Through Week 5 in the NFL, the Packers rank 14th out of 32 teams in red-zone efficiency, coming away with a touchdown only 56.25 percent of the time they drive inside an opponent’s 20-yard line.
By comparison, the undefeated Denver Broncos led by ultra-efficient quarterback Payton Manning are putting six points on the scoreboard 82.61 percent of the time.
It’s been a fall from grace for the Packers, who led the league in the same category last year, finding the end zone at a 68.52 percent clip.
The red-zone difficulties were apparent in last week’s game against the Detroit Lions when the Packers twice entered the red zone and only came away with a pair of field goals.
But perhaps looking at the red-zone statistics is a case of paralysis by analysis or micro-managing. If the Packers could just get better on third down, no matter where they are on the field, the offense would be operating a whole lot smoother.
Keeping the chains moving would certainly help when the Packers go to the home of the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens this upcoming Sunday.
“We need to pick it up on third down, that’s the thing,” said head coach Mike McCarthy after Wednesday’s practice. “I know we’ve spent a lot of time on it last night as a staff and this afternoon. So we’d like to do a better job there, and today was our first work of it.
“Baltimore’s defense is very good in third-down defense. Once again, we have a plan, we have a process, and we definitely go the players, and I have confidence it will get to where it needs to be.”
Despite the team’s success on first down and Aaron Rodgers having the best first down passer rating in NFL history, it hasn’t translated into converting third down opportunities the way the Packers had hope in 2013.
As things currently stand, Green Bay ranks 12th in the NFL in third down conversion rate, getting a new set of downs on only 19 of 49 chances (38.8 percent).
The Packers took some heat for failing to convert on two separate third-and-1 opportunities this past Sunday against the Lions, choosing to pass the ball instead of pound it up the gut with 230 lb. running back Eddie Lacy.
One of those third-and-1 situations came when the Packers were in the red zone, driving as far as the Lions’ 13-yard line late in the third quarter.
The Packers faked a play-action handoff to the speedy but certainly not powerful Randall Cobb out of the backfield, while Rodgers rolled out to the right before a pass intended for Jordy Nelson sailed out of bounds.
“We had two opportunities and got two field goals out of it,” said Rodgers of the red zone in their most recent game. “We definitely got to improve in that area, especially when you’re playing real good football teams.
“You’ve got to get seven points, make it easier on your defense and really change the momentum of games by getting in the end zone. it’s a tough opponent this week, a tough challenge, and it’s going to be important to make sure we help our defense out.”
It’s partially a product of having an early bye, but only four NFL teams have converted fewer than the 19 first downs from third down opportunities the Packers have faced this season.
Whether it’s at midfield, backed up in their own territory or threatening to score in the red zone, converting on third down keeps drives alive and hopes that the Packers will eventually find pay dirt.
Failures in the red zone are magnified, but taking a step back and getting better on third downs in general will translate into more success.
“It’s been four weeks and it’s not quite where we want it to be,” said McCarthy, “but we have confidence that it’s going to get there.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.