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Packers' Shift Away from Pass-First Offense Can End Aaron Rodgers' Playoff Woes

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2022

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur watch from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Duane Burleson/Associated Press

Perhaps Davante Adams' departure from Titletown to Las Vegas becomes a blessing in disguise for the Green Bay Packers. Of course, no team wants to trade away its best wide receiver and two-time All-Pro, but now the Packers must transform their offense, which may lead to optimal playoff results. 

The Las Vegas Raiders won the trade with Green Bay. They gave up a first-round pick (No. 22 overall) and a second-rounder (No. 53) for arguably the league's top wideout, and he'll fill a major need for them. Nonetheless, the Packers' post-Adams plan may change their identity for the better and extend quarterback Aaron Rodgers' career. 

Surprisingly, the Packers didn't use either of their first-round picks on a wide receiver. They selected inside linebacker Quay Walker and defensive end Devonte Wyatt. Both defenders played in one of the best defenses in college football history.

Walker will line up alongside All-Pro linebacker De'Vondre Campbell as an immediate playmaker against the run. He's a sure tackler who diagnoses plays quickly, which allows him to make stops all over the field. Wyatt can disrupt the opposing team's passing game at the line of scrimmage. In a rotational role, he recorded seven tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last season.

Defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt
Defensive lineman Devonte WyattMorry Gash/Associated Press/Associated Press

Green Bay didn't have a clear-cut starter to pair with Campbell, and the front office tried to patch up its interior run defense in free agency with defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who signed a one-year deal. 

Walker and Wyatt will strengthen a run defense that allowed the third-most yards per rush attempt (4.7) last season. They're the potential missing links for an otherwise solid defense that ranked 13th in scoring and ninth in yards allowed last season. 

The Packers selected wide receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs in the second and fourth rounds of the 2022 draft, correspondingly. Based on draft status, rookie seventh-rounder Samori Toure will likely need time to develop in the pros. We shouldn't expect any of them to make a leap from the collegiate level to the top three spots on the depth chart. 

Rodgers has a rapport with wideouts Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard. Per Pat McAfee, he's excited about the addition of Sammy Watkins, who brings eight years of pro experience. 

However, Rodgers cannot rely on any of those veteran receivers on a weekly basis. Cobb and Watkins have seen their receiving numbers decline every year since 2019. The former turns 32 years old in August, and the latter hasn't played through a full season since his 2014 rookie term, missing at least four games in three of the last four years. Both wideouts have just one 1,000-plus-yard campaign on their resumes.

At 6'5", 227 pounds, Lazard has great size for the red zone and recorded eight touchdown catches last year, but he doesn't have more than 40 receptions or 513 receiving yards in any of his four seasons. 

Overall, the Packers have a solid stable of wideouts, though no one jumps out as Pro Bowl or All-Pro talent this year. Green Bay probably won't field a top-10 passing offense for the upcoming season, but Rodgers will have an array of targets from well-seasoned veterans to high-upside rookies. 

Head coach Matt LaFleur
Head coach Matt LaFleurJulio Cortez/Associated Press/Associated Press

Head coach Matt LaFleur knows how to transform the Packers offense following Adams' departure, and he has the personnel to do it. 

Remember, LaFleur broke into the pro coaching ranks with the Houston Texans as an offensive quality control assistant under former NFL head coach Gary Kubiak and served as an offensive coordinator on Sean McVay's Los Angeles Rams staff. Both lead skippers have relied on an effective ground attack as a staple in their offenses.

Moreover, while the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans in 2018, LaFleur saw running back Derrick Henry's emergence in a featured role and how he stabilized the offense despite quarterback Marcus Mariota's modest passing numbers and issues with durability. 

Running backs Aaron Jones (left) and AJ Dillon (right)
Running backs Aaron Jones (left) and AJ Dillon (right)Matt Ludtke/Associated Press/Associated Press

In the Packers backfield, running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for 1,602 rushing yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry last year. They could lead the way for a more balanced and physical offensive attack behind a rock-solid offensive line. 

Two-time All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Jon Runyan and center Josh Myers project as starters for the upcoming campaign. Once Elgton Jenkins recovers from a torn ACL, he'll likely fill the right tackle spot. Green Bay also added Sean Rhyan and Zach Tom in the third and fourth rounds of the 2022 draft, respectively. The rookie offensive linemen offer versatility in case the coaching staff has to shuffle the unit because of injuries as it did in 2021. They could challenge Royce Newman for his spot at right guard.

With a stronger ground attack, the Packers can extend Rodgers' career, which should be one of their objectives after they made him the highest-paid player in NFL history at 38 years old. 

Despite all the accolades on Rodgers' resume—four-time league MVP, four-time All-Pro and 10-time Pro Bowler—he's 11-10 as a primary starter in the playoffs with only one Super Bowl title. We shouldn't count win-loss records as quarterback stats, but clearly the Packers have underperformed in postseason action with one of the best signal-callers in the game.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Quarterback Aaron RodgersTIMOTHY A. CLARY/Getty Images

Green Bay has to do something different to go beyond NFC North titles and early playoff exits. Without Adams, the team should revert to an approach that worked in 2010 when the Packers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the campaign.

That season, Green Bay's defense allowed the second-fewest points and ranked fifth in yards allowed. Rodgers had a decent but not spectacular year, throwing for 3,922 yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He didn't make a Pro Bowl or All-Pro roster that year.

Though the Packers' rushing attack ranked 24th in yards during that term, they outrushed three of their four postseason opponents.

Green Bay didn't outgain the Pittsburgh Steelers on the ground in Super XLV, but its defense forced three turnovers, which certainly impacted the outcome of the game. 

Since that Super Bowl year, the Packers haven't ranked top 10 in points and yards allowed in a season, but they can change that with the current roster and bring along an effective ground game to cover any rough patches in the aerial attack.

With home games at the Frozen Tundra, Green Bay should be suited to play a physical brand of football.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Quarterback Aaron RodgersAaron Gash/Associated Press/Associated Press

As the No. 1 seed, the Packers lost their last two postseason games to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers in the trenches. Green Bay's special teams unit deserves some blame for the loss to San Francisco, but Rodgers took five sacks in both defeats.

Three years ago, in the NFC Championship Game, San Francisco ran for 285 yards on Green Bay's defense at Levi's Stadium. Adams caught nine passes for 138 yards, but the Packers couldn't stop running back Raheem Mostert, who put cleat marks on the face of their defensive front with 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

This year, the Packers can flip the script and change their playoff fortunes with an aggressive attack-style defense and a ground attack that rips off chunk yardage on the road or in the elements at Lambeau Field in January.

While the offensive execution won't look as fluid and finesse in comparison to years past, Rodgers would probably trade in a 40-plus-touchdown season and an MVP award for another Super Bowl ring with a hard-nosed physical football team.

       

College football statistics are provided by cfbstats.com       

Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.

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