Following the Green Bay Packers’ triumph over the Chicago Bears, veteran reporter Pete Dougherty said that “throw the ball short and then throw it short some more” is who the Packers will have to be for the rest of the year.
He supported his premise by going to the mountain top for a post-game quote from guru Mike McCarthy: “You play the way you have to play,” said the omniscient one.
Many other team followers, lusting for any kind of a win, see the offensive strategy used in the Bears’ game as the formula for success. I have to side with Monty: the Bears’ defensive backfield was so depleted – and even when healthy this was a very weak team – it’s not a game to draw lessons from. Oh, and the Bears’ second-string QB also broke his arm forcing them to play the majority of the game with Matt Barkley under center.
Yards per pass attempt is a pretty good way to identify dink-and-dunk football teams.
Let’s look at 2015. In the top 10 in this category, we have Arizona (8.5), Seattle, and Pittsburgh as the top three, with Cincinnati, New Orleans, Carolina, and New England also in the top 10. The bottom nine (in order) consisted of San Francisco, the New York Jets, Oakland, Cleveland, Green Bay (6.7, 28th place), Houston, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles (6.2).
So far in 2016, the top three in yards per passing attempt are Atlanta (9.9), New England, and Dallas – who have a combined record of 14 wins and four losses. Unfortunately, we have to start including Minnesota when we do such analyses – they are ninth in the league, at 7.8 yards per attempt. The bottom six is very similar to that of a year ago: New York Jets, Tampa Bay, Green Bay (6.3, 29th place), Houston, San Francisco, and Baltimore (6.0). Is this the company the Packers want to be keeping?
Getting back to coach McCarthy’s mystical explanation in support of dink-ball, it begs the question: do the Packers have to play this way? Green Bay has a strong-armed quarterback who (normally) can make all the throws. They have three deep threats this year: Jordy Nelson, Jeff Janis, and Trevor Davis. And finally, they have an offensive line that affords the quarterback as much time to throw as any team in the league.
What’s stopping the Packers from spreading the field, and from going long with enough frequency to keep defenses honest? A faulty mindset, that’s what.
What anyone who was paying attention to Packers’ games saw last year – and it came to full fruition by game 7 – was team after team loading the box, bringing their linebackers and safeties up near the line of scrimmage, jamming the Packers’ receivers as they came off the line, and daring them to try to throw deep. The Packers’ receivers were being smothered as they started their routes and Rodgers couldn’t find open receivers. Who could blame anyone for such a strategy, given that McCarthy’s chosen deep weapons all season long consisted of James Jones and Davante Adams?
Prediction: if play-caller McCarthy adopts as his regular strategy the same dink-ball approach he went with on Thursday opposing teams will once again see the pattern, they’ll react accordingly on defense, and the Packers’ passing attack will again sputter, stall, and slowly suffocate.
This defensive strategy became very apparent by game seven last year, the point at which the Packers went from having a perfect record to losing six of their last 10 games. On October 30, the Packers will play their seventh game of 2016. Will history begin to repeat itself?