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Discussion about the Green Bay Packers' offense over the past few weeks started me thinking this afternoon: how does the Packers' current offense, which has struggled somewhat of late and appears to be less explosive than it was a year ago, compare to the unit that took the field in 2014 and helped earn Aaron Rodgers his second MVP award?
All the numbers put forth below are comparing the performance over the first six games of the 2014 season, over which the Packers went 4-2, to the team's 6-0 start here in 2015. What we find might surprise you a bit.
2014: 122-189 (64.6%), 1,419 yards, 15 touchdowns, 1 interception, 111.4 passer rating. 14 rushes, 70 yards (5 YPC)
2015: 124-182 (68.1%), 1,491 yards, 15 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 115.9 passer rating. 29 rushes, 160 yards (5.5 YPC)
It's rather astounding just how similar Rodgers' passing numbers are this season to what they were last year. He is very nearly identical in every category - perhaps a bit of a surprise considering the Packers' struggles on offense over the past few weeks. However, Rodgers did have less-than-stellar games last year against the Seahawks and Lions. Also taking away from his numbers in 2014 was the fact that he sat out most of the second half of the week 5 game against Minnesota, which the Packers won 42-10.
What is noticeably different here is Rodgers' rushing numbers, as he has doubled his production on the ground from a year ago. Whether it's a conscious effort to run more or it's because he's taking off when his receivers aren't getting open, it's something to keep an eye on.
2014: 80 carries. 306 yards (3.8 YPC), 3 TDs. 12 targets, 10 receptions, 76 yards.
2015: 67 carries, 260 yards (3.9 YPC), 1 TD. 12 targets, 9 receptions, 83 yards.
Believe it or not, Lacy's production this year isn't that far off his 2014 numbers, either. He has historically gotten off to slow starts anyway though, with that aforementioned Vikings game being the only one in which he topped 50 yards on the ground through the first six weeks of 2014. This year, he has done that twice, but also has a pair of games in which he received fewer than five carries apiece.
2014: 35 carries, 152 yards (4.3 YPC). 11 targets, 6 receptions, 24 yards.
2015: 63 carries, 286 yards (4.5 YPC), 1 TD. 15 targets, 11 receptions, 75 yards, 1 TD.
Starks' strong play this year is one of the reasons that the offense actually has 250 more total yards than it did at this point a year ago - in fact, the increase in rushing yards from him and Rodgers make up most of that difference on their own. Starks looks like he's back to 2013 form after a down year in 2014, and he has filled in admirably for Lacy when called into action against Seattle and San Diego.
2014: 41 targets, 29 receptions, 331 yards (11.4 YPR), 7 TDs. 3 carries, 7 yards.
2015: 47 targets, 30 receptions, 350 yards (11.7 YPR), 4 TDs. 1 carry, 12 yards.
Surprise, surprise: Cobb's receiving numbers are eerily similar to last year's as well, with one exception - some of those red zone touchdowns that he racked up in 2014 have gone over to other players like James Jones and Richard Rodgers instead. That bum shoulder hasn't affected Cobb's production much, though his target load has dropped a bit over the past two weeks.
James Jones/Jordy Nelson
This might not be a fair comparison, but we'll look at the Packers' primary outside receiver opposite Cobb for each of the past two years to see how they compare.
Nelson 2014: 68 targets, 43 receptions, 632 yards (14.7 YPR), 5 TDs
Jones 2015: 29 targets, 21 receptions, 424 yards (20.2 YPR), 6 TDs
It's surprising to see Jones racking up more big plays than Nelson - after all, Jordy was the master of the double-move on play action last year and had a pair of scores from 66 or more yards early on last year (and five total from 50+ during the whole season). However, Jordy was a frequent target on third downs as well (look at that average - over 11 targets per game early on in 2014), and Rodgers has been throwing to other players this season rather than locking in on a single player as much as he did with Nelson a year ago.
Case in point: Richard Rodgers had only 30 targets during the entire 2014 regular season (and just four in the first six games), but he has 30 already so far in 2015. Even adding in Andrew Quarless' 18 targets from the first six games of 2014, Rodgers still exceeds the tight ends' targets by more than one per game (30 to 22).
2014: 161 points, 1,915 total yards: 1,346 passing, 569 rushing
2015: 164 points. 2,185 total yards: 1,421 passing, 764 rushing
Yes, the Packers' offense as a whole has functioned better and scored more points so far in 2015 than they did a year ago.
All of this leads to one conclusion in my mind: the Packers are just fine at this point, and they should only get better when injured players like Lacy and Davante Adams return from injury. They are getting more production from their tight end and backup running back, while in large part are maintaining the rest of their numbers from other players.
In short, Aaron Rodgers and company are just fine. The consistency on offense from last year to this year means that an improved defense is likely the main reason why the team is 6-0 instead of 4-2 at this point in the season.