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Packers’ struggles on offense persist in loss to Commanders

Aaron Rodgers throws the ball as Daron Payne (94) and Jonathan Allen (93) pressure him during the Commanders' defeat of the Packers on Sunday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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For years, Aaron Rodgers has made a living off his ability to make something out of nothing. Plays like a 61-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers II, which released the Packers from the jaws of defeat as time expired in Detroit in 2015, or any number of dazzling performances vs. the Chicago Bears have earned him that reputation.

But as Rodgers lay facedown on the FedEx Field turf after his failed lateral careened through the legs of offensive lineman Jon Runyan and out of bounds, one thing became clear: The Packers’ offense is not what it was. With Sunday’s 23-21 loss to the Washington Commanders, Green Bay dropped below .500 and suffered its third straight defeat.

“I talked about simplification last week, but I don’t really know where to go when it comes to that,” Rodgers said. “It has to be something inside — accountability for performance. … It’s just not winning football.”

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In years past, the team could put its trust in Rodgers and receivers such as Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson to right the ship. But with Adams in Las Vegas with the Raiders, Cobb injured and in the twilight years of his career and Nelson enjoying retirement, the cure for the Packers’ stagnant offense is tough to identify.

Veterans such as Sammy Watkins and Allen Lazard, who were supposed to lessen the impact of Adams’s departure, have been riddled with injuries. Second-round pick Christian Watson has struggled to learn the playbook, and fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs, who exceeded preseason expectations to become the Packers’ third-leading receiver with 234 yards, has struggled with drops. Against Washington, Doubs dropped all four of his targets, including a critical drop on fourth and one late in the game.

“We’ve been really beating ourselves up,” Doubs said. “This game is more mental than it is physical, so we just got to get out of our heads and play better. But we got to stop beating ourselves up because, eventually, the snowball will end. The snowball will melt, and things will get going.”

With Rodgers on pace to throw for less than 4,000 yards for the first time since 2017, a season in which injuries limited him to seven games, defenses have started putting eight men in the box. As a result, the Packers’ talented backfield of AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones has struggled to produce.

Against Washington, the duo combined for just 38 yards on 12 carries.

“This situation feels eerie — like, weird,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “When have you ever seen dudes loading up the box versus [Rodgers]? I really don’t know how to put this in words. We have talent, but we just haven’t found that right groove yet.”

When asked about the offense’s failure to launch, Rodgers pointed to a lack of focus and execution. But Lewis, who knows what it’s like to learn the Packers’ scheme on the fly, said grasping Coach Matt LaFleur’s system — and understanding how to adjust and play as Rodgers desires — is easier said than done.

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“This team is particularly different from any other team, because there’s Matt LaFleur’s offense and then there’s [Rodgers’s] offense,” Lewis said. “Sometimes they fuse, but sometimes they don’t. Regardless, you got to be on your P’s and Q’s all the way around. There’s no real timeline to learning this stuff; you just have to keep evolving and working until you get comfortable.”

The Packers trail the Minnesota Vikings (5-1) in the NFC North, and they have a Sunday night meeting with the AFC-leading Buffalo Bills next. Green Bay must figure things out in a hurry.

“It really doesn’t need to be a whole lot of talking,” Lewis said. “The quickest way to bounce back from a loss is to just lean on your work. Constant repetition creates conviction, and that’s how you win in this league.”