Middle of Field Key in Passing Game Evolution

The Packers were successful when they attacked the middle of the field last season. They're positioned to do a lot more of it in 2017. 

Whether or not the Packers’ offseason signals intent to bolster their attack of the middle of the field, the team is undoubtedly better positioned for 2017 to strike at the heart of opposing defenses. 
 
The excitement starts with the tight end group. 
 
Green Bay is now three-deep at tight end with the additions of Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks joining Richard Rodgers. Bennett is possibly the most complete tight end the team has had in decades, combining ideal size, relentless blocking ability, and excellent athleticism. After the catch, he shows both physicality and shiftiness—basically whatever the play calls for. Kendricks should be highly motivated, both for his return to Wisconsin and for escaping quarterback purgatory. Rodgers may not be a dynamic athlete, but he has good hands and is only a season removed from hauling in eight touchdowns. 
 
Aaron Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy have each expressed that this grouping opens up the possibility of more two tight end sets. This doesn’t necessarily mean traditional, under-center sets with tight ends lined up in-line. The possibilities are nearly endless. New England deploys their tight ends in a multitude of ways: at the wing, in compression sets, lined up wide and in bunches. Their creative inclusion of tight ends is also a definite contributing factor to their potent shotgun running game. 
 
Last season, just 77 of Rodgers’ 412 completions—or 19 percent—came in the middle of the field. But a third of their 15 passes that went for 35+ yards attacked the middle of the field. Where big plays are concerned, the heart of the defense offers some opportunities. 
 
When you factor in converted receiver Ty Montgomery, Green Bay’s ability to strike quickly—and create coverage mismatches—should, in theory, be improved next season. 
 
Switching gears to wide receiver, the final grouping is up in the air but continuity at the top of the depth chart provides instant relief. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are outstanding slot targets. Nelson is still a threat wherever he’s lined up. For all that he can do on the boundary with toe-tapping, highlight-reel sideline catches, he’s just as deadly in two-way go situations from the slot. 
 
Cobb spends the majority of his time inside and showed in the playoff win over the Giants in January that he can carry the red zone load when Nelson is absent. Though his production has dipped in recent seasons, he’s still a highly efficient target and the inclusion of other weapons could mean more big plays from Cobb.   
 
Big plays, in general, could see an uptick next season. In 2016, Davante Adams emerged as the Packers preeminent downfield threat, while Nelson built up speed by season’s end to his pre-ACL injury form. Adams’ explosiveness off the snap helped lead to seven of the team’s 15 passing plays that went for 35+ yards. (Nelson hauled in five of those, while Cobb, Jared Cook, and Geronimo Allison each had one.)
 
The wild card in attacking the middle of the field could come from one of the team’s youngsters. Seventh-round pick Malachi Dupre had 23 of his 41 receptions last season come from the slot. He’s a natural deep threat and tracks the ball well. Trevor Davis had a good spring and it’s likely the Packers want to keep testing his ability to take the top off defenses. Guys like Allison and rookie DeAngelo Yancey are further pieces to the puzzle. 
 
Rodgers and Co. are the best in the business extending plays and making something happen. Credit Rodgers’ wizardry, an excellent pass-blocking unit, and receivers who find openings. But that ability is best served to supplement an efficient passing game that generates consistent gains without schoolyard tactics.
 
By adding pieces to the mix and getting creative with their tight ends, Green Bay might just find that the middle of the field holds the key to their evolution.
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Comments (17)

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

June 30, 2017 at 01:28 pm

I getting ready for "The Greatest Show on Tundra".

The defense just needs to be average and Rodgers and Co can outrun anybody.

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dobber's picture

June 30, 2017 at 04:38 pm

"The Greatest Show on Tundra"

You should copyright that statement if it's an original...

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Packer_Fan's picture

June 30, 2017 at 02:26 pm

I agree. Bring on The Greatest Show on Tundra. This years offense is the best positioned I would say in about 15 years, or more. Great receivers, the two tight end added bring so much ability and mismatches. Even the running game is good. Not so much because of the new draft picks, but the abilities of both Montgomery and Ripowski. And the line will be good. Good job by TT for bringing in Evans at guard. And with some up and comers available too for backup and depth. I believe that every option is open to MM and Rodgers. Bring on the season!

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pack13xwc's picture

July 04, 2017 at 10:54 pm

As A-Rod says, the fans should be excited for this season; and when he makes a statement, we should be believers by now.

