Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 20-17 loss Monday night to the Chicago Bears, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. I stand by my original statement that the Packers can navigate the loss of tailback Ryan Grant. But after watching Monday night's game, I don't know if it will be with John Kuhn or Brandon Jackson. Kuhn, a converted fullback, was the surprise Week 3 starter in part because the Packers want to continue using Jackson on third downs. But neither runner is much of a threat to break an explosive run, and that makes the Packers a one-dimensional offense. Kuhn and Jackson combined for 43 yards on 13 carries, and 18 of those yards came from Kuhn on one fourth-quarter run. The Packers compensated with their short passing game, and I suppose in a pass-oriented league, they could get away with that against some opponents. But over time, they will need at least the threat of a productive running game to get where they want to go. At this point, they don't appear to have an internal candidate to fill that need. If they're going to get it, it looks like they will need to make a trade.

  2. It's fair to question two of coach Mike McCarthy's fourth-quarter decisions, although I think one has more merit than the other. First, McCarthy challenged Tim Jennings' recovery of a James Jones fumble with a little more than two minutes remaining. A quick shot of McCarthy on the sideline showed him mouthing the words, "I have to challenge that." The replay, however, clearly showed Jennings was in bounds and thus a legal recovery. McCarthy said afterward it was a "huge play" and was "hoping" officials might see Jennings' foot go out of bounds. I know it was in the heat of the moment, but it wasn't sound reasoning. There was no evidence on the replay it had happened. You're hoping officials see ghosts. The decision cost the Packers a timeout, leaving them unable to stop the Bears from draining the clock after getting in position for a game-winning field goal. McCarthy said he did not consider allowing the Bears to score a quick touchdown to get the ball back with more time on the clock, and I'm on board with that. In my opinion, you always force the opponent to execute flawlessly under pressure in that situation. The chances of a miscue are higher than driving the length of the field with one timeout to score a game-tying touchdown.

  3. We would be remiss in not mentioning another monster Monday night for tight end Jermichael Finley, who caught nine passes for 115 yards and had a 15-yard touchdown reception wiped out by penalty. In three career Monday night games, Finley has caught 22 passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns. His cramp-related absence was notable as the Packers worked their red zone offense in the fourth quarter. Rookie Andrew Quarless dropped a pass in the end zone, and on third down quarterback Aaron Rodgers was forced to scramble for a 3-yard score when all of his receivers were covered.

And here is one issue I still don't get:

What is it going to take for the Packers' special teams to straighten out? McCarthy made it a huge priority this offseason and in training camp, and I know the Bears are known for their own special-teams prowess. But all of this happened in one game: A blocked field goal, a punt returned for a touchdown, a kickoff returned 44 yards, a punt returned 28 yards and a 22-yard punt return of their own called back by an illegal blocking penalty. That's an across-the-board collapse that must be addressed quickly.