While it might not have been obvious, the Packers offense took a step back last season. The unit that set every meaningful team record for the most successful franchise in NFL history dropped to 13th in the NFL in total offense. While technically that ranking is above average, it’s drastically below the standards set for an offense that has the league’s best player at its most important position. The team suffered from an inability to run the ball with any effectiveness and also struggled to find a rhythm losing key contributors Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Bryan Bulaga for extended stretches throughout the season. The defense improved to a point where the team was still able to win the division, but there was definitely something missing.
The Packers are looking for answers, and one of the answers they seem to be coming up with early in this preseason is the increased use of the no huddle offense. Under Rodgers, the Packers have been a very efficient team in the hurry up. Rodgers waxes poetic about “doubling up”. Although he’s taken heat from talking heads about not having a lot of 4th quarter comebacks, he hasn’t had to come back in very many games because the Packers got so good at deferring, scoring in the two minute drill at the end of the 1st half and then taking the second half kickoff and scoring again. Those 14 unopposed points tends to turn games into blowouts and has had the Packers playing downhill for the duration.
I wrote in a forum after the draft (before I started writing for this site) that I thought that the Packers should consider running their offense a la the Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison-Reggie Wayne Colts of the mid-2000s. The Colts would largely keep Wayne and Stokely on the left side of the lone, with Wayne at the “X” position at split end position and Stokely operating in the “Y” position or “slot”. To the right of Manning, Marcus Pollard/Dallas Clark would line up at tight end and Marvin Harrison would play the “Z” or flanker spot. Dominc Rhodes/Joseph Addai would line up in the backfield and the Colts would call everything at the line, with the players going in to the same position and waiting for Manning to call out the play without a huddle.
The Packers actually have the perfect personnel to run this system. James Jones is a perfect fit for the X position, having lead the NFL in TD passes last season. He and Randall Cobb could work route combinations that would really cause problems for defenses. I think that this is the season where Randall Cobb breaks out and makes it clear that he is the premiere slot receiver in the NFL. Wes Welker is getting older, and Victor Cruz does not have the physical gifts that Cobb does. Jermichael Finley is teasing us again. He’s shutting up and appears to be concentrating on football. IF (and it’s a comically big if) he finally reaches his potential he’s in the Jimmy Graham/Rob Gronkowski stratosphere of tight ends. That’s a bold statement, but if you don’t believe me, you need to watch the playoff game from ’09 again. He is (theoretically) that good. Jordy Nelson is everything that a team would want from a “Z” receiver as well. His 6’3” 217 pound frame, excellent hands and deep speed are everything that you would want from a player in that position. Any one of the 3 tailbacks would do well in this situation also.
This system has many advantages. Rodgers’ extensive knowledge of those 4 receivers and the playbooks would put the Packers in a position to succeed on every play. The defense would not be able to make substitutions, so teams that use pass rushers in waves (think New York Giants) would be left with their second units on the sidelines. The versatility is endless as well. Pops and screens to Cobb are in play, quick slants are in play. They can line up in an “ace” formation with the tailback lining up behind Rodgers, or they can line up in the shotgun. Lacy’s effectiveness would make the play action game effective, and the effectiveness of the passing game would allow for runs, draws, and screens to be efficient as well.
The losses of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver have no doubt made this offense a thinner unit, and the mix-up of the offensive line have fans concerned. The positive side of these circumstances is that it might move the Packers towards this up-tempo style of offense in which they are now perfectly suited for. Jones and Cobb left, Finley and Nelson right, and Lacy in the backfield. “Hands on the wheel, foot on the gas.” Let’s go.