The Green Bay Packers’ offense could not be stopped.
In 2011, the Packers piled up 560 points — the second-most in NFL history at the time.
With 45 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 122.5 passer rating, Aaron Rodgers won his first MVP. That season was the last time the Packers had premier receiver Jordy Nelson and explosive tight end Jermichael Finley for a full season.
With the return of Nelson and the addition of playmaking tight end Jared Cook, the expectations were immense entering 2016.
“I don’t want to make that big of a statement yet,” Rodgers said in June. “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.”
Rodgers was right to dampen the expectations. It took a while for Nelson to hit his stride. Cook missed six games with an injured ankle. When Eddie Lacy went down, a powerhouse running game crumbled.
Rodgers struggled — and the critics circled like vultures.
“I would say that it was a little premature,” Rodgers said to Giants beat reporters during his conference all on Wednesday. “As we have seen now that those comments are gone and those few, same people who get excited for stories like that haven’t asked for any interview requests lately.”
During a six-game winning streak that carried the Packers to the NFC North title and into Sunday’s playoff showdown against the Giants, the offense found its groove. That’s especially true during the last four games: 38 points against Seattle, 30 against Chicago, 38 against Minnesota and 31 on Sunday night at Detroit.
In the last four weeks, the Packers averaged 34.25 points. During the full 2011 season, the Packers averaged 35.0.
During those same four weeks, Rodgers has been as lethal as ever. He ranks second with a 125.0 passer rating, tied for first with 11 touchdowns, third with 1,145 passing yards, third with 70.2 percent accuracy and second with 8.74 yards per attempt.
It took most of the season, but this is an offense that is firing on all cylinders. An offense that looked unstoppable on paper at the start of training camp has been practically unstoppable in reality over the last four weeks.
The Packers only sporadically ran the football in 2011, with James Starks leading the team with just 578 yards. The Packers have only run the ball sporadically this season since Lacy’s injury, with receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery rushing for 162 yards against the Bears but a total of 148 yards in the two games before and the two games after the Chicago game.
But as was the case in 2011, the lack of a running game hasn’t really mattered. In 2011, Nelson, Greg Jennings, Finley, James Jones and Donald Driver all caught at least 37 passes and combined for 45 touchdowns. This season, six players have at least 30 receptions and combined for 33 touchdowns.
That offensive balance was evident in last week’s game at Detroit. On the Packers’ first touchdown drive, all 71 yards came from fullback Aaron Ripkowski and tight ends Cook and Richard Rodgers. Nelson, Adams, Randall Cobb (inactive) and Montgomery didn’t touch the ball. On the Packers’ next touchdown drive, receivers accounted for six receptions.
“You look at the personnel, we’ve got a lot of guys who weren’t playing for a while,” Rodgers said at his locker on Wednesday. “We’ve got Christine Michael, we’ve got Ripkowski, we’ve got Ty. Richard has made some plays for us, obviously Cookie has done some good things for us. But we can line up a lot of different guys out there in different spots and be successful right now.”
Of course, that 2011 season didn’t have a happy ending. It ended with a loss to the Giants. Their coach, Ben McAdoo, was in his sixth season as a Packers assistant. He sees a quarterback who’s on top of his game.
“I just see a guy that’s playing with an edge, he’s playing very confident,” McAdoo said. “His fundamentals look good. He’s confident in the players around him that they’re going to make plays for him and he’s playing with a killer instinct.”
That killer instinct has Rodgers in the MVP race and the Packers in the championship chase.
“I feel like I’m playing the way that this team needs me to play,” Rodgers said, “be efficient, making good decisions and taking care of the football.”
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.