Aaron Rodgers & Offense Starting to Find Downfield Groove

For much of the season, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense were struggling to find the same downfield success that they have in the past. But over the last two games, we've seen them have a lot more success.

It felt like it was just a matter of time, right? 
 
As always, there are a number of reasons why this 2021 Green Bay Packers offense isn't nearly as potent as the 2020 version. But one big contributor has been the team's inability to consistently hit the big play downfield--although it's not for lack of trying.
 
Aaron Rodgers, whose career has been defined by big plays and pinpoint accuracy, had really been struggling to connect on the deep ball this season.
 
Pro Football Focus tracks how a quarterback performs on deep passes--or passes that travel at least 20 yards through the air. During the Packers' first 10 games of the season, despite Rodgers ranking eighth out of 36 eligible quarterbacks in deep attempts, he also ranked 31st in completion percentage, 33rd in passer rating, and 13th in yards.
 
And as a whole, at that point in the season, the Green Bay Packers offense ranked 13th in explosive pass play rate, according to Sharp Football.
 
Now, again, there are a number of reasons that could be contributing to this lack of success, but not having Marquez Valdes-Scantling from Weeks 4 through 8 certainly didn't help. With his 4.37 speed, there isn't another receiver on the roster who can take the tops off defenses quite like MVS can, as evidenced by his 20.4 yards per catch a season ago.
 
The Green Bay Packers are also seeing a lot of cover-2 shells this season after the New Orleans Saints found a lot of success against them Week 1 using this strategy. One of the benefits of utilizing cover-2 is that with the safety help over the top, it's supposed to greatly reduce the offense's ability to hit those shot plays downfield.
 
“83 has been hurt,” Rodgers said following the win in Chicago via Packers Wire. “That definitely is a big part of it. We haven’t had a ton of that stuff in the plan. Also, we’ve seen a lot of Cover-2. With 83 not playing, and them clouding Davante a bunch, we just haven’t had the same opportunities.”
 
On top of that, there were several occasions during the first 10 games where Rodgers was just trying to force the ball downfield instead of letting those opportunities develop on their own. Not to mention that the offensive line protection just hasn't been as stout as it was a season ago.
 
In an article by Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire, he also notes that some of the play-calling hasn't done this Green Bay offense any favors either when it comes to downfield throws.
 
"What I don’t see on most of Rodgers’ deep passes this season are the kinds of route concepts that present easy openings. There’s a lot of iso stuff downfield that can be easily matched by better defenders. 
 
"In addition, the Packers’ increased use of empty sets have reduced their percentage of concepts designed for easy receiver openings."
 
But over the last two games, or more specifically the last six quarters of football, we've seen Rodgers and this offense start to find their groove with the deep ball--which as I mentioned in the beginning, was just a matter of time, right? I mean, he is Aaron Rodgers, after all. 
 
In Weeks 11 and 12, Rodgers is first among 30 eligible quarterbacks in attempts with 12, first in completions with six, second in deep-ball passing yards, fourth in yards per attempt, and second in passer rating. Green Bay has also jumped from 13th to 8th in explosive pass play rates with their recent downfield surge. 
 
While this is certainly a small sample size, with Rodgers' track record, I tend to believe that this is him and the offense getting back on track, rather than a hot streak that will come to an end sometime--although we will have to wait and see.
 
Coming off the reserve/COVID list there was certainly some rust that Rodgers needed to shake off, and the overall lack of practice time for this offense over the last five weeks has not helped things either--but heading into the bye week, it is beginning to look like this unit was finding their stride. 
 
“If you trace it back, I mean, shoot, we haven’t really practiced a whole bunch,” LaFleur said following a 17-0 victory over the Seattle Seahawks via SI. “Basically, the week before Arizona was all walk-through, so it’s not like he was getting a ton of time with these guys, and then we had different receivers the last time he played. And then you’re getting all these guys back [while Rodgers was out with COVID] so, naturally, there was probably a little bit of a dip in terms of from our passing game, but I think it’s everybody.
 
“We’ve got to get back out on the practice field. We need those guys to continue to work on the timing portion, making sure that the details of our route depths and our assignments are on point because, I think right now if you just look at as a whole, there is opportunity out there for us.”
 
For this Green Bay Packers offense to truly be at their best, opposing defenses need to respect their willingness to take those downfield shots, but Rodgers and his receivers also need to connect on them more frequently than what they were. Over these final five games of the regular season, this is one of the more important items to keep our eyes on. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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9 points

Comments (23)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Michael Nault's picture

December 03, 2021 at 11:09 am

I personally believe that The Arrogant Ego is forcing long balls because that is what he has always done, he foregoes the easy short stuff for long gains. To me, he doesn't use the clock wisely by doing that, and he is just feeding his oversized ego.

