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Matt LaFleur Wants a Better Run/Pass Balance – But Should He?

Even when the head coach came out for the second half against the Bears, he told the interviewer his goal was to establish the run going forward. You’ve got to give him some credit for sticking to his game plan.

I jumped on board when LaFleur, upon being hired, indicated he would follow a more run-centric offensive strategy. The more I think and see, however, the more open I want to scrutinize this approach. Let’s go to some numbers from Week 1 for the NFL’s 100th season, with emphasis on the league’s dominant offenses.

Saints at Texans – QB Drew Brees and the Saints threw 43 passes and had 21 rushes, with 370 and 148 yards gained respectively, in a 30-28 road win.

Chiefs at Jaguars – Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ ratios were 33 passes and 26 runs, with yardages of 378 and 113, in a convincing 40-26 road win.

Steelers at Pats – Tom Brady and the Pats’ ratios were 37 passes and 29 runs, with yardages of 366 and 99, in an easy 33-3 win.

Giants at Dallas – Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ ratios were 32 passes and 30 runs, with yardages of 405 and 89, for a 35-17 win.

Rams at Panthers – Jerad Goff and the Rams’ ratios were 39 passes and 32 rushes, with yardages of 183 and 166, for a 30-27 road win.

Ravens at Dolphins – Lamar Jackson (and his sub) and Ravens’ ratios were 26 passes and 40 runs, with yardages of 378 and 265, for a 59-10 slaughter on the road. QB Jackson, the final pick of Round 1 last year, was 17 of 20, for 324 yards, an average of 16.2 yards per attempt, and 19.1 per completion.

Matt LaFleur on sideline

Sep 5, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur (center) looks on prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Comparisons

In the game at Chicago, Aaron Rodgers and the Pack’s ratios were 30 passes and 22 runs, with (puny) yardages of 203 and 47, for a 10-3 road win. Green Bay’s pass/run ratio was 57.6%.

The big offenses of the Saints, Chiefs, Pats, Cowboys, Rams, and Ravens, mostly led by big-time QBs, all prevailed, with all but the Rams putting up gaudy passing yardages.

The pass/run ratios varied widely. Saints 67% passes, Packers 58%, Chiefs and Pats 56%, Rams 55%, Cowboys 52%, Ravens 39%.

I would be careful to note that these stats can be misleading, and they are the smallest of samplings. It would also make more sense to count sacks as pass plays, not running plays. Quarterback scrambles that resulted in positive yardage might also be viewed as (attempted) pass plays. And in several cases, the winning teams resorted to more runs after they had established healthy leads.

Further Impressions

The statistic that cries out is that pass completions in the aggregate generate a great deal more yardage that do run plays. When teams can run up passing yardages like 403, 378 (twice), 370, and 366, the strength or frequency of a run game can appear to be of little importance.

The only winning teams that compiled impressive run yardages in the above sampling were the Ravens and the Rams – though even in these instances the passing yardages were (of course) greater.

At the same time, even when the run yardage was overwhelmed by the yardage gained through the air, the winning teams often did indeed “establish the run.” These percentage was all over the map. The Saints averaged 7.0 yards per rush, the Ravens 6.6, Rams 5.2, Chiefs 4.3, Pats 3.4, Cowboys 3.0, and Packers 2.1.

By the way, the Packers held the Bears to only 47 yards on 15 carries, for a 3.1 yard average. As TP commenters have pointed out, the Pack’s tackling was excellent. The Packers didn’t allow a run of more than 8 yards – I wonder how far back you’d have to go to top that stat. The Packers defense was stellar throughout this close game.

Application to Packers

This tiny glimpse at run/pass ratios doesn’t lend itself to sweeping conclusions. It does suggest, however – as seems obvious – that if you’ve got a top-tier throwing quarterback, you’d want to utilize that resource as much as possible.

Could it be that the run-heavy offense that Matt LaFleur espouses is a smart strategy for teams without a strong passing attack? For teams that have all the tools for a dominant pass game (fine QB, receiver corps, and pass blockers), however, would passing less than, say, 60 percent of the time, amount to squandering one’s talents?

And that begs this question: does Green Bay at this moment in its history have the tools for being a dominant passing team?

Perhaps the Packers should base their offensive strategy largely – and on a week-to-week basis – according to whether the defense they are facing is better at stopping the pass or the run.

Final thought: if a team has a dominant defense – which might now be the case for the Packers – does that favor going with a heavier run attack or passing attack?

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Rob Born

Due to Aaron Rodgers’ reckless ways, I’m officially launching the Campaign for GM Gutekunst to Acquire the Best Available (Veteran) Backup Quarterback – NOW.

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13 Comments

  1. PF4L September 12, 2019

    This was probably one of the best articles i’ve read on here, very well thought out and articulated, so much so that i have so many comments to it, that i don’t see an end to it. It draws you in and captivates your mind to the point where a educated football fan wants to express so many thoughts and viewpoints, even as your reading it. Yea…maybe i’m being corny and some may think i’m kissing Rob’s ass and i don’t GAF. Excellent article and i will be commenting when time allows.

