I’m sure every person reading this already knows Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone after a hit from Vikings LB Anthony Barr knocked him onto his right shoulder (Barr was later ruled out with a concussion before the second half began). Emotions are high and speculation is rampant on social media, but the Packers are still 4-2 and there’s still 10 games ahead.

Many will think back to Rodgers’ fractured collarbone in week 8 of 2013, after which Matt Flynn and Eddie Lacy were able to keep the Packers in playoff contention until Rodgers returned in week 17. If Brett Hundley, Ty Montgomery, and Aaron Jones can piece together enough wins for a playoff berth, it could be possible to see Rodgers play in January. While the Packers have confirmed Rodgers is undergoing surgery, he hasn’t yet been placed on IR and at least two medical experts believe a return this season is possible. I won’t get into any more speculation, however, and instead I’ll break down what we do know.

Embed from Getty Images

Brett Hundley Takes The Reins

McCarthy did not waste time after the game declaring Brett Hundley the starter going forward, which will likely be the rest of the season. On Monday, McCarthy was even more emphatic about his commitment to Hundley after being pressed by reporters about potential replacements.

For all intents and purposes, Hundley hasn’t had any meaningful regular season snaps prior to Sunday. Hundley had a promising rookie preseason in 2015, finishing 45-of-65 passing (69.2% completion rate) for 630 yards (9.7 yards/attempt), 7 touchdowns and 1 interception. He only had 7 pass attempts before an ankle injury ended his preseason in 2016. He stayed healthy through the 2017 preseason, and though his stats didn’t quite match his numbers as a rookie, he did play far more snaps against first- and second-team units with inferior offensive line play.

When looking at Hundley’s play against the Vikings, it’s easy to see his 3 interceptions to 1 TD and conclude he didn’t perform well. However, when you break down his performance, you start to see a quarterback who made the most out of an extremely difficult situation. Quarterback is not the only position to be devastated by injuries, as I’ll detail below. One of those positions was offensive line, and this game saw linchpin Lane Taylor leave as well as Bakhtiari and Bulaga. That left the offensive line struggling to get a hand on pass rushers, as Corey Linsley and Jahri Evans were the only starters to end the game.

That would have been enough to test any QB. However, Hundley was also playing against an elite defense on the road against a divisional rival with playoff aspirations. The Vikings defense showed no mercy, getting in his face all night and stuffing the box to stifle movement on the ground. Hundley was forced to throw outside the numbers 14 times out of his 33 pass attempts. The very first attempt outside the numbers led to his first interception when the pass was deflected. Beyond that, he only threw two more incompletions outside the numbers, and one pass that was dropped. That leaves him 10-of-14 throwing outside the numbers at Minnesota, with one receiver drop, which actually is impressive considering the situation he was in.

This second example is actually representative of how the team let Hundley down. Hundley gets 9 yards on 1st and 10, setting up 2nd and 1. Easy, right? Well, two runs by Aaron Jones netted 0 yards and they punted.

All in all, Hundley shows much promise. If the rest of the team can elevate their play, especially the running backs, then this team still has a chance to play in January. To give you a little bit more hope, here’s two of Hundley’s best throws from the night.

Embed from Getty Images

2016 All Over Again – Cornerbacks Get Decimated

On Sunday, Quinten Rollins was carted off in the second quarter after suffering a non-contact leg injury. He was sent to Injured Reserve on Monday as Joe Callahan was promoted from the practice squad. Unlike previous seasons, the Packers do not need to designate which players will return from IR, so they have some more flexibility. His season is still likely over, however, as the Packers can only bring back two players from IR. At least one returning player will almost certainly be an offensive lineman, Don Barclay, Kyle Murphy, or Jason Spriggs. Though Rollins was relegated to backup duties, even in the slot, his departure will have cascading effects. He was a decent run defender and blitzer from the slot, and though he was a liability in coverage, he was—believe it or not—better than nothing.

The Packers finished with only Damarious Randall, Josh Hawkins, and Lenzy Pipkins upright. At one point during the game, the Packers were down to one cornerback. The Packers must hope to get Davon House and Kevin King back soon, as the cupboard is bare.

Morgan Burnett, who has played extensively at slot cornerback, is still recovering from a hamstring injury. Kentrell Brice has come out of the last two games with injury, so there’s not much flexibility to move Josh Jones to slot CB. LaDarius Gunter was released before the game against Atlanta and claimed by the Panthers, so he’s no longer available as depth.

Cornerback Demetri Goodson was an afterthought in this offseason, but he’s sitting on the PUP list itching to be activated. His 2016 season was cut short with a torn ACL, and he is still likely rehabbing it. He wasn’t a remarkable athlete before the injury, and it’s difficult to imagine he improved after the injury. His special teams duties, previously his bread and butter, have largely been distributed to guys like Janis, Davis, Fackrell, and Evans. Relying on him to strengthen the defense would be a desperation move. But, then again, the Packers are desperate.

Their other options are very limited. They could promote undrafted rookie Donatello Brown, who had flashes in preseason, from the practice squad. They could look at various street free agents, though any cornerback still available is a free agent for a reason. They could also look at other teams’ practice squads, like they did with tackle John Ulrick. The least likely option would be a trade, but it’s certainly not impossible at this point. However, it’s hard to see Ted Thompson making a trade just to keep alive hopes of a Rodgers-less run to the playoffs.

Embed from Getty Images

2015 All Over Again – Offensive Line Gets Decimated

As mentioned above, offensive linemen Don Barclay, Kyle Murphy, and Jason Spriggs are all currently on IR. Tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga entered Sunday questionable to play, and the Packers received no mercy as both were eventually ruled out of the game. Lane Taylor was carted off with a knee/ankle injury, leaving the Packers without anyone who could adequately play tackle against fierce Minnesota pass rushers.

Justin McCray shifted from left guard to right tackle to left tackle. Lucas Patrick subbed in for McCray at left guard. Ulrick John, freshly plucked off Arizona’s practice squad, finished at right tackle. Brett Hundley has his work cut out for him if the offensive line can’t get healthy and fast. Hundley will have to use his athleticism to scramble and extend plays to see any success.  That is exactly how he got Adams open for the TD:

 

Poor protection, however, has more far-reaching effects than just the obvious threat of QB pressure. More resources will have to be devoted to blocking, which means potentially fewer route by tight ends and running backs. Aaron Ripkowski will probably continue seeing his snaps increase, though this year he hasn’t shown the improvement you’d expect after two solid first seasons. The Packers offense relies heavily on their offensive linemen being able to execute with as little help as possible, especially their tackles. Rodgers had a difficult enough time in 2015 working without his tackles, and without Jordy it’s likely Rodgers would have had a harder time this year as well. That means the rest of the offense must stay healthy and elevate their play. Running backs need to find yards after contact, and receivers need to be getting open.

Embed from Getty Images

McCarthy’s Time To Shine

If the entire team can step up and execute their tasks, the Packers still have a decent shot at a wild card berth. However, if the team can’t step up or injuries continue to mount, the offensive problems of 2015 could combine with the defensive problems of 2016 to produce the Packers’ worst season under McCarthy.

In the end, McCarthy will be the one who is evaluated for his team’s performance this season. This is what he gets paid to do, get the team through its most difficult periods. That is what separates a good head coach from a great one. He did it in 2013, let’s see if he can repeat that success.


 

Comments