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Packers Have a Good Offensive Pathway to the Super Bowl

Post-Draft, Looking on the Bright Side – Part 5

Super Bowl Outcomes

2014 Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

2015 Broncos, 24 Panthers 10

2016 Patriots 34, Falcons 28 (OT)

2017 Eagles 41, Patriots 33

2018 Patriots 13, Rams 3

2019 Chiefs 31, 49ers 20

Seasonal Breakdowns

The two constants in the last half-dozen years of Super Bowl games are Tom Brady and Bill Belichick – but that partnership is now kaput. The Pats made four SB appearances in the past six years, including three victories in a span of five years.

Take away the Pats, and since the 2014 season there have been eight teams that have made it to the final game – once each. Due to the salary cap structure and the way draft picks are allotted, few NFL dynasties have all but been replaced in recent years.

We now have parity – and Packer fans, who’ve gotten spoiled, would be well advised to get used to this pro football fact of life.

If you don’t have Tom Brady on your roster, what other strategies can you employ to get to the championship game?

In 2014, the Seahawks had major talent on offense. Marshawn Lynch accounted for 1,673 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season. He rushed 280 times, for 1,306 yards, and a 4.7 yards per carry average. Russell Wilson was part of the supporting cast that year; his 3,475 passing yards ranked only 15th during the regular season. The team’s signature was its smashmouth run game.

In 2015, the victorious Broncos compiled a 15-4 record without a standout offensive star. As the season wore on, Brock Osweiler replaced aging and ailing Peyton Manning at QB. Manning was chosen to be the Super Bowl starter, though his efforts were anemic: 13 of 23 for 141 yards and no TDs – and a terrible passer rating of 56.6.

Running back C.J. Anderson is the closest the Broncs came to having an offensive star in the big game: his line was 23 carries for 90 yards (3.9 ave.) and one TD, along with 4 catches for a measly 10 yards. Denver accumulated only 194 yards of offense; the Panthers, meanwhile, racked up 315. The Broncos won despite possessing a listless offense. Over the regular season, the Denver offense averaged 355.4 yards, 16th best in the league. Defense ruled in 2015.

In 2016, the Falcons put together a unit that matched Belichick’s team score for score for four quarters. This was Matt Ryan’s year in the spotlight, and he had the incomparable Julio Jones as his primary receiver. Ryan was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and MVP. The third overall pick in 2008 put it all together for one magical year. Alas, Tom Brady won the head-to-head battle between two superb quarterbacks.

In 2017, both youth and experience were served. Carson Wentz, the second overall draft pick a year earlier, went 11-2 in the regular season, leading a pretty undistinguished team into the playoffs. But Wentz finished the year on the sidelines with a back injury – allowing veteran QB Nick Foles his moment of glory. Foles and the Eagles won all three of their playoff games, with Nick recording a 115.7 passer rating in the playoffs.

In 2018, it was the Rams’ turn to challenge the mighty Patriots. Young head coach Sean McVay’s balanced offensive attack led the team to a 13-3 record. For the second year in a row, an unproven QB – Jared Goff, the top overall pick three years earlier – made it to the Super Bowl.

Todd Gurley rushed for 1,251 yards in only 14 regular season games – but a knee injury hampered him in the postseason. Without Gurley being healthy, the Rams were only able to put three points on the scoreboard.

Last season, after two years of fluky hot seasons by middle-range quarterbacks, normalcy returned to the Super Bowl: the Chiefs’ pass attack, led by the great Patrick Mahomes (though his SB statistics were sub-par), was too much for the creative ground attack of Mike Shanahan’s 49ers.

Offensive Trends

For the most part in the last six years, it’s been star quarterbacks, and high-powered passing attacks, that have catapulted teams into the Super Bowl: Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, and Patrick Mahomes. Though Carson Wentz and Jared Goff have yet to establish greatness, each has used one transcendent year to aid his team in reaching the championship game.

