The analytical revolution in the NBA brought us more layups and 3s. Some teams have gone so far that they don’t shoot a single midrange shot for a whole game, the entirety of their offense is built around those two shots. In the NFL, we’re still at the three stage. The most successful offenses are still pass first and the most successful defense still defends the pass first with a two high shell designed to stop big plays (threes). The Packers’ offense may be uniquely able to focus on both layups and threes next season. Let’s discuss.
We’ll start with layups because the layups set up the threes. For the past 40 years or so, the NFL has trended toward using the west coast offense for layups. The west coast offense is based around using perfect timing to complete short yardage passes most of the time. I think the Packers will be better off using the run game and screen passes as their layups.
The Packers’ run game should be one of the strongest in the league next season. They have a top 5ish back in Aaron Jones, one of the best number 2 backs in AJ Dillon, a top 5 offensive line, a mobile QB, and, maybe most important, a head coach and offensive coordinator who want to run the ball well. For how much Mike McCarthy talked about running the ball, the team never spent much time on offense perfecting the run game.
The running game this season should be about as diverse as we’ve ever seen in Green Bay. The team can run inside and outside. It can run from the shotgun or under center. It can run with the quarterback and with jet sweeps from receivers. It can run from spread formations with 4 receivers or tight formations with three tight ends and a 220-pound wide receiver. The only thing that will slow down the Packers run game this season, is if (more likely when) teams start to pack the box with players.
No matter how diverse and creative your run game is, if you have 7 guys blocking and they have 9 in the box, you’re gonna get stuffed most of the time. But that’s fine, that’s when they start hitting threes.
The run game is a good base offense when you can do it efficiently. But the most important thing the run game can do is set up the deep passing game. I don’t mean run wide zone 4 times in a row so that on the fifth time the QB can squeak a pass out to a tight end in the flat for a 6-yard gain; I mean use the run to force the defense out of a two-high shell. Force them to bring more and heavier guys into the box and then punish them with the deep passing game.
The Packers offense has obviously invested a lot in the run game, but it has also invested a surprising amount in the deep pass game. Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Samori Toure, and Jayden Reed are all speedy wide receivers who can get open deep and Luke Musgrave was the most athletic tight end in the draft.
The Packers haven’t focused on the types of wide receivers that Ted Thompson and Aaron Rodgers loved. Guys like Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings and Davante Adams who can get open with precise route running but don’t have run away from the cops speed. They have guys who ran the 40 in under 4.4 seconds and average close to 20 yards per catch in college.
The two high shell defense is designed to make the offense impatient. Eventually, you’ve taken the layup too many times and you try to force the three and turn the ball over. But what if the defense gets impatient? What if you’ve scored on 13-play drives three times in a row because you’re getting 5 yards every run and every receiver and tight end on the field and can turn a screen pass into a double digit gain?
This is what happened in the Packers-Rams playoff game a few years ago. The Packers put Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon in the backfield, motioned Jones out to the flat right before the snap, and then pounded the rock with AJ Dillon. Eventually, the Rams couldn’t do the two high shell anymore and a safety started creeping into the box, that’s when the Packers killed them with deep passing.
Jordan Love is a strong-armed QB who wants to push the ball downfield and he has several weapons now who are perfect fits for that type of offense. Look for more 989, 4 verticals, Y-Cross, and deep flood concepts that will take advantage of defenses trying to stop the run. And look for Christian Watson to have a strong season running by everyone.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.