It was easy to lose touch, at least a little, with the many, many things that did not go right for the Packers for the first three quarters of Sunday’s game against the Saints. And given that the team had to play a near-perfect fourth quarter to pull off a stunning 18-17 win, fans would do well to forgive the Green Bay youngsters their sins.
But the players and coaches, especially on a short week with Thursday Night Football against Detroit looming, will do no such thing. Even amidst the joy and self-congratulation among the Packers at Lambeau Field, there was a recognition that for too long against a quality opponent like the Saints, the Packers were their own worst enemy. And they can’t keep playing that way.
Most noticeable, especially in the first half, was the team’s 11 penalties for 90 yards. It was an unnecessary roughness call against defensive lineman Kenny Clark—which followed the Packers’ failure to convert a fourth down at the Saints’ 44-yard line, that gave New Orleans a first-and-10 from the Green Bay 40, and essentially set up the first touchdown.
“We’ve got a young group,” coach Matt LaFleur warned in his postgame press conference. “That is something we have to re-evaluate as a coaching staff, is we had a lot of mistakes offensively and a lot of penalties that put us in some bad situations. Just didn’t execute most of the plan, at least not the way we design it. If it is, that’s the way you design it, that’s some bad ball out there.”
Packers Penalties Pile Up
The penalty on Clark was one of three in the first five minutes of Sunday’s game—a holding by offensive lineman Jon Runyan Jr. and a false start from Royce Newman helped bog down a promising opening Packers drive, one which the Packers started on their own 48-yard line.
But it was not just the infractions. The Packers repeatedly were guilty of poor offensive execution, something that quarterback Jordan Love discussed at length after the game. The worst moment was probably on fourth-and-2 from the Saints’ 13-yard line to open the fourth quarter, when Love had running back Patrick Taylor open in the flat for what would have been a first down.
But Taylor pulled up, as if waiting for Love to hit him in the spot. Love, though, threw the ball forward, leading Taylor. Incomplete. Turnover on downs.
“That was frustrating,” Love said after the game. “We put a great drive together, decided to go for it right there and came up empty-handed. It definitely sucked, going back to the sideline after that one. … It was just a miscommunication between the two of us.”
Mistakes Aplenty for Packers
There were other glaring holes for the Packers on Sunday. It was a battered unit, health-wise, with star running back Aaron Jones still out with a hamstring injury suffered in Week 1, and left-side offensive linemen Elgton Jenkins and David Bakhtiari out, too.
Cornerback Jaire Alexander was a late scratch, as well, dealing with a back injury.
Not only did the Packers again rack up big penalty numbers—they rank 31st in the NFL with 9.0 penalties per game—but they also had a big special teams miscue, with Saints return man Rashid Shaheed taking a punt 76 yards for a touchdown to give New Orleans a 14-0 lead. Additionally, the Packers were 8-for-18 on third down and just 1-for-3 on fourth down conversions.
Oh, and the running game was useless, for the most part, on Sunday, tallying just 95 yards, 39 of which went to Love.
So there’s a lot to clean up. But the Packers will be able to clean it up with a 2-1 record, at least.
“We got a lot of young guys playing,” Clark said, via Forbes. “Those guys are growing on the fly. You saw a lot of them making plays at the end of that game and in the fourth quarter. At the end of the day, that’s what you want. You want guys to constantly be improving whether it’s practice, in the game, during the game, that’s what you want to see and those guys did that today.”