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Monday, July 04, 2005

Packers 2005 Offense, Which way will they go?

by Lare
For PackerChatters

You’ve got one of the most prolific NFL quarterbacks of all time. You’ve got a solid pass protecting offensive line and a returning Pro Bowl wide receiver. You made it to the playoffs with the 10th ranked passing offense, and your offense was ranked 12th overall in the NFL.

This is where the Packers sat following the 2002 season. That year they passed the ball 56% of the time, 68% of their first downs came from the pass and the passing game accounted for 65% of their total yards. Driver had 70 receptions for 1,064 yards and Brett had 3,658 passing yards with a 62% completion percentage and only 16 interceptions. Sounds like a recipe for continued emphasis on the passing scheme the following season, doesn’t it? Well guess again.

The Packers made a significant change in their offense in 2003, they went to the running game. That year they ran the ball 52% of the time and their rushing yards accounted for 44% of their offensive production and 43% of their first downs. It was the breakout year for Ahman Green who rushed for almost 1,900 yards. It was the introduction of the U-Bacon package, and the offensive lineman challenged opposing defenses in the media to try and stop them even when they knew what the play was going to be. It vaulted their offense to 4th overall in the NFL offensive rankings, 3rd in the run and 16th in the pass.

In retrospect, it was probably a move bordering on coaching genius. Every sign pointed to a continued pass-oriented attack that opposing defenses must plan for both in scheme and in personnel in the offseason. By all rights, it was a move that could very easily have gotten them to the SB, if not for a play that will forever be remembered in Packer Fandom as “4th and 26” and an ill-timed Favre interception in overtime.

At any rate, it forced teams during the 2004 offseason to think a little bit more. The Packers stood pat for the most part during the offseason, virtually all the coaches and players were the same, and everyone was in pretty good health. What would the Packers do, passing game or running game? If it ain’t broke you don’t fix it, right? Well as we all know, they threw everybody for a loop and went back to the pass.

In 2004 they passed the ball 58% of the time and their passing game accounted for 70% of their total yards. Once again, 70% of their first downs came from the pass and Favre had another career year with over 4,000 yards passing, a 64% completion percentage and 17 interceptions. Green still had a respectable year with 1,163 yards rushing, but he had the fewest receptions since coming to Green Bay. Even though their running game dropped to 10th in the NFL, their overall offense went up to 3rd thanks to their 3rd ranked passing game.

The question is, where do they go in 2005?

Assuming Bubba and Walker come to their senses and play this year, the only major changes have been at the guard position. Losing Rivera’s pass-blocking ability and Wahle’s run-blocking ability should be a wash in the overall scheme of things and we don’t know yet where their replacement’s strengths lie.

Green, Davenport, Henderson and Fisher and are in contract years which should add some incentive to put up some impressive numbers, but Walker will also have some incentive to justify his demands for a top-10 contract and Driver & Ferguson will want to justify the contracts they’ve already gotten.

You’ve got the fact that this could very well be Favre’s last year, some records he could set and an incentive for him to go out on a high note. If something should happen to him, you’ve got a number of backup QBs itching to prove they belong in the NFL. You also have a new GM with a Head Coach he didn’t hire in the last year of his contract, which means an entire offensive coaching staff who are also in the last year of theirs.

So which way do they go in 2005?

IMO, they go to a running game that sets up a short passing game. It seems the other teams in the division have concentrated on improving their pass defenses in the offseason by signing a number of CBs and safeties. Hitting them with the run and short, quick passes will negate those improvements. This attack will also help keep Brett healthy and may also cut down on interceptions.

It takes the pressure off the OL and gives them time to gel. It gives the ball more to two running backs with a great deal to prove, although if successful it means losing one, if not both of them. It may mean keeping Walker for a reasonable cap number. It will also take some of the pressure off any QB coming in to replace Brett if something happens to him. It uses the TE as a weapon for a change, no one will be expecting that.

The bottom line is that in the NFL you’ve got to keep changing to keep the other teams off balance. History suggests the Packers will do just that.
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