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Tom Oates: Packers need to iron out kinks in new offense quickly to avoid more missed opportunities

Tom Oates: Packers need to iron out kinks in new offense quickly to avoid more missed opportunities

Jimmy Graham - Packers vs. Eagles

Green Bay tight end Jimmy Graham can't haul in a pass on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter of the Packers' 34-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night at Lambeau Field. The Packers squandered two big scoring chances in the final quarter of their first loss of the season. 

GREEN BAY — At first, the notion seemed entirely reasonable.

With a new coach installing a new scheme, it figured to take awhile for the Green Bay Packers' veteran offense to get up to speed.

So it was understandable when the Packers offense struggled in the season opener against the Chicago Bears. Nor did it raise any red flags when the offense started fast but fizzled out against the Minnesota Vikings the second week. When the same thing happened in game three against the Denver Broncos, however, the locals began to get restless.

No matter how often we would tell ourselves that the marriage of coach Matt LaFleur's cutting-edge offense and the skill and experience of veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers would pay off in a high-scoring, fun-to-watch offense, the continued lack of execution and production was eating away at our confidence. The Packers' offensive progression figured to test our patience early on, but patience only lasts so long.

Eagles 34, Packers 27
Eagles 34, Packers 27
Eagles 34, Packers 27
Eagles 34, Packers 27
Eagles 34, Packers 27

By the time the Packers played the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night at Lambeau Field, that patience was wearing thin. Sure, the Packers had a 3-0 record, but realistically how long could they keep looking at their revitalized defense and say, "Can you go out and win another game for us while we sort things out?"

Against Philadelphia, a team two years removed from a victory in the Super Bowl, the question was finally reversed. With the defense struggling to contain the Eagles' combination of power running and effective short passing, the Packers needed their offense to go out and win the game.

It couldn't do it. Despite showing progress in some very important ways, the offense fell short after squandering two huge scoring opportunities in the fourth quarter and the Packers dropped a 34-27 decision to the Eagles. LaFleur's offense remains a work in progress and it finally cost the Packers a game.

In review, what was wrong with the offense in the first three games?

A lot. The game plan fizzled when the 20-play script ran out and defenses made adjustments. The offense was turning Rodgers into a pedestrian game-manager. No wide receiver or tight end other than Davante Adams was making any impact, and too often Adams wasn't targeted in the passing game. Tight end Jimmy Graham looked washed up and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling's hands were inconsistent. The running game, which was supposed to be the cornerstone of the offense by setting up play-action passes, had only one good game. The Packers were averaging 19.3 points per game, which ranked 24th in the NFL. Worse, they ranked 28th in total offense, 24th in rushing offense and 27th in passing offense. And worst of all, they were converting only 25 percent of their third-down attempts, which ranked 29th in the league.

Sure, the Packers faced tough defenses in all three games, but this was not what LaFleur was hired for. He was brought in to make people forget about Mike McCarthy's outdated scheme and through three games he couldn't even come close to that offense's production.

Actually, the Packers made progress in some of those areas against an aggressive Eagles defense that repeatedly crossed the line into dirty play.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling

Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling draws a face-mask penalty on Eagles inside linebacker Zach Brown in the first quarter Thursday night.

Once again, the Packers were virtually unstoppable early on, going 89 yards for a touchdown, 78 yards for a field goal and 63 yards for another field goal and a 13-7 lead. This time they sustained it reasonably well, too, finishing the game with 491 yards and repeatedly moving the ball into scoring position in the fourth quarter.

Rodgers continued to throw some of the quick passes that are the staple of LaFleur's offense, but he got back to some of his old ways, too. He scrambled for first downs and made plays in the passing game after breaking the pocket, pretty much showing those who had questioned his unspectacular play that he can still be Aaron Rodgers. In all, he competed 34 of his 53 passes for 422 yards.

After saying all week that his offense didn't feature one receiver, LaFleur showed that he's flexible by featuring one receiver. Rodgers targeted Adams on three consecutive plays as the Packers opened the game with a five-play touchdown drive. By the end of the first quarter, Adams had six catches for 107 yards and he finished with 10 catches for 180 yards before leaving with a toe injury in the fourth quarter.

Just as important, however, was that the other wide receivers and tight ends finally showed up. Graham had six catches for 61 yards and a touchdown and two other wide receivers — Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison — combined for six catches for 99 yards.

The third-down percentage was also back to normal as the Packers converted six of their 11 attempts.

Despite all that, it is the offense's failures that will be remembered most. Halfback Aaron Jones rushed for only 21 yards on 13 carries. Rodgers handed the Eagles a touchdown with a first-half fumble. Trailing by seven in the fourth quarter, the Packers had a first-and-goal at the 1 and threw four straight passes, all incomplete. Late in the game, after the Packers drove to the 21, Rodgers threw a tipped-ball interception that ended the game.

"We were able to accomplish a lot of what we wanted to do," LaFleur said, "but we've got to do a better job in the red zone."

The sooner, the better.

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Tom Oates has been part of the Wisconsin State Journal sports department since 1980 and became its editorial voice in 1996, traversing the state and country to bring readers a Madison perspective on the biggest sports stories of the day.

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