Green Bay Packers Offensive Preview
Continuing from part one of the pre-training camp breakdown
I bet the Green Bay Packers do very good this season, though I would not advise betting a year’s salary on it. Actually, I would not advise betting a year’s salary on anything, unless it is the odds Jay Cutler will pout at least once every Sunday.
I would also bet Green Bay will do the Lambeau leap at least once this season
Green Bay Packers offensive statistics 2010-2012
2010 Pts/G 24.2 (10th), Yds/G 358.1 (9th)
Pass – 4,124 or 257.8/game (5th), 8.0 YPA (3rd), gave up 38 sacks (tied 19th)
Rush – 1,606 or 100.4/game (24th), 3.8 YPC (tie-25th)
Third Down Efficiency: 41.5% conversion (8th)
2011 Pts/G 35 (1st), Yds/G 405.1 (3rd)
Pass – 4,924 or 307.8/game (3rd), 9.3 YPA (1st), gave up 41 sacks (21st)
Rush – 1,558 or 97.4/game (27th), 3.9 YPC (26th)
Third Down Efficiency: 48.1% conversion (3rd)
2012 Pts/G 27.1 (5th), Yds/G 359.4 (13th)
Pass – 4,049 or 253.1/game (9th), 7.8 YPA (6th), Gave up 51 sacks (31st)
Rush – 1,702 or 106.4/game (20th), 3.9 YPC (22nd)
Third Down Efficiency: 42.3% conversion (9th)
The Green Bay Packers offense is going to be good, as it consistently has been since Rodgers took the reins. Actually, even before that when McCarthy took the reins. I seem to vaguely recall there was another really good QB on Green Bay before Rodgers who nearly got them to the Super Bowl under McCarthy…
For Green Bay, as it has been for the past twenty years, it all revolves around the quarterback. Heck, even the salary cap does now. Rightly so, as Aaron Rodgers has established himself as the game’s best overall quarterback, though there are a few others on his top tier, namely Brady and Manning. Rodgers touts a strong arm, throws the league’s tightest spiral, is pin-point accurate, and is very efficient. Rodgers is also good in important spots. In the fourth quarter when the game is within seven points he does play at a higher level, last year raising his overall quarterback rating from 108 to 118 in those situations. It’s hard at this point to find any significant hole in his game. While most of the sacks fall on the offensive line, he tends to hold on to the ball a little too long, causing a few of the sacks himself. And…that about sums it up. Year in and year out he has shown too much consistency to really have any critiques- he’s money and with his new contract can get a suit made out of it.
I like to imagine Rodgers wears one of these made of $100s
The season will go with Rodgers’ health though. This is not New England with Ryan Mallet or the Washington Redskins with Kirk Cousins where the backup can come in and win games. I do not feel Graham Harrell is the answer. Watch tape on Arizona last year, and you will see what would happen if we didn’t have Rodgers.
The offensive line will not be receiving as glowing of a review as Aaron Rodgers unfortunately. Rodgers was sacked more times last season than any quarterback in the league. If Chicago’s offensive line is doing something better than you, you have a problem. Silver lining, they gave up only the second most sacks because Arizona split theirs over a few quarterbacks. That being said, 31st doesn’t roll off of the tongue any better than 32nd does though. In an attempt to shake things up, RG Josh Sitton and RT Bryan Bulaga will be switching to the left side of the line to protect Rodgers’ blind-side. First, before I sound too negative, Bulaga was a good right tackle. He was above average in pass blocking for a right tackle, but I didn’t feel Bulaga was a NFL left tackle when he left college and I don’t feel any different today. The blind side requires a lot of finesse at the tackle position (or really long arms to make up for skill) and Bulaga tends to play heavy footed and has very short arms. In a division where Julius Peppers and Jared Allen are still playing at a high level, I am not counting on Bulaga to suddenly become a shutdown blocker. Though I imagine he still will be an improvement over any of the other choices Green Bay had. He was and is still the best tackle on the roster, but that is not saying too much. Bulaga and Sitton are both plus run blockers though and will continue to be so moving forward. TJ Lang flips over to the right side guard and lines up next to Evan Deitrich-Smith at center and Marshall Newhouse is penciled in as the right tackle while Derek Sherrod is injured. Fourth round selection David Bakhtiari is the sleeper to watch for Green Bay in the pre-season to see if he can surprise his way into the lineup, but my gut says that the five are set for at least the opener. The offensive line did not get any serious talent infusion but if Green Bay can get a more consistent ground game, it will take pressure off of the line since defenders cannot pin their ears back and gun for Rodgers. Of course, history tells us that running hasn’t been so smooth either.
To say Green Bay in recent years has had issues running the ball would be like saying Ryan Braun is not having the best week, both are a bit of an understatement. Not for lack of trying on Green Bay’s part mind you, the Packers were right in the middle on attempting to run, ranking 16th in the league with 433 rushing attempts. Even so, there has not been a player to crack 1000 yards since Ryan Grant did in 2009. The last two years, a running back has not even accumulated a paltry total of over 600 yards rushing over a season. The oddest and most fascinating of the sad statistics is that Green Bay has not had a running back run for over 100 yards since Brandon Jackson did it against Washington back on October 10th of the 2010 season. That is 43 games in a row. I am not exactly sure when the streak will end, but I would be willing to bet it does not cross 50.
