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Packers have issues they need to solve

Slow starts, backfield options, penalty questions among items needing answers going forward


LANDOVER, Md. – The Packers have a lot to figure out three games into the 2018 season.

For starters, they've begun two of their three contests in rather ugly fashion on both sides of the ball. Sunday's rough start produced a 31-17 loss at FedExField.

They were able to overcome a 20-point deficit to beat Chicago in the opener, but an 18-point hole on Sunday at FedExField was a here-we-go-again moment that's a stronger recipe for frustration when playing on the road.

"We put ourselves behind the sticks with a lot of negative-yardage plays," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, and he could have been talking about either the first or third game. "The next thing I know we're down by three scores. That's kind of how the game went."

They also have to figure out how to get the most out of their three-headed backfield now that Aaron Jones is back.

It's a good problem to have with multiple viable options, but finding a productive rotation without crossing over into a disjointed lack of rhythm isn't as easy as it sounds, not when the Packers would like to have Jones, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery available and healthy for the next three-plus months.

"It's great to have him back," McCarthy said of Jones, who rushed for 42 yards on six carries and nearly made a diving catch down the sideline for a big reception late in the fourth quarter.

"His running style is definitely different than Ty's and Jamaal's. Those guys give us excellent balance and versatility."

Whether Rodgers can keep playing like this, week after week, on a bum left knee also will have to be monitored.

He said after Sunday's game he didn't feel any worse than last week, and his limping on a couple of scrambles was nothing more than the knee, despite some media speculation otherwise.

Rodgers was kicking himself for a couple of off-target throws he'd like to have back, but he also put plenty on the money in less-than-ideal conditions, weather- and health-wise, to give the Packers a chance.

"He's going to be dealing with this for a while," McCarthy said of his quarterback's knee. "He gutted it out. He moved out of the pocket more than probably I would like, but I really won't know the extent (of how he's feeling) until tomorrow."

The roughing-the-passer penalties remain a conundrum as well. Clay Matthews was called for his third in three weeks, this time when he sacked Washington QB Alex Smith head-on with what looked like a clean form tackle.

During the game, the NFL's league office tweeted that the roughing call was correct, saying Matthews landed with his body weight on Smith, but the Packers are already clearly tired of going back-and-forth with the league on this.

"I think Clay did what he's supposed to do there," McCarthy said. "How it's being officiated are questions for other people. He hit him with his shoulder, he's coming full speed off the block, he braced himself. I was fine with what Clay did."

Rodgers simply said, "That's for the league to decide," and he suspected the NFL would again "double down" on confirming Matthews' infraction.

After one of the four sacks he took, Rodgers could be heard in the stadium press box (because referee Craig Wrolstad left his microphone on during the TV timeout) asking whether Wrolstad thought Daron Payne slammed Rodgers down on his head. No call was made.

"He said he couldn't see through the 14 guys, something to that effect," Rodgers said.

So that's all clear as mud.

In the end, it's probably the sluggish starts that's most important for the Packers to get a handle on, because three-score deficits early in games is no way to live.

It wasn't a problem in Week 2 vs. Minnesota. After three strong quarters, Green Bay needed to cash in on just one of many opportunities to put the game away late, which would have avoided overtime and ultimately the tie.

That didn't work out the way the Packers had hoped, but odds are it's a better formula than how the other two games have gone.

"We need to start a little faster," Rodgers said. "We haven't been starting fast in games, double-digit deficits.

"We have to play better in the first quarter so we don't have to do something heroic in the fourth quarter."

They'll only be able to go to that well so many times, especially when Rodgers has just one good knee.

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