Following the Packers last second win over the 49ers, a few things stood out. The first is, kudos to Mason Crosby on rebounding from a horrendous game against Detroit. A lot of people were calling for his job, and the man silenced his critics in 1 game. The other is that this team simply isn’t as efficient as they should be offensively, especially in the red zone. There is absolutely no reason the Packers should be 22nd in the NFL in red zone efficiency.
When you have Aaron Rodgers, hobbled or not, as your quarterback, 50% of your red zone opportunities shouldn’t end in a field goal or turnover. Part of this is coaching, part of it is Rodgers, and part of it is execution. The problem is, the packers have multiple players who are red zone terrors, there should be no reason this team is struggling in this part of the field. Here’s just a few of the reasons for both optimism and pessimism about the Packers red zone struggles.
Aaron Rodgers is Elite in the Red Zone, but…
Rodgers is the one who is effectively calling plays at the line and deciding where the ball is going, which factors in quite considerably. In 2016, Rodgers threw a staggering 33 TDs in the red zone, zero interceptions, and a 61% completion percentage, ranking 1st in red zone efficiency. In 2014, 2012, and 2011, he was top 5 in red zone touchdowns, and in healthy seasons, has never ranked lower than 11th. Couple this with the most efficient passer in the history of the NFL, and you have what should be the most dangerous QB in the red zone. So, what’s the problem?
The Packers still have 9 red zone touchdown passes, which is still top 10, but Rodgers has a paltry 44% completion percentage there. Part of it is his limitations with his knee, and likely a lack of chemistry with some of his weapons, but he simply needs to be better there, and he knows it, too. The fact of the matter is, the Packers have a plethora of options in the red zone, and Rodgers needs to find a way to get these guys the ball. A few of them include…
Davante Adams – Breaker of Ankles, King of the Red Zone
In a league full of absurd athletes, no one has more targets, receptions, or touchdowns in the red zone than Davante Adams since 2016. Through 6 games, Adams ranks 3rd in red zone targets, 5th in receptions, and 1st in touchdowns. There is only one thing to say about that – Elite.
Now I know the gut reaction will be “well, that means the rest of the receivers need to step up,” and it wouldn’t be entirely far-fetched. No other Packers receiver even ranks in the top 50 in red zone touchdowns, targets, or receptions. The easy answer would be to say that the other receivers are under-performing, but when you have another elite red zone receiving option on your team, it’s not that simple.
Jimmy Graham’s Utilization
In 2017, nobody had more targets or touchdowns in the red zone, and only 1 person had more receptions than Jimmy Graham. What does those numbers look like over the course of his career? Since 2010, Graham ranks 2nd in targets and receptions in the red zone, and 1st in touchdowns. To say he is a menace in the red zone is an understatement. 2018 is an entirely different story. Graham has 5 targets, 3 receptions, and 1 touchdown, despite being on pace to break Packer TE reception records.
One thing that should be mentioned is that Graham is 31 and isn’t the same player he was when he was in his prime, or after his horrible knee injury. The problem is, none of that should matter in the red zone. He’s still a 6’7, 265 lbs receiver lined up against corners, linebackers and safeties lucky to be even ¾ his size. He should, and is, able to box out defenders. His lack of usage here falls squarely on McCarthy and Rodgers.
Green Bay’s Efficient Red Zone Run Game
Couldn’t go a week without talking about the Packers run game! A year ago, the Packers graded out as one of the most efficient run offense in the red zone according to PFF. They note that the tandem of Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery rated out positively (77.2 and 71.7, respectively), while Williams, receiving a bulk of the carries, did not (60.2). For those who don’t like their method of arbitrary ratings, that’s fine…the stats suggest the same thing.
In 2017, Williams ran 21 times for 53 yards and 4 touchdowns in the red zone, good for 2.52 yards per carry. Jones (10/62/3 with a 6.2 ypc) and Montgomery (10/31/2 with a 3.1 ypc) had fewer carries, more yards and more touchdowns than Williams in this area of the field. 2018 is worse. Williams is 5/6/0 for a whopping 1.2 yards per carry in the red zone. Jones is 5/21/1 for 5.25 yards per carry, and Montgomery is 3/7/1 for 2.33 yards per carry in the red zone.
Now, it’s not entirely unfair to suggest that some if not most of Williams’ carries are toward the goal line, and that yards per carry isn’t indicative of success there, and that’s understandable…to a point. The problem is he had 10 touches inside the 10 yard line, 8 of those within the 5 yard line in 2017, and ZERO attempts within the 5 yard line this year. So 18 of his 26 career carries have come between the 20-5 yard line, for a red zone line of 18/51/0 for 2.83 yards per carry, he is simply not productive anywhere in the red zone other than within the 5 yard line. Which begs the question – why, if he is productive within the 5 yard line, has he not received a single carry there in 2018?
So, yes coach, running back is more than just running the ball. However, when your offense ranks 22nd in red zone efficiency, your QB is hobbled, you’re failing to utilize one of the best red zone targets of all time, and the running back getting the bulk of red zone carries since 2017 is averaging 2.23 yards per carry there, you might want to consider some alternative options.
Other things of note
In running the numbers for Graham’s stats since 2010, I found it interesting that Cobb ranks to 25 in the red zone in that same time frame, despite being drafted in 2011, limited snaps until 2012, and injury riddled seasons in 2013, 2015 and 2016. Also, of note, Marcedes Lewis is top 50 in targets and touchdowns in that same period, despite terrible quarterbacks most of his career, making his lack of usage confusing as well.
There is nowhere to go but up from here. It’s hard to see Rodgers being any worse in the red zone than he has, and he will only get healthier after the bye week. Adams will likely continue to draw attention in the red zone and will likely open opportunities for others. It seemed like the Packers were finally utilizing Graham in the San Francisco game, snatching over 100 yards for the first time with Green Bay. My only concern is the running game usage, as Jones continues to get out snapped (significantly) by the other 2 backs, despite being their best rusher. Hopefully their ‘self-scout’ will unearth these issues, as well as finding ways to incorporate the young receivers, but time will tell.