There’s more to Green Bay Packers’ early-season struggles than playing tough teams

In my Surviving Sunday column this week, I opined that one of the reasons the Green Bay Packers have started slow the last three seasons is a bland and vanilla early-season scheme on offense.

In the comments section, marpag disagreed. marpag said the Packers have started slow because they’ve played really good teams right out of the gate. “…if you ask me, blaming the loses on GB’s supposed ‘vanilla-ness’ is kind of overlooking the obvious,” marpag wrote.

The “obvious,” according to marpag, being that even good teams like the Packers will lose to other good teams. Don’t pin the Packers’ early struggles on scheme, blame the quality of opponents.

I see marpag’s point, but I think you have to look a little bit deeper at the “quality opponents” reason for the Packers starting slow. First, let’s look at the teams that have defeated the Packers in the season’s first three games since 2012:

2012
49ers
Seachickens

2013
49ers
Bengals

2014
Seachickens
Lions

According to marpag, these teams combined to go 68-27-1 (I didn’t bother double-checking marpag’s math because I hate math so we’ll just take marpag’s word on this one). When you look at it from a macro perspective, marpag is right. The Packers lost to some damn good teams early. No shame in that. No need to read too much into it, right?

But if you examine the losses at a more micro level, the tough opponents reasoning doesn’t hold up, in my opinion. NFL seasons are full of ups and downs, even for the good teams. How a team plays in September is often very different from how it’s playing in December.

When reflecting on a season, you have to look at how a team was playing during a specific window to get a better gauge on exactly how “tough” they were. Did they go on a dominant run after beating the Packers? What’d they do the week after beating Green Bay?

In 2012, the 49ers waxed the Packers in week 1, beat the Lions in week 2 and lost to the Vikings in week 3. The Seachickens cheated to beat the Packers in week 3, then lost to the mediocre at best Rams.

In 2013, the 49ers once again stomped the Packers in the opener, then lost to the Seachickens and Colts by a combined 46 points. The Bengals beat the Packers in week 3, then didn’t even score a touchdown in losing to the Browns the next week (the Browns finished 4-12).

In 2014, the Seachickens had no problem beating the Packers in the Thursday Night opener. They rested for 10 days, then lost to the Chargers by nine points. The Lions managed to squeak out a win over the Jets after beating the Packers, but lost to the Bills the following week.

As you can see, the teams that have beaten the Packers to start recent seasons weren’t exactly unstoppable early-season juggernauts that couldn’t be defeated. Four of the six teams that beat the Packers in the first three weeks of the last three seasons went on to lose their next game.

Sure, these teams ended up being playoff-caliber teams, but they were beatable when the Packers played them early and the Packers couldn’t get it done.

I’m not trying to pick on marpag. His point was one I hadn’t thought of and it forced me to dig deeper into the issue and turn it into a post (any post ideas are welcome during the dog days of the offseason).  And like I said earlier, I don’t think marpag is wrong in blaming the Packers early-season struggles on playing tough opponents.

I just think there’s more to the issue than simply chalking it up to the Packers playing good teams.

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Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .

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  • Jeff

    I don’t care if the Pack starts slow as long as they finish strong! December football is when you need to be playing best that’s when it counts!

    • croatpackfan

      I thought that January/February football is when you need to be playing best & that’s when it counts!

      • Jeff

        Have to play good in December to make it to Jan/Feb 🙂

        • croatpackfan

          So, we agree! You have to play good in December to able to play the best in Jan/Feb!? 😉

        • And you might have to sock away some wins in September and October to be in a position to get to the postseason. This is a singularly pointless argument. For the most part, a team has to win at least 10 games to have a hope of getting to the playoffs. Some teams have won 11 games and not made the playoffs. So 12 is the goal. Get the wins as early and as often as possible. While it obviously can be done, it is not okay to go 1-2 and rely on going 11-2 the rest of the way. What if Rodgers gets hurt down the stretch? Health is more important than clicking or being in sync, since health in GB’s case usually leads to the other.

  • croatpackfan

    I think both of you, Adam, is correct. But I would like to put another issue to support Marpag. Those good to excellent teams had (and have) special motivation to play against Packers, I suppose that motivation is on much higher level when they play against Packers than when they play against Rams, Vikings, Chargers, Browns, Colts… Seachickens won SB XLIX, so they were pretty strong opponent that year!

  • Big T

    I want the toughest schedule in the league. We should fear no one. To be the best you have to play the best. Bring it on.

    • Guest

      Not sure that it’s in a team’s best interest to have the toughest schedule. Attrition and what-not. One might hope that to be the best one should beat the best, but it is faulty logic to hope for the toughest possible road at all times. Part of a tournament format a team might not always play the toughest team at each turn, individual matchups can count

      • AgrippaLII

        Road games are tough regardless of who it is…no one wants to be embarrassed especially playing at home. They know if they don’t bring their “A” game when the Packers come to town AR and company could do just that!

  • dobber

    Of the six losses to pretty good teams mentioned above, 5 of them were on the road. That counts for something as well. In all cases, these were the first and third games of the season, and the intervening game (a win) was at home.

  • Ferrari Driver

    This isn’t baseball or basketball where teams play a hundred times a season; this is football and with only 16 games per season every game is of great importance. A single game often determines whether the team either makes the playoffs or has the home field for a playoff game as was the case when the Packers were robbed of a victory by an inexperienced, fill in referee in Seattle a couple of years ago.

