GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers are scoring about one touchdown less per game than last season. Aaron Rodgers’ passer rating has tumbled about 15 points. In the red zone, they’ve gone from all-time great to dreadful.
But there’s one noteworthy bit of improvement that should bode well as the Packers get ready for the stretch run to the regular season and begin their drive toward an elusive Super Bowl.
Third-and-1 can be the NFL’s version of The Longest Yard. It has been for years for the Packers. However, through 12 weeks, Green Bay has converted on 93.3 percent of their third-and-1s. That is the best rate in the NFL, according to SportRadar, and much better than the league average of 70.6 percent.
Their only failure in 15 tries came when AJ Dillon was stopped against Seattle.
In 2020, when Green Bay led the league in scoring, it converted 66.7 percent of the time, just 20th in the league. In 2019, Year 1 under Matt LaFleur, it converted a 28th-ranked 57.1 percent. In 2018, the final season under Mike McCarthy, Green Bay again ranked 28th with a 60.0 percent conversion rate.
The Packers haven’t finished in the top half of the league since 2013, Eddie Lacy’s rookie season, when they tied for eighth. They haven’t topped 70 percent since moving the chains 77.8 percent of the time in 2009.
Expanding third-and-short to include third-and-2, the Packers are converting at a league-best 78.6 percent clip. They’re 14-of-17 on runs and 8-of-11 on passes. They have six failures and four touchdowns on third-and-short.
Here are some other noteworthy numbers:
Efficient Passing Game
Green Bay’s passing game hasn’t been as dynamic as last season, when Rodgers won MVP, but it’s been good in an under-the-radar sort of way. According to SportRadar, Green Bay ranks third with 6.18 yards after the catch per catch, first with a drop rate of 3.2 percent and sixth with 22 receptions on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield. The Packers are the only team in the top six in all three categories. They’re also ninth with a third-down conversion rate of 43.6 percent on passes.
“When I step on the field, I expect greatness,” Rodgers said after beating the Rams in arguably his best performance of the season. “I think anyone who’s a great competitor feels the same way, so I don’t lean on excuses and not practicing, little toe injury. I expect greatness when I take the field. It definitely isn’t the ideal situation not to practice, but I can go out there and take mental reps and go through the plan and my preparation and feel good about what I’m doing and, when I get out there, I’ve just got to rely on my instincts, but the beauty is it’s 11-person-a-side game.”
Call it the fool’s gold zone.
In the red zone, Green Bay is 25th on offense with a touchdown rate of 55.3 percent and 30th on defense with an opponent touchdown rate of 71.9 percent. That’s a red-zone differential of minus-16.6. Only Las Vegas (minus-25.9) and Detroit (minus-25.0) are worse. Last year, Green Bay was plus-22.3. Arizona (plus-13.7) was the only other team that was plus-10 or better.
“The gold zone, we set such a high standard and I think that we really need to look at that and make sure we’re doing the right things, see what people are doing to maybe stop us or what we’re doing and how we might be hurting ourselves, and just make sure we’ve got a good package going into these last five games,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “It’s December football now. You’re going to have to score in the gold zone.”
The Packers are seventh in the NFL with 321.7 yards allowed per game. That’s their lowest rate through 12 games since yielding 316.4 yards per game in 2010. That, of course, was the year of the team’s last Super Bowl triumph.
“Every statistic matters, but the big ones are the things that we talk about from a situational standpoint – obviously, red zone, third down and points,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “I think, obviously, those are the crucial ones. Every statistic, every situational matters, but you’re going to play pretty good defense if you’re really good from the specific situation of third down, red zone and just keeping people off the scoreboard.”
Six More Super Stats
- How important would it be for Green Bay to earn the No. 1 seed? Green Bay is 5-0 at home vs. 4-3 on the road. Moreover, it’s won the turnover battle in nine consecutive home games, the longest streak since New England a decade ago, according to the Packers’ bye week Dope Sheet.
Among the top contenders in the NFC, Arizona is 6-0, Tampa Bay is 3-3 and Dallas is 4-2 on the road. The Cardinals are at Chicago on Sunday. With a win, they’d become just the third team in NFL history to win its first seven road games of the season and the first since San Francisco in 1984.
“This is wide open. And you're seeing as much of this parity exist since I've ever been coaching,” Rams coach Sean McVay said last week.
- Green Bay is plus-9 in turnovers, third-best in the NFL behind Indianapolis (plus-12) and New England (plus-10). It is 9-0 when winning the turnover battle and 0-3 when tied (Minnesota) or losing (New Orleans, Kansas City). It’s also 9-0 with at least one takeaway and 0-3 with zero.
“That’s what we need. We’re a great team when we get turnovers, takeaways,” cornerback Rasul Douglas after his pick-six game against the Rams. “We just pride ourselves on that. We get a chance to strip out the ball, get a chance for an interception, you’ve got to do it.”
- What a difference a few weeks makes. Through nine weeks, Green Bay was tied for 11th with 17 completions of at least 25 yards. Over the last three weeks, the Packers are No. 1 with 12. What changed? That’s when Marquez Valdes-Scantling returned to the lineup. He’s got four during that span, second-most in the league. In total, Green Bay is tied for third with 29, behind Las Vegas (34) and Arizona (30).
“What he’s able to do with his size and speed, the pressure he can put on defenses, if they don’t want to respect it, you can see he can make you pay for it down the field vertically,” Davante Adams said of Valdes-Scantling a few days after the Minnesota game. “He’s a guy that may slip between the cracks because he’s not getting 10 targets a game or he may go a couple games every few weeks with just like one catch or two catches, but you can see he definitely has it. If you want to disrespect it, you can go right ahead and he’ll just run by you and make plays like what he did last week. We’re going to need him at his best and doing what he did this past game.”
- According to Zebra Technologies, whose RFID technology makes Next Gen Stats possible, Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey aligned across from Adams on 25 of 45 routes. Adams caught all five targets with Ramsey as the nearest defender for 41 yards, the most receptions given up by Ramsey to a receiver since Dallas’ Amari Cooper had seven catches in the 2020 opener.
- How has Green Bay’s defense survived without Za’Darius Smith’s pass rush? Rashan Gary has 50 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Last year, he had 46 all season. Preston Smith has 36 pressures; last year, he had 29. Kenny Clark has 47 pressures; last year, he had 32. Even Dean Lowry has beaten last year’s total with 25 this year vs. 21 in 2020.
- One more defensive key has been tackling. Last season, Green Bay missed 109 tackles and ranked 20th with a missed-tackle rate of 10.9 percent. This season, Green Bay has missed 60 tackles – a 17-game pace of 85 – and ranks sixth with a missed-tackle rate of 8.5 percent.