The Green Bay Packers’ offense hasn’t quite hit its stride this season. Or at least it hasn’t been as potent as expected.
What’s the issue? There appear to be quite a few.
One, the Packers don’t effectively attack the middle of the field.
Via @NextGenStats, Aaron Rodgers is the only QB in the league that is throwing outside the numbers on over half of his attempts (56%). The league average is 39%. Stunning lack of creativity in #Packers offense: pic.twitter.com/cc6eCTKOAJ
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) November 28, 2018
The team brought in tight end Jimmy Graham to do precisely that. Attack the middle of the field. That move — especially at the price — looks like a bust so far. Eleven games into the season, Graham has 36 catches for 486 yards and two touchdowns.
Graham will likely surpass the middle-of-the-road 520 yards he had with Seattle in 2017, but he isn’t going to come close to the 10 touchdowns he had.
The Packers have also had slot receiver Randall Cobb for just five games this season. There’s another potential reason for throwing to the outside so much. However, after busting out for 142 yards in week 1, Cobb failed to surpass 40 yards in any of the other four games he played.
Graham has clearly lost a step and Cobb probably has too, although he’s always injured, so who knows?
Another obvious point to make here — one we’ve made time and again — is Aaron Rodgers doesn’t like to throw down the middle of the field. The chances for an interception are greater when you throw down the middle of the field. As we all know, Rodgers avoids those types of throws like black death.
Issue two: the Packers are going for big plays instead of hitting the open man.
The Press-Gazette looked at this fairly extensively. They cited a red zone play in Seattle where running back Aaron Jones was basically standing around with the rest of the field in front of him and Rodgers instead took a sack. He did so after looking right and then left.
It’s hard to get through every progression when your guards suck as badly as the Packers do. However, Rodgers almost never checks down to the running back. Aaron Jones, perhaps the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon, has 19 receptions for 162 yards on the season.
I can’t tell you the exact percentage of designed passes to Jones, i.e. a screen, versus checkdowns, but the eye test tells me most of those receptions come via designed plays.
I remember another play in Los Angeles where Jones was standing all alone with even more field in front of him than in Seattle. We all saw it. Rodgers didn’t — or didn’t care to.
And we shrugged and said “Rodgers never throws to the running back.”
“I think you kind of get what you practice,” Rodgers said, “and we’ve been trying – this entire offseason – to get more speed, to take more shots down the field, to up the yards-per-attempt category, and we’ve got to keep emphasizing the checkdown game and let those guys get out. It all works together.
“When the protection is shored up, the routes can get out and those guys can get involved at least in the mindset; even if they may be open, they not be in the mindset. So we’ve got to keep making sure that those guys are in the right spot, they’re in the progression, they’re getting out on time, and I’ve got to find them.”
Issue three: analytics?
This is a new one to me, but apparently Mike McCarthy is into analytics. That makes little to no sense considering he can’t figure out what to do on fourth down or convert a goddam third down. Or that he couldn’t figure out Aaron Jones was his lead back until halfway through the season.
Anyway, apparently McCarthy got into analytics back in 2015 when he famously gave up and then took back play calling duties. And now, at least someone is claiming he’s too reliant on them.
Sources who know the Packers’ offense well believe McCarthy’s approach as a play caller has been driven by those analytics, more than gut instinct and feel, ever since.
“They feel if they can get one chunk play per quarter, or a few per game, that’s better for their offense,” one source said. “But those are low-percentage plays.”
At that, I’m just going to shrug.
I think analytics are great… in baseball. And then, for the most part. The Brewers have used data to their advantage. The Dodgers have as well, until the Series, when they overused it. Sometimes you have to let the game dictate the move, rather than having something on a sheet of paper or a computer do it.
I don’t know if I buy the whole McCarthy and analytics thing just based on his buffoonish decisions, but it’s a theory.
Whatever the case, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about it after this season. Regardless of whether it’s Rodgers, the personnel or the coach, it seems like the coach is going to take the fall.