GREEN BAY – Even if you’re not the church-going type, you’ve probably heard some variation of Luke 12:48 before.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
And so it goes with the Green Bay Packers offense, which -- after putting up such glorious, never-before-seen-in-franchise-history numbers last season -- just hasn’t quite looked right though the first two games of 2012.
But whatever has been ailing the offense in its first two games – and let’s be honest, when you put up 560 points and almost single-handedly carry your team to a 15-1 record like the offense did last season, much is indeed going to be expected – coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t feel any conclusions can be drawn from such a small sample size.
So while quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been as sharp as he was during his NFL MVP-winning season, and the aerial assault the unit normally delivers hasn’t been quite as powerful, the coach doesn’t think there’s any reason to worry.
“This is a new year. There’s new things (happening). Every year’s different,” McCarthy said. “I’ve never attempted to play the new season the same as the last season. I don’t think that’s feasible in this league. It’s a poor approach to take. Teams study you through the whole offseason.
“This is a new season, and frankly after two games whether it’s how many times a guy’s played in a game, how many times a guy’s touched the ball, is he tackled, his quarterback rating, to me things don’t really sort themselves out until probably Week 4 or 5 so I’m not concerned about Aaron Rodgers.”
Nor is he concerned about the offense as a whole. Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore the stark contrast statistically in the Packers’ first two games this season as compared to the way the offense started last year, when the Packers won each of their first two games en route to a 13-0 start.
In the 2011 season-opener against New Orleans, the offense rolled up 399 yards and scored 35 points on five touchdowns in a 42-34 victory, then put up 419 yards and 30 points the following Sunday at Carolina in a 30-23 victory.
Rodgers, meanwhile, was 27 of 35 (77.1 percent) for 312 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions (132.1 rating) against the Saints and was 19 for 30 (63.3 percent) for 309 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (119.9 rating) against the Panthers. All told, he had completed 46 of 65 passes (70.8 percent) for 621 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions (126.5 rating).
This season, the Packers opened with 324 yards of offense and scored only two touchdowns (Randall Cobb’s 75-yard punt return for a TD and the ensuing Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson two-point conversion accounted for the other eight points) in a 30-22 loss to San Francisco. On Thursday night, the Packers put up 321 yards of offense and were responsible for 16 points (the other seven coming off a Tom Crabtree touchdown on a fake field goal) in a 23-10 victory.
Through two games, Rodgers has competed 52 of 76 passes (68.4 percent) for 522 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 89.9. Against the 49ers, he was 30 of 44 (68.2 percent) for 303 yards with two touchdowns and one interception (93.3 rating); against the Bears, he was 22 of 32 (68.8 percent) for 219 yards with one touchdown and one INT (85.3 rating).
“There are a lot of things that factor into it,” said offensive coordinator Tom Clements, who was Rodgers’ quarterbacks coach the last six seasons before his promotion during the offseason. “The first game he completed 68 percent of his passes, we won the passing down 65 percent of the time. (Thursday) night he completed 69 percent of his passes. We had some opportunities to catch some that we didn’t; he had some opportunities to hit some that he didn’t.
“So his QB rating hasn’t been as astronomical as it has been in the past, but he’s still completing a lot of passes, still moving the ball, and we’ve played against two very good defenses, too. Aaron’s fine. We’re just going to work to get better each outing.”
In fairness to Rodgers, the 49ers finished last season No. 2 in scoring defense (14.2 points per game) and No. 4 in total defense (308.2 yards per game) while the Bears ranked 14 th in scoring defense (21.3) and 17th in yardage (350.4). The Saints, meanwhile, finished last season No. 13 in scoring defense (21.2) and No. 24 in total defense (368.4) while the Panthers were No. 27 in scoring defense (26.8) and No. 28 in total defense (377.6).
The one area where Rodgers’ numbers are most obviously down is in yards per attempt, which is widely considered a strong indicator of a quarterback’s effectiveness. Last season, Rodgers averaged 9.2 yards per attempt in 15 games, best in the NFL. Through two games, he’s averaging 6.9 yards per attempt, ranking him 24th.
That would seem to indicate that the Cover-2 approach both the 49ers and Bears took against Rodgers did the trick, keeping him from making the big play on them. By playing two high safeties and forcing Rodgers to take the shorter passes open to him, defenses count on the Packers offense not being able to sustain lengthy drives without a crucial dropped pass, off-the-mark incompletion or a drive-killing sack or penalty.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to play us the way Chicago does,” Rodgers said on Thursday night when asked about the offense. “They’re very soft in the secondary. It’s two-shell, and the safeties are high. They try to prevent the big play and keep everything in front of them. They do a good job rallying to the football and making plays on the ball. You’ve got to give them credit, they’re a solid defense. But still, we’d like to move the ball a little more effectively.”
But if you’re an upcoming opponent – like the Seattle Seahawks, who’ll face the Packers on Monday, Sept. 24 – is it worth considering playing a lot of Cover-2, given how relatively successful it’s been against the Packers? While it isn’t exactly stopping the Green Bay offense, it appears to give teams the best chance of slowing the offense down.
“They may. That’s happened to us in the past,” Clements said of teams stepping out of character and employing more two-deep safeties to prevent big plays. “But most teams have an identity, they try to stay (true) to that identity. If they change things up too much, it’s hard to get that done in a week’s period of time. But whatever a defense does to try to stop us, we have to combat it.
“I think San Francisco played us pretty much the way we thought they were going to play us. That’s their style of play. They showed a few different blitzes in different situations that they hadn’t shown before, so that was a change. And Chicago, you know what they’re doing to do – they’re either going to play 1-high or 2-high. And they played a lot of 2-high. They’d done it to us in the past so it wasn’t totally unexpected.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.