DETROIT -- It doesn't make any sense. If any two positions on the Green Bay Packers' roster were going to suffer from a failure to communicate, they shouldn't be the quarterbacks and wide receivers -- not with all the time those guys spend together.
"Good point," Packers coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged.
When McCarthy decided to relinquish the offensive play-calling duties this offseason, he also reorganized his staff on that side of the ball. In addition to giving playcaller Tom Clements a new title (associate head coach/offense) and promoting wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett to Clements' old job as offensive coordinator, McCarthy put quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt in charge of wide receivers in addition to reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, backup Scott Tolzien and rookie Brett Hundley.
As part of the new arrangement, the quarterbacks and wide receivers have combined position meetings during the week, when Rodgers and his pass-catchers are all together in the same room talking about route conversions, Rodgers' checks/audibles at the line of scrimmage and every other area of the passing game. Part of their meetings entails Rodgers quizzing receivers on plays and adjustments.
So when Rodgers admitted after last week's Thanksgiving day loss to Chicago that he and the receivers weren't on the same page, it was a huge red flag for two positions that spend more time together than any others.
"How are we not on the same page? It's frustrating. And there's no one more frustrated than me. I feel responsible for a lot of the lack of success that we've had of late," Van Pelt said. "But at the same time, we've got to go out and make plays. We've got to do it the right way."
For example, Rodgers said he had thrown passes to one depth while the route was being run to another depth. And while Rodgers has been uncharacteristically off-target on some throws, he has also seen a surprisingly sharp spike in dropped passes by his receivers.
"It's not like we're changing depths during the week. There are certain depths we run the routes, and they've got to be there at that time and catch the football," Van Pelt said. "I mean, we do more ball drills than anybody I've been around. There's no excuses. Whatever it is, you've just got to overcome that."
Since Van Pelt can't be in two places at once during practice, Bennett and offensive quality control coach Luke Getsy work with the receivers while the quarterbacks coach is with the signal-callers. Both Van Pelt and Bennett said this week they believe the arrangement works. They don't believe the receivers' fundamentals have suffered and they don't think the communication issues are the result of the staff's reshuffling.
"In our business, we communicate non-verbally the majority of the time [on the field]. That's the facts," Bennett said. "So we have to be on the same page."
Wide receiver Randall Cobb said most of the Packers' communication issues are indeed non-verbal, that -- like a baseball batter missing a sign from the third-base coach -- the receivers have missed some of Rodgers' subtle indicators to do certain things. Rodgers in turn has at times misinterpreted signs from the receivers about their route intentions.
"Communication in the meeting room and communication on the field are totally different," Cobb explained. "On the field, it's body language, it's little things that you do in your route that indicate to the quarterback that you're stopping or you're going to a certain direction. We've missed some of those cues. It's [all about] being on the same page on the field. In the meeting room, we're there. It's continuing to take it to the field."
McCarthy reiterated this week that despite his passing offense being 23rd in the NFL entering Thursday night's game against the Detroit Lions, he "definitely felt the structure [of putting the receivers and quarterbacks together] was the right way to go, but yes, we need to get more results." He also admitted that "the [attention to] details is not quite what it needs to be."
Rodgers, meanwhile, downplayed the communication issues and chalked them up to poor execution by him and his receivers, "whether the throw's off or we're not catching the ball or we're not in the right spot at the right time." He also supported Van Pelt, who is among the most respected coaches on McCarthy's staff, and said he still believed the combined meetings were beneficial.
"To have the opportunity to have everybody together [in one room] clears up a lot of communication issues. I know it didn't last week, [but] for the first six weeks of the year, it was the greatest thing ever to happen," Van Pelt said, referring to the Packers' 6-0 start. "It's not like it changed midseason. We're going through a slump right now that we have to overcome mentally. Physically, we've got some guys who are playing through some things, and that's not helping. At the same time, you've got to go on the field and you've got to make plays. I've got all the confidence in the world that we'll turn this thing around."