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Previewing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ underperforming offense

Are the Packers actually playing poorly on offense?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

During quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ last healthy season in 2016, the Green Bay Packers ranked fourth in total scoring, eighth in total yards and first in passing touchdowns. That’s what fans have come to expect with any Rodgers-led team, yet this season, the Packers seem to be stuck in neutral.

Through five weeks, Green Bay ranks 18th in total scoring, 10th in total yards and 12th in passing touchdowns. While Rodgers hasn’t been 100 percent with a knee injury, he still hasn’t missed any time, but the Packers’ offense seems to be missing that punch.

Does this allow a glimmer of hope for the 49ers’ defense to slow down Rodgers and the Packers? Likely not, but I don’t expect the Packers to just steam roll Robert Saleh’s defense either.

“We’re very close to getting things going and like I said, I’ll say again now, I feel like if we can get off to a better start on offense, it makes the entire squad play with a different type of confidence,” Rodgers said to the media earlier this week.

“Now, we need to execute at a higher level, but we’re not far off,” Rodgers added.

So how far are they off and why are they not in sync?

It starts back in the offseason, when Green Bay’s front office decided to part ways with wideout Jordy Nelson and shuffle Rodgers’ receiving corps. While wide receiver Davante Adams leads the way with 37 receptions, newly-signed tight end Jimmy Graham is second with 22 catches on the season. Wideouts Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison have both missed time, not building any rhythm with Rodgers on the season.

It’s pretty much the same story with the Packers’ running attack as well. Running back Aaron Jones has been the Packers’ most effective runner at 6.1 yards per attempt, but he’s already missed two games on the season. Tailback Jamaal Williams leads Green Bay in carries, but also has the worst yards per attempt on the roster (3.7).

Despite all of these problems, there’s still one magic eraser that can fix all of the Packers’ problems — it’s No. 12. Yet, through five weeks, Rodgers just doesn’t look as comfortable as he normally does. When Rodgers is in control, there’s a sense of confidence and borderline cockiness within him that brings calmness to the rest of the team, but so far this season, that’s just been missing.

In Week 1, when Rodgers returned in the second half against the Bears and led a comeback, that’s the version of No. 12 that everyone’s accustomed to watching. This throw below is vintage Rodgers, sitting in the pocket, slinging the ball with mostly his arm and dropping it into a basket 43 yards away from the end zone.

Yet, more often than not, Rodgers has been out of sync with his receivers. Here’s a play in Week 2 against the Vikings, where the Packers’ signal caller spreads out the receivers and has a simple five-step drop and throw. Usually, this is an easy pitch and catch for a first down, but instead Rodgers fires high and wide, forcing an incompletion. Are his knee or calf injuries starting to catch up with him?

Another customary Rodgers’ move is to slide out of the pocket when he feels pressure and making a throw on the run. However, his knee injury has handicapped his movement and he takes a sack on this play. Oddly, this has been a consistent theme with the Packers, giving up sacks as Rodgers is somewhat of a sitting duck in the pocket. This might give the 49ers some opportunity to bring pressure Rodgers, but I doubt it, considering the 49ers’ own pass-rushing woes.

Typically, Green Bay is explosive in the red zone, converting a lot of their trips into touchdowns, but that’s been a struggle this year too. They’re 19th in the NFL in touchdown percentage, a statistic that is a ratio of touchdowns to red-zone trips. In this drive against Detroit, the Packers got to the Lions’ 24-yard line, but three straight incompletions forced a field goal attempt.

In this three-play sequence, Rodgers gets pressured on first down and is forced to throw it away, then misses on the deep ball to wideout Equanimeous St. Brown and on third down has to get rid of the ball as well. In the red zone, the receivers are struggling to separate and Rodgers isn’t able to extend plays with his legs, causing a lot of throwaways.

As Rodgers mentioned to the media, they’re certainly close to clicking on all cylinders, but there’s either a penalty or sack or incompletion that continues to hold them back. Once they start to put all the pieces together and get fully healthy, they’re probably look like the typical Green Bay offense.

Will a game against the middling 49ers’ defense allow the Packers’ offense to find its ways?