Teams routinely dedicate extra time in the offseason to preparing for their opening four opponents. That appears to be time well spent, as opposing defenses have taken the air out of the high-flying Packers passing game.
These numbers from the NFL's statistical service tell the story in the most dramatic of fashions. Last season, Aaron Rodgers' average pass went 9.07 yards down the field and his average completion was caught 7.66 yards from the line of scrimmage. Those figures ranked 13th and sixth, respectively, in the league. With Rodgers getting an additional 5.8 yards after the catch (fifth among quarterbacks), he averaged a stunning 9.25 yards per attempt. That not only led the league by three-fourths of a yard, but it was the fourth-highest figure since the 1970 merger.
It's been a different story this season. Rodgers' average pass is going 7.72 yards downfield and his average completion is being caught just 4.94 yards past the line of scrimmage. Those figures rank 23rd and 31st, respectively. With his pass-catchers averaging a pedestrian 5.1 yards after the catch, Rodgers is averaging just 6.87 yards per attempt — good for just 25th.
The 49ers and Bears, playing to their schemes, played with two deep safeties and forced the Packers to hunt and peck their way down the field and successfully slowed an attack that scored the second-most points in NFL history a year ago.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, 11 of Rodgers' attempts have been behind the line of scrimmage (15.3 percent) and 39 attempts were 0 to 9 yards down the field (54.2 percent). Added together, that's 69.4 percent — more than two-thirds — going less than 10 yards downfield.
Last season, the rates were 15.0 percent behind the line of scrimmage and 44.3 percent from 0 to 9 yards. That works out to 59.3 percent of his attempts being less than 10 yards.
You might expect Rodgers to have aired it out less frequently but that wouldn't be accurate. Rodgers has thrown the ball 20-plus yards downfield on 12.5 percent of his attempts this season compared to 12.7 percent last season. It's the success rate that's the major difference. He's completed 3-of-9 deep passes (33.3 percent) with one touchdown and no interceptions this season. Last season, he completed 33-of-66 deep passes (50.0 percent) with 14 touchdowns and just one interception.
The big difference has been on intermediate routes. Last season, that accounted for 27.9 percent of his attempts. This season, it's just 18.1 percent.
"We're going to have to be patient," receiver Jordy Nelson said. "This week could be different with the way they play — a little more one-high (safety) compared to the Cover-2 that we saw the first couple weeks. Hopefully, that will present more opportunities to go up the field."
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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.