More progress, more work to do for Aaron Rodgers, Packers’ offense

190915-editorial-2560

GREEN BAY – Two good quarters out of eight so far.

That’s how quarterback Aaron Rodgers assessed the performance of the Packers’ offense through two games.

But two is the magic number.

“2-0,” Rodgers said of what he takes out of these first two weeks. “And 2-0 in the division.”

State-the-obvious platitudes aside, Rodgers wasn’t pushing anything under the rug after Sunday’s 23-16 home victory over Minnesota. Getting shut out over the game’s final 44 minutes more often than not will result in a loss, and Rodgers knows there’s plenty of work to do.

A taste of the potential on offense, more than just a teaser, was visible, as Rodgers & Co. bolted out to a 21-0 lead. Nineteen snaps, 13 of them gaining six or more yards, three touchdowns. The tempo, execution, and mix of run and pass were all there.

But then two of the next four drives, the Packers did it to themselves. Geronimo Allison fumbled in scoring territory after getting a first down and trying to pick up extra yards. Then late in the first half, Rodgers was left kicking himself.

He thought line judge Carl Johnson had given the Packers a generous spot for a first down on a quick third-and-1 toss to Allison along the sideline at the Minnesota 25. With just under two minutes left in the half, a review would have required the booth to stop the game, so Rodgers rushed the offense up to the line to run a quick handoff to Jamaal Williams.

As long as there was no review, he was willing to sacrifice the first-down play, let some more clock run, and assess the rest of the series. One problem, though.

Sometime between Johnson’s initial spot of the ball along the sideline and when it was moved to the right hash mark, it was no longer a first down. It was fourth down, and when Williams got stuffed, the Packers had turned the ball over.

You don’t hear a two-time MVP call himself a “bonehead” very often, but Rodgers was rather unforgiving of the gaffe.

“I don’t make plays like that,” he said. “I always pride myself on having really good clock awareness and game awareness. I just assumed first down based on the spot. I should have looked to make sure it’s first and not fourth.”

In his defense, Head Coach Matt LaFleur knew it was fourth down and said he should have communicated to Rodgers the situation, and that he wanted to kick a field goal. At a minimum, he could have called a timeout. The Packers had all three.

“I’ve got to let him know we’re going to take points there,” LaFleur said. “You live and you learn. That falls on me right there.”

Lambeau Field hosted a Week 2 game between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings.

Whoever deserves more of the blame, it was another example of how the communication between the new head coach and the veteran quarterback remains a work in progress.

A lot in that realm was on display Sunday. Rodgers wore a wristband with play calls on it to help with some of the plays requiring extra verbiage. LaFleur could use a shorthand call for those on the wristband, and then Rodgers could spit out the entire play in the huddle, speeding up the process. Rodgers said it was used some but not a lot. LaFleur liked the changed method.

The two also sat down next to each other on the bench during one defensive series to talk through what was going on. LaFleur noted his trust in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, a former head coach, allows him to do that, and he wants to know what his quarterback is thinking in the moment, particularly after things had stalled following such a smooth and efficient start.

“I want to be sure he and I are on the same page and I’m calling things he’s comfortable with,” LaFleur said. “I know this: If he’s confident in it, it has a lot better chance of working.”

While Rodgers joked about LaFleur getting “cozy on the bench,” it was a new approach for a head coach with Rodgers. He said only interim head coach Joe Philbin last year had done that with him before.

So the evolution of the communication, the mechanics and the progress of the offense will remain ongoing. There was a lot more to like than in Week 1, and if a prime opportunity or two hadn’t been squandered, Week 2 might have been pleasantly devoid of drama.

It goes back to two being the magic number. Two games with plenty of frustrations and regrets, but two wins, and Rodgers is enjoying the celebrations.

While lauding the athletic cornerback tandem of Jaire Alexander and Kevin King, the “stand-up, charismatic leadership” of Preston and Za’Darius Smith, and the “hungry” mixture of youth and veterans in the locker room, Rodgers likes what he referred to as a close-knit team.

He’ll happily take all that and keep working on the rest.

“Last year I believe we won one in the division,” he said. “We had a tie but only won one. We’re on the right track.”

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