Football is a game of constant adjustments.
The best teams are always ahead of the pack, while everyone else tries to catch up.
Just look at how the New England Patriots have been so successful over the past decade. First, they won the traditional way with great defense and special teams without killing themselves offensively.
Then, they were the first ones to realize you don’t need a premier running back to win a Super Bowl, relying on the likes of Kevin Faulk, Antowain Smith and Laurence Maroney to rush the ball while allowing Tom Brady to air it out all over the field.
They were one step ahead of the curve again when they drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010 and began a wave of reliance on athletic hybrid tight ends.
Trends change all the time, and you’ve got to adapt if you want to be one of the best.
After an unstoppable showing in 2011, it appears NFL defenses have adapted to the Green Bay Packer offense in 2012.
Green Bay has scored 21.3 points per game so far this year, which would normally be a decent amount. But after scoring 35 points per contest last season en route to posting the second-most points in NFL history, that 21.3 seems a lot smaller than it should be.
The Packers, led by MVP Aaron Rodgers’ record-breaking 122.5 quarterback rating, ranked third in the NFL in passing yards in 2011 with 308 per game. That number could have been much higher, had they not been constantly nursing huge leads.
But through four games in 2012, Green Bay’s passing attack has been much less potent with 249.3 yards per game, good for 15th best.
As with any problem, there is more than just one factor contributing to this drop in production. Pass protection has not been as strong, and facing three of the league’s best defenses are a couple minor problems.
But, there is one glaring factor that has nothing to do Green Bay at all–opposing defenses are taking away the deep ball.
Last year, the Packers thrived off the bomb. They would lure defenses in with their short, West Coast offense that ran quickly, then unleash the rainbow downfield right into the arms of deep threat Jordy Nelson.
This strategy provided Rodgers with a league-best 9.2 yards per pass attempt, while Nelson had a career year with 1,263 yards on an 18.7 yards-per-catch average, good for fifth best in the NFL.
But starting in Kansas City on Dec. 18, 2011, defenses began putting two safeties deep on the Packers more and more, and their offense has never been the same.
Rodgers is now averaging 6.8 yards per attempt, his lowest mark since becoming a full-time starter in 2008. Nelson’s longest reception this year was only for 28 yards, and his yards per reception has dropped to 12.4.
If opposing teams aren’t going to let Rodgers and company be explosive, they must stay patient and consistently pick away at the defense. It worked to perfection in the second half against the Seattle Seahawks, when Green Bay sustained three consecutive scoring drives, amassing a total of 40 plays and 206 yards while eating up 17 minutes and 31 seconds off the clock.
Quick, short passes, screens and most importantly, establishing a running game will be new key components for the Packers if they want to continually drive down the field.
You’ve got to take what the defense gives you, and that’s what defenses are giving the Packers. If they keep taking the smart, efficient plays the entire season, eventually defenses will move up and focus on stopping the easy plays. Then at the proper moment, a strike downfield will eventually open up.
It’s not as exciting. It’s not as sexy. But it sure is successful.