Packers Notebook (at Bills)

By: 
Bill Huber
Correspondent

Second half troubles

The Green Bay Packers aren’t half-bad. The problem is they’re only half-good. And that could mean a full-time headache on Sunday night at the Buffalo Bills.

The slumping Packers enter the primetime showdown having lost three in a row to tumble to 3-4. It’s not hard to find an explanation that’s a lot more than half-baked.

In week five against the Giants in London, the Packers led 20-10 at halftime but were outscored 17-2 in the second half and lost 27-22.

In week six against the Jets at Lambeau Field, the game was tied 3-3 at halftime but the Packers were outscored 24-7 in the second half and lost 27-10.

In week seven against the Commanders in Washington, the Packers led 14-10 at halftime but were outscored 13-7 in the second half and lost 23-21.

Through the first seven weeks of the season, the Packers are plus-22 in first-half scoring. That’s seventh-best in the NFL. However, they’re a woeful minus-43 in the second half, the second-worst mark in the NFL.

While the Packers have flailed like a blindfolded kid trying to hit a pinata, the Bills have knocked the candy right out of their opponents. They are a league-best plus-67 in second-half scoring en route to their 5-1 record.

Green Bay’s offense, unable to adapt to life without Davante Adams, has scored only five touchdowns in the second half. That unit’s struggles are somewhat predictable. The problems on defense, however, are completely unexpected considering the perceived talent on that side of the ball and the preseason hype.

The Giants had three “real” possessions in the second half in which they tried to move the ball. They went field goal, touchdown, touchdown. The Jets had four “real” possessions and went punt, touchdown, touchdown, field goal. The Commanders had four possessions and went touchdown, field goal, field goal before draining most of the remaining 3:26 and punting.

In those 11 possessions, the Packers allowed nine scores.

During the second halves of their seven games, the Packers haven’t been able to stop the run (league-worst 34 rushing first downs allowed) or the pass (30th-ranked 7 yards per attempt).

On Thursday, defensive coordinator Joe Barry said, “I don’t think there’s anything really to read into that or a trend that’s happening.” That seemed a ludicrous statement at the time, and especially so in light of what happened on Sunday.

On Sunday, the Commanders drove five plays for 69 yards and the go-ahead touchdown, 16 plays for 72 yards for a field goal and nine plays for 46 yards for the clinching field goal. On the 16-play drive, the Packers gave up a third-and-11. On the nine-play drive, they gave up a third-and-8. On the final drive that drained most of the clock, they gave up a third-and-9.

Unlike his coordinator, coach Matt LaFleur does see a trend. And it’s a big reason why his team is in deep trouble.

“That’s something that we looked at and it’s definitely the consistency at which we play,” he said. “We gave up a lot of third-down conversions in the second half. I think the penalties, we had some situations where it was second-and-6, we get a TFL, it’s about to be third-and-7, we get called for a defensive holding, first down.

“We’ve got to do a better job of making sure we get all 11 guys on the same page doing their responsibility, because there were some times we had some miscommunication and that stuff, that leads to drive-extending plays and explosive plays, and you can’t have it.”

Zach Tom saves the day

The Packers spent all last week getting ready to debut a new offensive line. With David Bakhtiari having started the previous four games, the coaches felt confident enough in their left tackle that they could move his backup, Yosh Nijman, to right tackle.

That allowed them to move Elgton Jenkins, who had started five games at right tackle, back to left guard, where he earned Pro Bowl honors in 2020. Jon Runyan, who had started 22 of a possible 23 games at left guard in 2021 and 2022, shifted to right guard.

It all sounded good until the team reported for its Saturday walk-through before departing for Washington. Bakhtiari’s knee — the same one that cost him the end of the 2020 season, most of 2021 and the start of 2022 — wasn’t feeling right. The Packers held out hope that he’d be able to play but, following a pregame workout, he was listed among the inactives.

The Packers stuck with all the line changes and inserted fourth-round rookie Zach Tom into Bakhtiari’s slot on about 2 hours’ notice.

“It was definitely pretty, ‘Woah,’” Tom said on Monday.

The late change led to some last-minute scrambling by LaFleur. Some plays that included one-on-one blocks by Bakhtiari had to be scrapped. Other plays were adjusted.

“Let’s just say I was a little bit later getting out to the pregame warm-up than typical, shuffling some things around,” LaFleur said. “But it is what it is. In a game, that may happen and that’s even more chaotic, but at least you had some time to kind of re-organize some things. Obviously, it didn’t necessarily help us. It’s not like we were very productive offensively.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Tom didn’t allow a single pressure in pass protection. There were a lot of quick passes and Tom was given plenty of help. Still, it was a solid starting debut for a promising prospect.

“I think I did all right,” he said. “I think there’s still some things that I need to get better at — using my hands, that’s going to be something I continue to harp on. Overall, I think I did all right.”

Big underdogs

The Packers are 10½-point underdogs for Sunday. Previously, an Aaron Rodgers-led team had been an underdog of more than seven points just once: the 2014 opener at Seattle, when they lost 34-14 as 8½-point underdogs.

On paper, this is a huge mismatch. Moreover, the Bills are coming off their bye week. For what it’s worth — and it might not be worth anything — the Packers were 6½-point underdogs at undefeated Arizona last season when their top three receivers were inactive but won 24-21.

Dark humor

LaFleur managed one laugh during Monday’s 22-plus-minute press conference. It was gallows humor, though. What’s the state of the receiver corps with Allen Lazard (shoulder) joining Randall Cobb (ankle; injured reserve) and Christian Watson (hamstring; missed last two games) on the injured list?

That’s obviously not ideal under any circumstances, and especially so given the quality of opponent coming up. Buffalo is No. 1 in points allowed, total defense and interception percentage and No. 2 in opponent passer rating,

“It’s definitely not where we want it to be in terms of that room, but injuries are a part of this game,” LaFleur said. “You’ve got to adjust, you’ve got to adapt. It’s not the first time. We’ve gone through this before here. So, we’ve got to get some guys ready to play. Bottom line.”