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Does the offense have another gear?

Posted Jan 2, 2013

All receiving weapons could be at QB Aaron Rodgers' disposal for first time since September

GREEN BAY—There was a lot to like about the Packers’ offensive performance last week – two dozen first downs, 405 yards, 34 points. But then again …

“It was a pretty good outing, but it wasn’t good enough because we didn’t score enough to win,” receiver Greg Jennings said.

That isn’t just player-speak, either. The Packers believe the offense left plenty more out there on the Metrodome turf in that 37-34 loss.

“We have to show up, start fast,” center Evan Dietrich-Smith said. “I know we put up a lot of points last week, but we can’t go out there our first three drives and go three-and-out. That put us in a hole right off the bat.”

A 13-0 hole to be exact, which guaranteed Vikings running back Adrian Peterson wouldn’t stop getting the ball the entire game. But regardless of Minnesota’s game plan, the Packers like the way their offense is shaping up for Saturday night’s playoff matchup.

Over the last five games of the regular season, the Packers have averaged 396 yards per game. That’s more than 50 yards per game better than their average through the first 11 contests (343). While the running game has cranked up its efficiency and the offensive line has gained some stability, quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted three of his five highest single-game passer ratings of 2012 in the last three games.

Despite the loss, the 34 points last week were the most the Packers scored against a division opponent this season. That’s significant, not only because the Vikings are this week’s playoff foe, but also because when an offense can get rolling like that against a defense that knows its every tendency, it points to a supreme level of execution at work.

“This is the way we’re supposed to play,” Mike McCarthy said. “Our point production, our tempo, timing, as far as the pace at the line of scrimmage … Aaron is playing very well. We’re getting the ball to our perimeter players, doing a better job of that than we were probably five, six, seven weeks ago. I’m very happy with the way the offense looks.”

The question is, does it have another gear? Can the nagging thoughts noted earlier from last week’s otherwise productive day be satisfied?

Getting all the offense’s weapons back on the field would provide the best chance, and that could happen this week.

Receiver Randall Cobb, who missed last week’s game with ankle and knee injuries, is back at practice and on track to play. Jordy Nelson also returned to practice on Wednesday after resting Tuesday, though McCarthy noted the team doctors have “some concerns” about his knee.

If Cobb and Nelson can both join Jennings, James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley on Saturday night, it would mark the first time since the first month of the season that the offense’s top five receiving threats would all play together.

“That’s why we’re here,” Jones said. “We’re here so we can be healthy on the field at the same time, create mismatch problems for the defense, and you can’t just key on one person. Aaron will spread the ball around and hopefully we’ll make some plays.”

Nelson said he plans on playing, and even though he stopped short of guaranteeing he’d be out there, he had a smile on his face that suggested it’s playoff time.

“It will be great to have everyone back,” Nelson said. “It’s what we’ve looked forward to since the first game of the year. Unfortunately it’s taken this long to get here, but we’re all on board to make this run. That’s what we’re after.”

They’re also after a clean game in the turnover department, which regrettably eluded the Packers in the postseason last year. Four turnovers doomed the Packers in their loss to the Giants and were at least double the offense’s total from any other game in 2011.

Last week, the only one of the Packers’ last seven possessions that didn’t result in points ended with a Rodgers fumble on a sack when he was chased down from behind. It was the only turnover of the shootout and the Vikings capitalized with a touchdown.

“We had one turnover that led to seven points, and when you’re playing a game that the margin of victory is three, you can make a correlation between the turnover and the victory,” Rodgers said. “So we have to do a better job of taking care of the football.”

In the playoffs, it could mean everything.

“We’ve got to play our best football,” Jones said. “The time is now.”

Additional coverage - Jan. 2

 
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