Packers' offense gets golden chance to restore balance against Panthers

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
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GREEN BAY - In the immediate aftermath of a 26-11 loss Sunday to the Los Angeles Chargers, Matt LaFleur noted early penalties kept him from fully getting into call sheet — but the Green Bay Packers head coach also noticed Aaron Rodgers dropped back to pass on 39 of the Packers’ 49 plays.

“I’ve got to do a lot better job putting our guys in position because we really didn’t even get into the game plan,” he said. “It was a spread, throw it all over the yard kind of game. And that’s not what we want to be.”

The number of plays and total yardage (184) were season lows for the offense, which had found a rhythm in Week 4 against Philadelphia. In the five games leading into Los Angeles, the Packers were averaging 65 plays, 425 yards and 31 points per game.

After a 20-rush effort in the loss to the Eagles, however, the Packers adjusted their run scheme. They attacked the interior of the Dallas and Detroit fronts the next two weeks and found traction. Aaron Jones ran 19 times for 107 yards and four scores against the Cowboys. Then Jamaal Williams hit the Lions for 104 yards on 14 carries. The Packers handed it off 51 times in those two games.

Against Oakland, they handed it off only 18 times. But, Rodgers threw for five touchdowns and ran in a sixth.

Nov 3, 2019; Carson, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) carries the ball against Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins (23) and defensive back Jaylen Watkins (27) during the third quarter at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Against Kansas City, they handed it off 20 times. But, Jones caught seven passes and the Packers salted away the game by rushing it seven times in the final five minutes.

Then in L.A., Green Bay handed it off just 10 times.

“That’s something we’re definitely going to, I’m sure, stress this week, just talking to coach LaFleur,” fullback Danny Vitale said. “We’ve had a lot of success when we establish our run game first. But really, in my opinion, the more we get Jamaal and Aaron involved whether it’s run or pass game, that’s where we’ve been seeing success. Last week, I think we probably could have gotten Aaron Jones a little more involved in the pass game. Getting back to basics is obviously our biggest thing, re-establishing our identity.”

That identity, essentially beginning in Dallas, is getting the ball in the hands of Jones and Williams. The run effort is necessary to build play action, but it’s not just about handing it off.

“We need to get them the touches,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to get Aaron 15-20 touches and Jamaal 10-15 touches. I think that’s when we’re playing at our best, and Matt knows that and I think he said that as well. We just got kind of behind the sticks too many times and behind in the game and it made us one-dimensional.”

After Jones had 26 touches against Dallas (Williams was out with a concussion), the pair hit that window of touches Rodgers referenced against Detroit (33) and Kansas City (30).

Jones agreed that it is about the touches as opposed to straight handoffs, because a lot of what the Packers like to do is confuse defenses by running out of pass looks and passing out of run formations.

“I feel balance it the biggest thing,” Jones said. “It’s actually, in that 4-minute (in Kansas City) it was impressive because everybody in the stadium knows we’re running the ball. But when I say balance, you don’t want everybody saying, ‘Oh, they’re running the ball on this down.’ They start to get a bead on that. I think anytime you can switch it up, throw some play-action in there, drop back or hand off the ball, just continue to stay balanced, it’ll help any offense.”

Sunday’s game against Carolina feels like an opportunity for that balance, including more handoffs, to be restored. The Panthers come in with the league’s 26th-ranked run defense. They are No. 31 in yards per attempt allowed at 5.1. Seven of the eight teams they’ve played have rushed for at least 100 yards and four have topped 130.

Two weeks ago, San Francisco ran for 232 yards on the Panthers.

The Packers have topped 100 yards rushing four times and in those four games (all victories), Rodgers has a quarterback rating of 100.7 and a 7-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

“Obviously, having No. 12 is pretty much the greatest thing you can ask for in an offense, but when you do establish that run, that’s what really allows him to be something incredibly special and it makes it easier for him to make those big throws and use play action to his advantage,” Vitale said. “He’s a phenomenal thrower when he’s on the move, too, so if we can establish that run it allows us to run those play actions, reverse field a little bit and stuff like that. That’s the biggest thing I think, re-establish that run identity here in these next couple weeks and take advantage of that.”

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