Each Wednesday, Weston Hodkiewicz provides an inside look at the Green Bay Packers in his Walkthrough blog.
The NFL is all about unpredictability
Each offseason, teams dedicate vast amounts of resources to concocting innovative game plans, while discovering new ways to stay ahead of the curve in a copycat league. Traditionally, the Packers have been among the franchises perennially on the cutting edge under coach Mike McCarthy.
However, the effectiveness of Green Bay’s offense has come under fire during its recent three-game losing streak. To pull out of the slump, McCarthy and his coaching staff need to tap into their ingenuity to get things rolling once again.
Left guard Josh Sitton voiced his frustration this week about the state of the offense during an appearance on Clubhouse Live, Gannett Wisconsin Media's weekly live football show. In his mind, the Packers have become “too predictable” and defenses know exactly what to expect when they line up against them.
“We need to show them some different things,” Sitton said. “We're not intimidating the defense right now. We're not making them think, so they can just play really fast.”
Sitton makes a valid point about defenses pinning their ears back. Without fear of getting beat deep, teams frequently have been sending five- and six-man rushes at Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Historically, Rodgers has picked blitzes apart, but the pressure has been affecting the offense this season.
Defensive coordinators are challenging the Packers' receivers to get open before their rushers can get to the quarterback. The game plan worked for Detroit in Sunday’s 18-16 win over the Packers. According to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers completed only 6 of 18 passes for 67 yards when the Lions blitzed. The inconsistency of the run game also has made the Packers one-dimensional.
It’s not like the Packers haven’t tried to change things up. McCarthy and play-caller Tom Clements turned back the clock two weeks ago against Carolina, using multiple personnel packages and deploying different formations. It was a throwback to McCarthy’s first few seasons in Green Bay.
The results were negligible and the Packers wound up reverting to their base offense of three receivers, one tight end and one running back after falling behind the Panthers 27-7 at halftime. They toned things down against Detroit, but delved deeper into their bench.
One bright spot was the emergence of tight end Justin Perillo (five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown) and receiver Jared Abbrederis (four catches for 57 yards). Both entered when the Packers went to an empty backfield set and appeared to gain the trust of Rodgers as the game progressed.
A lack of proven depth has led to the Packers extending out of their comfort zone, but Sunday underscored the importance of getting other players involved. Two months ago, Abbrederis and Perillo were on the practice squad. On Sunday, they were among Rodgers’ favorite targets.
Developing other options outside of starting receivers Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and James Jones can only help the offense. If rookie Ty Montgomery (sprained ankle) plays this week, it would give the Packers more options when they go to empty backfield formations.
The best offenses the Packers have fielded over the past decade have featured a wide array of personnel and schemes. Remember 2011, when the offense was so deep it struggled to get Cobb on the field? Or 2013, when all the talk was about potentially having three 1,000-yard receivers?
The moral of the story is the more options the Packers have available, the less likely it is opposing coordinators will be able to key in on their game plan.
The next challenge comes Sunday against the 7-2 Minnesota Vikings and coach Mike Zimmer, whose defensive scheme has given even the most potent Packer offenses its share of headaches in the past.
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