GREEN BAY, Wis. – Running the football isn’t sexy. In fact, running the football will make some analytics geeks cringe.
But there’s a reason why football games are played with men on 100-yard field and not geeks with spreadsheets. And that reason was evident in the Green Bay Packers’ Week 1 romp against the Minnesota Vikings.
According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Packers running back Aaron Jones ran into a loaded box (eight-plus men at or near the line of scrimmage) on a league-high 43.75 percent of his carries last week.
Because the Packers showed last year that they can run the football, and because coach Matt LaFleur showed a willingness to continue running the football despite not having strength in numbers, quarterback Aaron Rodgers eclipsed his U.S. Bank Stadium career passer rating by about 50 points in a spectacular display of passing.
“I thought we were running it pretty efficiently, so we’re going to continue to do that whether it’s an eight-man box or a seven-man box just based on we best feel like we can move the football,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Wednesday.
Once upon a time, a coach loading the box like Vikings coach Mike Zimmer did on Sunday and daring Rodgers to throw it would have been considered suicide. Rodgers won MVP honors in 2011 and 2014 and posted 100-plus passer ratings an unprecedented six consecutive seasons from 2009 through 2014.
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But Rodgers had the worst season of his career in 2015, struggled for the first half of 2016, missed a big chunk of 2017 and had substandard seasons in 2018 and 2019. Paired with the question marks at receiver, perhaps Zimmer was right to focus his attention on the Jones-led running game.
However, it turned into a disaster for Minnesota but a resounding triumph for Green Bay. The Vikings’ young cornerbacks were beaten like drums by Davante Adams, Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. There were even a few occasions when the Vikings played their base 4-3 defense against Green Bay's three-receiver sets.
“Yeah, man, I just take it as disrespect,” Adams said of Minnesota’s game plan. “I think the whole wideout group looks at it like that. Anytime they worry more about the run, [that] is great for us. Obviously, I accept that all day. Just more opportunities for us outside. I just think ‘Go eat, make them pay for doing that.’”
Oh, Adams ate. And the Vikings paid. Rodgers went 32-of-44 for 364 yards and four touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 127.5. He wasn’t sacked and never got close to throwing an interception. Of the 12 incompletions, four were intentional throwaways and three were drops. Adams, meanwhile, tied a franchise record with 14 catches in one of the most prolific Week 1 performances in NFL history.
It will be interesting to see how Lions coach Matt Patricia will try to defend Green Bay’s offense on Sunday. Bears running back David Montgomery didn’t run into a loaded box on any of his 13 carries against the Lions. Perhaps Patricia was covering for his banged-up cornerback corps. Perhaps he wasn’t worried about Montgomery. Whatever the Lions throw at Rodgers, LaFleur is confident his passing attack can produce.
“When you have a quarterback that’s the caliber of Aaron Rodgers, that gives us a lot of confidence of when we do call a pass, whether it’s a one-high look or a two-high look, we can go out there and execute,” LaFleur said.