Return of the Gold Zone

With a huge win against the Miami Dolphins on Christmas Day, the Green Bay Packers are beginning to look like the team that no one wants to play. It was yet another week where the Packers showed passion and played like a complete team from top to bottom. However, there’s still one major aspect missing from this team that sets them apart from the previous playoff teams in Green Bay; the gold zone.

A phrase invented by former offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett launched the Packers into recording one of the highest red zone conversion rates in NFL history from 2019-2020. When Hackett left Green Bay to become the head coach for the Denver Broncos, a major part of the Packers’ offense departed with him. After news broke that Hackett has been removed from his position in Denver, one is left to wonder: can the gold zone return to Green Bay?

Red zone efficiency has been the Achilles heel of the Packers’ offense this season, that’s no secret. The team’s 51.02% red zone touchdown percentage ranks 24th in the league, according to Team Rankings. In 2020, the Packers ranked 1st in the league, scoring a touchdown on 76.81% of red zone opportunities.

Hackett’s red zone philosophy on offense was the catalyst of that success. At first glance, many would place the lack of success in the red zone this season on the absence of Davante Adams in Green Bay. However, the schematic creativity in short-yardage situations is what gave the Packers success inside the 20-yard line.

“I think we’ve done a good job of a lot of multi-purpose plays down there, which you’ve seen, some dump-offs with guys blocking, a lot of misdirection stuff has been working,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said during the 2020-21 season. “There’s been a lot of schematic touchdowns this year where I haven’t really had to do a whole lot except make sure I don’t screw up the throw.”

Under the “Gold Zone” scheme, Rodgers was operating robotically; there never seemed to be any errors within the red zone. This season, it’s been the complete opposite. Take last week’s win against the Miami Dolphins for example.

In five red zone trips, the Packers managed to score points in every drive, however, only two red zone drives resulted in touchdowns. On the first drive, set up by a 93-yard kickoff return by Keisean Nixon, a costly sack on second down and a drop by Romeo Doubs on third down forced the Packers to settle for a field goal. The disconnect between Rodgers and the scheme continued multiple times on the second red zone drive as well as the fourth later in the game.

This issue has persisted throughout the entire season without an apparent change in sight. It’s even an issue that head coach Matt LaFleur noted during a press conference back in October. 

“I’ve got to do a better job of giving our guys plays that can be successful versus whatever look the opponents come out in,” he said. “We’ll continue to work on it, but I’m not going to panic over it quite yet.”

With a potential playoff berth on the horizon in Green Bay, the team needs to re-establish its red zone dominance. Following Hackett’s sudden departure from the Denver Broncos, the Packers need to consider dusting off his old desk and bringing him back in as an offensive assistant. It’s time for the gold zone to make a return.

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Kole Noble is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in North Carolina and is a huge NFL Draft nut. You can follow him on twitter at @SlawSportsShow.

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