When it was announced that the Packers would be without both starting tackles for their showdown with the Falcons, I had one overriding thought: let’s just get Rodgers through the game in one piece.
Heading into the season, offensive line depth was maybe the biggest roster concern. Little did we know it would be tested this early. Asking Kyle Murphy and Justin McRay to step up in this spot on this stage was too much to ask. They weren’t disasters by any means, but it was clear from the start that Rodgers would be running for his life for much of the night. The play of the backup tackles was not the biggest problem on this night. The play of the cornerbacks was.
When Jordy Nelson and Mike Daniels exited in the first quarter, it was obvious this would not be the Pack’s night. But as ugly as it was early, they were in the game until late in the first half when the game turned on one play. Trailing 17-7, and backed up inside their own ten, Rodgers found Randall Cobb for a big gain that put the ball around midfield. But Martellus Bennett was called for a pick, which wiped out the play. It was a borderline call (Allison’s similar offense later was much more obvious) and it was followed up by a rare Rodgers interception that led to a score and put the game out of reach.
As frustrating as it was to watch the offense struggle without Bakhtiari and Bulaga, there were some bright spots on that side of the ball. Ty Montgomery is showing that he will be a dual threat–though he’ll need more than ten carries a game. And Davante Adams made some big catches–his touchdown was a thing of beauty.
The most disappointing aspect of the game has to be the play of the defense, which was shredded almost as thoroughly as it was in last year’s title game. No doubt the loss of Daniels early was critical; he’s the emotional leader and best player for the defense. But you have to be able to withstand injuries and the team didn’t on this night. Most upsetting was the play of Randall and Rollins who reverted to the 2016 versions of themselves.
We knew the Falcons would make it a point to get the ball to Julio Jones early, after targeting him only five times in the opener. But just like last year, the Pack had no answer as he carved them up right from the start. Mohammed Sanu also had a big night as the Pack’s corners struggled. The one bright spot was the play of rookie Kevin King, who got the call when Randall got yanked. King showed he belonged and deserves to start from this point forward. With home games against the Bengals and Bears coming up, it’s the perfect time to get him acclimated to the role.
What we learned on this night is that the defense still has a long way to go against elite offenses, especially on a fast track. The development of King and fellow rookie Josh Jones gives us hope that the unit will get better as the season goes along. And getting Daniels back on the field is an absolute must.
Now we’ll wait and see if the tackles are able to go on Sunday and we’ll wait to hear about the injuries to Nelson, Cobb, Daniels, House and Brice. With two games coming up in a five day span, the team is likely to be very careful, knowing a mini bye will follow, leading up to tough road tests in Dallas and Minnesota.
Going into the season, I thought the Pack needed to start 4-2, which meant winning their home games and then winning one of the three tough road matchups. They failed their first road test; now we’ll see what a dash of humility, along with a hopeful return to health will mean when they head back on the road in a couple of weeks.