Mike McCarthy took over the reins as head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 2006. Up until last season, the offense of the Packers was in the top 10 in the entire NFL in eight out of nine years.
The only year the Packers were not in the top 10 was in 2012, when the Packers finished 13th, which is still in the upper half of the league.
But in 2015, the Packers fell to 23rd in the NFL in total offense. Guess where they are after two games in the 2016 season? That would be 29th. Yes, you read that correctly. 29th.
The passing offense of the Packers was always in the top 10 under McCarthy until last season. But in 2015, the passing offensive also went south, all the way to 25th.
This season the trend continues, as the passing offense is ranked 30th.
Not only that, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers is on an alarming trend downward. Rodgers has gone 14 consecutive games without achieving a passer rating of 100. This from a guy who had a career passer rating of 104.1 heading into the season, which was the best in NFL history.
In 2016, through two games, Rodgers currently has a passer rating of just 82.6.
In terms of running the ball, historically under McCarthy, the Packers were quite pedestrian toting the rock up until 2013, which marked the arrival of Eddie Lacy. Up until that point, the Packers averaged ranking 21st in rushing offense each year.
But in 2013, the Packers jumped up to the No.7 spot in running the football. In 2014, Green Bay was ranked 11th. And even in 2015, when there were questions about Lacy’s weight, the Packers were still ranked 12th in the league in rushing offense.
But that stat has dropped as well in 2016. The Packers are currently ranked 19th in rushing offense.
So, what is the problem with offense of the Packers? Well, that is a difficult question to answer.
It’s sort of like a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.
Let’s take a look at two different perspectives. Last week I talked with NFL scout Chris Landry about how the Packers offense looked in the opening game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars in hot and humid Jacksonville.
Landry first talked about the performance of the offensive line in that game and also the performance of Rodgers.
“I thought they did a pretty good job,” Landry said, speaking of the offensive line. “The interior of the line did a good job. [David] Bakhtiari played well for them. It was a really good performance. Jacksonville is a good team. I thought that Jacksonville had a good chance to beat them [the Packers] at home. If it wasn’t for Aaron Rodgers, they would have.
“Aaron, I didn’t mean to omit him, because he was one of the highest-graded players. Of spectacular plays, there is no doubt that Aaron Rodgers had the most spectacular plays of any quarterback in last week’s games.
“He kind of bailed them out. Jacksonville was really good and [Blake] Bortles played well enough to win, but that’s the beauty of Aaron Rodgers. What I’ve mentioned to Bob and other Packer fans is that last year they had no protections and had no vertical passing game, everything was horizontal.
“The ability to protect better allows Aaron Rodgers, it puts that paint brush in his hands, and it allows him to make plays. Yeah, they aren’t healthy, Jordy Nelson is not quite back, and there are issues, but he [Rodgers] cures a lot of ills.”
All of that is true, but No. 12 came back and had one the worst games he has played in recent memory versus the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night in Minneapolis. Greg Cosell, who has evaluated tape for 36 years for NFL Films, doesn’t like what he’s been seeing regarding the play of Rodgers.
Cosell said this on his recent appearance on The Herd:
“The film says Rodgers’ poor play at the end of 2015 has continued into 2016. He’s regressed to become a “scattershot thrower” who is missing throws he used to routinely make, and he refuses to execute the Packers offense. If the Packers are going to have success, Rodgers needs to get back to executing the offense within the designed framework. Right now, it looks bad.”
So, what does Rodgers think of the opinions of those in the media.
“I don’t care about that,” Rodgers said at his weekly press conference on Wednesday.
Rodgers also accepted the blame about his performance against the Vikings.
“I have to,” Rodgers said. “I have to lead by example. As a leader, you have to take the blame when it’s necessary, and even sometimes when it’s not your fault. I think it’s important to let those guys know that you’re going to stick your body on the line, but also you’re going to stand up for them when you need to in the locker room, the meeting room and the media, and take your responsibility for the way you played.
“I didn’t play as well as I wanted to last week, and I turned the ball over twice, and I can’t do that if we’re going to win the game. So I’ve got to play better, and I’ve got to play more efficiently on offense.”
McCarthy talked about the play of Rodgers when he met with the media on Wednesday.