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 14, 2019

      I just lost a post that took a lot of time and thought to post, and then it just disappeared, and i’m not doing it again.
      This…would have turned into a novel anyway, but some of the points being…..
      ***
      Can you be successful running the ball, if not, it’s a mute point. It “seems” to me that half of our running plays gets stuffed for loss, or no gain.
      ***
      I don’t like the comparison listings for other teams run/pass percentages, as it’s far more complex than those simple stats, there are too many variables within each team that dictates how often a teams runs, or passes.You have to play to your own strengths and commitments.
      ***
      Even if, LaFleur wants to run the ball more, and be successful at it, it might take more time to develop that, than in one off season. It seems to me that some Packer fans have some expectation that all the problems of this team should just disappear right away simply because they hired a new coach. There is so much more involved, player acquisition, players learning, players being able to play fast without thinking too much, and so, so much more.
      Example: the receivers were a bit of a problem last season. That’s what happens when you have only one experienced receiver that can make consistent catches. Now just because we have a couple receivers in their 2nd year, doesn’t alone fix the receiver problem, until it does. From what little i’ve seen, it isn’t fixed yet. Although getting Mercedes Lewis more involved with more attempts in game 1, was something that gives me hope. Keyword being “hope”.
      ***
      In the past we’ve seen a highly successful head coach, run the ball, simply because he had a predetermined amount of run plays he wanted to run. He did that at the expense of totally ignoring in game situations. If game situations say run the ball, don’t pass, or pass the ball, don’t run it…then god damn that’s what you do, or don’t do. You DON’T ignore game situations simply because you had a certain amount of run plays you had in mind before the game started. It could be argued that McCarthy should have been fired for that alone. This was years ago when i said…McCarthy is learning his job as he goes…some of you will remember me writing that.
      ***
      At the end of Rob’s article he made the point that the Packers should perhaps dictate their offensive strategy on the strengths and weakness of the team they are facing. i couldn’t agree more. Matter of fact, i thought that was the mindset of every head coach in the league, in every game, until McCarthy proved me wrong.

      Reply
  2. Stiggy September 12, 2019

    I would be interested to see how play clock management affects offensive production. Biggest thing I noticed last week was a team and quarterback trying to break some habits of the old offense. It was routine for them to snap the ball with 1 second remaining…but we did see them hang on to their timeouts at least.

    When defenses can perfectly time the snap it creates a major advantage for the defensive front. I feel like discipline and organization are two key things the packers lacked for at least 3 seasons and saw them turn a small corner last week..but the lingering effects will take quite awhile to fix I fear.

    Maybe part of the run first mentality will help them play more fundamental football and shoot themselves in the foot less. How many times have we seen d linemen jump the snap with 1 second on the play clock only to be held to prevent 12 from getting crushed. How many times have we seen bone headed unforgivable special teams penalties?

    For the first time in a long time I stopped waiting for the flag after special teams plays…hopefully next week I’ll see the ball snapped before 1 second left.

    Reply
    1. Ferris September 12, 2019

      For the first time in a long time I stopped wincing watching the punter waiting for a 35 yard 3 second hang time punt. Tim Masthay stole $4,805,000 from the Packers in 4+years and didn’t need a mask to do it. Jake Schum stole another $615,000.
      Teach your kids to be a punter, you can suck at it and still get paid.

      Reply
    2. PF4L September 14, 2019

      Stig, that’s a good point you made about play clock management. The problem right now is, the play takes a long time to call as there are more slides, rotations going on than in the past, and it takes longer to call, especially when it’s new to everyone. IMO…as the weeks go by, expect that to run smoother and quicker with more experience. As i discussed with Howard, in time…when they have it down, expect to see them leaving some time on the play clock.
      ***
      In related…..In practice, Rodgers started wearing a wrist band of plays to be able to get the play calls out quicker. not sure if i’d expect him to wear it during the games, but we’ll find out soon enough.

      Reply
  3. Mhartan September 12, 2019

    I don’t see the point of one week comparisons. None of the teams who put up gaudy numbers were playing the NFL’s best defense at home. Did any team light up the Bears at home last year?

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 13, 2019

      That’s a fair point. But nevertheless, it’s an indicator of a problem.

      Reply
  4. stiggy September 12, 2019

    Jason… these articles arent going to the front page on website… only mobile. Just fyi you gotta search to find the new posts.

    Reply
    1. stiggy September 12, 2019

      Err they arent going to front page on computer only on mobile.

      Reply
  5. PF4L September 13, 2019

    Need a new look? Lacking an eye for fashion? Try this.

    https://www.panthers.com/video/cam-newton-says-bucs-performance-wasn-t-good-enough

    Reply
    1. Mitch Anthony September 13, 2019

      CTE is real. Too many hits to the head is something to be very concerned about. It even effects your sense of fashion. Think about it, as we watch Cam transition into Prince, how Cam played so physical in his early seasons and now… Well, Superman no more.

      I watched most of that game just to see Cam soil the bed. I actually like many of the players on the Panthers team, but never cared for the man child Cam (or Camille).

      Reply
  6. Deepsky September 14, 2019

    Can anyone say what offense the Patriots run? Sure they run a lot of play action and rub routes. But their offense changes week to week, month to month, year to year. What the Packers need is a coach and a system that analyzes and prepares better for what the defense brings. There’s no way LaFluer is that guy.

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 14, 2019

      Your right Deep, but….lets at least give LaFleur the opportunity to take the test, before we grade him an F.

      Reply

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