Green Light in Red Zone

The Packers' offense has rebounded in a big way after a rare bad season in the red zone. That could be a major key against Carolina on Sunday. (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY)

Talk about Bizarro world.

Last season, even with four starting quarterbacks, the Green Bay Packers ranked third in offense with 400.3 yards per game. For all of that marching up and down the field, they had to settle for an eighth-ranked 26.1 points per game.

This season, Green Bay enters Sunday’s game against Carolina ranked a shockingly low 27th with 319.2 yards per game. You’d think 80 fewer yards per game would have a negative effect on the scoreboard. However, Green Bay is right on par with last season — an eighth-ranked 26.8 points per game.

It’s no wonder why coach Mike McCarthy said this week, “We were clearly not as efficient as we want to be after six games,” and Aaron Rodgers said, “I don’t think we’re on a roll yet. I think we’re playing OK.”

So, how have the Packers been able to pile up the points while not piling up the yards?

Turnovers certainly have helped. Green Bay has 13 takeaways in six games after tallying 22 all of last season.

Beyond that, though, Green Bay has been incredibly efficient in the red zone. It checks in at No. 6 with a touchdown rate of 69.6 percent. Compare that to last season, when the Packers finished a woeful 26th in red-zone offense, with touchdowns on 50.8 percent of their inside-the-20 possessions.

McCarthy was so happy with the question that he thanked a reporter for bringing it up on Friday.

“Really, when you have a season like we did, in any situation — offense, defense or special teams — you feel like you need to emphasize it," McCarthy said. "If you go back to the OTAs, you go back to the training camp, you take more reps. We’ve spent more time on the red zone really as a football team, and we’re seeing some benefits of that. But at the end of the day, I think it’s about staying in clean plays and we’re getting the ball in the end zone instead of kicking field goals, and we need to keep doing that. Credit goes to the players, but it was definitely an emphasis where more time and more energy was spent towards it in the offseason.”

Logically, the Packers’ problems last season had everything to do with Rodgers’ half-season absence. However, Rodgers’ presence had no bearing on the red-zone struggles.

In the first seven games with Rodgers in the lineup, the Packers went 14-of-28 in the red zone — a success rate of 50 percent.

In the next eight games, including the Chicago game in which Rodgers was injured, the Packers were slightly better. They went 16-of-31 — a success rate of 51.6 percent that was skewed by back-to-back games of 5-for-5 vs. Dallas and 4-for-6 vs. Pittsburgh with Matt Flynn at quarterback.

Upon Rodgers’ return for the Week 17 game against Chicago, Green Bay went 3-of-6 in the red zone.

All told, the Packers went 17-of-34 with Rodgers and 16-of-31 without him.

Contrast that to the previous five seasons, when Green Bay led the league with 61.6 percent touchdown efficiency. In 2012, Green Bay ranked third in the NFL by scoring touchdowns on 68.1 percent of its red zone possessions. That’s on top of red zone efficiency of 65.2 percent in 2011, 60.4 percent in 2010 and 60.4 percent in 2008. The Packers had finished in the top 10 in red-zone percentage in each of the past five seasons — the only team to accomplish that feat.

The red zone could be a big advantage for Green Bay on Sunday. Carolina’s defense ranks 28th with a touchdown rate of 70.6 percent. Rodgers has thrown 11 red-zone touchdown passes this season, increasing his career mark to 130 touchdowns and three interceptions. Cobb has six red-zone touchdowns.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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