Will a Lack of Creativity Doom the Packers’ Offense?
Ever since Mike McCarthy took over as head coach, the Green Bay Packers have prided themselves on being one of the most explosive offensive teams in the National Football League.
Since his first year with the Packers in 2006, McCarthyâ€™s teams have scored 3,093 regular season points.Â This includes the three games so far in 2013, so this covers 115 regular season games.Â This means Green Bay has averaged around 26.9 points per game.Â Thatâ€™s a pretty good number.
McCarthy and both quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers have consistently found ways to keep the Green Bay offense at or near the top of the NFL for nearly eight years now, a remarkable feat in a league that has parity in the spotlight every season.
Is that run of offensive dominance about to come to a close or at the very least a slowdown? The early signs seem to be saying yes.
What has been one common theme for Rodgers besides wins and gaudy statistics since he took over in 2008? Sacks.
Rodgers was sacked 50 times or more twice in his first five full seasons as the Green Bay starter and is on pace to be sacked more than 50 times again this year. Of course, there are some reasons the Packers or their fans may throw out there in defense of these rather ugly numbers. Take the injuries, for one. Bryan Bulaga has once again found himself on injured reserve and the team has also seen the retirement/departure of line staples Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.
Then there is the offensive line shakeup that took place over the course of this past offseason. That will take time for the players to adjust to their new roles right?Â Sorry, not buying it.
By shuffling the offensive line around, McCarthy has done little else but put lipstick on a pig and that pig has been causing trouble for the Packers going on five years now. Green Bay has failed to settle on a solid, set-in-stone offensive line and itâ€™s holding the team back.
Throw in the fact that Rodgers still has yet to really break his habit of holding the ball too long at times and it starts become clear what the problem on the offense really is.
Green Bay has become stagnant on offense, as in theyâ€™re not being innovative on the offensive side of the ball.
How could this be? It was widely believed McCarthy was one of the most â€œcreativeâ€ offensive minds in the NFL. That might be true, but he has another attribute that easily can override that creativity: stubbornness.
To use just one play as an example, how often on 3rd and 1 do we see the John Kuhn fullback dive called? Everyone can see it coming a mile away that Kuhn is going up the gut yet McCarthy keeps on calling it. That play needs to be taken out of the playbook and burned.
Itâ€™s not on the offense per se, but McCarthy also stuck by Mason Crosby far too long.Â He shouldnâ€™t have even finished the season in Green Bay yet McCarthy played with fire and kept the kicker on the team.Â The strong start he has had so far is irrelevant. Itâ€™s good to see, but again he had no business staying in a Packer uniform during that hideous slump last season.
Next, take a look at how the Packers line up. There are very few new formations the Packers have tried nor is there much difference in routes the receivers are running. McCarthy is still using his playbook from 2009-2010 with few new wrinkles.
Some of that has to do with eroding depth on the receiving unit thanks to the departure of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.Â While McCarthy canâ€™t necessarily try things with the â€œBig Fiveâ€ that he used to a few years back thanks to an erosion of depth, there is still sufficient talent there that he could work with. Has anyone heard from Jarrett Boykin so far this season? Is he even still on the team?
More proof of McCarthyâ€™s stubbornness leading to a lack of creativity is the use of Randall Cobb. This might seem like absolute crazy talk to many fans, but look at the big picture here. Cobb is a rare physical specimen. He is to the Packers what Percy Harvin used to be to the Vikings, except Cobb doesnâ€™t suffer constantly from migraines and is a solid guy off the field.
Cobb is at the point in his development and career where he needs to be unleashed.Â It goes just beyond lining him up in the backfield every once in a while or having him run different routes.Â Cobb is the biggest threat in the passing game right now (sorry Jordy Nelson) and he needs to be utilized to his full potential.
Line him up all over.Â Use him in motion at different places. Just do something with him.Â Cobb is off to a very strong start, but he is probably not being utilized to his full potential. The Packers may be hesitant thanks to the teamâ€™s horrible luck with injuries but if McCarthy truly has the fertile offensive mind everyone thinks he has, Â then he can use Cobb in ways that will utterly confound opposing defenses.
Then there’s the quarterback. Rodgers is one of the most gifted quarterbacks to play the game in a long time. Â His arm, smarts and overall athleticism make him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL today. Â Between Cobb’s versatility and Rodgers’ athleticism, McCarthy’s mind should be working overtime with all the different ways to utilize both very dangerous weapons yet it seems like we see the same playbook year after year with little change. While there is some truth to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” view of the Packers’ offense, the team is still leaving way too many points on the board.
With a defense still struggling with consistency, Green Bay needs every point it can get.
There is saying that â€œYou are either green and growing or ripe and rotting.â€ For much of McCarthyâ€™s time as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, his offense and team have been green and growing.
Now that heâ€™s in his eighth year at the helm, the Packers are entering a phase where they are in danger of going ripe and beginning to rot.Â Any team that has had the same regime in place for so many years faces a similar crossroads at some point in time.Â Itâ€™s whether they try something new and beginning to grow again or stick to the same old dogma and hope for the best that determines how long that regime sticks around.
McCarthy isnâ€™t going anywhere any time soon, no matter how loudly hysterical Packers fans may complain. Â That said, the Packers need some new innovations on offense if they hope to remain one the biggest juggernauts the NFL has ever seen. Rodgers gives you a chance to win any game, but relying solely on the quarterback to dig you out of a mess doomed the Packers in the early-to-mid-2000s.
Packer fans better hope that history doesnâ€™t repeat itself if they want a fifth Lombardi Trophy.â€”â€”â€”â€”â€”â€”
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke