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Packers Friday Musings: Offense has feasted on second-and-short in 2019

Green Bay’s offense has been significantly more effective this season than in 2018 on one of the more unpredictable downs.

Carolina Panthers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The bye week is here and with it comes a time to reflect on the Green Bay Packers’ season through 10 games. With an 8-2 mark, the results have been favorable for new ball coach Matt LaFleur, whose team sits pretty at the top of the NFC North.

Notably, his offense has made great strides on second-and-short, a down that carried little luster last season. Today’s musings take a look at the difference a year can make in several key categories on that particular down, while also digging into the team’s elite turnover differential. Here are a few numbers with the Packers’ season just past the midway point.

Green Bay ranks in the top three in turnover differential, which is a good omen.

For the first time since 2014 when they finished the season with the NFL’s top mark, the Packers rank in the top three for takeaway-giveaway ratio through 10 games. Green Bay is currently plus-nine in turnover differential, behind only Pittsburgh (+13) and New England (+17).

Historically, a top-three ranking in this category has been a strong barometer of success for Green Bay. In 2014, the Packers advanced to the NFC Championship Game behind the league’s best ratio. In 2011, they finished the regular season 15-1 when ranking second. And in 2009, Green Bay led the league in the stat and finished 11-5, closing the season strongly before earning a Super Bowl berth the following year.

As for Super Bowl-winning seasons, the Packers finished fourth in turnover differential in 2010 and second in 1996. Since 1994, Green Bay has concluded the regular season ranked in the top 10 on 14 occasions. Only twice (1999 and 2008) have the Packers failed to make the postseason when doing so. As the Green Bay Packers march toward the playoffs once again, they do so thanks in part to protecting the football.

The Packers opened the season 3-0 against each NFC North rival for the first time in a little while.

Perhaps recognized but under-appreciated in the Packers’ early-season success was the team’s record against the NFC North. For the first time since the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Green Bay won the first matchup against each of its divisional rivals to begin the season. The stat is an interesting tidbit for a Green Bay team that happened to win the division five times in the eight years since 2011. The 2019 Packers’ position in the NFC standings is due in large part to their crucial inter-division wins after posting just a 1-1-1 mark to start 2018.

2nd-and-manageable has been a night and day down from 2018 to 2019.

The inability to gain productive first down yardage hindered Green Bay last season, with the Packers running just 65 offensive plays on second down with three yards or less to go. Off of those downs, Green Bay averaged a meager 5.67 yards on a down that carries far less predictability than others. However, fast forward one season and the Packers have nearly matched or eclipsed each of the major splits on that down. And with 17 fewer opportunities!

2nd Down and 1-3 Yards to Go

Offensive Split 2018 (65 Plays) 2019 (48 Plays)
Offensive Split 2018 (65 Plays) 2019 (48 Plays)
Average Yards 5.67 11.02
Rushing Yard Average 4.0 5.3
Passing Yard Average 6.3 15.7
Total Touchdowns 8 11
First Downs 41 38
Completion % 62.5 76.2
QB Rating 101.2 137.4

In particular, Aaron Rodgers has been capitalizing on second-and-short as the passing average and quarterback rating figures from Pro Football Reference suggest above. On top of those marks, Rodgers has been sacked just once through the first 10 games in that situation. Whether the All-Pro is adjusting at the line of scrimmage better in 2019 or LaFleur has brought a new game plan in his first year, the Packers’ offense has been efficient and effective when the playbook can be expanded.