In 11 plays Rodgers failed to complete a pass longer than 9 yards and advanced only to the Arizona 31 with 3 seconds remaining.

With all three timeouts remaining, Cardinals coach Steve Wilks elected not to freeze Mason Crosby. When Crosby’s 49-yard attempt drifted right, the Cardinals rejoiced in their locker room while management was delivering the grim news to McCarthy.

Here is a rating of the Packers against the Cardinals, with their 1 to 5 football totals in parentheses. As a team, they received one-half football.

The three stars of the game were: 1. Davante Adams. 2. Lane Taylor. 3. Kenny Clark.

RECEIVERS (1 ½)

Were it not for inferior quarterback play, Davante Adams (played 72 of the possible 76 snaps on offense) could have enjoyed a blockbuster day. Surprisingly, defensive coordinator Al Holcomb didn’t ask perennial all-pro CB Patrick Peterson to shadow Adams. The other outside starter was David Amerson, a chronic gambler with his fourth team, and nickel back Budda Baker, a safety by trade. Adams was running free a lot but the ball either was poorly thrown or thrown elsewhere. Adams made two breath-taking plays. On a 13-yard touchdown, he lost Baker at the end line with a quick head fake. On a 19-yard reception, the longest for the Packers, he managed to get his toes down just inside the boundary. Randall Cobb (61) returned from a three-game absence (hamstring) and was OK. He got Baker to interfere with him after a late adjustment on third-and-11. He also would have moved Crosby five to 10 yards closer on a nice route that Aaron Rodgers threw at his shins requiring a diving catch. Clearly, Cobb’s speed has diminished. He also wasn’t sharp as a blocker, missing SS Tre Boston and MLB Gerald Hodges on failed runs. Marquez Valdes-Scantling (64) hadn’t dropped a pass all season but had two drops here. He made a terrific catch of a high pass for 8 and zipped 29 yards on two end-arounds. If he hadn’t stumbled on the second it might have been worth another 10 yards. Equanimeous St. Brown (15), playing with a brace on his right elbow, was on the field for 13 of the first 18 snaps but then sat out the entire second half. He might have scored on a deep corner route but the ball was underthrown. The coaches waited until the waning seconds of the third quarter before allowing Jake Kumerow (five) to make his debut. One of the largest roars followed Kumerow’s stylish 11-yard route in which he left Amerson five yards away and off his feet. Playing satisfactorily with a broken thumb, Jimmy Graham (54, seven with his hand down) caught eight of his 10 targets for 50 yards. He’s not Jermichael Finley or Jared Cook. He’s just a big security blanket. The Packers know by now they can’t win with Lance Kendricks (12, six down and one at fullback) or Marcedes Lewis (eight, all down). Lewis handled DE Benson Mayowa at the point of attack by himself on a 13-yard rush but then missed Mayowa on the next play (minus-1). Finally, the coaches gave free agent Robert Tonyan (nine, three down) some run after his previous high was three snaps. They went to Tonyan on the final drive when Graham needed a three-snap breather.

OFFENSIVE LINE (1 ½)

Jason Spriggs (55) was a second-round draft choice. This is his third season. His team really needed him Sunday and again he came up short. Actually, Spriggs did a relatively solid job in pass protection after Bryan Bulaga (21) couldn’t finish his fourth game of the season due to injury (knee). Spriggs yielded just one pressure, but unfortunately for him the pressure was in the form of a holding penalty against DE Chandler Jones and wiped out a 36-yard corner route to Cobb. It was one of the few times that Jones rushed from the left side. Spriggs had another penalty, false-starting on one of the many hard counts. After he jumped, Spriggs didn’t even push back when DT Rodney Gunter gave him a thank-you tap on the shoulder. That came on third and 3 and helped abort a drive. On the next series, Spriggs got beat by DE Markus Golden and a third-and-1 run was stopped. Bulaga’s partner on the right side, Byron Bell (13), really struggled in the run game before departing with a knee injury. Enter Justin McCray (63), who played like the backup he is with two pressures and 1 ½ “bad” runs. He just can’t get his feet moving to reach the second level. Corey Linsley, with one pressure and one-half “bad” run, has been a pillar of consistency. For example, on the 8-yard TD run, Linsley turned NT Corey Peters at the point with beautiful technique. Sometimes he’s taken for granted. On the left side, Lane Taylor (thigh) and David Bahktiari (knee) went the distance against good players and held up fine. Neither could move well but stayed out there to give their team a chance. Taylor executed some outstanding combo blocks. Matched against the long-armed Jones, Bakhtiari allowed one sack, one knockdown, two hurries and one-half “bad” run. All came against Jones other than the “bad” run in which Gunter destroyed Bakhtiari at the point for minus-3.

