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Comprehensive Breakdown of the Packers Red Zone Struggles

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Comprehensive Breakdown of the Packers Red Zone Struggles

Much has been made about the Green Bay Packers' inability to score touchdowns when entering the red zone in recent weeks.

The surface numbers certainly tell a damning a story: Since scoring six points on 4-of-4 opportunities inside the red zone against the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers have converted just 5-of-16 in games against the Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens. Three of those red-zone touchdowns came against the Redskins in Week 2.

The leader in red zone touchdown percentage a year ago at 68.5, the Packers are now tied for 27th in the NFL at just 45 percent. Over the last three games, Green Bay's 20 percent scoring rate is tied for dead last with Houston.

These are ugly numbers, and a big reason why the Packers have struggled to put up big points in back-to-back weeks. Green Bay failed to score a touchdown in six red zone opportunities against the Lions and Ravens, and results have been point totals of 22 and 19, respectively.

There's no debating how important scoring touchdowns is when given the opportunity. The best offenses can operate inside the condensed space—which gives defenses a clear advantage—and put six points on the board instead of three. Take the Denver Broncos for example, who are leading the NFL in scoring through six weeks (in fact, Denver has scored more points over the first games than any team in NFL history). The Broncos are converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns at a staggering rate of 82.1 percent.

But sometimes numbers can be deceiving, and there's reason to believe that is the case with Green Bay's inside the red zone this season.

Keep in mind, the Packers were perfect inside the 20 against the 49ers, on the road and facing a top defense. It's not all gloom and doom here.

To get a better feeling for the recent struggles, let's break down the origin of the problems game-by-game since San Francisco:


  1. Aaron Rodgers takes back-to-back sacks immediately after getting into the red zone, leaving the offense with a 3rd-and-goal from the Washington 24.
  2. Washington is given the football via a touchback when James Jones extends for the pylon but fumbles.
  3. After James Starks rumbles for 13 yards to get into the red zone, the Packers kneel on the football to end the game.


  1.  On 3rd-and-goal from the 3-yard line, Rodgers runs a boot action to his right. Only Jeremy Ross is provided as a receiver to the bootleg side. Rodgers is forced out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
  2. A second-down sack sets up 3rd-and-goal from the Cincinnati 12-yard line. Rodgers hits Jordy Nelson on a quick slant (which was designed with blockers in front), but only gains four yards.
  1. On 1st-and goal from the 4-yard line, Rodgers is sacked for minus-5 yards. After a quick hitter to James Jones for one yard, Rodgers scrambles to his right on third down but can't connect with Randall Cobb against blanket coverage in the end zone.
  2. Mike McCarthy calls playaction and rolls Rodgers out on a 3rd-and-1 play just inside the red zone. He has options at every level (short, intermediate and deep), but the Lions get pressure in his face and the coverage is again solid.
  1. A 10-yard holding penalty on David Bakhtiari eventually sets up a 3rd-and-19 situation. Rodgers hits Cobb for 11 yards on third down. Cobb is short of the sticks, and also breaks his fibula on the play.
  2. After Datone Jones picked up a fumble and rumbled down to the Baltimore 13-yard line, the Packers brought on Mason Crosby for a chip shot field with just two seconds left on the first half clock.
  3. Facing 3rd-and-1 from the 13-yard line, McCarthy dials up a play action pass. Nelson runs an outward breaking route to the playside of the bootleg, but Rodgers' pass is too high and the coverage too good.
  4. After Eddie Lacy picks up four yards on 3rd-and-2, the Packers kneel down on the Baltimore 9-yard line.


3: Sacks allowed that set up 3rd-and-longs

3: Questionable playcalls on 3rd-and-short situations

2: Kneel down situations to end the game

1: Turnover

1: Holding penalty that set up 3rd-and-long

1: End of the half situation

This examination reveals a few things.

First, self-inflicted wounds are as much to blame as any other factor. Taking sacks and drawing holding penalties will kill a drive regardless of location on the field. These negatives only become more pronounced when the field shrinks and offenses get more conservative (turnovers are a big no-no inside the 20-yard line; quarterbacks like Rodgers would rather check down or throw away than force a throw).

Secondly, play calling has been an issue. There's trusting your quarterback in any situation, and there's getting cute for no reason. McCarthy has tip-toed that line in recent weeks and it's come back to bite him. When you have a 235-pound running back who has only a handful of carries that haven't netted more than a yard, give him the football on 3rd-and-short and play the percentages. Rolling Rodgers to his right off playaction is obviously a predictable call in this situation.

Lastly, the Packers have simply been unlucky. Two kneel downs that each clinched wins can hardly be seen as a negative, and McCarthy had no choice but to attempt a field goal at the end of the first half in Baltimore. Overall, that's three "empty" trips inside the red zone that hurt the Packers' percentage but shouldn't really factor in. Take those three away opportunities and Green Bay suddenly has a touchdown rate of 52.9 percent, which would currently rank 13th in the NFL. Also, Jones' fumble against Washington was simply a hustle play gone wrong.

