Independence Day means fireworks, and the Green Bay Packers’ offense has produced plenty of fireworks during the Aaron Rodgers era.
Since 2009, the Packers have produced three of the 20 seasons of at least 460 points. Green Bay led the NFL in scoring in 2011 with 560 points — the third-most in NFL history — and again in 2014 with 486 points. In 2009, the Packers finished third with 461 points.
Can the Packers return to that Roman Candle-like pace in 2016 after mustering the water-soaked-firecracker equivalent of 368 points last season? Yes, and here’s why it will happen.
THE RETURN OF NELSON
In 2014, Jordy Nelson turned in one of the great receiving seasons in NFL history. He caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. Only six players have matched or eclipsed all three of those numbers in a single season. Without that barrage of big plays, the offense suffered as defenses acted like boa constrictors in choking off the rest of the Green Bay attack. Rodgers entered last season ranked third in NFL history with 8.22 yards per attempt. Last year, he ranked 30th with 6.68 yards per attempt.
Nelson’s impact should create space for the rest of the receiver corps. Randall Cobb’s production dropped by 12 receptions, 458 yards, six touchdowns and 3.6 yards per reception. Davante Adams caught more passes for more yards but saw his yards per catch dip by 2.0 yards and his touchdown total dip from three to one. Worse, his yards-per-target ranked at the bottom of the league’s receivers.
A MOTIVATED LACY
Eddie Lacy’s weight was a hot topic of conversation last season and again throughout the offseason. There’s probably not much reason to worry about where his fitness will stand when he arrives for camp in three weeks. After all, he’s playing for a new contract. That means there are millions of reasons for Lacy to return to his 2014 form, when he not only rushed for 1,139 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry but caught 42 passes and finished third in the NFL in yards after the catch per catch.
“I’m not too focused on that,” Lacy said. “That don’t matter if I don’t do what I have to do.”
THE COMBINED IMPACT OF THOSE TWO
Assuming Nelson returns to form and Lacy, to use a mismatched pun, rounds into form, the Packers will leave opposing defenses in a predicament similar to 2014, when they scored a league-high 30.4 points per game. As a defensive coordinator, do you play a deep safety for fear of the deep ball, only to be undermanned against Lacy and the quick passing game to Cobb and, perhaps, Ty Montgomery? Or, as coordinators did last year, do you try to take away Lacy to hopefully get the Packers into second- and third-and-long, at the risk of being beaten deep by Nelson and, perhaps, Jared Cook, Jeff Janis or Trevor Davis?
“I’m interested in how teams are going to play us,” Rodgers said.
Without Nelson, the Packers scored 7.4 fewer points per game compared to 2014. Their sporadic offensive production cost them the division title and, most likely, a victory at Arizona that would have sent them to Carolina for the NFC Championship Game.
The bright side is the impact last season’s problems should have on this season. Jared Abbrederis flashed his potential in losses to Detroit and Arizona, and Janis’ 145 receiving yards vs. Arizona were the third-most in franchise playoff history. GM Ted Thompson signed Cook, an explosive tight end, and drafted Davis, a fast and sure-handed prospect. There’s a lot of projection here — who knows how good Nelson will be or if Janis is truly ready to emerge, for instance — but the firepower could be in place to light up scoreboards once again.
A BIG-PLAY DEFENSE
Here’s the Packers’ formula: The offense takes a quick lead and the game turns into a blowout when the defense forces a turnover or three that the offense turns into more points. Over the last seven seasons, Green Bay has won 31 games by at least 14 points. Only New England (44) and Seattle (34) have won more. Extend that to 21 points, and Green Bay ranks second with 20 blowout victories.
Remember, this is a defense that routinely gives the offense extra possesions. Since Dom Capers took over as defensive coordinator in 2009, Green Bay has a league-high 148 interceptions — 17 more than any team in the league. More possessions means more opportunities for an offense that could be as explosive as any Fourth of July celebration.
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.