The 2012 season is a mere two games old but this year’s iteration of the Green Bay Packers offense lacks the stop-us-if-you-can mentality it possessed much of last season.
As expectations run high for a team that brings back almost every offensive player from a season ago, one possible cause for this year’s lack of luster is former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin has taken his talents to South Beach and is now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
A myriad of factors play into making an NFL offense function at a high level, but is it possible that Philbin’s absence is the reason the Packers offense has struggled so far this season?
Granted, the Packers have faced two quality defenses in San Francisco and Chicago, but regardless of the opponents, the Packers offense appears to be somehow different. Maybe it is confidence, maybe it is preparation, but for some reason, this unit is not the same.
With head coach Mike McCarthy routinely filling the role as game-day playcaller, outside observers were left to question Philbin’s influence on the offense. In charge of implementing the overall offensive scheme each year, game plans each week, and numerous other tasks, Philbin’s responsibilities with the team were not only enormous but also essential.
Communicating the whys and hows of the Packers offense to young players each year cannot be overstated. One of the major reasons Philbin was promoted to a head coaching job in the NFL was his ability to easily communicate complex ideas while maintaining a calm, likeable demeanor among players and colleagues.
Philbin’s successor in Green Bay, former quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, is undoubtedly an excellent coach, but has he had the same effect on the Packers offense that Philbin did?
Under Clements, the offense simply does not look the same. Receivers’ routes are not as crisp, players are not on the same page, and throws seem to be missing their mark. Add in Aaron Rodgers regressing to the behavior of publicly berating his receivers and signs point to something behind the scenes affecting this team.
Another result of Clements’ promotion to offensive coordinator is being a step removed from Rodgers. As quarterbacks coach, Clements attended the entirety of every quarterbacks meeting and lived and breathed every moment of Rodgers’ day on and off the field.
Under former tight ends coach, and new quarterbacks coach, Ben McAdoo, the reigning league MVP’s interception total is already a third of what it was all of last season. The picks and are not all necessarily Rodgers’ fault, but they are indicative of the offense’s general funk.
Against the Niners and Bears, the Packers offense managed to cobble together 14- and 17-points, respectively (both games included touchdowns not scored by the offense). For a team that averaged 35 points last season, including 42 and 30 in their first two contests, something is amiss.
Alternative explanations exist for the lack of production. The fatigue of playing two games in a five-day span, losing Scott Wells, your literal and figurative center, in free agency or the absence of Greg Jennings in the Chicago game are all possible reasons for a departure from last season’s dominance. But overall, the issue appears to be a general malaise across the entire offense, which would suggest a coaching issue rather than a player issue.
Even in its current rut, the Packers offense is still a formidable force. And in time, Clements’ offense should find its stride. Just as the many new faces on the Packers defense will take time to gel, so too will the Packers offense under its new coordinator.
Perhaps next Monday's matchup against the Seattle Seahawks is just what the Packers need to get the offense back on track.
Whether or not it is Joe Philbin or Tom Clements at the helm, however, this offense needs to find its rhythm, and a way to convert a third-and-1.