What’s wrong with the Packers offense this season?
Packer fans this season have been scratching their head as the historically potent Packers’ offense has fluttered and fallen far short of expectations. Green Bay so far this season is 24th in total yards, gaining only 341 per game. Despite an up-and-down year overall rushing, they still rank 15th in yards per game, getting 111.7 yards per game. The problem has been the passing game, getting only 229.8 yards per game through the air, good for only 22nd overall.
What has been the cause for such a collapse? The answer is three fold: simplistic route trees & play calling, a regressing offensive line, and the lack of a true dynamic weapon have caused this offense to become one that ranks in the bottom third.
Simplistic route trees:
Since Mike McCarthy has handed play calling duties to Tom Clements, the offense has gotten significantly less complicated. Very few crossing routes causing legal pick plays, wheel routes around a receiver who cuts in, bubble screens to wide receivers…the list of unique looks McCarthy had executed for years has dwindled to simple curl and drag routes, as seen above.
Denver was the first to spot this during their bye week and subsequently has given teams a blueprint on how to beat the Packers. Line up man coverage, with bracket (meaning two or more defenders) coverage on Randall Cobb, and do not worry about anything deep. Defenses have been dropping safeties into the box, both to stop the run as well as guard the first down marker because they know Green Bay no longer attempts to hit it deep.
The easiest way to fix this would be at the very least have McCarthy implement the offense, even if it is Tom Clements calling the specific plays. More diversity in route trees and deeper looks will open the door up more for Randall Cobb to get open, though there are other limitations causing the Packers to be unable to consistently throw it deep.
The Offensive line:
The offensive line has been breaking down as the season has progressed. The most obvious reason for the offensive line’s struggles have been injuries. Each member of the offensive line has been dealing with nagging injuries throughout the season, though that can be said for basically every offensive lineman. Still, it appears that the Packers line is playing especially hurt and most likely is the reason for the recent struggles.
Historical trends as well as the first six games the offensive line kept Rodgers for the most part upright and rarely sacked. Since the bye however teams consistently have been getting to him. This is the easiest long-term fix because an off season of rest and some good luck next year will fix this hole.
The lack of a dynamic weapon:
This has been the biggest issue this season for the Packers. This is why Randall Cobb is being taken away and why Rodgers has to keep looking and looking for someone to get open. They physically do not have the capabilities to beat the corners they are matched up with consistently. Take a look at the Packers’ receivers, for the most part they are all 4.5 forty yard dash speeds and range from 6’0″ to 6’1″. Think of these all as more-or-less your, “Greg Jennings,” mold guys. Greg Jennings was so good for the Packers because he worked incredibly hard to give small nuance fakes, utilize perfect timing with his quarterback, and ran in an offense where they would crisscross over the field. We do not have the intricate offense to hide their physical deficiencies.
Take a look at every successful passing attack and what they all have in common is a true mismatch physically either from speed or size. You can go back three years and the only team to do this without one is the Packers. Yes, even when Jordy Nelson was healthy, his recent big play explosion the previous two seasons was from double moves and usually on the free plays when Rodgers would draw a defender off sides. While Nelson will help Rodgers be more comfortable next season, let’s be honest he never was a top flight burner and coming off a torn ACL over the age of 30 means we will see diminished returns. If Nelson came back today with the way the offense is being run and the blueprint the teams have on the Packers, it likely would not make a large difference. Sure, they would get a few more points here and there but he is not a Rob Gronkowski, who when missing the Patriots look like a different team. Or a Julio Jones for the Falcons.
The Packers only solution to this long term is something people have more-or-less speculated on for quite some time, “what would Rodgers do if he had a true number one receiver?” Unfortunately for the Packers those do not grow on trees. What Green Bay needs to do is STOP drafting the same receiver over and over again, instead take someone who may not be that tall but is very fast, like a TY Hilton (5’9″ but 4.34 forty yard dash, third round pick) or someone that may not be fast but is 6’4″ or 6’5″ like a Kelvin Benjamin (28th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, so these types of talents are accessible).
A bargain draft pick example would be Martavis Bryant from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bryant was a raw, underdeveloped talent but ran a 4.4 forty yard dash and is 6’4″. He was more polished in college than Jeff Janis, who incidentally is the closest thing to what the Packers need being 6’3″ tall, with 4.42 speed. Bryant was a 4th round pick, and that kind of talent is available for the first few rounds. Historically, Thompson has selected guys who are not too short but also not tall, and guys who aren’t too slow but are not fast either. He needs to infuse something, either a speedster to take the safeties away from the first down marker OR a big tall receiver that cannot be covered one-on-one by someone who is four inches shorter.
The Packers could also fix this by simply drafting a physical mismatch at tight end. While Richard Rodgers has had flashes (see Thursday night’s amazing Hail Mary grab; in fact, see it again and again because it was fantastic) he also was on pace to be the third Packers tight end in the modern era to not have over 10 yards per catch. He was putting up one of the worst seasons outside of the redzone for any Packers tight end. This is not a knock on Rodgers so much as a reality check. He’d be fantastic…as the number two tight end or alright as the feature tight end if we had someone on the outside to draw the bulk of the attention.
As it stands, the Packers best hope going forward would be to either have Jeff Janis make a leap forward development wise or by making a bold statement early drafting high impact potential players. While the draft is a crap shoot and no one is guaranteed to succeed, what is guaranteed is that everyone has a limitation when they reach the maximum use out of their physical gifts. Like any sport, the players with the highest upside are those with the highest physical capabilities for growth and development. Instead of drafting a bunch of 6s and 7s who can only ever hope to become near 8s, lets get some 4s and 5s that with good coaching could become 9s and 10s.
As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University