Packers' air attack struggling to get off the ground

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
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GREEN BAY – Taking the podium at AT&T Stadium fresh off a 34-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on the strength of 120 team rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground from Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers dubbed his contribution his best effort of the season.

“I definitely understand my role on a day like today,” he said Sunday evening. “With all the stuff that was going on, with Corey (Linsley) going down, with Geronimo (Allison) being in and out, with Bobby (Tonyan) getting hurt, the importance of hitting a few passes and time and situations was what I needed, and encouraging Matt (LaFleur) to keep running the ball because Jonesy and the line was blocking well and he was making the right cuts.

“So, I understand. Days like today, it’s not the greatest statistical game for myself but I feel like I played my best game of the season. The way that I was moving and seeing things. I’ve accomplished a lot statistically in this league. I just want to win now.”

Rodgers reiterated that Tuesday when he joined former Packers quarterback Brett Favre on the Hall of Famer’s Sirius XM NFL Radio show. 

“I said after the game – actually you said this I remember one time years ago – all the stuff that you accomplished statistically, I mean you’ve done it all, and you did it all, and there comes a point where it’s really, it’s about the wins,” Rodgers said to Favre. “And people are going to stay focused on how many touchdowns you threw but the most important thing is championships. And we’re putting ourselves in a position to be competitive in that conversation in a very deep NFC. But wins like a couple days ago go a long way for the confidence of our football team and I feel good about where we’re at.”

Green Bay Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (83) celebrates with running back Jamaal  Williams (30) following a touchdown catch in the first quarter against the Denver Broncos during their football game Sunday, September 22, 2019, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

And the Packers are indeed 4-1, atop the NFC North and in the early conversation for the best team in the conference.

But as Rodgers is acutely aware, through five games the passing offense has yet to truly get on track – with Davante Adams or not. The Packers have the No. 25 offense in the NFL and are 14th in passing. They are 21st in passing touchdowns, with six.

Rodgers’ completion percentage of 62.8% is 24th, his 7.3 yards per pass attempt is 19th and his rating of 93.4 is 22nd. The first third of this season looks a lot more like the beginning of the 2016 campaign than any of his previous five years, beginning with his Most Valuable Player season of 2014.

Knowing that there could be more to be had through the air – like in the “run the table” streak of six straight wins to end 2016 – is there any impatience within the offensive meeting rooms with getting the air attack performing more consistently?

“Not at all,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said Friday. “I think the game is about winning and whatever we have to do to win. I think that’s something we all talk about, we all preach, it’s about the team, the team first. That’s all any of us care about. Aaron knows that. There’s going to be plenty of time that he’s going to have to air it out. Philadelphia, he aired it out. There are other times, maybe we’re up, maybe the run game is going, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s all positive.

“It’s just one of those things we’re going to just keep going and whatever we’ve got to do to win, we’re going to do. And Aaron’s done a great job of that up to this point.”

To sling the ball around is infinitely more difficult without Adams, a two-time Pro Bowl receiver who can run any route from any spot in a formation. But, the Packers like the fact Rodgers can complete passes to nine different receivers like he did in Dallas, or the fact that three wide receivers (Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allison), a running back (Jones) and a tight end (Jimmy Graham) are the top five pass catchers on the team.

“Obviously the stats weren’t eye popping but we made a lot of great plays to help our team get to a victory,” Valdes-Scantling said. “We made a lot of good blocks down the field that led our running back to run for four touchdowns. Obviously you’re not going to have crazy stat games every single game, but we got the win and that’s the most important thing.

“There’s always more out there. There’s always room for improvement. We always set our standards high. But we’re 4-1. That’s the biggest thing. We’re running the ball really well and we’re passing the ball really well. It’s OK to not be spectacular at one thing if you can do a lot of good things. You don’t want to become one-dimensional. That’s just the biggest thing – we can do both things.”

Valdes-Scantling also noted the offense has had some short fields thanks to turnovers created by the defense and tight end Robert Tonyan said a better conversion rate on third down would create more opportunities in the air.

The raw numbers to date may not be impressive for the passing game, but for now the Packers feel like the complementary football they’re playing offensively is getting the desired result: victories.

“For us it’s always going to be about balance first and foremost,” Hackett said. “We want to be as balanced as we possibly can. If the passes are there, we want to take those. If they’re not there, we want to do what we think is right. Each week is so different. I mean, of course you’d love to have tons of passing. You’d love to have tons of rushing. You want it to be as balanced as possible and you want to get as many yards as possible. It’s all about what you’re trying to attack, attack with that person against whoever they have; about matchups. There’s so many things we want to look into to put us in the best position (to win).”

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