    Bottom line; be prepared, play hard, and play smart for every game.

  • Razer

    The Packers are basically finishing where they belong so the starting isn’t a big deal. I will chalk it up to starting each season with a young roster playing complex schemes. In my opinion, we are too complicated for our own good, particularly on defense. Capers needs to simplify his schemes and packages. Our secondary was plagued with catastrophic breakdowns right through to the playoffs and I think that our secondary was better than average. How are we going to fare with this year’s young group of defensive backs? Get ready for another scrambled start…

  • Taryn Miller

    The Packers allowed themselves to look inferior to those teams they lost to at seasons start in 12′,13′,14′ and what each of those teams did before/afterwards against others is a moot point.

    The fact that the Packers again allowed themselves be beaten by those same teams and being inferior come seasons close or in the playoffs has shown correct and who those once again victors played prior is again moot.

    The thing that should worry most is the issue of the Packers not learning enough to overcome those who have been the reason of failure to meet the goal.

    We expect the Packers to win vs the Bears come week 1 and if we lose will it be due to Fangio,a simply better coached Bears team over all,an early slip of our new offensive play caller(s),our youth hasn’t yet matured and what happens to any of those possible reasons if the Bears get trounced by a much more assumed inferior team than the Packers the very next week.

    What if we lose to the Seahawks in Green Bay come September…I cannot wait for list of excuses for a loss or reasons for winning but who either played before or after must not be on any list. 🙂

  • TedTomsin

    I side 100% with Marpag. It’s the quality of opponent the Packers have played early in the season as the main reason for their slow starts in recent years. I also agree with Croatfan that the “motivation” factor is also huge. Playing SF and Seattle the past couple years is almost a guaranteed loss to begin with as they have our number but it seems as far as teams go, the Packers seem to bring out the other team’s best. Teams just love to beat the Packers because they are considered one of the best. These teams get sooo up for the game against Green Bay that a lot of them come crashing down the next week.

    It’s either that or you can go with the dazed and confused Aaron Nagler who claims Aaron Rodgers needs to play more in the preseason. lol Blame it on Rodgers!!
    Ted

  • mark

    There are many teams, including the bear, who year after year play their best football in Jan/Feb. They look great, mainly because they have no opponents.

    If you really think 10-6 is different from 10-6 depending on when you win then you are doing a great job of confusing simple and different concepts.

    BTW very good thought provoking article!

  • Greg Kaftan

    I’ve read that part of the reason they start slowly is they try very hard to get the rookies caught up in camp so the playbook at the season opener is not very complex and somewhat predictable. MM stated that he would not be doing this anymore and it’s up to the rookies to figure it out by themselves.

  • Chad Kloes

    I would say losing early has a lot to do with “Draft and Develop” philosophy. A young teams takes a little while to get up to speed and over rookie mistakes. Then as the season goes on, guys get more comfortable and they play better (See Ha-Ha Clinton Dix). I would also agree that the schemes are probably a little watered down, for the younger guys (See defense from last year).

  • marpag

    Wow. I feel strangely honored. Thanks for the article, Adam.

    I guess the thing that I’m not really catching is any strong whiff of vanilla. I do remember that all of those games emitted a rather powerful odor, but at the time I thought it smelled like something considerably less pleasing than vanilla.

    Those games were quite a long time ago, and I would certainly have to go back and watch them again to make an informed comment about play calling and scheme. But I don’t really see any evidence in either article that the Packers’ poor play was caused by an overdose of vanilla. Just off the top of my head, the one thing I remember that might support your argument is the fact that the Packers refused to challenge Sherman in the game against Seattle. That was lame. If that’s one of your arguments, I’d have to admit it’s a pretty decent one. But still it’s just a single facet in one game out of six over the past three years.

    To me, those games didn’t smell like vanilla. It just smelled like the Packers got the crap kicked out of them.

    • TedTomsin

      Congrats Marpag, you made the big time.
      Big Ted

  • Kevin

    Don’t forget 5 out of those 6 games were played in opposing stadiums. Where the Seahawks have always played well, the Packers have never played great in Detroit, and we all know about the 49ers.

  • No need to worry about picking on Marpag. Adam, I think you raised a valid factor in rebuttal to his argument, but IMO did not refute it. Overall, I agree with Marpag.

    As a note, in 2014, it was 16-36 (Seattle W), 31 -24 (Jets lost but we only had scored 6 at halftime IIRC and stormed back), and 7-9 (Detroit won). In our 2 losses we averaged 11.5 points/gm. Verdict: offensive failure.

    In 2013, it was 28-34 (SF won), 38-20 (Wash. Lost), and 30-34 (Bengals won). The slow starts looks attributable to the defense.

    In 2012, it was 22-30 (49ers Won), 23-10 (Bears lost), and 12-14 (Seattle won). Again, in the two losses, GB averaged 17pts/gm. That is offensive failure.

    There is no excuse for a slow offensive start. Every starter on offense returns, barring an intervening injury. Now the defense will have some new parts most likely, especially in sub packages.

    • marpag

      In the Bengals game, I do remember that the offense stumbled pretty badly as well. Yeah, they scored 30 points, but they also turned the ball over something like four or five times, including Franklin’s infamous fumble that the Bengals ran in for the game winning score.