Packers spread wealth, bring back fun
GREEN BAY - In the final moments before kickoff Sunday, wide receiver Randall Cobb stood alone on the far end of the Green Bay Packers’ bench. He balled his fists and struck himself in the chest, repeatedly, one hand after the other. When finished, Cobb clenched his fists again and unleashed several guttural screams.
About 90 minutes later, wide receiver Jordy Nelson caught his second touchdown of the day on a beautifully lofted pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He climbed to his feet and hurled the football into the air. He walked a few steps, flexed his muscles and yelled.
“We were just messin’ around,” Nelson said after the game. “Coming into this week, we felt that as an offense that we just weren’t having enough fun. We wanted to bring some extra energy to the game.”
The receivers brought the energy, but it was their head coach who brought the fun.
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After two weeks of stale offense and scant production, Mike McCarthy altered his approach in Sunday’s 34-27 win over the Detroit Lions. He turned away from a heavy reliance on his favorite trio — Cobb, Nelson and Adams — to embrace variety instead. The formations changed as personnel flowed, and by halftime the Packers scored more points than their previous six quarters combined.
“It was important for us to have a healthy run and pass mix,” McCarthy said. “That was my thought process throughout the week and obviously how I called the game. I just thought our guys executed at a high level.”
From a visual perspective, the majority of McCarthy’s offense derives from “11” personnel. His preferred formation features one running back, one tight end and the top three wide receivers.
But as tempo lessens the importance of substitutions, the Packers become increasingly reliant on their top three targets. Cobb, Nelson and Adams played at least 84 percent of snaps through the first two games of the season.
The trend was broken during Sunday’s first possession, when the Packers took the field with a fullback, running back, tight end and only two wide receivers. It foreshadowed a possession that seemed to use as many formations as there were plays.
“It makes it hard for them to identify personnel with the subbing and all types of stuff like that,” Adams said. “And it puts a stress on them not knowing what’s going to happen. Plus we run different things out of different personnel, so it kind of keeps the defense honest.”
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A sample of McCarthy’s menu: The Packers lined up in “21” personnel with two running backs and one tight end. They played with three wide receivers to one side of the formation and tight end Jared Cook alone on the other.
They moved tight end Richard Rodgers to the perimeter, where he functioned as a receiver. They sometimes played with empty sets that had five potential targets.
Just as important as the formations was McCarthy’s decision to sprinkle in different personnel. He gave a bigger role to Ty Montgomery, who played zero snaps last week. He made a conscious effort to involve rookie Trevor Davis, who drew a 66-yard penalty with his blazing speed.
“I think it stresses the defense just because of matchups,” Montgomery said. “When you’ve got a bunch of different guys who do a bunch of different things, I think that works to our benefit.”
For the first time all season the Packers showed signs of legitimate chemistry. Some of the examples were nuanced, like Nelson’s 49-yard catch and run over the top of two mismatched linebackers. Others were broad, like Rodgers spreading the ball to eight different receivers.
The Packers scored 21 points on their first three possessions, and at one point the lead swelled to 28. Rodgers, who spoke defiantly during the week, turned in his finest performance since before the bye last year: 15-of-24, 205 yards, four touchdowns.
His quarterback rating was 129.3.
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“I don’t think anybody gives a you-know-what if the offense is back or not,” Rodgers said. “It’s just about winning, and we’ve got to win. We’re 2-1. We were efficient at times, that’s important. We did a good job on third downs. But there’s going to be games like this where we have to outscore the opponent and we did today.”
The offense brought the energy, but it was winning that brought the fun.