[size=18]Packers running more, playing with more discipline[/size]
[img_r]http://cmsimg.greenbaypressgazette.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=U0&Date=20081025&Category=PKR01&ArtNo=81025060&Ref=AR&Profile=1058&MaxW=318&Border=0[/img_r]The Green Bay Packers offense might look different with quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the helm but from a production standpoint, but there are only subtle differences from last season.
With only seven NFL starts to his credit, Rodgers still is putting his stamp on the offense, but a statistical analysis shows things havent changed all that much from last year, when Brett Favre was at the helm for his 16th and final season with the Packers.
Here are the major differences:
-- The Favre-led offense of 2007 finished second in the 32-team NFL in both yards per game (370.7) and passing yards per game (270.9). The Rodgers-led offense of 2008 ranks 14th in total yards per game (328.9) and 10th in passing yards per game (227.9).
-- Favre threw 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season. Rodgers is on pace to throw 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
-- Last season, the Packers averaged 6.0 yards per play, and this year theyre at 5.3 yards per play.
While a difference of just 0.7 yards might not sound like much, over the course of the season that can be significant. Consider that last year, the Packers ran 985 plays or about 61.5 per game, so thats a difference of about 43 yards per game. Over the course of a 16-game season, thats a difference of about 690 yards.
Were maybe not quite as explosive as we were a year ago, Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. Were down a little bit in yards per play, but theres not a ton of differences when you look at seven games.
The Packers would like their running game to be more productive, but that was the case last year, too.
Buoyed by Ryan Grants best performance of the season (31 carries for 105 yards) a week ago against the Indianapolis Colts, the Packers have averaged 101 rushing yards per game. Though thats only 22nd in the NFL (and their yards per carry of 3.7 is 25th in the league), thats on par with last season, when they averaged 99.8 yards rushing per game (and 4.1 yards per carry).
After rushing on just 39.4 percent of their snaps last season, that number has climbed to 44.7 percent this year.
Ive looked at our comparison to where we were last year after seven games, and were down 40 or 50 passes, Philbin said. Ultimately, I think its going to be good for us in the long run, but we need more production out of the running game. Its getting closer, but we need some more explosive runs. When you run the ball as many times as we have the last two weeks, you should have more explosive runs. Theres no good reason not to.
Some of the increase in running plays has been due to Rodgers, who has shown a knack for scrambling. He has rushed 30 times for 113 yards. The quarterback sneak has returned to the playbook, and Rodgers has three rushing touchdowns all on 1-yard sneaks. Last season, Favre ran just 21 times in the regular season.
Many of the rest of the numbers are comparable.
Favre completed 66.5 percent of his passes last season, while Rodgers has completed 65.6 percent. Favre averaged 7.72 yards per pass last season, while Rodgers has an average of 7.41. Favre threw eight touchdown passes of 40 yards or more, while Rodgers isnt too far off that pace with three through seven games.
Rodgers may not take as many shots down the field as Favre did, but when he has they have been calculated decisions and not the product of high-risk freelancing.
Theres sometimes where well design a play a shot play so to speak and well say throw the ball to this spot or throw the ball deep to this guy, and well take some off his shoulders in terms of the scheme that would dictate that he do it regardless of what the coverage was, Philbin said. But most of the time, a high, high percentage of the time, we want him to be disciplined and go through his progression.
That, more than anything, has been the stamp that Rodgers has placed on this offense.
What Id like to say is that Im trying to be pretty efficient, Rodgers said. My goals are to make good decisions, to throw at a high completion percentage. Id like to think I can extend the play when the pocket breaks down or when nobodys open. I can make plays outside the pocket. I can run a little bit. Up until last week, I was one of the top two or three (rushing quarterbacks), but Im working on getting down quicker.
Rodgers disputed the notion that hes simply a game manager.
I think game managers are often looked at as guys who cant make a lot of plays just guys you can plug in and get the job done, Rodgers said. I think that doesnt tell the whole story. We talk about it all the time in the quarterback room, being a good manager of the game. Maybe thats a better way to say it, but basically youre saying that youre making good decisions, youre throwing at a high completion percentage and youre not making the serious mental mistakes or physical throwing errors that cause you to have turnovers no blind throws, no premeditated decisions.
In last weeks 34-14 win over the Colts, Rodgers hardly ever threw deep. His only high-risk throw was to tight end Donald Lee, who was double covered on a seam route that was broken up. However, Rodgers insisted that was more of a product of the Colts decision to play off coverage and give up the underneath throws. As a result, Rodgers completed six dump-off passes to running back Brandon Jackson.
His decision making has been good, Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said. Especially against a team like the Colts, who were trying to take away the big play and they pretty much invite you to take the check down. Their philosophy is theyre going to try to make you get into 10 to 12 play drives, and hopefully youll make a mistake.
But Rodgers did not fall into that trap. For the fifth time in seven games, he did not throw an interception. Three of his four interceptions this season came in the same game the Week 4 loss at Tampa Bay in which he sprained his right shoulder.
If theres the perception that Rodgers revels in the safety of the dump-off pass more than Favre, the numbers dont support that.
Last season, Favre completed 57.4 percent of his passes to receivers, 22.2 percent to running backs, 17.8 percent to tight ends and 2.6 percent to fullbacks. This season, Rodgers has completed a higher percentage to his receivers (62.6 percent) and a lower percentage to running backs (17.7 percent) than Favre did. His tight end (16.3) and fullback (3.4) percentages are similar.
I dont think (the offense) has changed much at all really, Clements said. Were doing all the same things that weve done. Probably the only thing we havent done is utilize five wide receivers. Thats been more of a function of health more than anything else. Its hard to use five when youve only got four (healthy).
Rodgers hasnt practiced much since he injured his throwing shoulder, but theres a decent chance he will get healthy during this weeks bye. That should mean more practice and perhaps an expanded game plan. However, theres reason to wonder whether that will make Rodgers take more chances as Favre did, something the coaches would discourage.
I guess theres always the chance of that, Clements said. But if youre having success doing something a certain way, I would think that would make you more inclined to keep doing that.