Green Bay Packers

The Red Zone's Influence On The Packers’ Playoff Chances

Photo Credit: Junfu Han-USA TODAY Sports

In an up-and-down offensive year, the Green Bay Packers had their worst offensive performance against the Detroit Lions. That was why they lost 15-9 in Week 9, even though the defense limited the explosive Lions offense to only two touchdowns. But that game wasn’t a total disaster in terms of offensive production. Specifically, it was a disaster in the red zone.

In that game, the Packers had six trips to the red zone and finished the game with only nine points. That awful performance included drives in which they advanced to the five- and later the one-yard line and left the field with no points.

The lack of red-zone efficiency was not a one-game fluke. The Packers are 23rd in touchdown percentage in trips to the red zone, with 51.92%, down from 57.53% last season. Conversely, the Lions have a 68.25% efficiency, fourth in the league.

Even with such a bad situational offense, the Packers are still 13th in points per game this season, which shows how much potential the unit has. The situational woes also show up on third down. While the Packers are 12th in total EPA/play, they are 22nd in EPA/play on third and fourth downs.

The first game against the Lions was strange. The Packers finished with 397 total yards, but Aaron Rodgers‘ three interceptions and the red-zone failures only allowed them to score nine points. They had one touchdown from Rodgers to Allen Lazard with a failed two-point conversion and one short Mason Crosby field goal. Romeo Doubs left the game after his first reception because of an ankle injury, and Christian Watson hadn’t broken out yet. Rodgers was also the leader in rushing yards, with 40, in one of the worst games by Green Bay’s running backs. A.J. Dillon had 34 yards in 11 carries (3.1 per carry), and Aaron Jones had 25 yards in nine carries (2.8 per carry).

However, the Lions had even fewer total yards (254). Jared Goff finished the game with 137 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Detroit was better on the ground, with Jamaal Williams, Justin Jackson, and De’Andre Swift combining for 118 rushing yards.

Playing in cold weather next Sunday, the Packers have a chance to win and reach the playoffs. The good news is that quarterback Jared Goff has been much worse in away games (six touchdowns and four interceptions away; 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions at home this season), especially when it’s cold. Stopping Detroit’s rushing attack will still be a real challenge, but the best way to do it is to produce points fast and force the Lions to lean on Goff as a playmaker.

What can the Packers do to get better?

Davante Adams and Aaron Jones have been great red-zone options in the last half-decade. Adams had 29 receiving touchdowns in his last two seasons for the Packers, and he has had 14 touchdowns in his first one with the Las Vegas Raiders. Without him, people expected that the Packers would struggle to score.

Still, Jones must be better utilized to finish drives. The running back led the NFL in total touchdowns in 2019 with 19, scoring at least nine total touchdowns in each year of his NFL career. But he has scored seven times this year, and only two of them were running the football. Dillon has seven rushing TDs, which means Matt LaFleur has preferred to use the powerback near the goal line. As a consequence, the Packers have underutilized Jones.

“I think that we have to look at everything. Certainly, when you have a guy like [Davante Adams] that you can kind of lean on in the pass game, it definitely makes it a little bit easier,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “We will look at everything and try to come up with some things that can counter some of the things that teams have done to us. We’ve seen a lot of loaded boxes where they’re daring you to throw the football, and it makes it very, very difficult at times to run it in.”

Christian Watson is the other red-zone weapon. He has scored nine total touchdowns this season, including seven receiving TDs. But they were all between Weeks 10 and 13. Since the bye week, Watson hasn’t scored again in three games. During his positive stretch, LaFleur and the offense used his speed horizontally in the red zone to beat defenses, but they haven’t been as effective and willing to do so in the last month.

If Watson and Jones come back to be the focus of Green Bay’s plays in the red zone, there is a good chance that the efficiency will increase. And the Packers will need this in a game against the better offense in the NFL since Week 10 in EPA per play.

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