Prior to Sunday’s game against Atlanta, the Green Bay Packers had tallied just a single game with a third-down conversion rate above 50% during the 2018 campaign. With Joe Philbin leading the team out of the tunnel for the first time as interim head coach, the Packers quickly doubled that total.
Green Bay’s last game with such a feat was week four against Buffalo, when the Packers went 11-for-19 in a 22-0 victory. On Sunday, the Packers also burned the Atlanta Falcons on third down, finding success on seven of 13 opportunities in the game. Two of those six unsuccessful attempts came during the fourth quarter with the game relatively wrapped up. Green Bay’s ability to sustain drives early in the game played an instrumental role in building and holding the lead.
It is worth noting that the Packers had been especially miserable on third down the past four games, posting marks of 4-10, 3-11, 2-10, and 3-14, respectively. In Philbin’s first game playcalling in over 20 years, the Packers quickly rectified a season-long issue under Mike McCarthy.
But as many players alluded to after the game, the only thing that changed significantly on Sunday was the offense’s execution. Upon further review, that rather appeared to be the case. While the Packers did add a few new wrinkles as they converted third downs of varying distances, many calls were ones fans have seen before.
Here is a brief recap of some of those successes.
1st Quarter, Drive 1: 3rd-and-2 from the GB 45 - 21-yard pass to Davante Adams
The Packers lined up three receivers to the right with Adams in the middle. On the snap, the innermost receiver Randall Cobb darted inside, while Marquez Valdes Scantling on the far side ran a curl. That left Adams with a one-on-one matchup down the field. Although the Packers have failed to get Adams involved early in games and have far too often thrown deeper passes on third-and-short that have fallen incomplete, they countered their struggles on a lesser-seen play to extend the drive.
2nd Quarter: Drive 3: 3rd-and-2 from the GB 33 - Aaron Rodgers scrambles for 7 yards
Unlike the first conversion, the Packers indeed set up a play designed for a short chunk of yardage. Again with three receivers to the right, the Packers asked Cobb and Adams to run short “in” routes. Both found a crease in the defense, but Lucas Patrick was beat from the right side and Rodgers was flushed out of the pocket. Rather than getting sacked like he was on the previous third-down attempt, Rodgers was able to escape to the left side and pick up the first down and more. Rodgers, however, may have still had enough time to find Cobb or Adams without taking off, making the the playcall an effective one. Either way, the Packers earned a new set of downs.
2nd Quarter: Drive 3: 3rd-and-1 from the ATL 28: Aaron Jones runs for 2 yards
Green Bay’s troubles with running the ball on third down for two yards or less have been well-documented. However, the Packers’ first attempt to do so went according to script. Out of “11” personnel, the Packers tried to run off the right tackle with Rodgers under center. Aaron Jones made the most of the hand-off, finishing a tough run by bouncing off a defender whose quick burst beat Marcedes Lewis off the snap. Jones’ individual effort on a familiar play helped the Packers execute a play that once again almost came up short.
2nd Quarter, Drive 4: 3rd-and-6 from the GB 31: Rodgers scrambles for 16 yards
As mentioned above, the Packers have a propensity for running routes far longer than the distance necessary to pick up the first down and they did so again on this play. With three receivers to the left and Jimmy Graham split by himself to the right, the Packers had all four receivers run downfield. Not a single receiver could be found within a range of six to ten yards, save Jones who had sprinted out from the backfield into the flat. A typical long-developing play led to the Falcons getting pressure on Rodgers with a five-man rush and Takkarist McKinley actually grabbing hold of Rodgers’ jersey. But an incredible escape from #12 to the left side once again opened up a wide-open field. Sure, Atlanta was flagged twice in the defensive secondary on the play and would have given Green Bay a first down regardless, but the Packers’ curious third-down playcalling almost cost them again.
3rd Quarter, Drive 5: 3rd-and-10 from the ATL 24 - Touchdown pass to Cobb
Due to injuries, Cobb has been a rare sighting this season. But back on the field for a second-consecutive week, he was used in a variety of ways. One was on an out-and-up route in which Cobb snuck toward the sideline underneath a post pattern from Valdes-Scantling and then cut up field. Rodgers was able to find Cobb isolated one-on-one with an unsuspecting safety and delivered a strike for six. Like he found Adams on the opening drive, Rodgers was able to locate a trusted veteran receiver in single coverage and was afforded good protection from the offensive line to complete the big play.
4th Quarter, Drive 8: 3rd-and-6 from the GB 29: Adams catches 30-yard pass but called back
This play ultimately did not result in a first down, but the design gets a solid grade. The Packers have not run many successful pick plays this season, but they were close to doing so Sunday. Lined up alone on the left side, Adams ran across the field, meeting Jimmy Graham who had crossed the opposite direction from the right slot. Unfortunately, Graham, who did not have a great day overall, made too much contact with Robert Alford and Alford sold the contact in drawing a pass interference penalty. Regardless, the Packers almost came up with a 30-yard play on a medium-ranged third down attempt.
Green Bay used plays both new and old against Atlanta to solve their third-down dilemmas, but the execution was what separated Sunday from past performances. Though Rodgers took three sacks on the down, some his fault and some not, his comfort level and ability to scan the field appeared much improved. It is also worth noting that Green Bay’s final three failed third-down attempts were conservative play calls to wind the clock down.
Traveling to Chicago, the Packers’ third-down offense will receive a much bigger test this week than the injury-depleted Falcons defense. But with another few tweaks to the game plan as it made last week, and a similar level of execution, Green Bay has a chance to carry over its Week 14 success.