-15 points
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21
ckoski's picture

December 03, 2021 at 03:10 pm

Egos are always tremendously fed by failure.

0 points
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DTowleJr's picture

December 03, 2021 at 08:54 pm

Why the anti-Rodgers sentiment? Has he not accomplished enough over these many years to propel the #Packers to the top of the #NFL heap? Or, would you be satisfied with the plethora of Chicago Bears QBs and the failures that they have had over all those years?

As for your football stratagem, have you ever considered that those long balls are being thrown for a reason? Here's what I think: Rodgers throws balls deep to push the CBs further downfield so that he can drop in those intermediate throws. Then, when the CBs start creeping back towards the middle of the field, Aaron drops a long one again. Keeps them guessing.

Of course, that's just how I see it - and I'm a fan, so there's that...

7 points
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edp1959's picture

December 03, 2021 at 09:17 pm

I really like your logic. It’s way beyond what many here can comprehend. They prefer to spew negativity and hate.

0 points
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2
4thandinches's picture

December 03, 2021 at 09:44 pm

Oh irony…

2 points
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Brockrice99's picture

December 03, 2021 at 11:26 am

I love when we can hit the deep ball, it is one of the best plays in the sport. But when it is like 3rd and 6,7,8 yards and we're taking forced shots 30 yards downfield that are way off target. Just try to move the chains, get 10 yards little chunk plays and move down the field. If the deep shot is open then take it! But I am sick and tired of the forced balls on 3rd down that ends drives, when we can just dump it off get a short gain and an easy first. It may not be as cool looking as the deep shot, but it is much better for sustaining drives.

24 points
24
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Minniman's picture

December 03, 2021 at 01:42 pm

Add to that - after a defensive stop.

Nothing’s as wasteful as the D getting a stop and the O going 3-and-out (especially attempting low percentage plays).

7 points
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Brockrice99's picture

December 03, 2021 at 02:18 pm

Exactly! That's my big thing make high percentage plays and hope to break one, do not try to force it, let it come to you.

3 points
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Packer_Fan's picture

December 03, 2021 at 11:45 am

I prefer the short game to start the game to develop a rhythym and success. Then work in the long ball.

Rodgers to Adams is fine. They hit it reliably. Not so with MVS. He gets overthrown. Something in their practices doesn't work in the game. Time to fix that before the playoffs.

13 points
13
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JohnnyLogan's picture

December 03, 2021 at 05:19 pm

MVS just isn't very good at getting open. His long strides work somewhat when going long but don't ask him to make moves within 20 yards. All those long passes to MVS that hit one out of ten times but cause a number of 3 and outs more often are getting tiring.

Lazazad is slightly better but not much.

With Tonyan gone, the only two receivers Rodgers can count on in the short game are Davante and sometimes Cobb. Now Cobb is hurt. Amari Rodgers hasn't worked out, not much speed or twitch from the slot.

We're still missing that one guy to compliment Adams. I'd give EQ and Winfree some more playing time to see if one of them can establish some rapport with Rodgers before the playoffs.

3 points
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Leatherhead's picture

December 03, 2021 at 12:10 pm

We’re 9-3. We lead the league in Time Of Possession, which makes life much easier on the defense. We have some very good RBs.

But what we really need is more low-percentage long bombs to superduper WRs who can win jump balls.

Does that make any sense at all?

6 points
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Guam's picture

December 03, 2021 at 03:43 pm

I read the title of the article and thought "oh boy, here we go......". I do not want to encourage Rodgers to throw more deep shots. I would much prefer to see Rodgers take the open, short routes and move the chains.

I understand that some deep routes are necessary (even if not completed) to keep the safeties deep, but since most teams have been playing a two deep shell against the Packers this year, that mission is already mostly accomplished. Now hit the short stuff underneath and move the chains until the defenses start playing a single high safety.

Take what the defenses give you - Brady has won a bunch of Super Bowls doing just that. Taking deep shots against a two deep shell is just playing into the defense's hands.

6 points
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croatpackfan's picture

December 03, 2021 at 12:38 pm

While I think that Packers OL is OK, somewhat worse in pass protection maybe the reason why AR can not hold the ball long enough to let MVS get open. If you can give MVS 3 sec before throw, he will outrun CB or S, but, because of the OL AR & MVS do not have enough time. That is why you need to move the chain by short throws and by running, to invite additional defender into the box. After that happen, you can expect that either MVS or DA will be open for long gain. Look at Minnesota game, or last game.

8 points
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dobber's picture

December 03, 2021 at 02:12 pm

Certainly we can't deny the advantage of MVS taking two defenders downfield with him, whether ARod targets that route or not. That route needs to be thrown some--and I would argue early in games--to make that happen. Does it get thrown too often? Meh...

