Past accomplishments, recent shakeups give reason to think Packers will be among NFC’s elite teams in 2013
By CHRIS HAVEL
The numbers don’t lie.
A look at the Packers’ offensive production under coach Mike McCarthy reveals an explosive unit that has everything it needs to be dominant. Everything, that is, except a running game and upgraded pass protection. The draft and the offensive line changes should facilitate improvement in both of those areas.
By maintaining all that’s been good in Green Bay’s offensive attack, McCarthy wisely moved to make significant changes sooner than later.
The key is more consistency. Increased consistency means more snaps. More snaps means more chances to make explosive plays. More explosive plays means more points.
All of this adds up to less pressure on a defense that’s in transition.
Consider some of these striking offensive numbers from 2012:
- After a 2-3 start last season, the Packers won nine of 11 to go 11-5. The only losses were at the New York Giants (38-10) and at Minnesota (37-34) in the season finale. The loss at Minnesota ended the Packers’ 12-game winning streak within the NFC North.
- Since 2006, the Packers are 32-10 against division foes. That is second-best in the NFL behind New England’s 34-8 mark in that span.
- The Packers’ 26-2 record at home since Week 10 of 2009 is tops in the NFL. New England (24-3) and Baltimore (24-4) are Nos. 2 and 3. The Packers have dominated at home in the past three-plus seasons.
- The Packers’ offense has finished in the NFL’s top five in each of the past six seasons. In 2012, the top five were New England (34.8), Denver (30.1), New Orleans (28.8), Washington (27.3) and Green Bay (27.1).
- The incomparable Aaron Rodgers ranked No. 1 in passer rating (108), No. 2 in touchdown passes (39) and No. 3 in completion percentage (67.1 percent). Rodgers led the league in passer rating for the second straight season, the first NFL quarterback to do so since Peyton Manning led the league in that category three straight seasons (2005-06).
Despite these staggering offensive numbers the Packers lacked the offensive balance and defensive consistency to go deep in the playoffs. That is why McCarthy made significant moves early this offseason.
It might be tempting, if not easy, for an NFL coach to be stubborn. It might be especially so for a coach who has won a Super Bowl, and whose offenses annually have been among the NFL’s best.
McCarthy has elected not to stand pat.
“We were inconsistent,” Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements told reporters after a recent OTA workout. “If we’re more consistent in every aspect, we’ll get more plays. We’re not at the number of plays we want to be at.”
The Packers’ offensive decline easily could’ve been rationalized by the significant number of injuries, and the fact that the defense frequently put Green Bay’s offense in poor situations.
However, the reality is that pre-snap penalties, sacks and resulting fumbles killed way too many drives in 2012. Rodgers was sacked 51 times, the most of any NFL quarterback last season.
That, plus the lack of explosion and consistency in the run game, led McCarthy to shift the offensive line. Bryan Bulaga will be at left tackle, Josh Sitton at left guard, Evan Diedrich-Smith at center, T.J. Lang at right tackle and Marshall Newhouse playing right tackle.
“We want to be stronger on the left side … get our two most accomplished players on that side to protect the back side of the quarterback,” offensive line coach James Campen told Packers.com.
Rodgers faced defenses that didn’t respect the run. They played their safeties deep, forced throws underneath and dared the Packers to run. All of this made Rodgers’ job that much more difficult. Big plays were that much tougher to come by.
“We want to run the ball better,” Clements said. “If we do run the ball better, we’ll probably run the ball more. It’ll prevent the defense from teeing off on the passer. We have to be effective running the ball.”
Rookie draft picks Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin should help.
In Tuesday’s OTA practice, veteran running back Alex Green fumbled on the first play, according to reports. That won’t cut it. On the plus side, tight end Andrew Quarless – a capable receiver and arguably the team’s best in-line blocking tight end – looked sharp off a bad knee injury.
Thanks to the draft McCarthy has viable options at running back.
If the offensive line changes prove to be the cure for what ails the Packers’ pass protection and running game there’s no reason to think Green Bay won’t be among the NFC’s elite teams.
Even if the additions and changes are slow to produce, the statistics listed above are proof enough that Green Bay’s offense will be good.
The only question is, “How good?”
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.