GREEN BAY — An old coaching friend has a favorite saying about great offensive players in football: When you’ve got a cannon, shoot it.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a cannon and coach Mike McCarthy has never been afraid to let him fire away. Can you blame him? No quarterback in the NFL can carry a team like Rodgers can.

Six games into the Packers’ season, however, it has become obvious that McCarthy is overusing his cannon. Despite operating since the opener with an injured left knee surrounded by a bulky brace, Rodgers has been dropping back to pass with more frequency than he has at any time in his NFL career, a trend that is actually working against the consistency of the offense.

At least that’s the conclusion the Packers, who own an unsatisfying 3-2-1 record entering the toughest part of their schedule, reached when they returned from their bye week on Monday. After days of self-scouting, McCarthy, Rodgers and everyone else in the operation decided the offense needed to achieve balance by running the ball more, to which most Packers fans would say, what took you so long?

If nothing else, everyone appears to be on the same page now. A greater running threat would set up more play-action passes, keep the offense out of third-and-long situations and, presumably, lead to a more efficient offense, one that finishes off more drives with touchdowns.

That should also mean more carries for Aaron Jones, but getting their most dynamic running back more touches is only part of the equation. No matter who is in the backfield, the Packers need to fundamentally alter their approach and everyone, especially McCarthy and Rodgers, must buy into that notion. This week, it seems like everyone has.

“We’ve got to put ourselves in better situations on first and second down and then (in) the red zone we’ve got to score touchdowns,” Rodgers said. “We’re obviously not where we need to be in the red zone, so we’ve got to shore some things up and a lot of it is balance. We’ve got to find the balance, we’ve got to run the ball better, more often, and convert the third downs and give us more opportunities.”

Rodgers and McCarthy have been singing the same tune all week. Having Rodgers drop back and attempt to throw 70 percent of the time is asking for trouble, especially when he doesn’t have his usual mobility.

“When you throw the football, especially the normal down and distance, you want to be higher in action pass than you are in drop back,” McCarthy said. “We’re fortunate, I think we drop back and throw the football as well as anybody ever — period. I think our 2-minute drill … is a strong suit because we’ve got it invested and what (Rodgers) brings to the table, and also makes our team better, makes our defense better.

“The dropback component of throwing the football has been the strength, but the action pass is where you want to do a better job, and especially we’ve got to get the run game (going). The run game needs attempts. That’s really the biggest thing that came out of the self-scout.”

McCarthy has a history of talking about running the ball more and falling short on that promise. This time, it has to be more than lip service or this Packers season will spiral downhill starting with Sunday’s game against the undefeated Los Angeles Rams.

Don’t worry, McCarthy won’t forget about Rodgers, especially now that wide receivers Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison are healthy. He shouldn’t forget about the passing game, either. But he needs to employ the running game early and often, even sticking with it when it doesn’t produce immediate results.

There are valid reasons for the shortage of carries so far. The Packers trailed by two touchdowns or more at halftime in three of their six games and had to throw the ball to catch up. The offense gives Rodgers many opportunities to switch from a run to a pass and vice versa based on how the defense is aligned, which means the defense dictates run or pass. It also didn’t help that Jones was suspended for first two games.

But the time for excuses, however valid they might be, is over. Jones needs to get his hands on the ball more. In fact, all the backs do.

One way McCarthy could augment the running game is by passing more to the backs. Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams and Jones have combined for 26 catches this season. By comparison, the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley has 49 catches and New England’s James White 45 by themselves. As for touches (runs and receptions) by backs, only six teams have fewer than the Packers.

Short passes to the backs have always been interchangeable with run in the West Coast offense anyway. If the Packers want to stay out of third-and-long situations, something that has plagued them all season, perhaps throwing to their backs and getting them out in space would help turn those third-and-11s into third-and-4s.

However the Packers achieve balance on offense, they need to get it done.

“It’d be nice to have more balance,” McCarthy said. “We want to, we really do. But … we’ve got to do a better job starting the game out and we’ve got to run it more effectively and convert third downs to give us more opportunities to run the ball on early downs.”

We can only hope that isn’t just idle talk.

Source: The Associated Press

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