Focus turns inward for Packers during bye

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GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy knows all about what’s on deck for his Packers.

Four road games in five weeks for a team that’s 0-2 on the road in 2018. More formidable opponents than many the Packers have faced thus far. Just one game at home, where the Packers are 3-0-1, between now and the end of November.

But while McCarthy will appreciate getting some extra prep time on the undefeated Rams during the Packers’ bye week, he stressed on Tuesday that the team’s focus needs to remain far more internal than external.

The opponents and future challenges will come one week at a time, regardless. The extra time before this midseason gauntlet must be about improving from within.

“Really, I’m onto the next step,” McCarthy said. “We have a lot of work to do on ourselves, and that’s where the energy will go.

“We know the things we’ve done well, we know the things we haven’t done well.”

Among the things the Packers have done well are two-minute offense and crunch-time play on both sides of the ball, which produced two of this season’s three victories despite quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ bum left knee.

They’ve also gotten the rookie receivers incorporated out of necessity due to injuries to Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison, who both hope to be back from their hamstring injuries after the bye. Rodgers said following Monday’s game he felt much better about the team’s depth at receiver now compared to the start of the regular season.

“The younger players at a certain point, they have to catch up to the veterans,” McCarthy said, referring to receivers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown, both of whom have made significant contributions the past two weeks. Fellow rookie J’Mon Moore also had his first NFL catch on Monday. “I think our receivers have shown that each and every week, not only getting better but producing. We feel very good about that.”

Regarding the most recent triumph, a 33-30 comeback victory over the 49ers, McCarthy added, “When the game was on the line, when we had to play our best football, we did as a football team. That speaks volumes. What we did on offense doesn’t happen if we don’t get those three-and-outs.

“But we’re making too many mistakes as a football team right now, and that’ll be our focus.”

While McCarthy firmly believes finding ways to pull out close games in adverse situations will pay dividends down the line for the 2018 Packers, cleaning up those mistakes is required for the team to find another, more consistent level of play.

Both the offense and defense have looked both spectacular and disjointed at times, often within the same games. Better run-pass balance on offense and sharper tackling on defense would help, but those are just the beginning.

Penalties in all three phases continue to plague the team. Flags have created too many long down-and-distance situations on offense, given opposing teams too many free yards and first downs on defense, and hampered field position on special teams.

The Packers have 49 penalties accepted against them through six games, or an average of just over eight per contest. That’s on pace for roughly 128 for the full season, which would set an ignominious high for the McCarthy era and mark the most for the Packers in one year since 1987.

“You’re not supposed to say you’re frustrated, but I’m frustrated with the penalties,” McCarthy said. “I don’t like the pattern we’ve established the first six weeks. We just met as a staff, and we had way too many penalties again last night. Special teams was the majority of it.

“That has to change and it will change. Something’s going to need to be adjusted there, because it’s been consistent and it’s an issue. It’s a topic we’ll spend more time on.”

Health-wise, in addition to getting Cobb and Allison back, the Packers also hope to see the return of rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander from a groin injury after the bye.

Offensive linemen Bryan Bulaga and Justin McCray have been banged up, too, though McCarthy noted veteran Byron Bell’s sub work at both the right guard and tackle positions hasn’t forced any changes in how the Packers run the offense.

Rodgers suggested after Monday night’s victory he may look at trying to take his knee brace off after the bye, but that will depend on how much the rest helps and whether he can increase his practice workload without it.

“Those are medical decisions and we’ll work through that,” McCarthy said. “We’ll just see where he is. I’m sure he’s anxious to get that brace off.”

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