GREEN BAY — As Mike McCarthy prepared to bid adieu to his team’s media corps for the bye week — a respite he surely would enjoy — the Green Bay Packers coach’s final press briefing somehow morphed into open mic night at the Chuckle Hut.
For years, McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers have talked openly about the importance of their offense finding its identity during the course of a season — the things that the offense does well, or, to use a phrase that McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin are fond of using, “something the offense can hang its hat on.”
“Part of your job as a coach (is asking), what are you going to hang your hat on? What are you going to invest your time in? What kind of plays do you run?” Philbin said during the offseason.
Rodgers spoke of the offense’s search for an identity in the aftermath of last Monday night’s 33-30 comeback victory over the San Francisco 49ers. But when one reporter asked McCarthy on Tuesday what he felt the offensive identity was after six games, McCarthy joked, “What are my choices?”
Well, there really is no choice, in one respect: With Rodgers having been hobbled all season by a painful left knee injury — and despite Rodgers’ stated desire to be out of his cumbersome knee brace in time for the Oct. 28 game at the Los Angeles Rams — the Packers (3-2-1) must start running the ball more and reducing the hits Rodgers absorbs. Rodgers said so himself.
“We’re finding our identify on offense,” Rodgers said after dropping back 52 times against San Francisco — completing 25 of 46 passes for 425 yards and two touchdowns (100.4 rating) while being sacked three times and scrambling three times for 34 yards.
Rodgers pointed out that although the offense has gotten the ball to its two top passing targets — wide receiver Davante Adams (42 targets, 27 receptions for 353 yards and three touchdowns) and tight end Jimmy Graham (26 targets, 14 receptions for 201 yards) — more frequently over the past three weeks, running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams haven’t gotten many carries (49 combined attempts in three games, or roughly eight carries per game apiece).
Over the past three games, the offense has rolled up a whopping 1,465 yards (488.3 per game) but it’s translated to only 78 points (26.0 per game).
“We’ve obviously put up some big numbers the last couple weeks, and found a way to move the ball a little more efficiently, get Davante involved and Jimmy, obviously, involved a little bit more,” Rodgers said. “(But) we’ve still got a long ways to go with our run game.
“We’ve got to keep finding ways to get the ball to 33 (Jones) in space. I thought 30 (Williams) ran well, but (there’s) just (been) limited opportunities for those guys. We’re throwing the ball a bunch, and I’m taking too many shots. So we need to find a way to get the ball out of my hand a little quicker, and establish a little bit more. I’ve got to continue to try be a little quicker, and we’ve got to find ways to run the ball more effectively.”
McCarthy has also joked in the past that none of the team’s beat writers believe him when he says almost annually that he’d like to run the ball more — despite his offensive approach being predicated on making the quarterback successful. But so far this season, the offense has been imbalanced, and only in part because of the way the team fell behind against Chicago (20-0), Washington (28-10) and Detroit (24-0). Despite being without veteran wide receivers Randall Cobb (three games) and Geronimo Allison (two games) in recent weeks, Rodgers has dropped back to pass 158 times (138 pass attempts, 11 runs, nine sacks) in the past three games.
In addition to the nine sacks, opposing defenses have registered 18 hits on Rodgers in those three games.
“I think we’d like to, if we had 70 plays in a game — I don’t know who the opponent is or exactly who we’re lining up — but hypothetically, you’d like to run the ball 30 times and throw it 40 times as a starting point,” McCarthy explained. But, he added, you have to determine how many of those passing plays were run/pass option calls, where Rodgers decides at the line of scrimmage which play to run. Rodgers also has greater freedom during 2-minute drills to select from a menu of plays, and playing from behind often means throwing the ball excessively.
“It’s important to stay in tune with your own statistics because it’s something you do each and every week,” McCarthy said. “Are we giving our guys the opportunity to come off the ball (and run-block), where the play action and the run game are looking similar? I felt we definitely accomplished that (against San Francisco) more than we have all year. I felt like we were getting through the call sheet throughout the game. The ability to move Aaron around freely — we called more keeps (bootlegs) than we called all year. I think that’s more of the vision of how we’d like to play.”
The Packers entered their bye ranked fourth in the NFL in total offense (421 yards per game), fourth in the league in passing offense (317.3 yards per game), and eighth in yards per play (6.09). But they’re tied for 15th with the 49ers in scoring (24.7 points per game), and their red-zone productivity (a 50 percent touchdown conversion rate, 18th in the league) has been disappointing.
With their next two games on the road against the Rams (third in the NFL in scoring at 32.7 points per game) and at the New England Patriots (fourth, 29.3), the Packers could be in for some shootouts. So balanced or imbalanced, whatever their offensive identity becomes, it has to lead to more points.
“We’ve got to punch it in a few more times (each game),” Adams said. “Definitely.
“We’ve got weapons all over the place, we’ve got a bunch of it in the wide receiver room. I think some young guys have emerged and done some good things. We have to put the ball in the end zone and finish drives.”
However they do it.
Source: The Associated Press