“I have great confidence in Aaron,” McCarthy said. “I’ve never trusted a quarterback or an individual as a player more than I trust Aaron Rodgers. His work ethic is at the top of his career, the time he spends in the facility with the coaches and his teammates.
“So from that, it’s a process. We’ll all stick to the process, and from that we’ll have success.”
McCarthy expects Rodgers to bounce back this week versus the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field in the home opener for the Packers.
“First of all,” McCarthy said, “we’ve had two games. It’s a process, and he’s no different than any other player. Fundamentals is something you’re always chasing as a football team, and it’s no different at the quarterback position. We’ll focus on the process. The work ethic is outstanding for Aaron and our guys, and we’ll improve off of last week off of that.”
Speaking of the process, earlier in the week, McCarthy inferred that the Packers need to start utilizing the running game more.
“The analysis of our offense after two games, the running backs have not been given enough opportunities, so that’s something that I need to focus on,” McCarthy said. “Our perimeter players, we need to get them more opportunities too. We’re not getting the ball (for enough plays), and it really goes back to the efficiency, execution and flow of our offense.
“We’ve got to convert first downs. Frankly, our problem in the first half was we didn’t generate enough first downs. And the production reflected it. So I thought the second half we played more like we want to play.”
At this point, just as it was in 2015, the running game is the best aspect of the Green Bay offense. That’s hard to fathom, based on the great success Rodgers has had in the passing game in his career, but the facts and the stats don’t lie.
If the Packers do place an increased emphasis on the running game, it should help in a number of ways. The offensive line can be the aggressor in that perspective of the game, as opposed to being a reactor while trying to pass block.
Success in the running game also creates more play-action opportunities in the passing game.
Lacy and James Starks can dominate at times when they get their share of touches. Case in point, Lacy rushed for 124 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries last season versus the Dallas Cowboys. Starks rushed for 71 yards and another touchdown on 11 carries in that same game.
Rodgers also threw two touchdown passes in that game without a pick.
McCarthy talked about fundamentals with the media this week. The Packers need to focus on that, even with all the veterans that the team has on offense.
There is no doubt that with Rodgers, Lacy, Starks, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Jared Cook, that the offense should be ranked near the top 10 and not near the bottom of the league.
On Sunday afternoon, Rodgers and the offense of the Packers will be facing a Detroit team which is ranked 26th in total defense.
The Lions have been giving up over 400 yards per game. In the first two games, teams have averaged over 110 yards on the ground against Detroit. In the passing game, the Lions have given up almost 300 yards a game.
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle) has been declared out for the game on Sunday. Ansah is certainly the best defensive linemen for the Lions and also may the team’s best defensive player period.
The Lions are also banged up with injuries at linebacker. DeAndre Levy didn’t play this past Sunday against Tennessee because of a thigh injury. Levy is listed as doubtful for the game versus the Pack. Fellow outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy also left the game against the Titans with a calf injury.
The Packers need to exploit the issues that the Lions are having on defense. But they need to approach that game plan by being fundamentally sound in both running and passing the football.
Vince Lombardi always went back to the basics when he met each of his Green Bay teams at the opening of training camp. It didn’t matter if the team was the defending NFL champions or not.
Lombardi would address the team by holding up the ball. “Gentlemen,” Lombardi would say. “This is a football.”
And the teaching would start from there. “It was like learning the ABCs all over again,” Zeke Bratkowski told me in a recent story about the coaching methods of Lombardi.
The 2016 Packers need to follow that simple lesson from Lombardi.
Bratkowski mentioned a great quote that should be the credo for the offense of the Packers now.
“Billy Casper said it best, ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ That’s basically what the Packers were,” Bratkowki said. “It was a simplified, complex offense. There was a lot of repetition. That was the approach.”
That’s what the offense of the Packers needs to do now.
As in, practice a play. Then repeat the play. Over and over again until it’s second nature. Repetition needs to be a key factor now at all the practices of the Packers.
As does going back to the basics about teaching the players about how each play is supposed to succeed.
It’s not just the players on offense who aren’t playing up to their capabilities, but also the coaches who have designed the game plan.
Bottom line, the offense needs to go back to square one and let things develop from there.
That approach certainly can’t do any worse than what has transpired over the past year or so for the offense.