The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints boasted two of the great attacks in NFL history last season. In the Super Bowl era, Green Bay's output of 35.0 points per game ranks second while New Orleans' 34.2-point average ranks fourth. Aaron Rodgers was the NFL's MVP and set a league record for passer rating. Drew Brees set league records for passing yards, completions and completion percentage.
With Rodgers and Brees, these teams have scored at a ridiculous rate. Rodgers' 27.9 points per start is tops in NFL history. Over the last two-plus years, New Orleans and Green Bay trail only New England in scoring (31.8 for Patriots, 29.0 for Saints, 28.7 for Packers) and 30-point games (25 for Patriots, 17 for Saints, 16 for Packers). Since 2006, when coach Mike McCarthy took over in Green Bay and Sean Payton in New Orleans, the Packers and Saints are the only teams to finish in the top 10 in total offense all six seasons.
It's been a different story this season.
It's early, as everyone involved is quick to remind, but the Saints' offensive engine isn't firing on all cylinders and the Packers' scoring express has come off the rails.
With 27.6 points per game, New Orleans ranks a respectable ninth in the league, even while Brees ranks 24th in completion percentage at 54.7. The Packers would love to be so inefficient. Incredibly, only four teams are averaging less than their 19.0 points per game.
Green Bay has scored six touchdowns in three games – and that's including a punt return by Randall Cobb and a fake field goal by Tom Crabtree. Against Denver last season, Rodgers accounted for six touchdowns by himself.
"There's a lot of things that we actually talked about in the preseason," Rodgers said, "when the questions were, ‘How can you improve on last year?' It was a lot of things that the coaches told us. It was red zone TD percentage (and) third-down percentage. You've got to cash in those opportunities, you've got to convert third downs, give you more opportunities. A game like (Monday) night is like the game against Chicago. You feel like you left a lot of points on the board."
Rodgers is right. On third down, the Packers rank 15th by converting 40.5 percent of the time. Last season, they ranked third at 48.1 percent – the team's second-best rate since 1970. In the red zone, the Packers are tied for 11th at 57.1 percent touchdowns. Last year, they ranked third at 65.2 percent.
The passing game hardly looks like the same unit run by an MVP quarterback and a bunch of run-after-catch receivers.
The coaches swear they're getting close — quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, receivers coach Edgar Bennett and offensive line coach James Campen all used that word in interviews this week. Given the offense's track record, that seems like a logical conclusion. Then again, that was the defensive coaches' mantra throughout last season and, rather than progressing, that unit regressed.
"If you think you're going to roll the ball out there and do the same thing you did last year just because you did it last year, I don't agree with that mind-set," McCarthy said. "There are some things we did a little differently in camp. Camp didn't go as smoothly as we probably would have liked. We're not in rhythm probably like we should be."
At this point last season, Rodgers had thrown eight touchdown passes against one interception, with games of 312 yards against New Orleans, 308 yards against Carolina and 297 yards against Chicago. This season, he's got three touchdowns against two interceptions, with games of 303 yards against San Francisco, 219 yards against Chicago and 223 yards against Seattle. His 6.48 yards per attempt is well below last year's league-leading 9.25.
"It'll be good to get on the field again," McAdoo said. "Obviously, things didn't go the way we wanted to the other night and so far this season, but we feel we're close. We're patient with what we're doing, we're persistant in what we believe in and if we minimize our mistakes along the way, I feel we're going to make progress and get going.
Of course, Rodgers can't do it alone. The offensive line gave up eight sacks against Seattle, and the receivers have struggled to get open and struggled to make much happen after they get the ball. Last year, Green Bay led the league with 13.7 yards per reception. This year, they're last at 9.8 per catch.
"You know what? I look at it this way: You always look at the person in the mirror," Bennett said. "We always look at what we can do to improve and what we can do to make the situation better. Obviously, when you talk about the passing game, a lot goes into it from a number of positions. We always look at ourselves first and fix the errors that we know we can control. There are things that we see on tape that we need to be better at and will be better at."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.