The Packers have played six games so far in 2016, and they have used 82 unique combinations of players on offense throughout those six games. Of those 82 personnel groupings, 15 have been utilized for six plays - or an average of at least once per game. We’ll take a close look at the way that these groupings are used and the effectiveness with which the Packers have moved the ball with some of them.
Note that these snap counts are provided by the NFL’s Game Stats and Information Service.
The Packers have five distinct lineups that they have used on offense significantly more than the others. These each have an average of more than four snaps per game, though one of them was used almost exclusively in last Thursday’s win over the Chicago Bears. Note that the starting offensive line and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are assumed to be in each of these lineups, so the five eligible receivers are the players changing.
The highest-frequency lineup is as follows:
- Eddie Lacy, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Richard Rodgers
That “11” personnel grouping, also known as the Packers’ “Zebra” package, has been on the field for 44 plays (27 passes and 17 runs), and has gained an average of 5.6 yards per play. The second-highest-used lineup simply swaps out Lacy for Starks, has been utilized 43 times (34 passes, 9 runs), and averages 5.9 yards per play. All in all, those numbers are not terrible, but as you’ll see in a bit, the yards per play when lined up in that formation on first and 10 is a full two yards less - which puts the Packers in a bad spot for second downs.
The third-most-used grouping is the fascinating one, however. That is the “pseudo-11” package from Thursday’s game, which featured either Ty Montgomery or Randall Cobb in the backfield as a running back (and which also likely includes a few snaps in a 4-WR, 1-TE set). Here’s that lineup:
- Adams, Cobb, Nelson, Montgomery, Rodgers
That lineup was used on 40 plays (33 pass, 7 run) and averages 6.0 yards per play.
By our count, Green Bay has used 5 wide receivers on 18 snaps so far this season, either consisting of a group of Adams/Cobb/Janis/Nelson/Montgomery or swapping Abbrederis in for Janis. Out of those formations, the Packers have averaged just 5.6 yards per play, a far cry from the explosive gains that one would look for out of a pass-oriented, spread formation like that.
The Packers’ most effective lineup on a per-play basis (among those averaging more than one play per game) is actually the single-back, two-tight end package:
- Lacy, Cobb, Nelson, Cook, R. Rodgers
That unit has averaged nine yards per play on seven snaps (3 passes, 4 runs) and has converted first downs on three of seven plays.
The next-best is the unit that runs either the shotgun, 4-wide formation with Aaron Ripkowski as a blocker for Aaron Rodgers, or a two-back set with Cobb at tailback:
- Ripkowski, Adams, Cobb, Janis, Nelson
That group has lined up together on 10 occasions and averages 8.2 yards per play on six passes and four runs.
The Packers have clearly made an effort to change up their formations and personnel more over the past two contests, Still, through six games, the Packers have used their 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) with either Eddie Lacy or James Starks at tailback for the equivalent of more than one entire game - 87 total snaps, or a full 22% of their total offensive plays.
In addition, the Packers have lined up on first and 10 a total of 160 times so far this year and had 11 personnel on the field for 59 of those plays - an even greater 37%. The problem is that when they are in that personnel group on first and 10, they average just 3.7 yards per play, which is second-worst in the NFL under those conditions and that alignment.
However, the next-most frequent grouping on first and 10 is 1 RB and 4 WR, which has 36 such plays (22.5%) and then comes 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) at 21 snaps (13%). Both of those groups average about the same - 6.3 yards per play, which puts the Packers in the top ten under those conditions.
To put it more plainly, when the Packers line up in 11 on first and ten, the next play is on average second down and 6.3 yards to go. When they line up in 10 or 21 personnel, second down averages 3.7 yards to gain. That’s a huge difference over the course of a full season, and that 2.6-yard difference will certainly affect play-calling and defensive tendencies.
It’s a bit esoteric to look so closely at performance relative to the NFL under such tightly-defined conditions, but it does signify a bit of the issues that have plagued the Packers - namely, that they have struggled to move the ball on first down out of their predictable 11 group. Expect Mike McCarthy to continue to juggle the team’s offensive alignments over the rest of the season and try to keep defenses off-balance.