Even the most casual of observers will admit that the Packers’ offense has been off for quite a while (see my previous article, “What’s Wrong With Rodgers,” if you need proof). That being said, something’s changed over the past few weeks. Green Bay’s offense is more pass happy than it has ever been, and the change could be here to stay for the foreseeable future. In the past six seasons, the Packers threw the ball 40 or more times in a regular season game on 15 occasions (2.5 times per year). In the past four games they have thrown an average of 45 passes, surpassing 40 throws in three of four games. That’s more than 10 more throws per game than the team has averaged since Mike McCarthy became head coach. The questions are, why the shift, and will it work?
Why the shift?
The reason for the sudden change is pretty obvious, they don’t have much of a choice. As Plato said, necessity is the mother of invention. With Eddie Lacy banged up and landing on IR, James Starks missing extended time, and no quality running backs behind the two, Green Bay is just about out of options when it comes to the ground game. After releasing Knile Davis this week the only two healthy backs on the team are Don Jackson and Aaron Ripkowski. Green Bay has no running backs worthy of getting as many as 15 or 20 carries per game, and no backs who can produce in the passing game (Jackson had just seven catches for a total of 77 yards in 13 games at Nevada last year).
Enter Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery.
Montgomery and Cobb are each receivers who can take snaps as a running back, and boy have they this year. Cobb has never had more than 13 rushes in a single season, but he had five carries against the Bears in Week 7 and is on pace for 25 this year. Montgomery rushed the ball three times in his six games as a rookie, and he’s rushed the ball 14 times in six games played this season. Those carries, however, are a small percentage of their snaps out of the backfield. By playing Cobb and Montgomery as running backs at times, Green Bay makes it easier for Aaron Rodgers to throw short passes, leading to the increase in throws we’ve seen the past few weeks.
Will it work?
Whether this new style offense will work or not remains to be seen, but, if the past few weeks are any indication, fans have reason to be optimistic. Despite having Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Ty Montgomery, and Randall Cobb inactive for the team’s Week 8 game in Atlanta, Green Bay scored 32 points. The team had no ground game whatsoever, as they produced a measly 48 yards on 13 attempts (sans the 60 yards from Aaron Rodgers on his six rushes), and still had one of their best offensive outputs of the season. The reason for this success is running the “west coast offense” to a T. The Packers used quick passes behind or within five yards of the line of scrimmage to pull the defense forward, which then made it easier to strike down field, evidenced by Jordy Nelson’s 58 yard catch and run, the team’s longest of the season.
The biggest factor for the long term success of this offensive approach is the health of Aaron Rodgers and the offensive line. The offensive line has given Rodgers extraordinarily long to throw, and as a result he’s been able to pick defenses apart in recent weeks like he’s accustomed to doing. If the line stays intact and keeps giving a healthy Aaron Rodgers time to throw, we could see a quick and lasting return to MVP level performances.
On the whole, the Packers are currently a team figuring it out as they go. They’ve been decimated with injuries to both sides of the ball and are just figuring out how to cope. Mike McCarthy and the offense have schemed to make the best of things and appear to have decided it best to trust in their hall of fame caliber quarterback (despite any recent struggles) and the rest of the offense to play their own, unique brand of football. And hey, it just might work.