Rodgers, Packers exploit Chiefs' many weak spots to remain unbeaten
The Green Bay Packers are showing no signs of slowing down. Having already established themselves as an NFC frontrunner by dropping Seattle last Sunday night, they answered the bell again Monday, manhandling the Chiefs for a 38-28 win that was not nearly as close as the final score indicates.
Kansas City, now 1-2 and facing a tough road trip to visit the unbeaten Bengals in Week 4, had no answers on either side of the ball—at least until its offense showed signs of life late.
Three thoughts on the Week 3 nightcap:
1. Not surprisingly, Aaron Rodgers found and exploited the Chiefs' weakest spots
Last week, with Sean Smith out of the Kansas City lineup on suspension, Peyton Manning torched fill-in starting cornerback Jamell Fleming. Pro Football Focus had Fleming allowing nine completions on 13 passes his direction, for 123 yards and a touchdown.
Monday against the Packers, the Chiefs benched Fleming for Marcus Cooper, but the end result was the same.
The first of Rodgers's five touchdown passes came at Cooper's expense, as rookie Ty Montgomery turned Cooper inside-out with a sharp route near the goal line. A few minutes later, Cooper was flagged for pass interference, again while defending Montgomery.
But as the latter Green Bay drive progressed, another Chiefs CB, Phillip Gaines, exited with a leg injury. He was replaced by Tyvon Branch, a career safety asked to shift spots for a depleted secondary. Rodgers wasted little time shifting the focus of his attack from Cooper to Branch, who then endured a nightmarish three hours.
Branch had coverage on the first of three Randall Cobb TDs, all coming on the same rub play outside. He was one-on-one when James Jones hauled down a 20-yarder over his shoulder and then lost Cobb again on a 27-yard completion. The hits kept coming all night. Jones sprinkled in a 52-yard play in the fourth quarter, coming back to the ball to make a catch in front of Branch and then breaking loose.
Smith will rejoin the Kansas City lineup in Week 4, just in time for a trip to Cincinnati. If he plays as he did last season, his presence alone could lead to a resurgence from the Chiefs' defense. Smith easily was the best defensive back on the roster in 2014.
Running into Manning's Broncos (even in their current state of offense) and Rodgers's Packers without Smith loomed as a brutal two-game stretch, for the very reasons those two future Hall of Fame QBs showed. Even with Kansas City's fierce pass rush chasing him, Rodgers had enough time on most occasions to get a pass off in Cooper or Branch's direction.
The result speaks for itself.
2. Green Bay showed off its depth yet again
No Jordy Nelson? No Davante Adams? Doesn't matter. The Packers lost Adams to a high-ankle sprain Monday and they've been without Nelson since his preseason knee injury, but they were sure to use every remaining weapon they had.
Case in point: Green Bay ran six plays on its first scoring drive, targeting six different players. Montgomery capped things off with his score, but James Jones, Eddie Lacy, James Starks and Randall Cobb all touched the ball on previous plays. Rodgers also took a shot downfield to Jeff Janis on that drive's first snap.
The sequence provided further proof of why defending Green Bay is so difficult. Rodgers alone is enough to make a coordinator's head spin. But the Packers refuse to be reliant on just one player, and that was the case when the cupboard was fully stocked with healthy bodies.
“We're so blessed to have James Jones back,” Rodgers said on ESPN's postgame show. “We've said it just about every week. He's a touchdown machine, he's a big-play guy for us. ... Randall had a great game, three touchdowns. Young guy, Ty, did a good job. We ran the ball pretty well. ... It's a good team win for us.”
The defense turned to its own unsung hero vs. the Chiefs. Linebacker Nate Palmer, a 2013 sixth-round pick with 11 career tackles heading into Monday, stepped up with several key plays. His best came when he shed a block outside the tackles to wrap up Jamaal Charles on a screen pass. Behind him, there was all kinds of space—two Chiefs linemen, one Packers defender and lots of green grass loomed directly over his shoulder.
Credit the much-publicized homegrown focus of Green Bay's front office for the roster's depth. The Packers are the NFL's model franchise for drafting and developing talent, and their patience pays off on night like this.
3.: What was the Chiefs' offensive game plan, exactly?
Sort of have to break this down into two separate chunks—the first two-and-a-half quarters and the final 20 minutes or so. The Chiefs padded their stats starting with their final drive of the third quarter, even threatening to make a game of it in the final few moments.
However, they were in too big of a hole for it to make a difference by that point thanks to their lackluster start. Jeremy Maclin finished with 141 yards receiving and a touchdown (snapping the Chiefs' streak of 21 games without a WR score), but he did not make his first catch until nearly 43 minutes of game time had elapsed. The Chiefs also struggled to get Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce involved before halftime with any degree of consistency, neutering their chances.
As has become the norm in his career, Alex Smith was at times unwilling and unable to stretch the field. The play calls did not appear to give him many opportunities to do so, and he was content to flip the ball out in the flat when he could.
Maclin turned in a 61-yard catch and run and Kelce added a 38-yarder, but much of the Chiefs' production came on short passes vs. Green Bay's prevent defense. The Chiefs did little to pressure the Packers beyond a 10-yard window.
So, is this it? Did the Chiefs really sign Maclin to use him as a decoy? Are they content with Charles finishing games with 11 carries?
Perhaps the late surge will provide a little momentum headed into Week 4, at least when it comes to the Smith-Maclin rapport. The soft coverage played a huge role, but Smith began looking Maclin's way on a regular basis in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs have to carry that over, somehow, for the fourth-quarter burst to be even slightly worthwhile.