GREEN BAY – It doesn’t really matter how they get there, just so those who play offense for the Green Bay Packers get there on time.
That’s how 11 moving parts function as one.
Through the first two games of the season, the offense seems as though it’s using staggered starts. Too often someone is a tick late or a tick early or not there at all.
At least, that’s the way quarterback Aaron Rodgers sees it.
“The West Coast offense is all about timing and if your timing is even just a little bit off, you're going to be miles off at times with your connection points,” Rodgers said Wednesday after practice. “We've been working on that throughout training camp and the regular season, but it's a little different when it's live out there and things are a little bit off based on coverage or protection or anything else that could mix up the timing in our offense.
“So we've got to get back to finding ways to throw it on time.”
Possible reasons for the timing issues are the return of Jordy Nelson from a year-long absence due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, free-agent tight end Jared Cook’s newness to the offense and two major changes on the offensive line from a year ago.
The Packers’ inefficiency is evident in their two-week totals.
They rank 29th in yards per game, 30th in yards per play, 31st in passing yards and passing yards per play, tied for 16th in red-zone percentage, 19th in time of possession and 19th in points per game.
Maybe their most telling statistic is being 24th in first downs per game.
The Packers’ no-huddle offense depends on the chains moving in order to create the desired fast pace. It requires the quarterback sometimes taking an easy completion instead of a riskier deep attempt.
“When you move the ball, that keeps that tempo going,” receiver Randall Cobb said. “We have receivers running downfield and something happens and we have to jog all the way back, that slows the tempo down.
“We can’t get the snap off as fast as we’d like, so being able to make the plays downfield, being able to continue to move the ball in the running game gives us a great push start to starting good tempo.”
In the 17-14 loss to Minnesota Sunday night, the Packers’ first six drives averaged just under four plays and 10 yards. They gained five total first downs and punted four times.
On one third down, Rodgers overthrew Nelson on a go-route down the left sideline. On another, Rodgers held the ball too long and got sacked. On another, Rodgers didn’t see rookie Trevor Davis break free and had to throw the ball away after scrambling.
On yet another, he threw high to Cobb.
"I know a lot's been said about the passing game,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “The passing game is a coordinated effort by all the people. No. 1, the protection part of it, the ability to have a launching point time up with the route progression, regardless of the formation you're in.
“And with that, the timing of the quarterback and the routes. At the end of it, it's trusting the process of improvement and working on the fundamentals. That's what we'll all be working on."
Because Rodgers likes to move around in and out of the pocket, it’s logical to wonder if all that movement affects some of the offense’s timing. The Packers practice scramble plays all the time and consider it a major part of their offense.
Asked if he would try to scramble less so the offense can focus on the timed plays more, Rodgers said no.
“A run is a reaction,” Rodgers said. “I'm a pass-first guy outside the pocket, so it's just a reaction. But I'm going to keep extending plays when I need to. But as we get more in sync offensively, the running naturally probably comes down because the routes are being run on time and you can deliver the ball on time.”
Heading into the Detroit game Sunday at Lambeau Field, Rodgers will have had two games and another practice week working with Nelson and Cook. Nelson didn’t play in a single exhibition game and Rodgers only played in one, so the amount of game-speed work for the three together was almost nil heading into the regular season.
Center JC Tretter is a new starter on the offensive line and so is Lane Taylor, who replaced the abruptly released Josh Sitton. Perhaps because the offensive line group played together most of camp – Taylor as the No. 2 left guard – their transition to the regular season has been smoother.
Responsibility for the six sacks the offense has suffered can almost be shared between Rodgers and the linemen, and running back Eddie Lacy is averaging a decent 4.3 yards per carry. The line still has its role in the timing aspect and needs to fine tune its act also.
“We’ve done it before,” Nelson said. “We’ve had a lot of history together. We have confidence in one another. We won’t ever panic over one game or anything like that. We know we can do it. We’ve done it in the past. It’s getting in that rhythm that we’ve had before.”