The Green Bay Packers gained 466 total yards against the Bengals in Week 5 and averaged 7.4-yards per offensive play. Despite that, the team scored only two touchdowns in this game and barely eked out a 25-22 overtime win.
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One big reason for the lack of point production? The Packers struggled when they got close to paydirt. Green Bay scored only two touchdowns in five trips inside the red zone. Poor play calling and execution prevented the team from being more productive when they got close to the Cincinnati end zone.
Head coach Matt LaFleur admitted he could have done things differently in the red zone on Sunday. “There were multiple times I think we could’ve put the game away offensively and probably got a little too conservative, I would say,” LaFleur said. “Thankfully, the game went long enough that they covered for me.”
The problems started midway through the second quarter. A 13-yard pass to A.J. Dillon and a 24-yard toss from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams gave the Packers the ball first-and-10 at the Cincinnati 25 with 8:22 left in the half. From here, Rodgers threw an incomplete pass, a short pass to Allen Lazard that lost a yard and then went deep for Adams down the left side. The Packers settled for a 44-yard field goal. On this drive, the Packers abandoned the running game and attempted two low percentage passes that didn’t connect and one poorly executed short pass that was blown up by the defensive back.
Early in the third quarter, the Packers had the ball 1st-and-10 at the Cincinnati 29. After A.J. Dillon lost a yard on a run, Rodgers threw a short pass to Aaron Jones for two yards and then to Adams for two yards on 3rd-and-9. Crosby successfully converted a 44-yard field goal which increased the Packers lead to 19-14. The drive was 12 plays and took 7:38 off the clock but again the Packers settled for three points.
Early in the fourth quarter, Rodgers found Adams on a 59-yard bomb that gave the Packers the ball at the Bengals six. Twice the Packers ran Dillon into the line, once up the middle and once off right guard. The total gain on those two plays was two yards. On third down and goal from the four, Rodgers’ pass intended for Cobb was knocked down at the line of scrimmage. Again, the Packers settled for a field goal and instead of putting the game out of reach, it remained a one-possession game with the Packers ahead 22-14.
After the Bengals tied it by scoring a touchdown on the ensuring drive, the Packers had another deep foray into Cincinnati territory. It was set up by Jones’ 57-yard run that gave the Pack the ball on the Bengals 18 with 2:34 left on the clock. Here, the Packers needed to score a touchdown or run out the clock and kick the game-winning field goal. Unfortunately, they did neither.
On first down, the Packers ran Dillon up the middle for no gain. Cincinnati called their first timeout with 2:28 remaining in regulation. Then, the Packers threw two incomplete passes on second and third down that not only stalled the drive but saved Cincinnati two timeouts (they still also had the two minute warning).
With 2:16 left to go, Crosby came on to try a 36-yard chip shot field goal to give the Packers the lead but he missed wide left and the Bengals had 2:12 left and two timeouts to work with to try to win the game. Even if this field goal had been good, the Packers were still giving Joe Burrow too much time to tie or possibly win the game.
The Packers defense stiffened and forced the Bengals to try a 57-yard field goal in the closing seconds which hit the upright and was no good. That gave the Packers back the ball at their own 47 with 21 seconds left and no timeouts. The last second drive led to another missed field goal attempt, this one from 51 yards away. The game headed to overtime.
On the first play of overtime, De’Vondre Campbell gave the Packers a chance to win when he intercepted Burrow and gave the Packers the ball at the Bengals 17. From here, the Packers ran Jones twice, once up the middle for a one-yard loss and once off the right side for a four-yard loss. On third down, the Packers sent Crosby in to try another field goal, this time to win it from 40 yards out. Again, Crosby was wide left.
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The Packers offense moved the ball extremely well between the 20s, but once the Packers got into field goal range, the offense bogged down. Questionable play calling was part of the problem, with LaFleur being too conservative at times with excessive running calls that often lost yards. At other times, low percentage passes downfield resulted in incompletions and more field goal tries.
The way the Packers moved the ball against Cincinnati, they should have scored more than 25 points. Crosby’s missed field goals certainly didn’t help, but against elite teams, settling for field goals when you could have touchdowns is a recipe for losing close games.
Last year, the Packers were the best team in the NFL in the red zone with a touchdown percentage of 76.81. So far this season, they are 27th in the league, scoring touchdowns just 55 percent of the time they enter the red zone.
LaFleur needs to revisit some of the play calls and strategies that worked so well in the past and then adapt them to the 2021 playbook and personnel. Getting Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers and eventually David Bakhtiari back into the lineup will certainly help as would a healthy Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
If the Packers want to win a championship this year, the red zone offense needs to return to its 2020 form. There is still time to right the ship.
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