QUARTERBACKS (1)

No one can say for certain what Aaron Rodgers is about these days. All that’s clear is his performance and leadership levels aren’t close to what they once were. Coach Steve Wilks, the coordinator last year at Carolina, blitzed the heck out of Rodgers last December (55.8%) in the Panthers’ 31-24 victory. Though defensive coordinator Al Holcomb called this game, Wilks followed the same strategy with a 45.5% blitz rate. Mike McCarthy and Rodgers used to welcome blitzing. Now a weak defense like Arizona’s can blitz heavily and not worry. Rodgers threw 50 times. His longest completion was 19 yards. The Packers scored 17 points. In other words, he made almost nothing happen. He underthrew Equanimeous St. Brown on a deep corner. He air-mailed what would have been a 59-yard TD after Davante Adams burned Patrick Peterson and Tre Boston. He threw behind Aaron Jones on a bubble screen. He forced a pass in the end zone to Jimmy Graham with three defenders circling as other receivers ran free. David Amerson and FS Antoine Bethea dropped interceptions. He kept short-arming passes, forcing receivers to go so low that even if the catch was made there was nothing to be made after that. With the outcome in his hands, Rodgers fizzled late for the third week in a row. The pressure wasn’t extreme. He just wasn’t up to the challenge against a defense ranked 26th in points. At times, it appeared as if Rodgers was going rogue just doing his own thing. This was the kind of tape a player of his stature should be embarrassed to put out there. Winston Moss’ tweet begging for someone to hold Rodgers, the only player he mentioned, accountable for his actions was telling, to say the least. But the 13-year associate head coach understood full well that’s hard to do when a player has a fresh $134 million contract extension and is lauded each Sunday by network broadcasters and almost daily by sycophants in print and online.

RUNNING BACKS (1 ½)

The Packers had eight “bad” runs, a total that they surpassed just once all season. On Monday, Arizona coach Steve Wilks said: “I thought, across the board, we penetrated up front. I thought we played a lot on their side of the line of scrimmage, which is going to disrupt any run game. We did a good job of playing downhill and using our hands and getting off blocks.” Aaron Jones (39) and Jamaal Williams (38) averaged just 2.7 on their 18 carries for 49 yards. One might quibble with a read or two but not sufficiently to charge them with any “bad” runs. In the last five games Jones played 201 snaps compared to Williams’ 75. Injury didn’t appear to be a factor. Why? The guess is that Jones might have missed an assignment or two in the passing game and the quarterback and/or coaches got him out of there. Jones made a tremendous surge for the end zone on his 8-yard TD. He was saved a fumble when the officials ruled his forward progress had been stopped. Williams was Williams. The debut for FB Danny Vitale (three) as a Packer included two snaps as the up-back in an I formation and another in which he motioned to split receiver.

DEFENSIVE LINE (1)

The NFL’s lowest-ranked offense in terms of rushing yards per game (77.3) and yards per carry (3.5) finished with 182 and 6.3. By early in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals didn’t have even one of their five preferred starters on the offensive line. Yet, they still managed three scores on drives of 61, 65 and 49 yards in the last 1 ½ quarters. Kenny Clark (played 58 of the 62 possible defensive snaps) and Dean Lowry (59) just looked worn out down the stretch. Clark took advantage of strength-deficient rookie C Mason Cole in the first half, either shedding or stuffing him on four runs totaling 6 yards. He blew up a screen pass. Just before the half, he did a poor job on a pair of goal-line runs for 13 yards. At the end, on the fateful stunt with Clay Matthews, Clark lost containment to give Josh Rosen space to win on third and 23. Lowry might have nightmares on Rosen’s 33-yard scramble. He beat LG Colby Gossett, a rookie who hadn’t played a snap until Mike Iupati went down with a season-ending knee injury on his 37th snap. Despite the quick pressure Lowry failed to finish, with Rosen escaping beneath his high charge. In another one-on-one matchup with Gossett, Lowry beat him in 2.8 seconds for a sack. Needing a third big on 42 of the Cardinals’ 62 plays, the staff decided free agent Tyler Lancaster (35) was a better option than Montravius Adams (15), a third-round draft choice. Lancaster muscled up twice against Cole and made tackles on two short rushes. Other times, he gave ground. Adams is barely adequate against double teams. He just doesn’t seem to have the toughness that’s a prerequisite to play D-line. On the 33-yard scramble, Adams dropped his head rushing backup RG Oday Aboushi so Aboushi shoved him down. By the time Adams got back up, he was late diving at Rosen and out the gate he went.

