In Year 2 under Matt LaFleur, the Green Bay Packers’ offense has taken a big step forward.
The Green Bay Packers came into the 2020 season following a spectacular season in 2019, considering the fact that they went 13-3 under a rookie head coach in Matt LaFleur. There have been only two coaches in the history of the NFL to have a better record than LaFleur in their first year with their team, Jim Caldwell in 2009 with the Colts (lost to Saints in the Super Bowl), and George Seifert in 1989 with the 49ers (Won the Super Bowl).
LaFleur was in some pretty elite company following his first year in Green Bay and set the expectations very high among Packer fans. As an offensive head coach, the Green Bay Packers offense is one area that Packer fans always expect to be great, especially when you have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time under center.
As we all know, the Packers signed a receiver in the offseason, Devin Funchess. Funchess was expected to come into Green Bay and play a significant role in the offense; he was likely going to be WR2 or WR3 behind the guys like Davante Adams and Allen Lazard. But Funchess made the decision to opt out of the season due to COVID-19, citing family health as his reason. This left the Packers without a reliable 3rd target that they can really trust. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has flashed, but he needs to be more consistent, and Equanimeous St. Brown has a lot of talent, but neither of these players has proven to be consistent options at this point in their careers.
On top of all of that, as I am sure you have heard, the Green Bay Packers did not draft a single wide receiver in a class that was very deep at the position. That means that going into 2020, the offense that we saw in 2019 was largely going to be the same.
As previously stated, the Green Bay Packers’ offense did not change much in regards to the personnel that they would be using outside of A.J. Dillon and Josiah Deguara from time to time when those players are available. Based on this information, you would expect this offense to be similar to what it was last year as it is a lot of the same guys on the field. However, that has not been the case.
In 2019 the Packers offense averaged 23.5 points per game, which was good for 15th in the league, according to Pro-Football-Reference. Now in 2020, the Green Bay Packers offense is averaging 30.8 points per game, which is good for 3rd in the league. Only the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks have averaged more points per game than the Packers.
So how did this happen? What changed from 2019 to 2020?
Matt LaFleur was a very good head coach in 2019, he did a tremendous job with the team, and they played extremely well for the majority of the season. In 2020, however, he has been even better as we have seen more of his offensive philosophy. We heard over the course of the offseason that LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers were looking at this offense, figuring out what went right and what went wrong in 2019 to develop the ‘Packers offense.’
As a result, the Packers’ offense has been very fun to watch this year. And the reason it is so fun is that we are seeing some more innovation from LaFleur, and Rodgers is playing within the offense and taking what the defense gives him, which a lot of the time is a wide-open player as LaFleur does a good job scheming guys open.
As fans of this team, we have noticed a change in the offense from Year 1 to Year 2. We have seen the scheme change; it is no longer just 11 personnel or going to five wide like it was in Mike McCarthy’s offense. In 2020 there are a lot more condensed formations, pre-snap motion, and the illusion of complexity that LaFleur strives for.
What do condensed formations do for this offense? LaFleur likes to use condensed formations to help make it hard for defenses to get a gauge on what the offense is doing, and if in man coverage, it makes it hard for the defense to stay with their man. One example of this that comes to mind is in week two against the Detroit Lions, on the first 3rd down of the game for the Packers offense, Rodgers adjusts the formation at the line of scrimmage to a bunch formation on the right side, making Davante Adams is the lone wide receiver on the left side, with Robert Tonyan, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling bunched to the right, along with Aaron Jones in the backfield.
Valdes-Scantling is the outside most receiver on his side of the field; when the ball is snapped, Tonyan and Lazard take off vertically as Valdes-Scantling runs a shallow crossing route. This creates a natural pick, and the defensive back that is covering Valdes-Scantling cannot keep up as he has to navigate the traffic that the play design creates. LaFleur ran a very similar type of play with Jones later in that game in a similar situation and formation.
The pre-snap motion has also been a big part of the offense’s success in 2020. LaFleur does not give the ball to the player that is going on the jet or orbit motion nearly as often as you would expect with the number of times he uses pre-snap motion.
The pre-snap motion will get the defense or specific defenders moving one way, which can lead to a lot of different things. These players going in motion, namely Tyler Ervin, are explosive players, and handing them the ball while they are going in motion allows these players some space to make a play.
If they do not hand it to the motion player, they could hand it off to the running back, who is going in the opposite direction, which is advantageous for the Packers as the motion likely has the defense going in the other direction with their first step. Off of this, Rodgers can keep it off of play-action and look to make a play down the field. This is that illusion of complexity; all of these plays start with that same formation and same pre-snap motion but all end in a very different way.
Another aspect that has changed is that the Packer players have simply played better in 2020 than they did in 2019. Rodgers has had a resurgent year by all accounts. We have not seen this version of Rodgers since the ‘run the table’ stretch in 2016. In fact, we have only seen this version of Rodgers a few times, 2011, 2014, 2016, and 2020. In 2011 and 2014, Rodgers won the NFL MVP.
This season, Rodgers leads the league in touchdown percentage, passer rating, and ESPN’s QBR per Pro-Football-Reference. The only time in his career that he has led the league in those three categories was in 2011, so it is safe to say Rodgers is playing very well and is a big reason as to why the Green Bay Packers offense has been so great this year.
Davante Adams has gotten better seemingly every year he has been in the league, and 2020 is absolutely no expectation to that. Adams is currently 10th in the league in receiving yards while playing two to three fewer games than the players ahead of him in that category, according to ESPN. This means that Adams leads the league in receiving yards per game by 14.7 yards. The difference between first and second on this list is more than the difference between second and 13th. Adams has proven that he is truly one of the best receivers in the league this year, and that will make any offense better.
Allen Lazard has been another player for the Green Bay Packers that has continued his development. In 2019, he proved that he could have a rather big impact on this team. There has been a lot of excitement around Lazard coming into this year, and he has not disappointed while he has been on the field. The issue is we only saw Lazard and Adams on the field together for essentially a game and a half. When Adams and Lazard played in the same game this year, the Packers have averaged 42.5 points per game. Obviously, 2 games does not mean that when Lazard is back, the Packers will be averaging 40+ points per game.
Per Football Outsiders ($), Lazard has not qualified to be apart of the leaderboard, but if he did have enough passes to him, he would be the number one receiver in the league based on DVOA. This does mean that when Lazard is back on the field along with a healthy complement of offensive players around him, this offense can be absolutely electric. Dare I say close to the 2011 Packers’ offense? Is it crazy to think that the Packers would be averaging 35 points per game (that is what they averaged in 2011) if they had been healthy this entire season?
Adams, Lazard, and Jones have all missed time; outside of Rodgers and David Bakhtiari, those are the three most important players for the Packers’ offense.
Moving on to Aaron Jones, we saw a breakout performance from him in 2019, although he has not had as spectacular of a year in 2020, especially in regards to scoring touchdowns. But he has still been a good running back overall. Jones is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, which is better than his 2019 season, which was at 4.6 according to Pro-Football-Reference.
Jones continues to be a player that is very important to this offense because not only is he an effective runner of the football, he is also an important part of the passing game. When watching the game on Thursday Night Football against the San Francisco 49ers, it just seemed like the offense was different when Jones is on the field.
The Green Bay Packers offense will have a test coming up against the Indianapolis Colts defense, and if this offense is truly elite, we will see them put up some points against this stingy Colts defense.
What do you guys think of this Green Bay Packers’ offense in 2020? Does it compare at all to the juggernaut of 2011, the offense we saw in 2014, or the offense during the incredible ‘run the table’ stretch in 2016? Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter @DairylandXpress.