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Challenge for Packers' offense in 2021: 'Do it again'

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett discusses mindset to take into new season

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and QB Aaron Rodgers
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – Having sported one of the league's best and historically most efficient offenses in 2020, the Packers have an obvious challenge facing them in 2021.

Last week, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett articulated it as plainly as anyone could.

"It's about, let's do it again," he said.

Just how difficult will that be? Well, here's a summary of the 2020 offense's accomplishments, however incomplete:

The Packers ranked first in the league in points (31.8 per game), first in time of possession (32:29), first in fewest giveaways (11), second in third-down efficiency (49.44%), and tied for second in fewest sacks allowed (21). They also possessed a top-10 ranking in rushing, passing and total yards.

Add to that a league-best 73 points scored on opening drives, which was the NFL's most in at least the last 20 years, and a top-ranked red-zone efficiency (80%, 48 TDs in 60 possessions), the highest NFL mark in at least the last 40 years, and it would appear impossible to even come close to repeating the overall performance.

But Hackett vows the Packers are sure as heck gonna try, fully aware how daunting a task it will be.

"It's never-ending trying to push the guys, just trying to get better at everything," he said. "For the season that we had, it's hard to think that can happen, but I think it's a great challenge for everybody.

"The standard has been set and that's where we wanna go."

They'll have the continuity of the coaching staff in their favor. There were no changes with any of the position coaches under Hackett, except the addition of run game coordinator to offensive line coach Adam Stenavich's title.

Hackett said Stenavich, who along with his assistant Luke Butkus helped keep the offensive line functioning at a high level all season despite numerous injuries and position shuffling, was already handling the run game for the most part, so there's minimal if any adjustment there.

The greater uncertainty, and potential change, is with personnel.

Running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, along with center Corey Linsley, are all pending unrestricted free agents, with tight end Robert Tonyan a restricted free agent. It's not likely the Packers would lose them all, but almost certain they'll lose someone (or more).

Plus, four-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari will spend all offseason rehabbing from a December ACL tear, with a return date unknown.

The Packers do have second-year running back AJ Dillon waiting in the wings and multi-positional offensive linemen such as Billy Turner, Elgton Jenkins and Lucas Patrick to help bridge any gaps.

But as Hackett and his staff tweak and refine the playbook for the coming season, keeping it malleable remains a priority.

"This league is so fluid. There's so many different changes," Hackett said. "It's about being able to adapt and it's about having a system that's flexible enough to fit anybody."

Schematically, they'll also have to be prepared for having an even larger target on their back. Even though the Packers reached the NFC title game in Head Coach Matt LaFleur's first season in 2019, the offense was finding its way and hadn't put much dominance on film.

That came last season, which ended with another shot at the NFC crown. With 2021 opponents having all of that to review and plenty of time to do so, staying creative without getting crazy – and therefore not getting away from what the offense does best – will be an important balance to strike.

"We understand that people are gonna watch us and they're gonna study us and we're gonna have to have counters off of everything we do," Hackett said.

Fortunately, there's no reason to think the on-field general running it all, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, will have any problems incorporating necessary changes.

In just his second year with LaFleur, Rodgers took his game and the offense as a whole to impressive heights, winning his third league MVP award in a landslide. He did all that following a virtual offseason program no less, a pandemic-mandated process that may or may not change later this spring.

With an elusive second Super Bowl still out there, Rodgers' determination moving forward is a given. Hackett called him "one of the most competitive human beings I've ever met in my life," echoing the assessment of anyone who's worked with Rodgers for any length of time.

He's also aware of the personal challenges that come with staying on top of your game, having been the reigning league MVP multiple times before.

In the end, all the offensive pieces – coaches and players – know how high the bar has been raised. Even if it seems unrealistic to reach it again, the better approach is to embrace the challenge rather than rebuff it, and that's the mindset Hackett wants to install.

"I think there's always things you can get better at," he said. "That's what this game's about, is how long can you stay consistent and be able to play offense the way that we did last year?"