Compared to last season, the Packers clearly haven't been as efficient in the red zone in 2013. And the drop off in scoring touchdowns inside the 20-yard line has been a factor in Green Bay's recent scoring dip.

But behind every statistic is the need for context, and the Packers red zone percentage certainly has more working parts than a "45 percent touchdown rate" would suggest. Mistakes, playcalling and bad luck have all played a role.

If the Packers clean up the fixable mental errors, put more trust in Lacy on short-yardage situations and simply have their luck turn around, there's no reason why this offense won't start scoring more touchdowns inside the red zone.

Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (33) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Brooklyn81's picture

Agreed the play calling and sacks in the red zone have to be the biggest reasons why the red zone percentage is so low. I hate when its 3rd and 1 and we don't line up in a heavy set and pound Lacy. Hopefully this will change in the coming weeks

RC Packer Fan's picture

In general how many 3rd and 1's have we seen now that Lacy isn't even in the backfield. I don't mind seeing play action pass but keep Lacy in the backfield so defenses have to respect the threat of a run.

Brooklyn81's picture


Tarynfor12's picture

"... put more trust in Lacy on short-yardage situations"....

Hey Stroh...

This is exactly what I was saying about having a run game/guy and forgetting how/when to use it....the number of carries doesn't erase the lack of its use in important situations....learn anything yet.

Stroh's picture

Hey taryn then why the hell didn't you mention them? Just spewing something out of you piehole doent give context. Either way you seem to think you know more than the coach who studies the defense he's facing looks a t tendencies of the D. Running a bootleg on 3rd and goal is always a good playcall when you have a run throw option. Sometimes defenses make good plays to ruin good playcalls too!

Packers have historically been the best red zone team in the NFL under McCarthy. Complaining about a couple instaces after his excellent track record in red zone is pathetic!!

Tarynfor12's picture

When did I say it was only about Red Zone.....check your piehole it seems to be in contention with your A-hole.

Stroh's picture

Well thatz what this topic was concerning so naturally since you were complaining during this discussion logic follows your complaint related to it.

All your doing is bitchin w no context. Feel sorry for any man in your life!

Tarynfor12's picture

Its a sure thing you have 'no one' at all in yours.

Evan's picture

Can you two just make out already?

RC Packer Fan's picture

Great Article Zach

I think the redzone failures can be attributed to many things. I would have to say play calling/decision making have been the biggest problems. Although untimely penalty's have killed drives as well.

I think the decision making could be better. How many 2nd or 3rd and short have we had that we didn't just get the first down. I know the big play is huge, but sometimes you just have to get the first down.

One thing I still wonder is why haven't we seen a lob pass to Finley? The guy is 6'5 and has a good vertical. Try it 1 time and if it works go back to it.

I'm not to concerned but I would like to see more TD's once we get in the redzone.

Robert's picture

I think Rodgers (probably McCarthy too) lost confidence in Finley in those jump balls after he let a defender stole the ball from his hands in the game against the Raiders in 2011, don't remember them throwing another one of those to him after that one...

RC Packer Fan's picture

I don't remember that... either way they can't try it 1 time?

Stroh's picture

I remember that specific play. It was an underthrown pass. Finley had a DB on him and the pass when it got to Finley was about head high for Finley. When he jumped to reach over the DB it was in front of Finley and he had to reach OVER the DB to get his hands on the ball. If Rodgers had thrown it higher Finley had plenty of space above the DB's head and his own to reach UP, instead Finley had to reach over the DB to try to get at the ball. That was not on Finley. If had been thrown higher the DB can't reach it but Finley could have.

$-The Moneyman-$'s picture

Lob pass to Finley? How about week 2 of this year?

Morgan Mundane's picture

Great article. My only observation is and it has to do with vision and decision making by Rogers lately: In last weeks game, he rolled out and no one, no one, no one was withing 15 yards of him, the first down marker was only 5 yards in front of him for an easy first down, it was third and you better make it happen. Instead of just running to the yard marker he passed into coverage. Very poor decision making on his part.
Hey if your going to roll out inside the 20, run baby run. Don't just stand there realize the receiver is covered and go oppps. He is way to hesitant lately.

RC Packer Fan's picture

He seems to be a lot more hesitant on running. Against the Ravens, it was 2nd and 2. He did a roll out, he easily could have ran 5-10 yards easily and had the 1st down. He decided to throw a pass to Finley who had to make a diving attempt to catch it, which he dropped.

I like the big plays, but sometimes you have to be smart and just get the first down.

Stroh's picture

And lets be clear on this point... That's not poor play calling. Its poor judgement by Rodgers.

RC Packer Fan's picture

exactly... Rodgers loves the big play, and lets face it, we all do.

But the fact of the matter is sometimes you have to 'settle' for getting first downs rather then going for big plays.

My only complaint of Rodgers is he has a tendency to go for the big play rather then getting the sure first down. How many times do we see him refusing to check the ball down to an open RB (who could get a first down) and go deep with the ball. I love the big play, but he needs to be smarter with that at times.

