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Packers can’t conduct two-minute drive with efficiency

By Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The malaise dulling the once-prolific offense of the Green Bay Packers even has affected one of the team’s staples for the last 20 years.

They can’t even conduct a professional looking two-minute drive at the end of the first half.

Borderline automatic under coaches Mike Holmgren and Mike Sherman with Brett Favre attacking defenses, the two-minute ship conducted by Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers has run aground in 2012.

Out of their 10 legitimate opportunities through 11 games, the Packers have scored three points. In comparison, their opponents have put up 33 points.

From 2001 to 2011, the Packers never scored fewer than 17 points in a season and scored as many as 44 in 2001, 40 in ‘02 and 37 in ‘03.

“The same problems we’ve had throughout the whole season just carried into it,” said wide receiver Jordy Nelson. “We just haven’t executed. We’ve been inconsistent. It hasn’t changed in two-minute, either.”

Although this study was on end-of-first-half-only situations, it should be noted that the Packers have had three end-of-game situations in which they were trying to win the game. They failed against San Francisco and Indianapolis before driving 82 yards to beat Detroit.

The coaching staff conducted a self-evaluation of its two-minute operation during the bye week. It couldn’t have been pretty.

In those 10 possessions against generally soft defenses, the Packers have run 35 plays and gained 161 yards for a paltry 4.6 average. Other than Mason Crosby’s field goal (35 yards) against Chicago, drives have ended on three punts, two missed field goals (58, 50), two lost fumbles, one interception and one loss of downs.

“I don’t recall each situation but I know in some instances we’ve either given up a sack or we’ve gotten penalties,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “I remember against Indianapolis we dropped a couple balls.

“If you’re not executing the fundamental aspects of the game, it’s going to make it difficult at any time, but especially in two-minute situations. I wouldn’t say there have been mental errors or missed assignments. I think we’ve made physical errors.”

McCarthy believes in separating the offense into situations, but this is one aspect of situational football that probably is making him sick.

Three of the team’s nine turnovers have come at the end of the first half. Rodgers underthrew Randall Cobb in Detroit for the interception, and Rodgers lost the two fumbles on sacks against Jacksonville and the New York Giants.

Penalties led to two of the punts and a missed field goal. There were two false-starts on Bryan Bulaga and an offensive pass interference on Jermichael Finley.

Rodgers has completed 15 of 26 passes for 145 yards, no touchdowns and one pick for a passer rating of 57.4. His long completion has been 18 yards, and he has been sacked three times for minus-22.

Of his 11 incompletions, three were tossed away under pressure, two were tossed away when nobody was open and two were dropped (Nelson, Finley).

The best percentage play has been the five handoffs for 23 yards. Rodgers scrambled once for 15.

Rodgers hasn’t completed a pass to anyone other than Cobb in the team’s last three attempts. In all, Cobb has six catches for 60 yards, Finley has five for 50, John Kuhn has two for 22, Nelson has one for 8 and James Jones has one for 5.

The Packers have an all-pro quarterback throwing to what might be the best receiving corps in the league. The offensive line had all five preferred starters intact until Bulaga injured his hip in Game 9.

Really, is it possible for this unit to have performed any worse?

“That’s one reason why we defer at the start of the game,” Nelson said. “We want to get that two-minute drill. Our ultimate goal is to score right before half and then come out and score on the first drive. Then you kind of double up on a team.”

Instead of a lift before halftime, the Packers have had to slink off the field amid another mishmash of mistakes.

Alex Van Pelt, a former quarterback who coaches the running backs, and quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo agreed that it’s essential to start fast.

“You try to get the defense on their heels and try to move the chains,” said McAdoo. “We’ve struggled to get the drill started this year more than anything.”

When the first pass or two are completed and the offense is hurrying to the line, Finley said it’s clear defenses begin to tire.

“If we start inside the 20, by the time we get to the 50, they’ll be exhausted,” he said. “Let’s be real. We’ve got to get the ball out faster.”

By his fifth season or so as a starter, Favre was widely regarded by scouts as the No. 1 quarterback you’d want leading a two-minute charge. In 1996, when the Packers won the Super Bowl, Favre’s 17 attempts at the end of the first half produced five touchdowns and three field goals for 44 points.

On opening day in Tampa, Favre hit Keith Jackson for a 51-yard TD with 39 seconds left in the half. The next week against the Eagles, he found Robert Brooks for a 20-yard score with 26 seconds left. At Chicago on Oct. 6, Favre finished off a 53-yard drive with a 2-yard pass to Jackson with 35 seconds left. When Dave Krieg threw an interception on the next play, Favre found Antonio Freeman for a 50-yard TD as the half expired.

Favre probably took even more chances at the end of the half and never seemed to think twice about flinging a Hail Mary. It added to his interception total and hurt his passer rating, but he never quit trying to score.

From 2001-’07, Favre’s 99 end-of-first-half chances resulted in 215 points (2.17). From 2008 to the present, Rodgers’ 59 chances have led to 98 points (1.66).

Clements, who coached both men, was asked if Favre was the more effective player at the end of the half.

“I wouldn’t say so,” said Clements. “Early in his career, the first year that Aaron started, we weren’t as good in two-minute. We made an emphasis about it. For the years after that we were very good. It’s just this year we haven’t been as effective.

“It’s a total team problem. It’s not necessarily Aaron’s fault.”

One week after the game in Chicago, Favre was driving the team late in the first half when he was intercepted by 49ers defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield on a zone drop. A few plays later, the 49ers had a touchdown.

Rodgers, who abhors interceptions, has suffered one Hail Mary interception (at Chicago, 2010) at the end of either half. And McAdoo said he wouldn’t want to see Rodgers taking more chances in two-minute.

“No,” McAdoo said. “Then you start a two-minute for them. If you’re in the red zone and you throw a pick you take points off the board.”

The Packers drill two-minute all summer and once a week during the season. Right now, they have next to nothing to show for it.

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