In 2012, opposing defenses turned the tables a bit. Defensive coordinators played with two deep safeties and dared the Packers to either dink-and-dunk their way down the field or turn to their impotent running game.
It worked as well as could be expected. Green Bay’s scoring output dipped to 27.1 points per game. Aaron Rodgers went from 4,643 passing yards and 45 touchdowns in 15 games to 4,295 passing yards and 39 touchdowns in 16 games.
Throughout the following offseason, the goal was to field a competent running game to either take advantage of those two-deep schemes or to run them out of that scheme by forcing one of those safeties to player closer to the line of scrimmage.
Even without Rodgers for half of the season, Green Bay averaged 26.1 points per game.
And Rodgers’ numbers rebounded in a big way. With an elite running game at his disposal for the first time in his career, he threw for 2,509 yards and 17 touchdowns in his eight full games -- putting him on pace for 5,018 yards and 34 touchdowns. While the touchdown total was down from 2011 and 2012, the team averaged 30.6 points in the eight games he finished.
The key number that shows the impact of the running game was Rodgers’ yardage per passing attempt. In that high-flying 2011 season, he averaged 9.25 yards per attempt. That was the fourth-highest figure since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. In 2012, with defenses taking away the big play, Rodgers averaged 7.78 yards per attempt. In 2013, with Lacy and Starks at least partially occupying defenses’ thoughts, Rodgers averaged 8.74 yards per attempt. That trailed only the Eagles’ Nick Foles (9.12 per attempt).
The impact of the running game became apparent once the calendar turned to October. In his final four starts before Rodgers was injured, he averaged 8.93 yards per attempt and threw touchdowns of 64, 76 and 83 yards.
For his career, Rodgers averages 8.19 yards per attempt. Among quarterbacks with 1,500 career attempts, only Hall of Famers Otto Graham (8.63 yards per attempt) and Sid Luckman (8.42 per attempt) have higher averages. He’s never finished outside the top 10 in that category in his six seasons as the starter, including top-five finishes in each of the past five seasons. When he averages at least 8.00 yards per attempt (at least 12 attempts), the Packers are 41-9.
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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.