Packers’ offense still runs through Rodgers

By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA

Here’s a position-by-position analysis of Green Bay’s offense going into camp

GREEN BAY, Wis. –     Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone effectively exposed and ended the Packers’ 2017 season.

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With Rodgers, the Packers opened 4-1 going into an Oct. 15 NFC North battle against the Vikings at Minnesota.
Without him, they stumbled and lost five of the next six games.
By the time Rodgers got healthy enough to return it was too late to save the season. Not all was lost, though, as his absence proved to be instructive going forward.
I’ll take a position-by-position look at the offense going into the Packers’ training camp. Next week, I’ll focus on the defense.
** OFFENSE (overview)
The Packers scored 137 points in the first five games last year. That’s an average of 27 points per game. Without Rodgers, an ill-prepared Brett Hundley was shut out twice and rarely challenged opposing defenses.
Green Bay’s passing game was a joke.
The Packers’ passing game ranked 31st in passing average, 25th in total passing yards and 27th in sacks per play AND interception percentage.
Clearly, there’s room for improvement.
On the bright side, the running attack sprouted legs. The Packers ranked fifth in rushing average, 13th in third-down efficiency and 17th in rushing yards per game.
That was without the threat of Rodgers behind center.
If the Packers plan to prolong Rodgers’ career by finding a semblance of run-pass balance this is the season to do it.
** Quarterback
Rodgers, who’s entering his 14th NFL season, ranks No. 1 in career passer rating (103.8) and TD/INT ratio (313 TDs to 78 INTs). The two-time MVP is the only quarterback in NFL history to record a 100-plus passer rating in six straight seasons.
Last year, he started seven games, including six before suffering a broken collarbone Oct. 15 at Minnesota.
What’s in store for 2018?
Presumably the Packers have learned from last season.
The addition of DeShone Kizer gives the Packers a chance to win games if Rodgers is unavailable.
Beyond that, the running game looked OK once it got a chance to find its legs. With Rodgers, the Packers need to demand better run-pass balance to slow down opposing pass rushes, to create play action, and to extend Rodgers’ career.
Rodgers, 34, is one of the NFL’s best.
The Packers need to insist on running the football to create better down-distance situations. Whether Rodgers insists on using the audible to get out of run calls remains to be seen.
** Running backs
Jamaal Williams is the lead dog.
Williams played in all 16 games with seven starts. He ran for a team-high 556 yards – the fourth-most ever by a Packers’ rookie RB – and had 25 catches for 262 yards and two TDs.
It’s incumbent upon the coaches, Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones to fashion roles behind Williams. I prefer to see Montgomery spelling Williams on early downs if he needs a breather, and playing a key role in the passing game.
As an every-down runner Montgomery can’t cut it.
Jones is explosive, but he’s got injury issues. If he can stay healthy he would be a terrific change-up back.
The Packers’ running backs corps is as good as it’s been in years.
** Tight ends
Jimmy Graham is the real deal.
He may prove to be the single-most important offseason acquisition among players. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end can dominate games. He also seems excited about the prospects of playing with Rodgers.
Graham has known nothing but top-flight quarterbacks (Drew Brees in New Orleans and Russell Wilson in Seattle) but Rodgers is even better.
The Packers’ ability to kick butt in the red zone should benefit.
Marcedes Lewis (6-6, 270) is similar to Graham in size. He also has reliable hands and an appetite for run-blocking. This was a strong addition by the GM and front office.
Lance Kendricks provides veteran depth.
** Receivers
It will be different without Jordy Nelson, but life goes on.
Davante Adams is a Pro Bowl talent at receiver. His chemistry with Rodgers will only grow now that Nelson is on to Oakland. Adams is as dynamic as they come in the NFL. He just needs to stay healthy and avoid future concussions.
Randall Cobb is a survivor.
With Adams’ emergence and Graham’s arrival, Cobb’s career could be rejuvenated. It’s time.
The rest include holdovers Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis, plus rookies J’Mon Moore, Marques Valdez-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. At least two of the five have to come through with strong seasons.
** Offensive line
David Bakhtiari is the bell cow of the unit at left tackle.
The sixth-year pro has been a godsend to Green Bay. The Pro Bowl left tackle has started 74 games in five seasons. He was the Packers’ first rookie tackle to start all 16 games since 1978.
Lane Taylor, the left guard, is on the rise.
He’s a strong run blocker and capable pass blocker, too.
With Corey Linsley at center, the Packers’ left side of the line is in tremendous shape. The right side is less settled.
Rookie Cole Madison will compete for significant playing time at right guard or perhaps right tackle. The acquisition of veteran tackle Byron Bell was critical while Bryan Bulaga continues to rehab from a knee injury.
The offensive line depth also is strong thanks to all that shuffling and rearranging last season.
Prediction: The Packers’ offense has an opportunity to find true run-pass balance and better-protect the quarterback.
This offense will go as far as Rodgers takes it.
But he can’t do it alone.
NEXT WEEK: The defense