Green Bay brought in not one but two intriguing running backs in Eddie Lacy (second round pick) and Johnathan Franklin (fourth round pick) to compete with Dajuan Harris, James Starks, and Alex Green for the starting job. One of the two new comers I feel will end the stretch, but it will not be until one of them secures the majority of the carries, through health or play.
Eddie Lacy is the favorite for the role. Lacy is not an elite-level talent like former Alabama teammate Trent Richardson was last year entering the NFL draft, but is still a good physical specimen. At 5’11” and 230 pounds, he is a tough, physical runner. After watching tape on Lacy, his spin move appears to be his go-to juke and best weapon in his arsenal. He shows good burst and in the SEC showed good enough breakaway speed to view his 4.59 forty-yard dash time as a bit of an aberration due to recovering from a toe injury in the off-season. For reference as a high school senior his time was 4.44. To be honest, I felt Green Bay was considering him in the first round so his being available in the second round was a real gift to Green Bay. Lacy is talented enough to be an every down back, but still needs to work on his pass catching and pass blocking skills.
His main competition will be fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin from UCLA. Franklin is the perfect complement to Lacy; he is too small to be an every down back but is a great pass blocker as a running back and a good receiver out of the back field. At 5’10” and 205 pounds, he will probably be the third down back for Green Bay and provide Rodgers a weapon he has always needed; a back who can catch. His greatest attribute so far though is his character. He is a hard worker and will be a positive role model in the locker room, even as a rookie. And from a journalism standpoint, he seems good for a fun quote or two, like with Wisconsin decoration he said,
“I saw a moose head in a room the other day and I went crazy. I ain’t seen none of this…I said, ‘Is that real? Did you really kill a moose?’
Hopefully not this moose…
The offensive line is not the only group that could really use some help from the running game. Green Bay’s receivers will all see more opportunities if the running game can cheat the safeties in a few yards. Green Bay does not have one true elite receiver, but really, only a few teams do. Instead, they have three really good ones. First man of the trio is Randall Cobb as the best receiver Green Bay has, or at least the most trusted. In his rookie season in 2011, he had the highest rate on the Packers on receptions per target (just over 80%). He followed that up by being Rodgers’ most targeted receiver, being thrown to 104 times leading to 80 receptions on the year, which also lead the team. This 76.9% reception/target rate was the highest among any player on GB with over 20 targets. Next up is Jordy Nelson, who I like to think of as an AJ Green-lite. He is not Green by any stretch, but he goes up, gets the ball, and can make some very contorted catches, which has been Green’s signature since Georgia. Nelson also is Rodgers’ go-to for the back shoulder throw when they need to move the chains. Completing the trifecta is the re-emerged James Jones. Jones had only two drops all last season and was Rodgers first choice in the end zone, leading to a team-leading 14 touchdown receptions. From the big three my overall prediction is a continued progression from Cobb, Jordy to lead the team in touchdowns if he can stay on the field, and another highly productive, albeit probably not as explosive, year from Jones.
There is one more pass catcher worth noting. Not too long ago, Rodgers’ best receiver was the now frustrating-to-watch Jermichael Finley. Finley is standing at a bit of a crossroads in his career. The Packers most likely will re-sign him, but this is a contract year for him and he has the physical skills to be one of the best weapons in the NFL. There was a period of time people thought he was going to be what Gronkowski and Graham eventually became, the tight end that was too fast to be guarded by a linebacker and too big for a corner or safety and would dominate the field. If Finely can focus and get consistent with his hands, Rodgers will have a season like 2011. Last year, Green Bay showed they had problems on third and long as the season went on because Rodgers faith in Finely was shaken from the drops. Finley only recorded seven drops, but more often than not they were always on key plays. If Finley can be Rodgers’ safety net on third downs, Green Bay will simply be too difficult to stop consistently and will run away with the division. However, the last two seasons show that as a huge if.
I think the first trick is the retiring of the “shark” dance as Finley calls it, or the rooster as I call it.
My general prediction for the offense is that it should be on an overall level very similar to last year. Rodgers will be very good, but I don’t think he will be other worldly as he was in 2011, simply because I do not trust that Finley can take on the role as the unstoppable guy Rodgers can throw to on third and long. Rodgers will have to continue to try and fit it into smaller windows around or outside the hash marks. Note how he did this last year and still lead the league in quarterback rating, so I don’t see it as being too much of an issue. The offensive line will struggle to keep Rodgers upright, and Rodgers will in turn struggle getting out of the ice tub every week, which of course is nothing Rodgers probably is not already used to. The running game will improve dramatically unless both rookies get hurt. If Lacy is healthy, he will break both the 100 yards in a game streak and the 1000 yard rusher streak. McCarthy really does like running the ball if he had the opportunity, and a healthy Lacy will give him the back to balance the team. If Rodgers stays healthy, he will lead the team to the playoffs and a division title.
Enjoy the first day of training camp, football is in the air!