In the past couple years, however, we’ve seen the rise of the run game. It was running back Todd Gurley who propelled the Rams into the Super Bowl two years ago, and it was the ground attack of the 49ers that got them into the big game last year.

By wading through a bunch of team stats, one can get a better sense of how ascendant is the run game in the NFL. Let’s do it.

In 2019, the Top-10 winningest teams were: in the NFC, the 49ers, Saints, and Packers (13-3), the Seahawks (11-5), and then the Vikings (10-6); in the AFC, they were the Ravens (14-2), Patriots and Chiefs (12-4), and Texans and Bills (10-6).

Strikingly, none of the league’s highest passing-yardage offenses (TB, DAL, ATL, LAR) made the Top-10 Win-Loss list. The passing-yardages of the “winningest” clubs were very spread out: KC 5, NO 7, NE 8, SF 13, SEA 14, HOU 15, GB 17, MIN 23, BUF 26, and BAL 27.

In contrast, six of the top nine rushing teams were in the Top-10 winners group: BAL 1, SF 2, SEA 4, MIN 6, BUF 8, and HOU 9; the rest were: GB 15, NO 16, NE 18, and KC 23.

Based on the above, we can describe KC, NO, and NE as pass-reliant teams. BAL, SF, SEA, MIN, BUF, and HOU were run-reliant. The one and only “balanced” Top-10 team was the Packers, who ranked 15th in rushing and 17th in passing.

This methodology suggests that in 2019 there were twice as many run-reliant teams in the Top-10 as there were pass-reliant ones. Additionally, the top run team in the league, the Ravens, had the league’s best regular-season record. On the other hand, the Super Bowl champs had the most highly-ranked passing attack, but the lowest-ranked run attack, among the Top-10.

 

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers celebrates with RB Aaron Jones

Jan 12, 2020; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) celebrates with quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) after scoring a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter of a NFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Conclusions

There’s a discernible trend in the NFL toward strong running teams compiling solid winning records – and going on to compete in the postseason. I’d add that the Packers will likely cross over to the list of run-heavy teams in 2020. That’s what Matt LaFleur repeatedly says is the type of offense he wants. It’s also what Brian Gutekunst’s recent draft choices suggest, with the exception of Jordan Love.

Here’s the bright side: in terms of offensive philosophy, Green Bay seems to be on the right track with the offensive direction it claims to have chosen.

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Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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15 Comments

  1. Steve May 20, 2020

    Try to tell the disgruntled Packers fans that after this draft. There’s some that want the GM and Coach fired, for not taking a green horn wide receiver with their first round pick. They have nothing good to say about picking up Wagner, Funchess, or Kirksey in free agency. They are all just doomed for failure before they have even put on a GB uniform. The main concern seems to be to get a fleet of highly paid receivers for the pleasure of watching Rodgers out on one of his fire away displays, and complaining that they don’t know their routes, or can’t stay open for two minutes, while he’s back there running around, trying to make up his mind. His passing leaves something to be desired last year anyway, with balls flying out of reach, on numberous occasions. It’s sad that Matt LaFleur’s system has been deemed a failure, before Gutekunst and He have even had a 2nd year to display it …

    Reply
    1. Stiggy May 20, 2020

      That’s because all 3 pickups are injury prone. Now go order your deguara jersey and go back to reddit.

      Reply
    2. Ferris May 20, 2020

      I guess you want Love to start since Rodgers can’t play anymore. Look what Kansas City did with Damien Williams as the starting RB. Speed on the outside kills. Green Bay has none. A TE that can run and catch is a killer like Kelce, GB TE’s block. That’s why people wanted them to draft a WR. SF may have MADE IT to the Superbowl with a run first offense, but they lost.

      Reply
  2. PF4L May 20, 2020

    I only read the last Conclusion paragraph. But the jist i’ve gotten, and what i’ve thought lately, is the Packers are trying to build a team that only needs a game manager at QB.

