GREEN BAY – The evening of Sept. 9 feels like a lifetime ago, what with Aaron Rodgers running out onto the field at the end of halftime at Lambeau Field and leading a comeback victory against Chicago from 20 points down on one healthy knee.
It was the “galvanizing moment” the team has searched to recapture since on an ethereal level; the 24 offensive points scored in that second half are still tied for the fourth most the Packers have scored in a game.
One of the games in which Rodgers and the offense scored more than 24 points was last Sunday against Atlanta, putting up 27 (the other score came via a Bashaud Breeland interception return). And there was a connection from that performance against the Falcons to that second half against the Bears – one that could help the Packers again this weekend.
The quick game.
Following his injury in Week 1, Rodgers operated exclusively out of the shotgun and then only took a few steps back, or laterally. The ball was out quickly, even if it traveled some distance in the air. He hit Geronimo Allison on a 39-yard throw in the end zone. Randall Cobb had a game-winning, 75-yard catch-and-run.
In that second half, the Packers went 3-for-5 on third down and ran up 299 yards of total offense.
Against the Falcons and able to get under center, Rodgers still used shorter drops. Philbin acknowledged part of it was to get the quarterback in a rhythm and part of it was to afford an offensive line down three starters some additional protection. But, they efficiently moved the ball with long drives and crisp throws.
They went 7-for-13 on third down and had 300 yards of total offense.
“I think there was a lot of similarities, especially our first drive (against Atlanta), we were pretty efficient, a lot of substitutions and we were just trying to keep them on their heels,” Packers tight end Lance Kendricks said. “I’m pretty sure that’s what we were trying to do then (in Week 1) once we found out they got Khalil (Mack).
“It’s a lot of efficient plays.”
If it wasn’t quite bringing the Packers’ offense back to basics – Rodgers took issue to that particular word – at the very least it was Philbin simplifying the call sheet and getting to the roots of the offense and the things that work well.
“Some things never go out of a style, like a nice blue blazer and a pair of gray pants or something on a guy from New England,” Philbin quipped. “Yeah, it was nothing magical.”
Which is how Philbin has approached his role first as offensive coordinator and now as the interim head coach and play caller the past two weeks.
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“That’s just who he is,” wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling said. “That’s what he preaches is being simple and do what you do well. That was his biggest thing. He always references back in training camp, our basic rules of things we always do. It’s always been a big part of who he is: be the basics, do the basics. Football is very simple. Don’t make it more complex than what it is. That’s his whole mindset.”
To illustrate that point, Philbin referenced how the third-and-14 route Allison ran in Week 1 that was converted to keep a key scoring drive alive has been a staple for the Packers since 2006. But more than that, the members of the Packers offense have said the last week and a half of prep under Philbin has seen him keep it simple, which can get everyone rolling.
“I thought the flow was really good,” Rodgers said of the game plan against Atlanta. “I loved … My favorite sequence of calls in the game was a screen that followed a screen. The first one could have gone for about 60 had we just blocked it up the right way. Assignment-wise, Jake (Kumerow) was supposed to run a deep over instead of kind of blocking the end and slowing him down. To come right back with that, I loved that sequence of calls. Joe did a great job. The communication was great on the sideline and the flow was good and kind of got into a rhythm.”
Looking to Sunday, such strategy could work against the aggressive Bears defense. One would imagine Chicago’s veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will prepare his team for quicker drops and throws, but when run efficiently, simply, the Packers have found success on offense.
“I feel just making things easy, trying to make those quick throws, get a flow going, make sure everybody is just know how to get in there and play,” running back Jamaal Williams said. “Honestly, I feel like everybody is just free. No extra pressure. We just gotta go out there and play our game.”