Jordan's picture

Excellent article.

Now is the time to turn Franklin loose against the Browns since there is no Cobb. Swing passes, screens, draws, shovel passes, and quick pitches. Unless McCarthy's nerves can't take it. ;) Browns defense is pretty good, so I don't think they have a choice.

If the Browns play two deep safeties and can stop the run, it's going to be a long day for the Packers offense......unless they can get Franklin/Lacy involved with screen passes. Rodgers doesn't seem to like screen passes and just wants to go deep. Then comes the sacks and offensive holding calls and third and long.....quick three and out....punt.

Packers got lucky against the Ravens with Rodger's fumbles, and I can't see the Packers getting lucky again if he keeps holding the ball or doesn't secure the ball better if he feels the pocket breaking down. Packers need shorter passes to either Lacy or Franklin. Rodgers has to get the ball out of his hands quickly for the Packers to win this Sunday.

Toby's picture

I couldn't agree more! I have been thinking that this is the time for Franklin to step up! Start the pounding with Lacy, then bring in Franklin for some change of pace, screens, flats, and plain old runs. MM just doesn't have confidence in his ball security, each opportunity of late he has dropped the ball and got pulled. But he is here for a reason and will be needed down the stretch so we have to keep him on the field and build his confidence. BUT FOR GOD'S SAKE - HOLD ONTO THE BALL!!!!!

If he can I think he will impact this game in a big way, if he can't MM will pull him yet again!! I am rooting for him! Go Pack!

Stroh's picture


Which is exactly why I don't want to see Franklin on the field. When he has proven over a few weeks in practice and on returns, then he can EARN another shot in the backfield. Not before...

DraftHobbyist's picture

Honestly, I don't think MM is worried about Franklin's fumbling...yet. If you look at his fumbles they are excusable, such as losing the ball while jumping over the pile on 4th down. That's just a high risk play where a player has to take chances because if they don't get the first it's a turnover anyways.

L's picture

Interesting article, but since I just picked up Mason Crosby in my fantasy league I don't want them to go getting super efficient right away... like this week. We just need to win the game and if we kick a few red zone field goals to go along with that win I'm cool with that... haha.

Jordan's picture

Gameday weather of 47 degrees and a swirling west wind at 13 mph. You had better bench crosby. ;)

Archie's picture

It is obvious AROD and MM are not on the same page in the red zone. MM is struggling with understanding how to use the run game in short yardage situations. With all those failures by Kuhn in similar situations in past it seems to have left MM with no confidence in short yardage runs. Let's find out what Lacy can do.

Stroh's picture

Short yardage runs is all about the blocking. Doesn't matter if its 250lb Kuhn, 235 lb Lacy, or 200 lb Franklin! If McCarthy doesn't have confidence in the OL to get a little push it doesn't make a damn bit of difference who the RB is!

RC Packer Fan's picture

I look at it is, he is still trying to get comfortable with his new running game. its something he hasn't had in how long?

I am willing to bet he will trust his OL and RB's more this weekend then he has in the past few games.

I think he will have more confidence in Lacy after the Ravens game.

DraftHobbyist's picture

That's so far from the truth Stroh. Sure, the OL matters, but good big RB's can fall forward and good quick RB's can bounce the play to the outside if it's stacked up inside or they can leap the pile. The RB matters A LOT.

Steven's picture

I know what lacy can do.... lacy can be a top 5 back in this league and keep proving what a steal he was.

DraftHobbyist's picture

I don't think he was a steal. We took him in the 2nd round. That's pretty highly. I think we're getting value out of him. Had I known he would do this, I still wouldn't have wanted him in the 1st round.

aussiepacker's picture

excellent article Zach. Really brought things into perspective. When I seen the red zone percentage was down I didn't even think about the play's ending the game or half affecting them. Cheers.

Bibbon Hazel's picture

The top 2. Sacks setting up 3rd and and questionable calls on 3rd at short are on Mashed Potato Mike and Arodge! Perhaps run the freaking ball more and there will be no sacks and Lacy proved he could get short yardage! At least have a threat of run and more options (especially more than just Ross) on a bootleg. That's some ugly crap to see live and relive now.

DraftHobbyist's picture

These are the types of articles that keep me coming back to CheeseheadTV

About your top 2 points, I think the questionable play calling will get better. I actually think that a bootleg is a very good call because it gives Rodgers the option to run or pass. We're still trying to find our identity, though, but we're getting there. If the Packers can run some (not all the time like some people seem to want) on 3rd and 1 then I think that would be really hard to defend. I'd like something like a 50-50 run-pass on 3rd and 1. Some of that is on Rodgers to audible into or out of a run, too.

Also, Whenever an offense changes as much as the Packer offense has, it is bound to go through those growing pains. We never had that running game. Now we do. Now we are learning how to use it. By the end of the year I have no doubts that we will be dangerous.

As for the other part about the holding calls, I think the more experience that OL gets the less they will hold. But also if Rodgers holds the ball for a long period of time that can create holds as well.

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