GREEN BAY – Jordan Love says the offense needs to start faster. Matt LaFleur says the Packers must run the ball better.
Truthfully, those two elements go hand in hand.
Because while the Packers didn't come out trying to run the ball Thursday night against the Lions – passing on the initial three first- or second-down plays with 10 yards to go, and getting sacked twice – that sluggish start contributed to a big, early deficit that made it meaningless to even try to run the ball later.
The resulting 34-20 loss to Detroit at Lambeau Field featured all kinds of other problems as well. But on the offensive side, how the game starts and how the Packers can run the ball better are two topics that will weigh heavily on Green Bay's collective mind between now and Week 5's Monday night visit to Las Vegas.
"We'll take a good, hard look at over the course of these next 10 days, over the weekend, just try to find different ways to, when it's not going right, how do you flip the momentum?" Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "How do you get it going in your favor?"
Plenty of armchair quarterbacks will criticize LaFleur for not handing the ball off until the offense's seventh snap of the game, following consecutive three-and-outs. And LaFleur, as he always does, will certainly scrutinize his own plan and process in the aftermath of a humbling defeat.
But it's easy to understand why the Packers, even getting Aaron Jones back from a hamstring injury, didn't line up and try to pound the ball at the Lions right away.
Last Sunday, Detroit had completely shut down Atlanta's ground game – the same one that topped 200 rushing yards against Green Bay two weeks ago – and the Packers were coming in with their own subpar 3.4-yard per carry average thus far that was not solely the result of Jones' absence the last two games.
Rationales aside, the bottom line is the offense needs to make something work early and have something to build off of as the game continues, and that didn't happen. Choosing run or pass doesn't mean much if the opposing defensive front is dictating the action, which the Lions were doing, thoroughly.
Going five straight possessions without a first down – and the Packers ran the ball on both first and second down on the third and fifth drives – gave a struggling defense no breaks to regroup and reset, and the game got away in a hurry.
"Everybody just has to play better at the start of the game, me included," QB Jordan Love said. "I've got to be able to come out and start fast and put points up so we're not playing from behind and making it harder on the defense."
Check out photos from the Week 4 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.
The running game has to do its part, though. Because whenever the Packers do want to run the ball, whether early or turn to it later, it has to be effective or the opposing defense simply won't worry about it.
Thursday night became an extreme example of a slow start, trailing 24-3 less than 17 minutes into the game, but the Packers were never that far behind last Sunday against the Saints and the ground game didn't get going then, either. For the season, Green Bay is still shy of 300 rushing yards as a team over four games.
"We've got to find a much better way to run the football because I think if you can do that, you take pressure off everybody," LaFleur said. "We haven't been very successful at it up to this point."
Jones' return, hopefully to full strength soon, certainly will help, and if the offensive line can get Elgton Jenkins (knee injury) back before too much longer, that'll be a boost, too.
The way these last two games unfolded, the Packers know they were fortunate to win one of them.
But whether in victory or defeat, when the offense can't start fast and can't run the ball, it's got two strikes against it, and nobody walks away feeling all that good about the state of things on that side of the ball.
"Just looking at it, seeing we're 2-2 … there's so much stuff we can clean up and do better from an execution standpoint," Love said. "I don't think we're playing like the team we are yet."