Packers look for answers to end 3-game slide

November 21, 2013

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers and Scott Tolzien watch from the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. The Eagles won 27-13.

GREEN BAY Aaron Rodgers is still out, opponents are stacking the box to stop the run, and the third-place Packers are trying to reverse a three-game losing streak.

Other players in Green Bay are going to have step up and soon before the predicament gets worse in the NFC North.

For now, Rodgers can only watch as an unofficial but well-paid quarterbacks coach.

"This is why football is a team sport, it's about the other 52 guys on the active roster and guys picking up the slack," Rodgers said Wednesday. "It's tough to be out there, obviously, because I love playing. I'm just trying to help out as much as I can."

Coach Mike McCarthy has already made Scott Tolzien the starter for Sunday's game against the Vikings. There's at least slightly more clarity in determining when Rodgers, the 2011 NFL MVP, might be ready to get back on the field after breaking his left collarbone Nov. 4 against the Bears.

McCarthy said Tuesday it remains a medical decision when Rodgers will return. Rodgers is sticking to what he divulged Tuesday on his radio show, that he's going to need to practice two days before a game in order to play. That means if Rodgers is practicing Friday, there's a chance he could play against the Vikings.

"Obviously, limited to zero participation today depending on what you consider coaching tips, so just waiting the waiting game and see what happens," Rodgers said at his first meeting with reporters at his locker since the injury.

The trickle-down effect on the rest of the offense was evident in last week's 27-13 loss to the Giants. Running back Eddie Lacy was held to 14 carries and 27 yards, though he did run for a 1-yard score. The running game overall was held to a season-low 55 yards on 20 carries.

Safeties are creeping closer to the line of scrimmage. Defenses are showing more eight-man fronts. More and more, there's an unblocked defender causing problems.

"It's real difficult to make a play work in situations like that, but my mindset is just try to get anything that's positive and just make sure I don't get tackled for like a loss of 1 or 2, because it can put the offense in an even worse situation," Lacy said.

In the never-ending coaching chess match, it's up to McCarthy and his assistants to respond. To their advantage, Tolzien just a practice squad player three weeks ago has shown he can hit receivers deep.

And gearing up to stop the run gives receivers such as Jordy Nelson more room to make plays in single coverage. The Packers' top playmaker this season (57 catches, 889 yards, 7 TDs) smiled at that notion.

"I mean it's the way it's going to be," Nelson said. "I mean if I was a defensive coordinator I'd be doing the same thing."

However they respond, the Packers better make it quick. At 5-5, they face a critical two-game stretch against NFC North rivals: Minnesota on Sunday before traveling to Detroit for a Thanksgiving Day game four days later.

Playing divisional games adds urgency as it is, but the even-keeled Tolzien said he's not feeling any more pressure. For a former third-string quarterback thrust into a starting job on one of the NFL's marquee teams, Tolzien has played OK; he was 24 of 34 for 339 yards last week against the Giants.

But three interceptions helped kill the Packers' chances, including one on a decision to throw across his body into the middle of the field.

"Like any game since the first game you ever played, there's good and bad. But you always focus on what you can improve on first," Tolzien said. "Just like I said after the game, first and foremost is taking care of the football. That's an area of emphasis meeting with my coaches."

Note: WR Randall Cobb, out since injuring his right leg Oct. 13 against Baltimore, isn't using a Segway to get around anymore. He said he's doing some "body weight stuff" as part of his rehab and hopes to start jogging soon, but said there's no timeline on his possible return. Cobb went on injured reserve with a designation to return to practice after six weeks, and back into a game after eight weeks, meaning the earliest he would be eligible to be back is the Dec. 15 game at Dallas.

Vikings keep Ponder in place at quarterback

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Stop the music. The quarterback carousel in Minnesota is staying put for another week. Christian Ponder will be the starter at Green Bay.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier announced his decision on Wednesday, and Ponder made this sound like it wasn't much of a decision at all. Frazier didn't seek him out to tell him he was keeping the job, Ponder said. He just assumed the spot was still his.

"Unless I was told otherwise," Ponder said.

Which he wasn't.

"I appreciate coach Frazier having the confidence in me to be able to go out this week and play," Ponder said.

Ponder's status was in question because of three more turnovers last weekend in a 41-20 loss at Seattle. His lost fumble and two interceptions led to 17 points for the Seahawks, and he was pulled for Matt Cassel him early in the fourth quarter after he was picked off the second time. Frazier was blunt in his criticism of Ponder afterward.

But the coach said he believes Ponder, and not Cassel or Josh Freeman, again gives the Vikings their best chance to beat the Packers on Sunday. Frazier said he factored in Ponder's previous performances against Green Bay, experience playing in the cold at Lambeau Field and his grasp of the offense. But he also acknowledged the questions sticking with Ponder have prompted from fans, the media and even within the locker room.

As for the players?

"They'll get on board. It helps if we can have success as a team," Frazier said.

In seven starts, Ponder has thrown nine interceptions and lost four fumbles. He has only six touchdown passes, though he has rushed for four scores. The inability to consistently complete important passes to intermediate and deep receivers has been a persistent issue.

The Vikings have turned this season into an open tryout at the position, but they're so far past the developmental stage with Ponder that there's almost no amount of highlight-reel throws he can make down the stretch that could dissuade them from drafting a quarterback next spring.

"Honestly, I'm not focused on it," Ponder said. "There's enough pressure going on in this position. And if you start worrying about those things, it's only to make it worse. And again, my future in my eyes doesn't go past Sunday."

Frazier wouldn't speculate on the depth chart past this week, either, but he left open the possibility that Freeman will start again. His debut was dismal, 53 attempts for 190 yards, but the Vikings make take another look. Cassel is likely the backup again, for this game at least.

"When it comes to Josh or Matt for future ballgames, you deal with it probably on Monday when we come back after this Green Bay game," Frazier said.

Frazier said Freeman has "been a professional in everything we've asked him to do." Freeman backed up that assessment after practice by avoiding even a whiff of discontent in discussing his situation with reporters.

"It's not our job to say anything about that other than, 'Here we go, Christian!'" Freeman said.

He said he has no regret about signing here, despite being on the inactive list for four of the six games he's been on the roster.

"No distractions. No anything. You just get to sit and focus. I get my beats bumping in the QB room, just sitting there and just jamming and watch tape and take notes. It's great. It's great," Freeman said.

NOTES: WR Greg Childs took part in his first practice in more than 15 months, since he tore the patellar tendon in both knees the first week of training camp as a rookie. He's on the physically unable to perform list, and the Vikings have three weeks to decide whether or not to put him on the active roster the rest of the season. "I'm going to eventually get on the playing field. I don't know when. It could be by the end of the season, or it could be the beginning of the next. But it's going to be one of the two," Childs said. ... C John Sullivan has not yet passed his post-concussion test and did not practice on Wednesday. ... RB Adrian Peterson (groin) was held out, as was WR Greg Jennings (Achilles). Frazier said Jennings was still sore in the morning. The coach said he's "cautiously optimistic" Peterson will play.



Associated Press