In recent matchups against the Los Angeles Chargers and the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers’ offense exhibited moments of smart football. However, despite finding success through the last 12 quarters, a perplexing issue looms over the team: They’ve struggled in short-yardage situations. The team’s offensive resurgence contrasts starkly with their inability to convert crucial short-yardage plays, a deficiency that has proven costly by squandering multiple possessions over the last two games.
Following their 29-22 Thanksgiving triumph over the Lions, the Packers are the second-best team in pass blocking, according to PFF. However, as the Packers revel in their pass-protection prowess, their run blocking remains inconsistent at best. Green Bay currently ranks as the ninth-worst team in the league in the ground game, revealing a significant weakness that emerges in short-yardage situations.
Green Bay had the ball inside Detroit’s 30-yard line to begin the second quarter and was facing a critical fourth-and-one situation. Matt LaFleur decides to go for it, and the play quickly unravels into a symphony of miscommunication and breakdowns. A.J. Dillon took the handoff to the left when the play clearly called for him to go right. The confusion was compounded because, even if the handoff had been executed correctly, the offensive line failed to hold its ground. In particular, Rasheed Walker was easily beaten by Josh Paschal at the line, allowing easy penetration from the left side.
In the Chargers game last Sunday, the Packers faced consecutive plays early in the game where LA unceremoniously stuffed them. In the first, Green Bay lines up in the Tush Push formation. The Packers opted to hand the ball off to Jayden Reed to try to attack the B gap on the right side of the line. However, the play ended up being a frustrating stall as Reed met a wall of Chargers defenders. The breakdown in execution was obvious, with Josh Myers inexplicably ending up on the ground and Elgton Jenkins faltering in blocking.
The Packers followed that up by going under center on a play-action pass out of the bunch formation on fourth-and-short. The execution of the play fell short of expectations. Jordan Love‘s quick toss to Musgrave in the flat failed to deceive the Los Angeles defense, who remained disciplined and didn’t buy into the play fake.
The individual performances at the interior of the offensive line have fallen significantly short of expectations. According to PFF, all starters in this position group have received run-blocking grades of 60 or below. Jon Runyan Jr. is currently in the midst of his most challenging season as a starter, earning subpar grades in both pass- and run-blocking.
His struggles in run blocking are particularly conspicuous, performing well below average despite maintaining an average level of pass protection. On the other hand, Josh Myers has emerged as a liability in run blocking and has shown a concerning tendency to allow pressure in pass protection, resulting in the second-highest number of sacks allowed on the offensive line. Jenkins is experiencing a downturn in his production in run blocking and has, surprisingly, committed crucial penalties in late-game situations.
Meanwhile, Walker has displayed glimpses of being a solid swing tackle. However, he has yet to demonstrate consistency, leading the team in sacks allowed among linemen and topping the position in penalties.
In two of the three plays mentioned earlier in this article, Green Bay opted to run the ball between the tackles. If the Packers persist in following the same script, they risk falling short of converting crucial downs. Green Bay should explore more outside zone runs, leveraging Zach Tom’s strength. Tom stands out as the best-ranked run blocker on PFF among the team’s offensive linemen.
LaFleur could potentially alleviate the issues by injecting even more creativity into his playcalling. A noteworthy example unfolded in the Thanksgiving matchup against the Lions when the Packers faced third-and-one in their initial drive. LaFleur deviated from the conventional run-heavy approach and opted for a play-action pass. Christian Watson went in motion and lined up just behind Kraft. Given how the Packers needed one yard to get the first, Detroit’s defense was prepared to stop the run. Love faked the handoff, and Kraft executeed his block and release set. Green Bay scored the touchdown with ease.
Late in the game, Green Bay’s offense again found itself on third-and-one. Instead of handing it off to A.J. Dillon, Love kept it and got 30-plus yards on the read option.
The Packers must address the challenges faced in running inside the tackles. However, outright abandonment of the running game between the tackles may oversimplify their game plan. Finding a balance becomes crucial to maintain offensive versatility. Continuing to follow the same script risks stagnation and complicates something that isn’t complicated.