The Packers’ Bye Week Couldn’t Come Soon Enough

Aaron Rodgers

(12) on the sidelines during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals. Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports photograph

After the disappointing loss in Cincinnati on Sunday, Coach McCarthy summed up the Green Bay Packers’ performance by saying the game was “full of peaks and valleys.”

After three weeks into the 2013 season, you could say the Packers’ play on the field has been defined by peaks and valleys.

Green Bay is currently 1-2. The exact same record they were at this time last year. However, assessing this year’s Packers team has been anything but easy so far.

At times they look great. Their run defense stopped Frank Gore and kept Colin Kaepernick from scrambling. Their offense wracked up 580 yards and 38 points against Washington. Their ground game has posted back-to-back 100-yard rushers. And their defense forced four turnovers and had four sacks against a good Cincinnati offense.

But then there’s the other Green Bay Packers team. The one that has given up 10 sacks already this season and seven turnovers. The one that has let opposing offenses average over 400 yards of offense a game. The one that gave up a 30-14 lead late in the third quarter on Sunday. And the one that has still yet to put together a good fourth quarter performance.

In fact, the Packers have been outscored in the fourth quarter this year 40 to 7. This is just not acceptable for a team wanting to contend for a championship this year.

So why such the inconsistency? Who are the real 2013 Packers?

Jermichael Finley. Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Well not to be a Packers apologist, but I believe the main reason for Green Bay’s inconsistent play over the first three weeks of the season is a combination of the injuries they’ve suffered and how reliant they’ve had to be on inexperienced players because of these injuries.

Look at the Packers’ secondary. They’ve been without starting safety Morgan Burnett and playmaking corner Casey Hayward in the first three weeks. This has really hurt them. Their most experienced safety after Burnett is second-year starter, M.D. Jennings, and undrafted first-year player Chris Banjo has been starting in Burnett’s absence. Micah Hyde, a rookie fifth-round pick, has been filling in for Hayward in the nickel spot and has been struggling. The young secondary did play better against Cincinnati, but their youth has led to inconsistent play so far this season.

The Packers “next man up” philosophy can only be so effective for so long. At some point the injuries get to be so much that the production on the field significantly suffers.

We saw this on Sunday. When Jermichael Finley left the game with a concussion on the Packers’ first possession, their offense lost a dynamic. Green Bay was planning on using Finley frequently in the game to exploit the mismatch he presents against the slower Bengals linebackers. Finley could have really opened things up for Green Bay over the middle of the field, but this element of the offense was lost when number 88 went down.

The Packers defense was also not the same in the second half without Clay Matthews. Matthews made some big plays in the first half, forcing two fumbles and recording a sack, but the Packers pressure waned without their number one playmaker.

Johnathan Franklin. Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports photograph

And then there’s the running backs. Green Bay was already without Eddie Lacy heading into week three, but once James Starks went down with a knee injury late in the second quarter, they were left with one running back, rookie Jonathan Franklin, on the roster.

Franklin played admirably and was a real bright spot in the loss, but he did have a costly fumble at the end of the game and was yet another example of the Packers youth still trying to figure things out on the field this season.

Ted Thompson and Coach McCarthy like to keep their team young and build through the draft. So relying on rookies and second-players to play key roles on the team can breed inconsistent and sloppy starts to a season.

We may have to live with some inconsistency while young starters, like the Packers tackles, David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay, are still working on figuring things out.

So if you’re scratching your head at the puzzling start to the Packers 2013 season, don’t worry and chalk it up to injuries and the youth on the team.

Heading into this year, it appeared having a bye in week four put the Packers at a big disadvantage, but considering the amount of injuries they’re dealing with already and how much they’re relying on inexperience at key positions, there couldn’t be a better time for Green Bay to have their bye week.

It will give them a chance to heal, and a chance to take a step back and make the proper adjustments going forward. It will give the young players a chance to evaluate their performance in the first three weeks and make the necessary changes to improve.

After a bizarre three weeks of Packers football, let’s all take a breather. It’s important we be patient as the Packers youth learns and develops. Over the bye week, we need to trust Green Bay will get healthy and be a revitalized and more experienced team heading into week five when they play the Detroit Lions.