But after going a decade with only one first-round pick spent on the offensive side of the ball — that being Rodgers' eventual replacement in Jordan Love — the Packers are finally paying for that strategy.
The Packers have scored 107 points in six games this season (17.8 PPG).
According to @ESPNStatsInfo, that's their fewest in any six-game span with Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback.
— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) October 16, 2022
Green Bay’s offense ranks 24th in points per game and 24th in expected points added (EPA) per play through Week 6 of the 2022 season. For the first time in a long time, it’s the offensive side of the ball letting down the Packers faithful. So how did we get here? And are there any answers to be found? The answers to both may not be what Green Bay fans want to hear.
For starters, the Packers don’t have a single high-priced free agent signing on offense. Every player getting paid handsomely on that side of the ball — Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and David Bakhtiari — was homegrown and re-signed. That means Green Bay is heavily reliant on rookie-contract players. The only problem is, here’s how their offensive top-100 picks who are still on rookie contracts have fared this season:
Nine picks leading to two average starters along the offensive line is a tough pill to swallow (although Jenkins has been above average in the past). And while the Packers have also found other starters over that time span later in the draft (guard Jon Runyan and wide receiver Romeo Doubs, most notably), they haven’t exactly found impact anywhere.
“But they have Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur. They’ll figure it out.”
That was the party line repeated this offseason. And for good reason. Since 2008, the Packers have finished outside the top 10 in points per game only four times and lower than 15th in points per game only once (21st in 2017).
That was, however, before the rise of two-high safety defenses across the NFL. Defenses across the league have realized that limiting big plays is the single-most fundamental way to stifle the elite quarterbacks around the league. Even in Rodgers' back-to-back MVP seasons, two-high coverages stifled him to a degree:
|PFF Passing Grade||94.2||84|
That chasm has only grown without the advent of Davante Adams and with the Packers facing two-high more often. Green Bay saw a nearly 2-to-1 ratio of single-high versus two-high the past two seasons, but that’s crept toward 1-to-1 this season. Here’s what that chart looks like for 2022:
|PFF Passing Grade||74.2||62.1|
The problem here is that not only are the Packers facing more two-high, but they don’t have receivers winning downfield to make defenses pay when they see single-high looks.
Green Bay's game plan has been sound against two-high and is similar to the blueprint laid out in their beatdown of the Los Angeles Rams‘ two-high defenses in the playoffs in 2020: Take short, quick completions with run-after-the-catch potential to keep the offenses on schedule. Then go for the kill shot once defenses adjust.
Rodgers' 5.3-yard average depth of target when faced with two-high defenses this season is indicative of that. The only problem with that strategy is that the offense has to execute damn-near perfectly to sustain drives. No drops, no sacks, no mental mistakes and your only chance at big plays is with broken tackles. That quite obviously hasn’t happened.
As things stand, the Packers rank 26th in completions targeted 15-plus yards downfield. Their 13 such completions on 37 attempts are fewer than the likes of the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears. And that’s with one of the best downfield passers of all time at the helm who’s still grading well. His 83.9 grade on such throws still ranks eighth among starters in the NFL, while his 12 big-time throws ranks second. The results just haven't been there because the receivers aren't holding up their end of the bargain. Of those 37 attempts, only five have been to receivers charted as open. That ranks dead last among all receiving corps in the NFL.
Unless rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs all of a sudden flip a switch at some point this season, it’s difficult to see things changing for Green Bay's receiving corps. For the first time in decades, the Packers are in the unfamiliar position of needing to win games with their defense. And we’re seeing how that plays out.