Any true Green Bay Packes fan has had the following text exchange with a fellow Cheesehead:
“If they run that fucking fullback dive play one more time, I’m going to throw something.”
When it works, the existential questions about wanting your team to succeed while balancing Mike McCarthy’s willingness to once again reach for that playcall tortures any astute fan of the Green & Gold.
“Dammit, now MM is going to call it again,” might read the text. I dunno, just spitballing here.
John Kuhn became a folk hero before Aaron Ripkowski was tabbed to replace him. Rip hasn’t performed nearly as well as a blocker or a receiver and his fumble in the 2016 NFC Championship Game represents a somewhat forgotten turning point in that game. Once the Packers didn’t score there, it was basically over.
Even without accounting for Ripkowski’s underwhelming tenure with the Packers (how high can the expectations reasonably be for a modern fullback?) there are structural reasons to believe Green Bay may be ready to move on.
What do the Packers really need with a fullback so long as Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback? They can spread teams out more effectively and create matchup problems more consistently with tight end movement than with fullbacks. And it seems as though the team has realized it.
Brian Gutekunst brought in Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis along with an undrafted athlete in Robert Tonyan, who has fought to make this team. The more the Packers can play two tight ends, the less often they would play with a fullback. Lewis in particular brings the kind of blocking chops Ripkowski lacks and clearly has the higher upside as a receiver.
Through two preseason games, the Packers have played with just one running back or fewer on nearly 84% of offensive snaps per Pro Football Focus. That’s close to what this offense looked like in 2016 (the last full Aaron Rodgers season) when a fullback was on the field for roughly 12% of offensive snaps. During that year, when Rodgers was in "Run The Table" mode, Green Bay deployed the most four-receiver formations in football according to Sharp Football and the second-most five receiver sets.
Given the quality of the receivers on this roster and the possibility that the Packers may have to keep seven players at the position, there should be a desire to get the maximum amount of playmakers on the field at once.
Even some of the traditional two running back looks could be deployed by McCarthy with Ty Mongtomery and one of the other backs, not for blocking purposes but matchups. How will defenses treat Montgomery? Do they go sub-package and use a corner or a safety? Do they treat this as heavy personnel and keep their linebackers in? Either way, that creates an advantage for the Packers.
This type of positional flexibility doesn’t exist with a player like Ripkowski. Splitting him out in spread simply creates a 1-for-1 trade. The Packers are sacrificing an offensive weapon to simply take up a defender. There’s no reason they should have to do that when they could simply put Marcedes Lewis or Lance Kendricks out there and have him actually be a threat.
Ron Zook and McCarthy like the versatility of fullbacks on special teams, but again, the presence of quality tight ends preclude the necessity for fullbacks in such a role, particularly when they’re going to be so limited in terms of their use in the offense.
The Aaron Jones suspension complicates the matter even further. With Jones sitting the first two games, the Packers may be forced to keep an emergency running back on the roster instead of a spot that might otherwise go to a fullback. Once Jones returns, some roster shuffling could open up a spot for the fullback, but with three capable running backs and at least that many tight ends, do the Packers really have the luxury of keeping such a niche player on their roster?
These tight ends, including the surprising Tonyan, actually possess offensive value above and beyond limited effectiveness in the run game. All four are more adept pass catchers and though Kendricks isn’t a great blocker, his skill and versatility should make him considerably more valuable offensively than any fullback.
The time has come for McCarthy to ditch his pet plays and start maximizing the talent on his roster. The construction of this team hints he may finally be ready to let go.
At the very least eschewing a fullback would save Packers fans on their phone bills.