Packers pointing fingers only at themselves

Panthers have stars at every level of defense


GREEN BAY – It's look-in-the-mirror week in the Packers' offensive meeting room.

After reviewing the game film, no one was passing the buck for the 140-yard, 10-point output in Denver last Sunday.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers: "I missed some throws I usually hit. I missed a few that I'm used to hitting, which is disappointing. I have to do a better job of hitting the ones that you should hit."

Receiver Randall Cobb: "I feel like it's my fault. I feel like it's on me. I have to make more plays when I get opportunities. I'm going to go out and I'm going to play better. I'm going to do more for this team."

James Jones: "It's me polishing my route-running, me getting better and getting open and doing what I've been doing since I got here. I didn't do a good job. I have to get better. I'll be working on my craft this week."

Davante Adams: "I'm going to run my routes and get open. That's what I've got to do."

The overarching message is the collective won't improve until the individuals do, and as it usually is with a Mike McCarthy-coached team, individual accountability is high. That's the good news.

The less appealing news is the NFL waits for no one, and the Packers' ailing offense needs to do more than just find its footing with a second straight road game against an unbeaten opponent coming up.

Carolina brings a 7-0 record and a top-10 defense into Sunday's game in Charlotte, with at least one superb player at every level of the unit.

Defensive tackle Kawann Short anchors the front and leads the Panthers with five sacks. Packers guard Josh Sitton said he was impressed with Short's strength when the two went head-to-head last year. The difference Sitton sees on tape this season is Short, in his third year out of Purdue, shedding blocks regularly.

At the linebacker level is All-Pro Luke Kuechly, a sideline-to-sideline playmaker in his fourth year. He missed three and a half games this season due to a concussion, so statistically he trails fellow star linebacker Thomas Davis in the noteworthy categories, but it's his presence in the middle that makes Carolina's defense go.

"He's not a guy that's going to come up and thump you and things like that. He's just very instinctive," Sitton said. "That's what gives him that edge. He's always able to read the play, dissect it and get to the edge on you, on a lineman, before you can get there. That's what makes him one of the best in the biz."

Cornerback Josh Norman, also in his fourth season, is the standout in the secondary. Developing into a lockdown guy, Norman is tied for second in the league with four interceptions. He has returned two of them for scores, and another pick came in the end zone in the waning moments to save a five-point win over New Orleans.

"I watched him today for about an hour on film," Jones said. "He's long, he's fast, he's smart, very good defense in front of him as well. He's playing with a lot of confidence, too. He's seeing things extremely fast right now. He's having a Pro Bowl year for sure."

Statistically, the trend that mustn't continue for the Packers is third down trouble. Green Bay hasn't converted better than one-third of its third downs in a game since Week 3, and for the season the Packers rank 19th in the league.

Perhaps most frustrating, of the 31 failed third downs over the past four games (the Packers are 14-for-45), 13 of them required five yards or less to convert, so it's not as though the offense has been constantly behind the chains.

"Third down has been a big disappointment, I think," Rodgers said. "We're used to being a top-10 third down offense, and when you're able to convert those, you're obviously getting more plays and most of the time getting more points. We have to do a better job in situational football."

No better time to improve than now, with the top spot in the NFC at the season's midway point on the line. The Packers (6-1) and Panthers are the only two NFC teams with fewer than two losses, so Sunday's result likely will have implications in January.

That's a concern for another day, though. The primary thought is to channel the individual accountability into a collective bounce-back performance.

"It is important for seeding when that time comes. But as far as right now, we're just trying to worry about our preparation for this week," Cobb said.

"They're a really good football team. Their record shows it. But it's not really about knocking off a 7-0 team. It's about going out and getting a win."

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