    Reply
  3. MJ May 20, 2020

    Good. Do we have a defensive path to the Superbowl as well?

    Reply
  4. PF4L May 21, 2020

    I feel like i’m starting to come around. When we get to……..
    .
    Post-Draft, Looking on the Bright Side – Part 25..i should be firmly on board.

    Reply
  5. Todd Chike May 21, 2020

    All’s I know is hopefully I am not jumping up and down and throughing things a the tv screaming RUN THE DAMN BALL !!!!!
    any more.

    Reply
    1. Deepsky May 23, 2020

      I’ve been jumping up and down screaming THROW THE BALL as Rodgers waits for a receiver to come open by 5 yards.

      Reply
  6. PF4L May 21, 2020

    Yea…i don’t know. Before we jubilate over our offensive pathway to the Super Bowl, Idk…. i’d actually like to see it in action.
    .
    Call me crazy, or a bit twisted, but i gotta be me.

    Reply
  7. Tim May 22, 2020

    Using yardage as a basis for analysis isn’t a very good method. For example, Tampa Bay may have racked up the passing yards in 2019, but they were 18th in offensive DVOA due to all those interceptions. Comparing offensive stats to win/loss records, without taking defense into account, can lead to incorrect conclusions.Also, it would be wise to remember that correlation does not imply causality.

    All the advanced analyses I’ve seen reach the same conclusions –
    1 – Passing is more efficient than running.
    2 – Play action passing is more efficient than drop back passing.
    3 – Rushing success (or lack of it) has no effect on PA passing success.

    The problem is that no one believes #3, despite all the evidence. The top 5 teams in PA usage were LAR, BAL, SF, MIN, and TEN. Those teams won despite their run heavy attacks because they used more PA. Don’t hope for more runs; hope for more play action passes.

    Reply
  8. Deepsky May 23, 2020

    Unfortunately the Packers defense can’t stop the run. And it’s not because of personnel. I looked up Pettine’s biggest losses in his history as coach or defensive coordinator and in all his big losses his defense was gashed by a running back. Last year’s NFC loss had less to do with the players on the Packers team and more to do with the scheme and coaching. Shanahan had seen this while coaching with Pettine in the past and knew exactly how to beat this defense.

    Reply
    1. Tim May 23, 2020

      Pettine likes moving his DL players around to create pass rush, but it kills the run D. In the NCCGC, SF’s first TD came on 3rd&8. Kittle wide left, bunch tight right, RB (Mostert) right. GB played Cover 1, with a 5 man front and Amos mirroring Mostert. Pettine switched up his front to get pressure. L to R (offensive perspective) P. Smith, Fackrell, Z. Smith, Clark, Martinez, lined up 9,4,-1, 4i, 9. The intent was to isolate Z on the center. SF ran a weak B gap long trap. (I bet they had this planned, ready to audible to it.) They ignored P and Martinez, who were too far outside to affect the play. Clark got doubled, Z got crushed in the weak A gap, and Fackrell got kicked out by the puller after the LT swam past him. The wall-off block on Amos was Cask of Amontillado level. And once in the open field, Mostert has 4.38 speed.
      It’s hard to stop the run with 1 DL and 4 LB in a scheme that gambles to get pass pressure but is unsound against the run.

      Reply
      1. PF4L May 23, 2020

        Yea, it’s fairly evident rushing the passer is priority #1 and stopping the run seems like a 3rd priority.
        .
        Props to fans like Tim and Howard. We watch it, they explain it. Kudos.

        Reply
  9. Jack Spretzen May 23, 2020

    It’s funny how it is all cyclical. The run game used to be team’s bread and butter. Then passing offenses started to take over. As a result, defenses got smaller, with lighter, faster guys on the field to stop the passing attack. It has kind of left defenses susceptible to the power running game – which has now come back because it is all kind of cyclical.

    Reply

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