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The Packers back >< The offensive blindspot holding 2019 NY

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The Packers back >< The offensive blindspot holding 2019 NY

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Matt LaFleur can do it. Aaron Rodgers can do it. They just haven't put it all together. In the first quarter, the Green Bay Packers might as well be the Kansas City Chiefs. The offense hums, Rodgers slings the ball all over the yard, Green Bay jumps out to an early lead, and somewhere along the line the concert comes to a screeching halt. Is it the musicians? The composer? What exactly is going on that keeps the Packers from making the same sweet music beyond the first few series? A look at the numbers suggest the flaw is in approach.

When LaFleur comes to a situation with freedom, the opportunity to simply call his favorite play, his optimal call for any situation, the Packers offense produces. Green Bay leads the league in EPA (Estimated Points Added) on the first 15 plays of the game. LaFleur's ability to gameplan for opponents, identify weaknesses, and call concepts that exploit them, shine through early in games. It staked the Packers to a 21-0 lead in the Vikings game, a 7-0 lead over the Broncos, a 10-0 lead against the Eagles, and a 14-0, advantage over the Cowboys. Pouncing on opponents early reflects both a quality in scheme and execution, but it's often situation neutral. There are third-down calls or 2nd-and-long calls, but by and large scripting plays, so as long as the offense is moving relatively steadily, are often able to be called on 1st-and-10 as readily as 2nd-and-4.

In other words, the Packers aren't worrying about hitting targets; they're worried about calling the best play.

This has been where Rodgers looks his best. In the first quarter, so beyond the scripted plays but including them, Rodgers boasts a 133.6 passer rating and averages almost 11 yards per attempt. After that, his rating dips to 80, averaging 6.1 yards per attempt. Ty Schalter wrote about it for FiveThirtyEight. How can a coach and quarterback, so adept at identifying advantages to begin the game, completely fall apart after that? Presumably the advantages they see on tape, the ones inciting the playcalls on the script, stem from traits that can be further exploited during the run of play? It can't simply be the defenses are adjusted in ways the Packers haven't seen or couldn't anticipate. That wouldn't account for their issues every week.

Leads could. To be clear, this is an explanation rather than a justification. The Packers led the Vikings by three scores, the Cowboys by three scores, the Broncos by double-digits etc. Game situations can alter the aggressiveness of coaches and quarterbacks. Rodgers said after the Dallas game he believed it was his best effort of the season in part because he saw the field well and didn't turn the ball over. When you're winning, that's all the offense requires of the quarterback.

Don't screw it up.

To be sure, fans preferring not to have a heart attack would rather the coach and quarterback put the pedal to the metal. LaFleur said he wanted to do just that against the Eagles and came out of halftime with two straight possessions establishing the run. Those ideas run counter to one another. On the other hand, this offense hasn't been, by and large, a conservative one. In fact, they're third in early down pass rate with the game still in doubt and eighth in 2nd-and-long pass rate. As a result, they're one of the most effective offenses in the NFL, particularly throwing the ball, on first and second downs.

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