Packers Must Use Running Game to Full Advantage

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – If the idea on offense is to put the ball in the hands of your best players, it stands to reason the Green Bay Packers will try to run the football in 2020.

Green Bay had one of the best backfields in the league last year with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Jones rushed for almost 1,100 yards, ranked eighth in the league with 1,558 yards from scrimmage and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns. Jones and Williams combined for 1,564 rushing yards, 727 receiving yards, 2,291 total yards and 25 total touchdowns. Add in second-round pick AJ Dillon, and the Packers might have the biggest, baddest backfield on the planet.

And that could make life easier for Aaron Rodgers.

The Packers’ passing game wasn’t great by any measuring stick last season, though Rodgers did finish with 4,000 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The analytics from Pro Football Focus show how coach Matt LaFleur must do a better job of taking advantage of his running game to help Rodgers become a more efficient passer.

Last season, 37 quarterbacks had at least 150 dropbacks. Of that group, Rodgers ranked 17th in play-action rate at 26.7 percent of his dropbacks. However, Rodgers’ completion rate was 8.2 percent better on play action (69.0 percent) vs. standard dropbacks (60.9 percent). That was the eighth-biggest difference.

“It’s having plays that play off each other just so you keep the defense off-balance,” LaFleur said recently. “Whether it’s running the ball 10 times in a game or running the ball 50 times in a game, it really doesn’t matter to me. It’s whatever you can do to help keep the defense off-balance and, obviously, keep your offense on the field and score points. That’s really what it comes down to, to me. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we want to run the ball. I definitely think that the more you can be unpredictable in those normal situations, meaning first- and second-down situations, then I think it presents more challenges to a defense.”

While the completion percentage was excellent, the rest of the numbers weren’t nearly as good. Rodgers was better – but not by much – in terms of yards per attempt (7.7 vs. 7.0) and passer rating (97.2 vs. 96.1). In fact, Rodgers’ play-action passer rating ranked only 25th in the league. He tied for 24th with only four play-action touchdowns.