Needing to cash in: Packers' offense can't miss chances in postseason

QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – The narrative surrounding the Packers' offense is that it's not operating at playoff-caliber.

But just how close is it to getting there?

Over the final four regular-season games, Green Bay scored 87 points, or 21.8 per contest. The chances to score so much more were evident, though.

In those four games, the Packers had 12 – count 'em, an even dozen – possessions that died in opponents' territory without any points being scored. Those do not include one kneel-down series.

The promising drives ended fruitlessly for all sorts of reasons. Most of the time the offense stalled, or lost yardage due to penalties or sacks, leading to eight punts. Twice the Packers went for it on fourth down and were stopped. There was also one turnover and one missed field goal.

Having the ball across midfield always has a team thinking points. The offense is on the edge of field-goal range, often just one first down (or maybe only 7-8 yards) from getting a chance to score.

If the Packers had managed just a field goal on half of those 12 possessions in enemy territory – which still isn't great, but a considerable improvement – their scoring average over the last four games would have jumped from 21.8 to 26.2. That's a much more satisfying number to take into the postseason.

The point is, it doesn't seem like it would take much, though it's always easier said than done.

"I've said it a million times, a lot of it comes down to staying on the grass, moving the sticks on third down, being in those manageable situations," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "(We have to) take advantage of those plays where … you're in that fringe field-goal range and you've got to make sure you're getting those five, six yards so you can have an opportunity at points."

So there are two ways to look at it. The Packers have been blowing chances they can't afford to squander in the playoffs, because a quick exit could result. Or they're on the verge of putting up a lot more points than they have with a timely, positive play here or there, which could help chart an extended postseason path.

Interpreting some of LaFleur's and quarterback Aaron Rodgers' comments during the playoff bye week, it sounds as though the approach for January is to zero in on what the Packers have done well to get to 13-3, and scale back on the portions of the playbook that haven't produced as many desired results.

The Packers held short practices on Thursday and Friday last week, and they'll work out again Monday before embarking on the traditional three-day on-field game prep from Wednesday through Friday this week heading into Sunday's NFC Divisional playoff against the Seahawks at Lambeau Field.

The Packers practiced Friday afternoon preparing for the second round of the NFC Playoffs.

Rodgers was quick to say that all the timing of routes and throws wasn't going to get fixed over the bye, but sharpening the execution with what the Packers have done well offensively should pay dividends.

"It's just a matter of finding those concepts where the timing has been good," Rodgers said late last week. "Because there's been a number of concepts where we've looked good – the ball's been coming out on time, I've been feeling good about the rhythm and guys are getting open on time.

"But there's I think too many concepts that we've really tried to hit and keep hitting and make it work, and we just aren't on the same page timing-wise. And that's why this has been a good week to just self-scout."

Theoretically, if the Packers are homing in on what they do best and can execute that one extra play they need when they get across midfield, the scoring possibilities increase significantly. The offense gets into field-goal range and on the cusp of the red zone.

Given the fact the Packers finished eighth in the league in touchdown percentage in the red zone (32 of 50, 64%), better than all NFC playoff teams except Philadelphia (third, 36 of 54, 67%), it's not a wild exaggeration to say the Packers aren't that far away.

But again, making that extra play won't just magically happen. Part of the past week was spent studying the little things that led to success or failure in certain instances, and the next step will be applying what was learned to the upcoming game plan, now that the Packers know they're playing Seattle.

"Maybe we're not detailing up a route or a run concept as good as we need to," LaFleur said. "We're always trying to get to the why. If something is working, why is it working? Or if it's not working, why isn't it working?"

Added Rodgers: "That's our focus, finding what works and what we like from the first 16 weeks, what we want to adjust here in the next 10 days and go out and execute."

At the forefront of it all, of course, is Rodgers, who statistically hasn't had one of his better seasons (62% completions, 95.4 passer rating), but who has expressed confidence in his command of LaFleur's offense at the line of scrimmage – making the right checks and getting the offense into the right plays based on the defensive looks.

If the volume he must process and stay on top of is narrowed to what has worked best, the hope is the tempo and efficiency will go up a notch, and that one extra play or two when on the edge of scoring range can be made.

Work to be done? Absolutely. Doubts it can get done?

"Absolutely not," Davante Adams said. "There's no question whatsoever. We all know what he's capable of. We're all human. It's not always going to be great plays every single play.

"But when it comes down to situations like this, playoff moments, with a Super Bowl on the line, that's my guy and I'm definitely not going to think he can't take care of that."

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