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All three phases have areas of focus for Packers

Returning from bye, Green Bay gearing up for stretch run

Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – Matt LaFleur wasn't about to get into the specifics of how the Packers are going to improve their shortcomings. Not when the rest of the NFC, and particularly the top team and next opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, could be listening.

But on Monday after a brief practice that brought the players back from their week off, he sounded like a head coach who has a plan for what the self-scouting process over the bye revealed about his team.

Those revelations were pretty much known going in – negative-yardage mistakes on offense, big plays allowed on defense, and inconsistency on special teams are the problem areas on LaFleur's docket – and he and his coaches went about dissecting them last week without regard for the fact that the 8-2 Packers' next game against the 9-1 49ers is the biggest of the regular season, so far.

"I think it's important no matter who you're playing," LaFleur said of the self-scouting process. "You always gotta take a good, hard look at yourself and study what everybody else is studying. Because everybody is trying to scheme up each other in this league."

For the offense it boils down to third down and where exactly the chains are. The Packers are below the league midpoint in third-down efficiency at 37.2 percent, a rate LaFleur believes can and will rise considerably if the penalties creating long-yardage situations are reduced.

The third-down numbers were starting to turn around in Weeks 7-8 vs. Oakland and Kansas City (combined 14-of-23), but then the disastrous day against the Chargers (2-10) sent things the other direction again.

"Way too many of them," he said of third-and-longs. "I think we've been pretty solid when it's third-and-7 or less, those third-and-manageable situations. But it's tough sledding in this league when you get into third-and-8 or more.

"A lot of it has been self-inflicted. We've had too many penalties, just pre-snap penalties, discipline penalties, that we've got to clean up in order for us to be the team that we want to be."

Defensively, the Packers have lived on turnovers and timely stops, and those will go a long way with any team. But a rash of explosive plays by opponents first cropped up in Week 2 vs. Minnesota, reared its ugly head again in Week 5 at Dallas, and has been troublesome since.

There weren't as many big gains of 20-plus yards allowed vs. Carolina in the final game before the bye (only three), but the Packers still gave up 401 total yards in a game Green Bay's offense won time of possession.

"We gotta look in the mirror at ourselves and do better than we did the first half of the year," veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We did OK, but we still gave up too many yards. Hopefully we'll get hot when we need to."

The special teams have plenty to smooth out, too. While kicker Mason Crosby has been steady and consistent through 10 games, second-year punter JK Scott appeared to be slumping heading into the bye, and the return units have done little to help with field position.

LaFleur also studied the travel schedule and what role it might have played in the dud performance in LA two weeks ago, when the team left Green Bay on Friday evening. So for this week's San Francisco trip, the Packers will be flying out west on Saturday afternoon, just like they would for any other Sunday road game.

From the players' perspective, no one is blaming the schedule. They just know differences are needed this time – different focus, different energy, and most important, different results.

"We obviously don't want what happened against the Chargers to happen this week, but our mind is not there," Williams said. "As a player, you don't look at it that way, you look at it that we just didn't show up. We didn't play well.

"We gotta treat this week as normal as possible, which we will, and hopefully we show up, show out, when the time comes."

The Green Bay Packers were back at the Don Hutson Center to prepare for Sunday night's game against the 49ers.

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