“Close, but not good enough.”
Ron Rivera’s description of the Panthers’ 24-16 loss to the Packers could have been intended for almost every aspect of the game. While Christian McCaffrey’s final run may come to mind, it was Carolina’s secondary that had the most fits in Green Bay.
Without cornerback James Bradberry, groin injury, the Panthers struggled to stop Aaron Rodgers. Despite coming into the game leading the NFL with 34 sacks, Carolina had just two Sunday and struggled to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Some of that can be blamed on the fact that this was Rodgers. He’s known for escaping the pocket and he’s going to get a few of those plays a game. But all of the responsibility cannot be put on that.
“This speaks to Aaron Rodgers’ ability to escape the pocket,” coach Ron Rivera said. “He held the ball early in the first half, he held the ball awhile and he couldn’t find his receivers, and then eventually they got open because he was able to scramble and get away from our pass rush. I thought they did a nice job, we got beat a couple times because we weren’t as disciplined as we needed to be.”
Not being disciplined enough included having far too many missed tackles and allowing 118 yards on seven receptions to Davante Adams with 75 of that coming on two plays. It also included Donte Jackson being called for two pass interference calls in the first half and the Panthers giving up four first downs due to penalties.
“We got to get the guy on the ground,” safety Eric Reid said. “Couple plays would have been good stops for us. Maybe one or two-yard gains, turn into five or six yard gains. Got to get the guy on the ground.”
But what really stood out from this game is that the defense never really forced Rodgers into making a bad decision. It was just the second game this season that Carolina has not had a takeaway (Week 2 loss to Buccaneers). The Panthers are 0-4 when they have one or zero takeaways.
“We have to continue to make plays on the football,” defensive back Ross Cockrell said. “We weren’t able to get any turnovers today, and we’ve hung our hat on making and creating turnovers, and I think the team feeds off of that, as well.”
There were also injuries to the secondary. Cockrell and Jackson both left the game, but were able to return. Jackson said that he did re-aggravate the groin injury that caused him to miss three games earlier this season, but that he was “fine.”
All of the injuries and changes to the secondary made it that much harder for the defense to get off the field. The Packers’ run scheme forced the defensive backs to make far more tackles than usual. The team’s three leading tacklers on Sunday were Reid, Cockrell and Jackson.
“We’ve got to be able to counter what they’re doing,” Rivera said. “At the end of the day, what teams are doing throughout the league, if you look at, there’s a lot of safeties that are leading tacklers as well because teams are spreading out and they’re forcing you to try and insert your corners into the tackle. It’s something you see a lot of people doing now. “
While the Packers’ ability to run the ball gashed the Panthers and took time off the lock late in the game — Carolina gave up more than 160 rushing yards for the third time this season — it was the defense’s inability to get off the field when it gave itself opportunities to.
On Green Bay’s first possession of the second half, the Panthers started with a Vernon Butler sack. But after a hands-to-the face penalty called on the Packers’ David Bakhtiari, Jackson gave up a 38-yard pass to Adams on second-and-17. The Packers went on to score a touchdown three plays later and take an 11-point lead.
Those kind of drive-extending mistakes, no what matter position the Packers’ defensive backs are in, can’t happen. That’s how you end up relying on a young starting quarterback to lead a game-winning drive.
“You don’t get any extra points for having a close loss,” Reid said.
Close, but not good enough for a win.