The Green Bay Packers return the starting line, top three receivers, top two running backs, top two tight ends and reigning NFL Most Valuable Player at quarterback to an offense that led the league in scoring last season.
So 2015 has had the makings of a prolific offensive season for them since they re-signed receiver Randall Cobb and tackle Bryan Bulaga back in March.
Ty Montgomery’s eye-opening start in training camp only heightens the possibilities. The third-round draft pick looks like he will add some playmaking as a return man and rotational receiver.
So my question is, will the Packers have not just a high-scoring offense, but a record-setting one?
The Denver Broncos of 2013 are the highest-scoring team in NFL history with 606 points (37.9 points a game). With good health, there’s every reason to think the 2015 Packers should threaten that.
“That’s a heck of a goal,” said Alex Van Pelt, the Packers’ quarterbacks and receivers coach, when asked of the possibility. “I think we have the people that can be very successful moving towards that goal. (Scoring a lot) is an expectation we put on ourselves.
“Bottom line, we want to win every game. If that’s what we do and if we don’t put up the most points ever, and we win close games that are low scoring and we win them all, we’ll be happy with that. But yeah, we have the ability to score points.”
To be clear, the game is about wins and losses. But let’s not kid ourselves. Deep down, Peyton Manning, his teammates and offensive coaches in Denver are proud of being the highest-scoring team ever even though they didn’t win the Super Bowl in the ’13 season. Teams will never state it as a goal, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want it.
And scoring big translates to a great season in the NFL, though surprisingly it doesn’t come with good odds of winning the Super Bowl.
Of the top 10 scoring teams in NFL history, the worst record is 10-6 and belongs to the 2000 St. Louis Rams (No. 8 on the scoring list). The other nine were 12-4 or better, and that includes the undefeated New England Patriots of 2007 (second on the list), and the 2011 Packers (third) and 1998 Minnesota Vikings, both of whom were 15-1.
If you score near a record pace, you’ll win in the NFL, and win a lot.
But interestingly, those great regular seasons haven’t led to championships. Only one the top 10 went on to win the Super Bowl: the 1999 St. Louis Rams, who ranked No. 9 in all-time scoring (526 points, 32.9 per game). Two others — New England in ’07 and Washington in 1983 — lost in the Super Bowl.
Some might say that’s proof that defense wins championships. Not true. If it were, Seattle would have won the Super Bowl last year. It had the lone dominant defense in the league in 2014.
“We always felt if we’re playing great on offense, we’re going to be really tough to stop, playoffs or no playoffs,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
The main reason to think the Packers might top Denver’s record is their run game. In 2011, the Packers had the third-highest scoring season in league history (606 points, 35 points a game), and they did it without a running game to speak of.
That team was uncommonly deep at the ball-catching positions. Receivers Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and James Jones were entering or in their primes, and Jermichael Finley was a big-league threat at tight end. The fifth option was the franchise’s all-time leader in catches, Donald Driver.
But the ’11 Packers’ running game with James Starks and Ryan Grant didn’t threaten defenses, and that was a key factor in their lone regular-season loss (to Kansas City) and the New York Giants knocking them out of the playoffs.
With Eddie Lacy in his third season at halfback, this year’s Packers have a run game that defenses neglect at their peril. Lacy doesn’t have to put up huge numbers, he just needs to punish defenses as he has in his first two seasons.
“You have to have enough balance to keep teams honest, first of all,” Rodgers said. “And we do, especially with our two top backs. But then you have to have multiple matchup issues. You have to make teams decide who they want to put on each guy.”
Last season was a preview of the matchup problems the 2015 Packers can create, and that was with receiver Davante Adams as a rookie. Coach Mike McCarthy called him the MVP of offseason practices; the Packers are looking for so much more from him this year.
The 2014 game that best illustrates the possibilities was the Packers’ win over New England. In that game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s game plan was to match his top cornerback, Darrelle Revis, against Cobb, and his No. 2 cornerback, Brandon Browner, against Nelson with double coverage help over the top.
But the Patriots were weak at No. 3 cornerback, where Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan split time, primarily covering Adams. Rodgers found and exploited them, Adams had his best game of the season (six receptions for 121 yards) and the Packers won 26-21.
“A lot of times we play teams that play more zone or maybe just can’t match up with Jordy, and he gets nine or 10 targets,” Rodgers said. “(But) we don’t have a go-to guy. We have a mind-set, and that’s we’re going to throw high-percentage passes and go for the best matchups available.”
If the Packers already were set up for a big scoring season, drafting Montgomery could make them more dynamic.
Through almost two weeks of camp, he’s gotten open and made plays after the catch. If Montgomery performs in preseason games like he has in camp, then McCarthy will have to get him on the field.
That could mean working him into the receiving rotation in three-receiver sets, and it also could mean using four-receiver sets more than McCarthy has the past two or three years.
“(Montgomery) has definitely got some potential for us,” Rodgers said. “We’ll see what happens. He’s an injury away from being an important contributor probably. Without an injury, he’s a guy we’ve got to find some spots to get him the ball in space.”
So what could slow this offense in 2015? Injuries could diminish it, though as long as Rodgers is healthy this team should be fine. McCarthy’s decision to give up the play calling could backfire, too.
Play calling is more art than science, and some just have the knack. McCarthy was one of the better play callers in the league. We’ll see how Tom Clements is in his place. You wonder what will happen if things don’t go as expected in the first month to six weeks of the season.
“It’s about staying healthy and winning situational football,” Rodgers said. “We do good on third down and red zone, we’ll be tough to stop.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.