A year after leading the NFL in scoring, the Green Bay Packers’ offense fell into a hole from which there would be no escape. Green Bay wound up scoring 7.4 fewer points per game in 2015, in large part because Jordy Nelson’s torn ACL took away the team’s only deep threat.
With that as a backdrop, here’s a strange stat befitting a strange season: The Packers finished second in the league with 47 plays of 25-plus yards, just two behind Pittsburgh’s league-high total. Incredibly, they had eight more 25-yard gains in 2015 than they did in 2014, when they led the NFL in scoring.
“We know how to create big plays,” coach Mike McCarthy said following a 17-3 win at San Francisco in Week 4 that was the first sign that trouble was brewing.
McCarthy was right, though all of those big plays didn’t translate into enough production on the scoreboard.
Even with Nelson (and, later, Ty Montgomery) on injured reserve, receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams playing through injuries, and tight end Richard Rodgers offering next to nothing from a big-play perspective, Green Bay finished second with 39 passing plays of 25-plus yards. Only Pittsburgh (43) had more. James Jones led the way with 15 receptions of 25-plus yards, good for fifth in the NFL.
Regardless of the team’s personnel, the big-play barrage was nothing new: Over the past five seasons, Green Bay has recorded 226 plays of 25-plus yards, only three behind New Orleans’ NFL-best total. The Packers averaged 45.2 plays of 25-plus yards, so last year’s output was slightly above that rate. During that same span, Green Bay ranks first with 197 passing plays of 25-plus yards, one more than New Orleans.
So, what was the problem last season? The Packers lived and died by the big play. If they couldn’t strike for a big play, the offense just wasn’t good enough to consistently play move-the-chains football for 80-yard scoring drives.
Of Green Bay’s 40 offensive touchdowns last season, 13 of them covered at least 25 yards. Meanwhile, it ranked 19th with a three-and-out rate of 22.9 percent.
In 2014, Green Bay scored 52 offensive touchdowns. Again, 13 of them covered at least 25 yards, leaving the other 39 to come from closer to the game line. That’s a dozen more touchdowns that didn’t come directly from a big play. Meanwhile, its three-and-out rate of 13.6 percent was the second-best in the NFL.
With Nelson set to return to the lineup and the addition of tight end Jared Cook, the weapons appear to be in place for an offensive revival.
“I don’t want to make that big of a statement yet,” Rodgers said last month. “We’re going to wait until we see Jared healthy. And Jordy’s not back yet. So, I’m going to wait. We obviously think we have some good players and we look good on paper but I’m not going to get make any big expectations on our offense at this point.”
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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.