The Green Bay Packers were never going to be able to keep their entire 2021 roster together. But among the departures of so many standout players, it would be easy to overlook offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett leaving to become head coach of the Denver Broncos.
Of course, reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers‘ return was most important.
“That was the number one piece we wanted back this offseason,” newly promoted Adam Stenavich told reporters on Tuesday.
With Rodgers back and Matt LaFleur in charge, the Packers will continue to have a dominant offense. But with a new right-hand man in Stenavich, what changes can we expect in the offensive game plan?
The former Michigan lineman has been an offensive line guru since joining the coaching ranks before adding run game coordinator to his resumé before the 2021 season.
Stenavich and newly promoted offensive line coach Luke Butkus did a phenomenal job last season working through the constant stream of injuries plaguing the line. With David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Billy Turner, and Josh Myers missing significant playing time, Stenavich got good play out of Green Bay’s many young and undrafted backups.
In the running game, the Packers had one of the best one-two punches, Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, who both had over 1,000 all-purpose yards. However, the run-blocking in the interior offensive line wasn’t great.
Last season LaFleur ran the overall offense, while Stenavich focused on the run game, Luke Getsy focused on the passing game, and Hackett was the master of the gold/red zone. Getsy and Hackett’s departures shake up that dynamic this season.
Stenavich was cheeky when asked whether he’d run the ball on the first play, telling reporters, “Well, there’s a 50-50 chance. So we’ll see.” He noted the offense will still be a collaborative effort, and LaFleur still calls the shots. But with Stenavich’s background in the run game, two elite running backs, and a dearth of wide receivers, it’s hard not to foresee a larger focus on the run game going forward.
However, that doesn’t mean just running the ball more frequently. LaFleur’s offense is predicated on the run game, but that’s part of the trickery. The marriage of the run and passing game is at the core of LaFleur’s offense. As noted by new/returning quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, a threatening run game makes play-action more effective.
“I thought [Rodgers] was playing a style more like when he was younger. When you can run the ball, it opens up a lot of things,” Clements said on Tuesday while noticing Rodgers was much more comfortable playing under center and in play-action.
Rodgers and LaFleur steered away from many of these concepts in 2021. The play-action, pre-snap motion, and jet sweeps that were prominent in 2020 faded as Rodgers played more hero ball. Stenavich’s run-game expertise should help Rodgers get back to playing within the offense. It should take pressure off of Rodgers while still allowing him to do what he does best.
Stenavich’s experience in the zone-run scheme will prove extremely valuable as the team makes these adjustments. With a bigger hand in the offense, the return of some key starters, and an extra offseason for their young guards to develop, the run-blocking should be much better in 2022.
Even if Stenavich hadn’t gotten the promotion, Green Bay’s offense needs to shift this way anyway. Rodgers won’t have Adams as a safety net. The Packers will address the wide receiver position in some way, ideally through adding many promising rookies and/or trading for an ascending player. But the new receiver(s) will need time to learn the playbook and build that ever-so-important trust and chemistry with Rodgers. Playing within the scheme more and leaning on the run game when needed is the best way to ease the new receivers in while getting Rodgers used to life without Adams.
Fortunately, we’ve seen the offense succeed without Adams in the past — LaFleur is 7-0 in games without Adams. LaFleur, Stenavich, and Hackett schemed some of their best work in games without Davante, and that creativity will get a workout in 2022.
LaFleur could have looked outside the organization for a new offensive coordinator. However, after an excellent showing with the offensive line, Stenavich earned a chance to grow into a new position. Hackett tried to recruit Stenavich, and it was clear it would only be a matter of time before the talented offensive line coach would get a promotion somewhere. Now, he’ll play a vital part in smoothing out the offensive kinks from 2020, creating a better marriage between the run and pass game, and preparing for a Davante Adams-less offense.