Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, September 28, 2012 8:50 PM
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Packers coach Mike McCarthy has long talked about the importance of a team establishing its identity and playing to it.
The past two seasons, that's meant a prolific Green Bay passing attack led by NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, a running game that was essentially an afterthought and a defense that was sometimes a liability.
So who were those guys playing against the Seahawks on Monday night, when the Packers ran in the second half and played tough enough defense to lose 14-12 only on the most infuriating call of the year.
And will they be back when the Packers host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday?
"I think it's important to not just be so stringent on what your identity is," McCarthy said Friday.
"I think the most important part of identity is playing to the strengths of your players and letting situations in games and matchups stay to the forefront of what your approach is. Frankly, our last game didn't match our execution in the first half, but our ability to adjust probably was our highlight as an offense. It's something we can build on."
Or, as veteran cornerback Tramon Williams put it, "Obviously at some point, we know our offense is going to get to rolling.
"And I think the second half showed the adjustments that those guys can make. And I think those adjustments Mike made for the second half may go a long way."
After calling 24 pass plays against the Seahawks — resulting in 15 pass attempts, an eye-popping eight sacks and one Rodgers scramble — and just three running plays en route to a 7-0 halftime deficit, McCarthy morphed into his old mentor Marty Schottenheimer during the break and went heavy with the run to start the second half.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, McCarthy sent running back Cedric Benson and fullback John Kuhn out in the I-formation, with tight ends Jermichael Finley and D.J. Williams on each end of the line of scrimmage and just one wide receiver, Greg Jennings, split out. Benson ran for 6 yards. Out of the same personnel group on the next play, Benson gained another 8 yards.
Benson would carry seven times for 34 yards on the 13-play, 70-yard drive, which ended in a field goal. Out of the same package to start the Packers' next possession, Benson ran for 5 yards before Rodgers hit Jermichael Finley for 31 yards on a critical third-and-5 throw that led to another field goal.
While the Packers' lone touchdown drive featured only three Benson carries — one of which was Benson's 1-yard touchdown dive — and seven completions from Rodgers, it still illustrated the way the unit is being forced to play with patience. The team's first three opponents have all successfully prevented the big-play explosions that defined the offense last year, when the Packers scored 560 points, second-most in a season in NFL history.
"We are going to have run the football though, because teams are playing so much soft coverage," Rodgers said. "The run game has got to be an important part of it. It's nice having 'Ced' in there; (with) James Starks coming back from (a toe) injury and Alex Green, we have a lot of backs who can run the ball."
Rodgers, meanwhile, hasn't been the do-no-wrong playmaker he was last season. He enters Sunday's game having completed 78 of 115 passes (67.8 percent) for 745 yards with three touchdowns, two interceptions and having absorbed a league-high 16 sacks for a passer rating of 87.1.
Last year, he finished with an NFL single-season record passer rating of 122.4.
"I obviously haven't played as well as I would have liked to, not as well as I was playing through three games last year," said Rodgers, who on Monday night went without a touchdown pass for the first time since Dec. 12, 2010, when he was knocked out of a 7-3 loss at Detroit with a first-half concussion.
"I have a direct impact on how we play on offense. If I can figure out how to get this thing rolling, I personally think we are going to do a lot better on offense."
While Saints quarterback Drew Brees has his own team to worry about at 0-3 and in disarray in the wake of the offseason bounty scandal, Brees sympathizes with Rodgers' plight.
"Aaron played as well as you could possibly play the quarterback position last year. You look at the numbers that were put up and the success of the team, I mean, it was phenomenal. It was unbelievable," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said earlier this week. "So there's this expectation level now."
On defense, after allowing 377 yards and 30 points in a season-opening loss to the 49ers, the unit held Chicago to just 10 points and 168 yards of offense and Seattle to just 238 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was the controversial fourth-down heave that was either intercepted by M.D. Jennings in the end zone or caught for the game-winning score by Golden Tate, depending on your perspective.
"I said this since the day I was here: I understand my background is offense, but you win championships with great defense," McCarthy said. "That has definitely been our focus here throughout the offseason and our defense has responded."NOTES: Of the eight players listed on the Packers' injury report, only undrafted rookie free agent safety Sean Richardson (hamstring) was ruled out for Sunday's game. . Cornerback Davon House, who hasn't played since suffering a shoulder injury on Aug. 9, worked all week in practice but is still listed as questionable and may be another week away. . Running back James Starks, who also hasn't played since an Aug. 9 turf toe injury, practiced in full each day and is probable, but that doesn't guarantee he'll be part of the running back rotation. . Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee), wide receiver Greg Jennings (groin) and tight end Tom Crabtree (shoulder) are all probable.