11 points
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stockholder's picture

December 03, 2021 at 02:12 pm

Arron Rodgers is the most important person on this team. Without him this Offense isn't going anywhere. The difference in last year to this year, is the shuffling along the OL. 2. How do you expect to have timing? When a busted Toe is keeping you off the field. Not to mention Covid. 3. And if you want the deep Ball. Rodgers is pointing right at MVS. Which brings up the question. Why hasn't MVS been extended? Especially with Adams demands; " of show me the money". 4. The success of this offense isn't a west coast OFFENSE. It's how many points they can get on the board. THE RED ZONE! If we have to dump salary. TT showed the way. Change the OL! And keep the game changers.

6 points
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5
packer132's picture

December 03, 2021 at 06:38 pm

I rarely can see what you are seeing with the Packers. Why would you extend MVS mid season when he has missed time with injuries. Teams rarely extend any player until after the season. Adams and Rodgers will be a challenge after this year, and Packer are $60 million over the cap. You want to focus on winning each week, and getting to the Playoffs; then the Super Bowl. So many Players will NOT be back next year, but way too soon to worry about that. Change the OL? Nijman has looked good the 4 games that he has been forced to play. Bakhtiari and Myers are still injured, and will not be back for a few weeks. You make no sense most of the time.

2 points
5
3
stockholder's picture

December 03, 2021 at 09:50 pm

Because Injuries don't mean a thing, if your "Not" making big Money. Example King. Cobb. Williams. If there is a need, you sign them! Rarely Extend? Teams "will" if they want to keep a player. Example Kenny Clark. And didn't they extend Rodgers even with his Collar Bone Injury? (And What about BAHK?) Who ate up all the extra cap room! 60 Mil. isn't Anything. You don't Gut the team for two players. You pay the Bread Winner. Rodgers!!! And Let the Draft make up for the loses. Didn't Gute's last draft Prove That? Linsey was replaced!!! Poke someone else.

0 points
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3
edp1959's picture

December 03, 2021 at 07:49 pm

I find it absolutely hilarious when I read these comments from people that believe they know more than what Rodgers does when it comes to what it takes to win games. What I see is a bunch of haters that can only wish they had even a tiny amount of the talent that #12 does. OMG this is so funny.... Rodgers has this team at 9 and 3 and if the defense had not shit the bed against the Vikings they would still be the top seed. Rodgers doesn't need to change a damn thing. I would tell you haters to RELAXXXX but then I wouldn't get the daily laughs when I read what you whinny ass crybabies post each day.

ROCK ON REAL PACKER'S FANS!!!!!

5 points
10.5
5.5
croatpackfan's picture

December 04, 2021 at 03:25 am

I agree. You can see his excellence this season when you watch game vs Saints, few others that was win by 1 possesion and his press conferences when he lied about his vax status. Thank God for him, because Packers D is so bad that only him saved Packers (khm,khm Arizona and few others).

As I do not claim I'm football expert, but I know that football game is team game and no matter how one player is excellent if team are not at high level, that HOF-er can not make any difference.

Logical conclusion is that without all-pro players on both side of the field and bunch of very good players, your excellence is nothing when it comes to the winning.

Proof for that is Broncos SB win few seasons ago with QB who was shadow of what he was...

1 points
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2
Since'61's picture

December 03, 2021 at 08:42 pm

Deleted.

0 points
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Crankbait's picture

December 03, 2021 at 09:19 pm

Aaron Rodgers is a more talented passer than Tom Brady but the difference between the two has always been that Brady plays smarter and will take what the defense gives him.
Rogers ditched the hero ball last year in games were Devante Adams was out and the offense took off.
Back to his old habits this season.... we are very fortunate to be 9-3 and I am not looking forward to the Bucs in the playoffs. They have our number.

-2 points
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Starrbrite's picture

December 05, 2021 at 08:37 pm

Crank, remember that Brady had three picks in the nfcc; should have been four and perhaps five. The Bucs defense was responsible for their win, and IMO the the absence of Bahk was the stark difference. I’m not taking anything away from Brady, but I’ve believed he’s been the beneficiary of getting little or no pressure against him; always seems to have good or great O-lines. Moreover, it didn’t hurt that he played within the worst division in football for 20 years —7 wins were virtually guaranteed each year. If we’re healthy, I don’t fear the Bucs.

0 points
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PatrickGB's picture

December 04, 2021 at 10:37 am

One big difference that I noticed this year as opposed to the last two years is that I don’t see as many open receivers. Perhaps the other teams have watched the tape and adjusted. The next thing I noticed was that Rodgers had less time to throw. Perhaps that’s due to a drop in the quality of the lines pass protection and personnel. The running backs are getting fewer explosive runs and that too is on the line. I believe that the loss of players like Tonyan, MVS and Lizard for a few games have also made a difference. Finally, Rodgers has even been a bit off his otherwise superb self.

2 points
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