It wasn't dink and dunk but, with defenses content to ignore a feeble running game to gang up on Aaron Rodgers and his receivers, it just wasn't up to par compared to past seasons. Rodgers' 7.8 yards per passing attempt was down from 8.2, 8.3 and 9.2 from the 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. Rodgers tied for ninth with 54 completions of 20-plus yards and 11th with nine completions of 40-plus yards in 2012 after finishing sixth with 65 and fourth with 13 in those categories in 2011.
Nonetheless, the Packers remained the team most capable of scoring from any place on the field. For the second consecutive season, Green Bay's offense led the league in points scored outside the red zone, defined as scoring drives in which the last play from scrimmage came from the 20-yard line or beyond. Coupled with Rodgers' exceptional play inside the red zone, it's little wonder why the Packers have fielded one of the most formidable offenses in the league the past several seasons.
Last season, Green Bay scored 155 points from the 20-yard line and beyond, four points better than Washington and 11 points better than Tampa Bay. Likewise, the Packers led the way with 17 touchdowns. The Packers scored 154 points from outside the red zone in 2011, giving them a two-year total of 309. Talk about dominance: That's about seven touchdowns better than second-place New Orleans (263) and another three touchdowns ahead of third-place Dallas (244).
Since STATS began tracking that stat in 1995, no team had finished first in back-to-back seasons. In fact, Green Bay has finished in the top 10 in five of the past six seasons, including second place with 150 points in 2007 and third place with 134 points in 2009.
Not surprisingly, the credit lies mostly with Rodgers and the passing game. Rodgers' 15 touchdown passes from outside the red zone led the league, with Tony Romo (14) second and Drew Brees (12) third.
As with the offense in general, that explosiveness wasn't on display early in the season. It was Tim Masthay who accounted for the first touchdown from outside the red zone, with his 27-yard scoring toss to Tom Crabtree in Week 2 against Chicago. In fact, Rodgers didn't get his first until hooking up with Randall Cobb from 31 yards in Week 5 against Indianapolis.
Cobb led the team with four touchdowns scored from outside the red zone (31, 39, 21 and 22 yards), a total that doesn't include his 72-yard punt return for a touchdown against San Francisco. Amazingly considering the big-name talent on offense, it was Crabtree who had two of the three longest touchdowns of the season, with his 72-yarder against Arizona and a 48-yarder at Houston.
Jordy Nelson, with a long of 61 yards, and James Jones, with a long of 32 yards, added three touchdowns from outside the red zone. Donald Driver added one from 26 yards and Jermichael Finley scored from 20 yards.
Plus, Rodgers added a 27-yard touchdown run and James Starks scored from 22 to account for the other beyond-the-20 touchdowns.
Missing from that list is Greg Jennings, who was sidelined for half the season. Of his 53 career touchdown catches, 27 have come from outside the red zone. That includes five of his nine scores in 2011 and five of his 12 in 2010.
With Jennings permanently out of the equation – and who could possibly replace Crabtree's prowess? – the Packers will need to find their big-play production in other ways. One asset should be a better running game. Rodgers' 102.0 rating on play-action passes ranked 12th in the league. Incredibly, his 61.1 percent accuracy ranked 16th, and the differential between his "regular" completion percentage and play-action percentage was a negative-7.9 percent. Only three quarterbacks misfired more often, by comparison, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
"In previous years, our action passing game was very productive," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "We hit some big shots down the field. And we didn't get the type of reaction on the run-fakes that we had gotten previously, when we were able to run the ball better. Hopefully we get that and they have to come up and stop it, and we get that reaction."
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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.