Packers Drifting From Run-Game Focus
Upon his hiring, Matt LaFleur made it clear he wanted to run the football.
“I think anytime you can take as much off the quarterback as possible, that only helps them out in the long run,” LaFleur said in January. “Certainly, Aaron (Rodgers has) got incredible talent and we’re going to definitely showcase that talent, but I just think in your early downs, the more you can stay balanced and keep the defense off-balance and keep them guessing whether we’re going to run the ball or pass the ball, I think that it opens up opportunities for big plays down the field.”
Sure enough, the first three games of the season, the Packers ran the ball 43.8 percent of the time. That was the 10th-highest rate in the NFL. During the second three games, that run rate dipped to 37.5 percent. That was the 24th-highest rate in the league. During the previous three games, LaFleur’s run percentage declined even further, with that 35.7 percent ranking 25th.
Do the Packers need to get back to running the football?
“Ideally you’d like to, right? Just to make sure you keep the defense off-balance,” LaFleur said on Monday. “But we’re going to do whatever we think is in the best interest in terms of trying to score as many points as we can, and that is totally game-by-game basis. But, yeah, certainly have to make more of an emphasis of running the football, just to stay more balanced to keep the defense guessing a little bit more.”
While LaFleur’s play-calling has drifted a bit, he has for the most part stayed true to his word. On first-and-10 – the league’s ultimate 50-50 down – the Packers have run the ball 107 times compared to 119 passes and scrambles. That’s pretty close to balanced. Last year, Green Bay ran the ball a league-low 154 times on first-and-10 compared to 268 passes and scrambles.
LaFleur’s youth and inexperience showed in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. After Los Angeles’ second crack with the ball, it was 6-0 on the scoreboard and 20-3 in plays. By his own admission, LaFleur broke from the game plan too quickly and the game turned into all Rodgers, all the time, even though the score was only 9-0 at halftime and 12-0 in the third quarter. The Packers wound up running the ball 22.5 percent of the time, making them the most pass-happy team in the league last week.
Assuming Green Bay can stay out of the second- and third-and-long situations it was mired in last week, expect a more run-centric game plan this week to get the offense back to its roots. As LaFleur said, the focus is driven by matchups. This week’s matchups favor the run. Carolina is 31st in the league with 5.06 yards allowed per rushing attempt.
Even Rodgers, who has never backed down from a passing game gunfight, acknowledged the need to get running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams more involved.
“I think that would help,” Rodgers said. “Based on the way teams have played us, we’ve had some good matchups (in the passing game) the last five or six weeks, but we’ve got to get those guys going. We need to get them the touches. We’ve got to get Aaron 15 to 20 touches and Jamaal 10 to 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.”