After a nightmarish end to regulation and beginning of overtime, Mason Crosby split the uprights with a 49-yard field goal that finally gave the Green Bay Packers a 25-22 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon. While much of the conversation after the game surrounded the three missed field goals (and the missed extra point attempt earlier on), if the Packers’ offense was able to be at least average in the red zone, the game should have never come down to Crosby’s foot at all.
This season, a recurring theme for Green Bay has been big plays and stellar performances as they march down the field, only for them to get hung up just outside the end zone. The Packers have scored on 11 of 20 trips to the red zone through five games this season, good for 55%, which ranks sixth-worst in the NFL. It’s been a frustrating development for coaches, players, and fans alike, especially given the potential of this offense and the incredibly high clip at which the offense could convert in the same circumstances a season ago.
Sunday’s contest was par for the course this year. Davante Adams posted a career-high 206 yards receiving on 11 catches, and Aaron Jones added 103 yards on the ground on only 14 carries. Both players had giant gains that brought Green Bay into the red zone — Adams on a 59-yard catch early in the fourth quarter, and Jones on a 57-yard run near the end of regulation — only to settle for field goal attempts instead of touchdowns.
The throw from Aaron Rodgers to Adams was an absolute dime, with Adams catching it in stride as he sprinted through double coverage. He got tripped up at about the 10-yard line and went down at the Cincinnati six, only to see the Packers’ offense stall out with a pair of one-yard runs and an incomplete pass before Crosby tacked on a 22-yard chip shot to make it a 22-14 game. (We can argue about whether Matt LaFleur should have treated it like four-down territory, considering the field goal took it from a one-score game to a one-score game, but that’s for a different time.)
On cue, the Bengals marched back down the field with an eight-minute drive that resulted in a touchdown complete with a game-tying two-point conversion with 3:27 still to play. On Green Bay’s next play from scrimmage, Jones made three guys miss before getting to the secondary and followed his blocking downfield for a 57-yard gain. That set the Packers up on the Bengals’ 18-yard line with 2:35 left on the clock, enough time to take any approach they would have wanted to inside the red zone.
LaFleur and the Packers opted to run Dillon up the middle for no gain. Then two incomplete passes by Rodgers set up a missed field goal attempt by Crosby. If Rodgers can connect with Adams in the corner of the end zone, it’s a different story, but the degree of difficulty on that play was high, even for that duo.
The Packers have scored 11 touchdowns in the red zone this season, which is the 10th-most in the league. When you zoom out a bit, that’s in the upper echelon, but the lack of efficiency is holding back the offense from being as good as it can be. The offense also needs to be amongst the league leaders in this category, especially considering the Green Bay defensive unit is dead-last in the same metric, allowing 13 touchdowns in 13 trips to the red zone for a perfect 100%.
The failure of the Packers’ offense to get all the way there can be chalked up to several different factors, namely the loss of players like David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, easily the two best players on the Green Bay offensive line. Add in Josh Myers missing Sunday’s game, and the cohesiveness isn’t there yet for it to be an elite red zone unit. Rodgers is forced to operate just a hair quicker than usual, and the results speak for themselves.
Luckily for the Packers, it hasn’t hurt them too severely yet in the standings. A 4-1 record after the Week 1 debacle? That’s a win. But they have had to pull two of those wins out of their rear ends in spectacular fashion: The OT win in Cincinnati and the 37-second miracle comeback against the San Francisco 49ers. That isn’t a sustainable approach to getting the playoff seeding the Packers think they deserve. Even last week’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers could have been a blowout if the offense could have been just a little bit more efficient.
The sample size is still relatively small; we’re less than a third of the way into the season, but it’s growing, and the results are not improving. The hope is that Green Bay can return to health and get closer to the upper ranks of the league where they feel like they belong. They play the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field this week, which is never easy. The Bears aren’t necessarily sporting the Monsters of the Midway defense, but they’ve been more than solid, allowing only six touchdowns on 16 trips to the red zone (37.5%), good for third-best in the league.
The Packers need to be looking at the next two weeks — at Chicago and home for the Washington Football Team — as games they need in the win column because the opposing teams get tougher from there. Green Bay might be able to eke out a win over the Bengals playing as they did, but field goal attempts aren’t going to cut it in road contests against the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs in Weeks 8 and 9.