One week it’s a terrifying run game, the next it’s a stifling defense keeping the game in reach, and the next an explosive passing attack leads to a complete domination. Matt LaFleur’s Green Bay Packers squad has won in very different ways this season en route to a 6-1 record, as the head coach and his staff have done a great job adjusting their game plans to attack their opponents’ specific weaknesses.
But after Aaron Rodgers’ magnificent performance against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, the next three weeks will put that game-planning to the test.
Of the Packers’ three remaining games before their week 11 bye, two opponents have massive pass/run defense splits. Take a look at the DVOA ratings for these three teams:
Week 8 - @ Chiefs
Pass defense DVOA: 4th
Run defense DVOA: 29th
Week 9 - @ Chargers
Pass defense DVOA: 28th
Run defense DVOA: 24th
Week 10 - vs. Panthers
Pass defense DVOA: 3rd
Run defense DVOA: 30th
In week nine, the Packers’ offense should be able to move the ball in any fashion against a struggling Chargers defense. But when the Packers are in Kansas City and host the Panthers on either side of that game, the team would do well to make the running game a priority.
More conventional stats confirm these approaches. The Chiefs rank 30th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed at 5.0 and are 29th in total rushing yards allowed at 1,042 through seven games. However, they are a top-ten unit in passing yards, TDs, and net yards per attempt allowed (5.9), and they have picked off six passes to rank tenth.
Likewise, the Panthers are allowing 4.7 yards per carry but are even better against the pass with nine picks and a 5.1 net yards per attempt average. However, it is notable that Carolina’s pass defense recorded more than half of those interceptions in their week six game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with five picks (plus seven sacks) helping to balance out a massive 400-yard day for Jameis Winston.
In that Packers-Panthers game, which comes at Lambeau Field, the Packers may indeed be able to get the passing game going a bit more. After all, Aaron Rodgers is the least turnover-prone quarterback in NFL history, and the Packers’ interior offensive line is much better than a Buccaneers unit that gave up 5.5 sacks to the Panthers’ defensive tackles. Still, attacking the Panthers on the ground and running play-action off that appears to be the best way to run an offense in this game.
LaFleur’s approaches so far this season suggest that he is a coach who is perfectly willing to mold his offensive attack to go after the weak spots in his opponents. That is quite a contrast with the Packers’ former head coach, who so frequently asked his players to simply win is assignments and stubbornly stuck to a single identity.
So far, LaFleur’s approach is working, and the next three games should give him ample opportunities to display this malleability.