LINEBACKERS (one-half)

Arizona has a makeshift O-line. Arizona’s quarterback has average mobility. Arizona was playing in surreal weather for most of its players and battling at least some crowd noise. Mike Pettine had to pressure on 36.4% of passes because his outside linebackers proved incapable of getting home. Clay Matthews (43), Kyler Fackrell (57) and Reggie Gilbert (25) combined for six pressures but no sacks. The best Matthews could do was draw a pair of holding penalties on LT Korey Cunningham, a seventh-round pick in April. That’s the type of opponent the Claymaker used to unnerve with a display of shock and awe. Certainly that hasn’t happened in the past few seasons. He also was knocked around by TE Jermaine Gresham, a rugged run blocker. And he bounced off ball carriers twice in the red zone. On the inside, neither Blake Martinez (62) nor Antonio Morrison (25) stopped the run. Martinez’ two knockback tackles against David Johnson stood out because he manages them so infrequently. Of course, he was unblocked each time. When big people get off combo blocks and tag Martinez, he isn’t strong or violent enough to shed quickly and make the play. The lack of speed and athleticism at inside linebacker is something that Pettine must find difficult to hide. Morrison is a physical guy but just can’t get there. He also missed two tackles, including one in the flat that enabled rookie Chase Edmonds to pick up 13 additional yards on a dump-off. Even given what Martinez and Morrison were doing, the staff still would only play Oren Burks for three snaps. Rookie ILB James Crawford has one snap from scrimmage. He’ll likely get his chance soon along with OLB Kendall Donnerson, the seventh-round pick who on Tuesday was promoted from the practice squad.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (one-half)

Jaire Alexander (62) has a considerable ways to go before the Packers can count on him as a strong starter. Like most weeks, the rookie continues to give up huge plays. When rookie Christian Kirk ran a quick nod-and-go, Alexander guessed on the out, lost all leverage and was burned for a 37-yard bomb. On the preceding play, Kirk came across motion and beat Alexander on a 23-yard jet sweep. Alexander followed but crossed behind the inside linebackers rather than in front of them. It put him in such bad position that he didn’t even come close to making the tackle. On the winning FG drive, Alexander should have played deep to short given the down-and-distance (third and 23) and was partly at fault for the 32-yard completion. With Kevin King (hamstring) having played just three full games out of 12 and Bashaud Breeland (groin) out again, Josh Jackson (61) keeps starting by default. His season is heading for the dumpster fast. Most teams are picking on him, and having success doing it. He made a nice play attacking a bubble screen. His worst moment came when Chase Edmonds bounced outside and was able to turn the corner for an 8-yard TD because Jackson drifted inside and blew containment. When Jackson did get over, he was rather nonchalant and Edmonds showed 10 times more desire powering through him to the end zone. Playing extensively as the nickel back, Tramon Williams (62) looked good in coverage on the sideline to TE Ricky Seals-Jones and deep to Larry Fitzgerald. As a safety, he’s just not big enough to stop surging running backs. It’s a tad surprising that Tony Brown (nine) isn’t playing more. Since September, the Packers have two interceptions. Their best chance to add one was the gift present dropped by Eddie Pleasant (11), the veteran special-teamer pressed into service late when Ibraheim Campbell (46) departed with a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve Tuesday. Then Pleasant was unable to prevent Fitzgerald from making the play of the game. Campbell was playing fairly well. That’ll be a loss. Josh Jones (48) registered a sack with a clever head fake that fooled the running back. His contributions against the run were ordinary.

KICKERS (1 1/2)

It’s hard to say how many times out of 10 Mason Crosby makes that 49-yard field goal. The crosswind was a major factor, it was near freezing and the field was wet. Needing a make to force overtime, Crosby hit the ball he wanted but then looked stunned when it blew wide right by a yard or three. He is 1-for-3 on game-winners in 2018, missing from 52 against Minnesota and hitting from 27 against San Francisco. Crosby did connect from 32. His four kickoffs, all for touchbacks, averaged 72.5 yards and 3.88 seconds of hang time. JK Scott had a strong day with seven-punt averages of 48.4 yards (gross), 40.7 (net) and 4.56 hang time.

SPECIAL TEAMS (1 ½)

Zane Gonzalez was waived by the Browns after choking in the first two games. Given his track record, it was surprising to see the Packers play it semi-safe as if they expected a fake on the 44-yard field goal that was the decider. Holder Andy Lee had to spin the laces, too, but with the Packers not applying pressure it was like a walk in the park for Gonzalez. This was the seventh game in which special teams had at least two accepted penalties. After having just two penalties in the first four games, they have 17 in the last eight. Josh Jones had an ideal chance to down Lee’s first punt when it hit at the 11. Only problem was Jones didn’t locate the ball and so it bounded in for a touchback. Jaire Alexander broke one tackle on a 24-yard punt return but later made a mistake not fielding a punt at the 7 with the nearest tackler almost 15 yards away.



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