clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Red zone struggles are holding the Packers back on both sides of the ball

New, comment

Despite fan and media criticism, Green Bay has shown traits of a very good team in 2018. One part of the field has been a bugaboo for the offense and defense.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
The Packers continue to rack up yards on offense and prevent them on defense, but each unit struggles in the red zone.
Green Bay Press Gazette-USA TODAY NETWORK

A pair of ugly road losses and a disappointing tie suggest a team in search of consistency and continuity. The eye test jibes with that assessment, but the numbers tell a different story. The Green Bay Packers, for all their issues with execution and penalties, have actually been one of the most consistent teams play-to-play the NFL this season. They’ve come up short in one area on both sides of the ball, and this deficiency has been the difference between a 3-2-1 record and something far better.

Despite criticisms of this team — the slow starts, disjointed drives and underwhelming performances — Green Bay’s play has been more consistent than the final scores have indicated. First, their offense is possessing the ball as well as any team in football. Aaron Rodgers and company are third in the NFL at avoiding three-and-outs, to go along with the eighth-best offense on a per-play basis.

Right now, they sit 6th in opponent-adjusted offense according to Football Outsiders, with the 11th-ranked passing offense and fourth-best run offense. The Packers would be able to play more balanced if they weren’t staking their opponents to double digit leads early in games, but they’ve put up over 500 yards of offense each of the last two weeks after posting 423 against Buffalo, one of the best defenses in the league.

Green Bay has been able to create big plays as well, not just put together drives. Rodgers leads the league in passes over 50 yards with six, ahead of the hot QB names du jour this season leading the top offenses in football.

If they’re sustaining drives and creating big plays, why aren’t they scoring more often? The red zone numbers tell the story. Even with Davante Adams on an all-time Packers hot streak for receivers, Jimmy Graham’s addition to the offense, and myriad running back weapons, Green Bay sits just 23rd in touchdowns per red zone trip. They’re settling for field goal attempts rather than touchdowns far too often for their talent. In fact, they’re 25th in TD/FG rate.

In other words, the Packers are one of the best offenses in football at moving the ball and creating big plays, but simply haven’t been able to finish enough drives with seven. A healthy Rodgers, the steady improvement of these rookie wideouts, Graham’s assimilation into the offense and the return of Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison could not only make the Green Bay offense better between the 20’s—a scary thought for the league—but aid them in finishing more drives with touchdowns. If this is what’s holding the offense back from being mentioned with the Chiefs, Saints, and Rams, it’s eminently fixable.

Mike Pettine’s group sports an eerily similar résumé. In fact, many of the defensive statistics for the 2018 defense don’t quite seem to match what the eyes see, but part of that is colored by the team’s overwhelming failures in the red area.

This defense actually forces the fourth-most three-and-outs in the league and forces punts overall at the fifth-best rate in football. They’re also top-10 in plays per drive (4th), yards per drive (8th), yards per play (10th), adjusted sack rate (5th) third down defense (10th). If they’re forcing punts and getting off the field, but still giving up points, then they must be giving up big plays, right? But the Packers are an average team preventing plays of 20+ yards.

It’s not the big plays killing this defense, it’s the red zone. And unlike the offense, teams aren’t failing to score touchdowns, they’re scoring too often. Sloppy execution and a lack of defensive playmaking has Green Bay 27th in touchdowns allowed per red zone trip and 26th overall in points per red zone trip.

The offense is possessing the ball and the defense is getting stops as well as any team in the league. They’re simply not executing in the red zone with regularity. Considering this team’s success play-to-play (they’re tied for fifth in net yards per play), they really should be scoring more often and allowing fewer points overall. If those balances start to hit where they ought to be, and the Packers play to their talent, particularly offensively, this team has a chance to get hot as the leaves change color. If they don’t, this team could continue to see inconsistent results, while the fans see ... well, red.