After much handwringing over the Green Bay Packers' offensive shortcomings, the team responded with its largest scoring outburst in nearly a year, taking down the Detroit Lions 34-27. Aaron Rodgers reclaimed his MVP form, throwing four first-half touchdowns and completing the type of throws few quarterbacks in the league can make. Meanwhile, Eddie Lacy and the ground game found its spark, going over 100 yards for the first time in 2016.
So how did an offense that struggled to execute routine plays suddenly revert to a juggernaut? The answer lies in the adjustments made by head coach Mike McCarthy.
Quick throws, personnel/formational variation spur offensive explosion
To avoid the stalled drives that have plagued the offense for the better part of the calendar year, McCarthy reemphasized three-step throws -- slants, outs and other short breaking routes designed to get the receiver open quickly and the ball out of the quarterback's hands just as fast -- as a sort of pacemaker, a way to jolt the passing game into rhythm. The touchdown that caped off the Packers' first possession resulted from Davante Adams boxing out the smaller Quandre Diggs on a quick slant.
Just as importantly, McCarthy utilized more personnel changes than the Packers offense has seen in some time while still maintaining a high tempo of play. In the first two weeks of the season, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams played all but a handful of downs during Green Bay's possessions. On Sunday, only Nelson played more than 80 percent of the available snaps. McCarthy dug deeper into his reserves, playing Ty Montgomery in the backfield and Trevor Davis out wide, even giving Jeff Janis some work on offense. The adjustment opened up the deep ball, with Davis drawing a 66-yard penalty on the first play of the second quarter to set up another score.
McCarthy also dabbled in more formation changes. The five-wide look the Packers have rarely employed in recent years made a triumphant return, with Nelson scoring the first of his two touchdowns playing from the inside slot. Green Bay also went heavy at times, using more 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) as well as a set that included an in-line tight end, two off-set backs and Nelson split just over the shoulder rather than out near the boundary.
Such diversity once defined McCarthy's offenses, which ranked among the league leaders in scoring until 2015. Though this game could eventually prove to be an outlier, it appears the Packers' headman rediscovered his touch by returning to his roots.
Believe in the run defense
Through the opening two weeks of the season, the Packers defense held opponents to less than 100 combined yards rushing. While no other team managed to accomplish the same feat, the quality of the opposing ground game -- both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings have struggled to run the ball effectively -- left the impression that a small sample size had yielded an odd result.
While that could still turn out to be the case, the numbers suggest that Green Bay does indeed have the strongest run defense in the league.
As it stands, the Packers allow only 1.8 yards per carry through three weeks. Now only does that represent the best mark in the league, it sits more than a yard better than the No. 2 team, the New York Giants (3.2). Likewise, Green Bay remains the only unit to hold opponents to 50 yards or fewer on the ground every game this season.
Certainly, those numbers will regress as the season unfolds, especially when teams like the Dallas Cowboys and their powerful ground attack come to town. At the same time, the functional quality of the run defense could improve when Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett return from injury and Mike Pennel rejoins the team following his suspension. After years of teams eating up the Packers on the ground, the team has finally responded.
Bye week comes at perfect time
When the NFL schedule came out during the summer, the Packers and many of their fans groused about the early, Week 4 bye. Teams generally prefer to have their bye during the middle of the season, effectively breaking up the schedule into two parts. Later byes also come when teams are more likely to deal with injuries.
All of which makes sense in most instances. However, the bye comes at the perfect time for the Packers this season.
In addition to Matthews, Burnett and Sam Shields missing the Lions game with various ailments, the team lost Jared Cook and Aaron Ripkowski to ankle and back injuries. Both sets of injuries left the team exposed, with Detroit scoring 27 points -- most allowed by the defense in 2016 -- and the offense stagnating during the second half. While they don't account completely for the respective dips in performance, those injuries forced Green Bay to ditch part of their game plan and make adjustments on the fly.
With a week to rest, at least some of those players should return to the fold for the Packers' Week 5 matchup with the Giants.