It’s a different Packers offense this season. They’re not quite the explosive group we witnessed from 2009-12, yet they’re still one of the best in the league. They’ve morphed into a more balanced offense, and this is the best possible thing for Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers has put up huge numbers since taking over for Brett Favre. He might be the best quarterback in the NFL at this point, but he’s been surrounded by a pedestrian running game and a porous offensive line for years. And this is where teams have been able to successfully attack the Packers.
This year, the O-line still has the same problems. Tackles David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay are slow and plotting. The unit as a whole is worse than whatever defensive line it faces on a weekly basis. The big men up front are still the weakness of the offense. However, the Packers have found a way to combat this – the running game.
The Packers rank 6th in the NFL in rushing this season, a huge improvement from a year ago when they ranked 20th. There are several reasons for this improvement. The first, and most obvious, is the personnel in their backfield. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy is a tough runner who can grind out yards even when the running lanes aren’t big. He provides a physical element that has been lacking in Green Bay’s offense for some time.
The 2nd reason for the marked improvement is that the Packers have attempted to establish the run early in games and then stuck with it. This is probably the most important change to their offense.
Aaron Rodgers cannot do it all alone. If asked to drop back 40 times a game, he will continue to take a beating, as he has in recent years. Facing defensive lines on a weekly basis that are far superior to the Packers O-line puts Rodgers at continual risk. And that’s a risk the Packers can’t afford to take.
The transformation in the Packers offensive philosophy from a year ago was most prevalent against the Lions in week 5. The Lions’ D-line would dominate the Packers if given the opportunity to pin their ears back and rush the passer on every down. The Packers weren’t going to take that chance, so they established the run early, and stuck with it. Through the first half, the Packers had called 18 pass plays and 17 runs. Many of the runs were draws, specifically designed to slow down the pass rush.
The Packers had every reason to abandon the run. They averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in the first half. They scored just 6 points. But they stuck with it. The gameplan was clearly to keep the Lions’ defensive line honest so as to soften up their pass rush and protect Aaron Rodgers.
The goal here was for the Packers to bide their time. By keeping the Lions’ D-line second-guessing throughout the first half, Green Bay was able to create clean pockets for Rodgers in the second half. This is where gameplan can overcome physical mismatches. Rodgers capitalized, throwing for 186 yards and a touchdown in the final 30 minutes. He wasn’t sacked once in the second half, and the Packers cruised to a 22-9 victory.
The end result might not have been a glamorous 40-point performance for the Pack. But this is the style of play Green Bay needs to utilize to protect their quarterback. Over the long term, they’ll be that much tougher to defend if they can continue to develop a potent rushing attack and become multi-dimensional as an offense. This is why they drafted Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
With injuries sidelining Randall Cobb and James Jones, possibly for extended periods of time, look for the Packers to stick with this balanced offensive approach. Quite frankly, they should stick with it whether or not Cobb and Jones are in the lineup. Aaron Rodgers might be the best quarterback in the NFL, but he still needs help to get this team back to the Super Bowl.