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carusotrap's picture

June 30, 2017 at 02:36 pm

Something to consider as well. If the middle of the field becomes the go-to, that may just open the edge to WRs who, while they're not burners, can gain an edge just because defenses have to stay honest with Cobb and Bennett over the middle.

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dobber's picture

June 30, 2017 at 04:50 pm

I see only three things that might actually be concerning or limiting for this offense...
1. ...speed on the outside. Of the WR who are likely to play the majority of snaps on the outside, they lack for top-end speed. Allusions are made here to Davis and Dupre, but (frankly) they aren't likely to play many offensive snaps IF they make the 53. Who comes off the field for these guys to play a significant number of snaps?
2. ...uncertainty at RB. If Monty isn't the guy or can't stay healthy, and the rookies aren't ready, we'll see the offense limited in that regard (not that it made a huge amount of difference at the end of 2016). The OL was not a potent run-blocking group last season, and they didn't get any better this off-season. This will likely be a team that throws to run.
3. ...loss of talent on the interior OL. Lane Taylor + Jahri Evans < Josh Sitton + TJ Lang. I would even argue Taylor + Evans << Sitton + Lang. Add to this the fact that in two seasons, Cory LInsley has missed a bunch of games and I would argue that this is the key thing that could limit this offense.

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dnicholson's picture

June 30, 2017 at 06:04 pm

I can jive with these points, though I think Jordy and Davante are solid deep threats. Jordy for his route running and still-adequate speed, and Adams for his first move at the LOS.

I'm more worried about O-line depth than RB. I think the Pack actually have a good problem with RB depth. When one of the three drafted rookies doesn't make the final 53 I'll understand, but I'll be bummed. Lots to like about Williams, Jones and Mays. And as it's often said, that's a pretty NFL-ready position compared to others.

We all remember the impact James Starks made down the stretch as a rookie.

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Anderson44's picture

June 30, 2017 at 07:14 pm

Good points Dobber. So much to like about this offense for sure. But I too am concerned about the OL. Injuries WILL happen and I'll believe in the quality of the depth when I see it in action. Just not convinced yet that losing Sitton and then Lang won't be felt.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 01, 2017 at 04:44 pm

Sitton + Lang >> Taylor + Lang;
Taylor + Lang>> Taylor + Evans;

Taylor + Linsley + Evans roughly same as above;
Taylor + Barclay + Evans = worst Interior OL since IDK, 2005 and Klemm?

Sitton, Saturday + Lang >>> Taylor, Barclay, Evans.

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dobber's picture

July 01, 2017 at 09:11 pm

Ugh...I'm having middle school math flashbacks...

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Oppy's picture

June 30, 2017 at 08:10 pm

I wonder how much that assistant coach in the photo gets paid to swiffer a LB's undercarriage.

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dobber's picture

June 30, 2017 at 08:15 pm

You have a way with words, Oppy!

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LayingTheLawe's picture

June 30, 2017 at 08:52 pm

That's Cobb he's tickling in the picture.

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Oppy's picture

June 30, 2017 at 10:59 pm

Good call, I thought it was 48 on the jersey as opposed to 18.

Even those quick receivers can collect cobwebs on their codpiece, apparently. (Alliteration for Dobber.)

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The TKstinator's picture

July 01, 2017 at 12:04 am

I thought it was a very low level limbo.

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LayingTheLawe's picture

June 30, 2017 at 08:39 pm

The Packers should be a matchup nightmare. With Nelson, Cobb, Adams, Kendricks, Bennett and Montgomery out of the backfield that is more pass catchers than can get on the field at one time. They should be able to analyze the other teams defense and decide where they can attack and how best to do it with multiple formations.

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pack13xwc's picture

July 04, 2017 at 11:28 pm

Yeah but Sitton and Lang are aging and became more expensive. Did not Sitton suffer injury in his new team system at MN? Lang was coming off a late season injury in GB, may be a thorn in DTR too. Evans is a former all pro and coming off a decent yr in N.O.- Evans came onboard at a good price. All 3 of these guys are all pro and have a few good yrs left most likely; but at what cost and risk of injury? Sometimes you pay for broken down, breaking down vets. Sometimes you luck out, it's always a gamble. Ted tends to go cheap with promising prospects while building and developing depth. Taylor stepped right in and never missed a beat really. Spriggs has promise. Amichia, Murphy? We'll see how that all goes down the line but TT's kept good OLines plugged in for the most part.

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