The biggest difference Aaron Rodgers saw with the Green Bay Packers’ offense Sunday night had to do with production — not play-calling.
Yes, coach Mike McCarthy's taking back the call sheet from associate head coach Tom Clements is naturally what garnered the most attention in the Packers’ 28-7 win over Dallas, but the quarterback believes the offensive effectiveness against the Cowboys was a product of the unit doing the little things better.
While the Packers still struggled in third-and-short situations, they scored touchdowns on four of their five red-zone opportunities and were a respectable 7-of-14 on third downs, including two key conversions on a 12-play, 94-yard series that drained nearly seven minutes off the clock late.
“It’s not been about the play-calling. It’s been about the execution,” Rodgers said. “We haven’t executed very well. Today was a little better, better on third downs, better in the red zone. … So obviously that gave us some opportunities. We had 80 plays and kind of leaned on the run tonight based on the weather and also the way that Eddie (Lacy) and James (Starks) were running the ball.”
Rodgers joked that there was some dialectical adjustments he had to make with having McCarthy back in his ear. He joked that on his 13-yard touchdown pass to Starks in the second quarter he had “no idea what he was saying” at first due to McCarthy’s Pittsburgh accent.
After four failed attempts, quarterbacks/receivers coach Alex Van Pelt finally signaled the call instead and the Packers produced their first of four touchdowns.
Playing in wet and soggy conditions, the ability to get the run game established early was paramount to the offense’s success. The production from Lacy (24 carries for 124 yards and a touchdown) and Starks (11 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown) helped open up the passing game at times.
Rodgers was exceptional in the first half in completing 17-of-24 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns. With the tempo noticeably faster, receiver Randall Cobb became more heavily involved in the offense with eight catches for 81 yards. Still, Rodgers' biggest play may have been with his feet when he broke free of Cowboys defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford on an 11-yard scramble on third-and-9 in the fourth quarter.
“Play-calling is a lot about rhythm and flow,” McCarthy said. “I'm a big believer in that. And you've got to have the quarterback that can manage it. And really it's the play-caller's responsibility to feed him, keep feeding him, spit it to him as fast as you can get it to him and he does the rest. And there's no one better at it.”
Rodgers completed 22-of-35 passes for 218 and two touchdowns for a 99.5 passer rating that was his best since Week 7 against San Diego. That 27-20 win over the Chargers was also the last time the Packers won the passer-rating battle, a statistic defensive coordinator Dom Capers considers vital to a team's long-term success.
The NFL's reigning MVP still had the freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage like he did with Clements, though Rodgers said the offense called fewer plays with multiple checks built into them. In those instances, it was up to Rodgers to run the play as called and utilize his check downs when nothing presented itself downfield.
A focus throughout the preparation was getting the ball out quicker in an effort to increase the offensive rhythm and limit the amount of hits Rodgers was taking. He was sacked twice and hit only four times, a significant drop from the past few weeks.
“I think we made a point of doing it,” Rodgers said. “I think we stressed the check downs a little more this week and we hit three or four. If you look at our offensive production wise the last four or five weeks especially, it’s hard to think of the time we hit the check down for a positive gain.”