Assessing the Green Bay Packers' Offense
While Week 8 produced plenty of carnage on the field in the way of injuries, the Green Bay Packers did not receive any of it then. Instead, they lost Jordy Nelson before the season even started.
Although Nelson went down for the year, the expectations surrounding Green Bay were still very optimistic because they had one of the game's best quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers. With Rodgers running an offense, the belief is that it should be nearly invincible no matter what the circumstance is. Until this year, that trend was accurate, but now this no longer looks correct.
While the Packers started the year with a passing offense looking as potent as ever, that is quickly coming to a halt. Now that other teams have tape on how to handle the offense without Nelson, they are taking advantage of the Packers' weaknesses and making the offense look more normal than ever before.
Historic 2014 Success
The Packers' 2014 passing offense produced at a near historic offense as it finished the year with a 164.93 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP), which indicates how the passing offense played relative to historical expectation level and is adjusted for schedule rank. That total ranked 13th among all teams since 2000.
Their 2011 team ranked 3rd in the same category (226.53), and the 2012 unit ranked 35th (136.00).
Through Green Bay's first six games in 2014, they had an Adjusted Passing NEP of 58.38, close to the pace that caused them to finish with their 164.93 at the end of the year last year (this would have had them on pace for 155.68). In that time, their run game had a -7.65 Adjusted Rushing NEP; Eddie Lacy is no stranger to slow starts to the year. They turned this around, finishing with a 4.62 Adjusted Rushing NEP and tied for 11th in this metric with Denver.
Through Week 6 last year, Rodgers had a 48.76 Passing NEP, which ranked him seventh; he did so with a 0.24 Passing NEP per play that placed him sixth.
At the time, he also had the 12th highest Passing Success Rate (50.49%), which indicates the rate of drop backs that lead to NEP gains. Rodgers ended the year on a tear as he finished with a 188.41 Passing NEP, 0.34 Passing NEP Per Play, and a 53.47% Passing Success Rate. Both NEP metrics ranked Rodgers as the best quarterback last year, and his Success Rate was only behind Tony Romo.
Although Rodgers started slowly through Week 6 last year, Nelson did not. He paced the league with a 56.08 Reception NEP at the time, and his running mate, Randall Cobb, was 12th with a 38.01 Reception NEP. These two stayed hot all year, and Nelson finished with a Reception NEP of 140.05 while Cobb finished with a 119.13 Reception NEP, ranking them fourth and seventh, respectively.
Among receivers with at least 48 targets, Cobb (0.94) and Nelson (0.93) finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in terms of Reception NEP per target.
In this same time, Lacy was in the bottom 10 for Rushing NEP among running backs with at least 48 carries, as he had a -10.40 Rushing NEP. Although Lacy had a better second half to the year, he still finished with a paltry -7.76 Rushing NEP.
While the Packers are on a similar starting pace through Week 6 like they were last year, the offense does not look or feel like it is nearly the same.
Before their game against Denver, the Packers ranked 7th in Adjusted Passing NEP and 12th in Adjusted Rushing NEP. Their 47.10 Adjusted Passing NEP was behind last year's 58.38 Adjusted Passing NEP, but their 6.55 Adjusted Rushing NEP is already ahead of their end-of-season Adjusted Rushing NEP from last year. Their 55.48 Adjusted NEP is behind their 68.96 Adjusted NEP from this time last year.
While this may appear promising on the surface, the majority of the Packers' offensive success occurred during the first three games. In that time, they posted a 42.02 Adjusted Passing NEP, and since then, they have posted only a 5.08 Adjusted Passing NEP before they faced the Broncos.
Leading up to that game, Rodgers had a 52.46 Passing NEP with a 0.27 Passing NEP per play and a 52.85% Passing Success Rate; he ranked sixth for Passing NEP, fourth on a per-play basis, and sixth in Passing Success Rate among quarterbacks with at least 193 drop backs. Although the passing game is not up to par as a whole, Rodgers is still performing at his elite level.
The receiving corps is not producing near last year's levels, as James Jones is leading the team with a 44.69 Reception NEP, ranking him 16th among receivers, and Cobb is 30th with a 31.15 Reception NEP. While Jones is pacing receivers with a 1.54 Reception NEP per target, Cobb sits 56th among receivers with at least 20 targets, as he has a 0.66 Reception NEP per target.
In Week 8, the Packers' receivers caught only 14 passes (of 22 attempts) for 77 yards. Rodgers produced a horrendous -7.16 Passing NEP on the day, and Lacy posted a -0.61 Rushing NEP.
In Week 6, Jeff Janis posted 2 receptions for 79 yards, the 5th highest single game yardage total for any Packers receiver on the year, and more yards than the whole receiving corps posted against Denver in Week 8.
While Janis may not solve all the offensive struggles right now, he has an athletic profile that makes Nelson's look normal. They are both similar in height and weight, and both produced in college. Janis is the only deep threat on this offense besides Nelson who can open up the defense to help the rest of the offense.
The Packers have all that they need for offensive success on their team.
Rodgers fits the elite quarterback profile, as he continues to produce at the highest level no matter who surrounds him.
Unfortunately for the Packers, opposing defenses now know their limitations and can exploit them going forward unless the Packers adjust soon. Their schedule for the rest of the year has them facing a mixed bag of both very good and very bad passing defenses according to our metrics.
With Rodgers at the helm, there is no need to fear the easy defenses, but as Denver showed, this offense has weaknesses that good defenses can exploit.
If the Packers plan to get on track like last year, then they would likely benefit from giving Janis an opportunity because, even though he is not Nelson, he should stretch the defense enough to help the rest of the offense.
If the Packers want to waste Janis away on the sideline, then Rodgers will not be telling Packers fans to relax anytime soon.