Midweek Musings: Packers’ offense remains limited

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According to at least one metric, the Green Bay Packers have one of the NFL’s 10 best offenses through three weeks.

Following the Packers’ 14-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team’s offense currently ranks No. 9 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. That’s ahead of perceived high-powered offenses like Kansas City and Minnesota.

DVOA, while a useful tool, is far more predictive when the calendar reaches November and December. At this point, the metric still leans heavily on pre-season simulation.

More conventional wisdom suggests the Packers have actually had one of the NFL’s worst offenses so far. The team is averaging 16 points per game, 27th in the league.

Scoring a combined 21 points through two road games will do the trick.

The Packers’ fits and starts on offense were anticipated. The team is attempting to integrate two rookie receivers and an injury-prone veteran, while also working back both offensive tackles and the top tight end from ACL injuries.

Even for a quarterback of Aaron Rodgers’ caliber, that’s a lot of transition.

However, it’s not the lack of production that is most concerning thus far — it’s how the Packers are choosing to play offense.

Rodgers, despite being one of the NFL’s historically great deep ball throwers, has outright refused to push the ball down the field so far in 2022.

Through three games, Rodgers has only attempted seven passes of 20-or-more yards (he’s 3-for-7 with an interception on such tries).

Rodgers’ 3.1 air yards per completion is currently the lowest in the league, and would be the lowest by far over a full season since Next Gen Stats began tracking such things in 2017. His average of 5.1 intended air yards is also a league-low.

Aaron Rodgers’ passing chart Week 3 at Tampa Bay, courtesy of Next Gen Stats.

In fairness to Rodgers, his first attempt of the season was a 50-yard bomb on the money to rookie receiver Christian Watson that was inexplicably dropped.

Since that play, Watson’s responsibilities have been diluted to jet motion and blocking. He did not play in Week 3, nor did Sammy Watkins who was on the receiving end of Rodgers’ deepest completion so far this year.

It’s no secret that the Packers want to be a run-oriented offense. That approach is undermined, however, if Rodgers never pushes the ball downfield.

Defenses like Tampa Bay and San Francisco play freakishly fast even when offenses keep them honest. When you allow all 11 defenders to play within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage and run downhill because there’s no threat deep, good luck consistently scoring points.

The preference toward a run-based attack is a justifiable stance when your two best skill position players are Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, and the Packers have done an admirable job moving the former around formations in search for advantageous match-ups.

The approach of putting the ball in Jones’ hands at all costs has its flaws though. It’s as if the Packers miscast Jones as Alvin Kamara, based on one performance three years ago in Kansas City. 

The truth is that he’s not as natural a pass-catcher, and he’s far more loose with the ball in that role. Of Jones’ 11 career fumbles, six have come following a reception.

The Packers’ offense remains a work in progress. But this version, that includes an outright refusal to pass deep, is worrisome.

Deep passing carries a great degree of volatility. Recall that Rodgers struggled in this area for a good chunk of last season.

However, it wasn’t for lack of trying. And until he starts trying again, the Packers’ offensive ceiling sits low.

 

 

 

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