Packers offense scoring points but still struggling on 3rd downs and in red zone

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) task with head coach Matt LaFleur during the fourth quarter of their game Monday, December 19, 2022 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Green Bay Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams 24-12.Packers19 5
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) task with head coach Matt LaFleur during the fourth quarter of their game Monday, December 19, 2022 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Green Bay Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams 24-12.Packers19 5 /

Really since the Green Bay Packers Week 10 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, the offensive side of the ball has been trending upwards. This was, of course, Christian Watson’s breakout game, and the offensive line was also healthy and began playing its best football of the season as well.

During this stretch of six games, the Packers are averaging 26.5 points per contest, including three games where they score at least 28 and just one with less than 24. For some context, if the Packers averaged 26.5 points for the entire season, they would currently rank fifth in points per game scored. They’ve also been very efficient for much of this stretch as well, ranking as the fourth-best offense by DVOA over the last five games.

However, if there is one area where they continue to remain very up and down, even in this productive stretch, it’s on third downs and in the red zone. Overall this season, the Packers rank 20th on third down conversion rate at 38% and 24th in red zone success rate at 51%. They are even worse in goal-to-go situations, ranking 32nd.

In that same span of five games where the Packers rank fourth in DVOA, they are a combined 20-for-59 on third downs and 8-for-15 inside the 20-yard line. That third down success rate of 33% is actually below their season average, and their red zone rate is right on par with their season average. Ironically, the Packers’ best game in each category came against Tennessee, where they scored just 17 points.

Unfortunately, these red zone woes aren’t terribly new for the Packers after they ranked 18th in success rate last season, but that still included a higher success rate by almost six percent. Green Bay also averaged almost one more red zone visit per game in 2021 compared to this year.

When the Packers’ offense is finding success, they are largely avoiding third downs, which means success on first downs has become almost a must for this unit. When faced with predictable passing situations on third downs, for much of the year, the passing game simply hasn’t been good enough for Green Bay to lean on it heavily–or at least not with any regularity. The fourth quarter against the Titans is a recent example of this.

In total, Green Bay’s average distance to gain on third downs this season is actually slightly down from 2021, but their success rate has dropped nearly five percent, illustrating the growing pains that the offense has gone through.

In the red zone, Matt LaFleur talked after the Miami game about how defenses are daring the Packers to throw the ball in those situations. Given that the field is condensed inside the 20-yard line and especially inside the 10, passing the ball innately becomes more difficult just because there are more defenders in a smaller space. Even with Watson’s emergence, Green Bay hasn’t had that go-to option in the red zone this season without Davante Adams–although, as we saw in Miami, where Rodgers took a sack and threw behind Watson on another play, he hasn’t been at his best either.

"“I think that we have to look at everything, and certainly, when you have a guy like that (Davante Adams) that you can kind of lean on in the pass game, it definitely makes it a little bit easier,” LaFleur said via Packers Wire. “We will look at everything and try to come up with some things that can counter some of the things that teams have done to us. We’ve seen a lot of loaded boxes where they’re daring you to throw the football, and it makes it very, very difficult at times to run it in.”"

If anything, these results on third down and in the red zone help illustrate what offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich was talking about a few weeks ago when he mentioned that Green Bay’s success on offense begins with the ground game. Without question, the passing game has improved, and Watson’s play has greatly impacted the offense and how defenses defend Green Bay even when he doesn’t have the ball, but in those must-have-it situations on third down and in the red zone, the overall passing game hasn’t been consistent enough.

Some good news, however, is that after the Packers spent most of this season as one of, if not the worst fourth down offense in football, their success on that down as of late has helped overcome their inefficiencies on third downs. In the last five games, Green Bay has converted seven out of their 12 fourth-down attempts to help keep the chains moving.

This week the Packers will try to keep their playoff hopes alive against a Minnesota defense that ranks 15th in red zone defense and ninth on third downs. The Vikings’ offense is averaging 25.2 points per game, good for the seventh-best rate in football, which means short drives and field goals by the Green Bay offense may not be good enough to beat this team.

Despite the Packers’ issues on third downs and in the red zone, they’ve still managed to put up points over the month and half; if they can become more consistent in those key situations, opposing offenses are going to have a difficult time outscoring Green Bay.