Photo by Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAYDon’t mess with success.
The Green Bay Packers’ offense was a rousing success last season. The Packers scored a league-high 30.4 points per game. They also ranked first in yards per play, passing yards per play and interception percentage, third in third-down success and sixth in total yards. The Packers tied the franchise record for fewest giveaways with a league-low 13 and established a record for most first downs.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
There’s been almost nothing broken about the Packers’ offense. Since Aaron Rodgers took over as quarterback in 2008, the Packers rank third in the NFL in scoring. Rodgers boasts the highest scoring average as a starting quarterback in NFL history. The three highest-scoring seasons in franchise history have come in the last six years. Since the 2009 season, the Packers have the second-fewest giveaways and have ranked outside the top nine in yards per play only once. Not coincidentally, the Packers are on a six-year streak of reaching the postseason, with a Super Bowl win in 2010 and division crowns each of the past four seasons.
Coach Mike McCarthy has been behind the wheel of that success as the team’s play-caller and mastermind of the weekly game plans. But in a major change of direction made following the NFC title game loss at Seattle — when the Packers’ championship hopes were sunk by special-teams blunders and their inability to put the game away early or turn the tide in the final few minutes — McCarthy handed the keys of the offensive machine to associate head coach Tom Clements, who will call the plays, Edgar Bennett, who replaces Clements as offensive coordinator, and Rodgers, who had earned a larger and larger say in things, anyway.
McCarthy, in effect, has bet on himself by betting on everyone else. Can he help raise the level of play on defense and special teams? And can the finely tuned machine he helped build on offense continue to roll at 100 mph without his constant oversight?
“I enjoy coaching,” McCarthy said in May. “Coaching is still coaching, regardless of what position you work with. As long as you’re around the players, coaching, that's where I want to be. I think the frustrations that every head coach goes through is when he’s pulled away from the X’s and O’s, he’s pulled away from the field and the administrative responsibilities are a little too high.”
If plenty is changing in McCarthy’s world, Rodgers said “not much” is changing from his perspective. Obviously, without his complete understanding of the offense and his ability to outwit defenses at the line of scrimmage, none of this would be happening.
“I’ve always had a lot of freedom,” Rodgers said. “It’s just occasionally the personnel groupings restricts some of the checks you can make. That’s kind of a natural progression for a quarterback who’s been in a system for a long time — if they can handle it — to do more things. I have always liked a good starting point for a play, and then have the ability to get us in a better play if you can do it quickly and it’s clean.”
Is the system McCarthy built so strong that it can continue to thrive without its architect? Is Rodgers so good that it doesn’t matter who’s calling the shots? And is McCarthy so good that he can help the defense and special teams be as dynamic as the offense he helped build?
“Mike has always been about the team,” Rodgers said, “and this is something he thinks is in the best interest of the offense and of the football team, and that’s why he made the decision. We’ll just keep on moving forward and keep on trying to be a very dangerous offense.”
Offense Rankings, 2008-2014
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Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.