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Packers cashing in on goal-to-go opportunities with depth, creativity

Green Bay has gone from worst to first in situational category this season


GREEN BAY – There's the "gold zone" and then there's the "goal-to-go" zone.

When it comes to the Packers' biggest areas of offensive improvement this season, look no further than the quantum leap Green Bay has taken from finishing last in goal-to-go offense a year ago (50%) to now sitting atop the NFL in the category (94.7%) with two regular-season games remaining.

Sunday's 33-30 win over Carolina might have been the Packers' best performance of the season deep inside the "gold zone," the moniker former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett once coined to describe the offense's possessions inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

Three times Green Bay worked its way into goal-to-go and three times it found paydirt – a 1-yard AJ Dillon run in the first quarter, a 1-yard Jordan Love quarterback sneak in the second and a 5-yard pass to Romeo Doubs on a sprint out to the pylon to start the fourth quarter.

On the season, the Packers have converted 18 of their 19 goal-to-go chances into TDs and balance has been a big part of the production. Six receivers have combined for 11 TD catches, while Green Bay also has produced seven rushing scores.

"Obviously the production's been great," offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said. "You say you have to run the ball in the red zone. You have to do this, you have to do that. But we've been pretty balanced down there when we look at who's scoring touchdowns and how we're getting the touchdowns.

"We've been able to throw the ball. We've been able to run the ball. I like our balance down there and I think that's what's helped us is our ability to do everything."

Head Coach Matt LaFleur has spoken at length about the depth and versatility of this year's offense and Green Bay has used it to its fullest advantage. While Doubs (four TDs) and Jayden Reed (three TDs) have been quarterback Jordan Love's top targets near the goal line, rookies Malik Heath, Tucker Kraft and Ben Sims have made contributions, as well.

Of course, the ability to generate positive yards on the ground in the short part of the field also has made a difference. Aaron Jones and Dillon each have scored twice in goal-to-go, while Love has added three scores of his own.

The only time the Packers have failed to score a touchdown when they've been in goal-to-go came all the way back against Las Vegas in Week 5. Even then, Anders Carlson banged through a 22-yard field goal to put points on the board.

It's marked improvement from last season when the Packers converted just 11 of 22 goal-to-go opportunities into touchdowns, while settling for six field goals. Green Bay also lost three possessions to giveaways, one to a turnover on downs, and one at the end of the game.

When asked about the strides the unit has made in that capacity, Love and several others in the locker room credited LaFleur, Stenavich and scheme creativity.

"I think it starts with Matt and Steno," Love said. "We've had some really good concepts down there and guys are executing at a high level and getting open and making plays. I think we're a diverse offense that can do a whole lot down there, scheme-wise, so I think it's tough for the defense to stop everybody."

In some cases, injuries have been the brainchild of innovation. That includes a heavy personnel package that the Packers began utilizing after starting tight end Luke Musgrave suffered a lacerated kidney last month against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Short on available tight ends, the Packers developed a heavy package in which third-year offensive lineman Royce Newman reports as eligible with Dillon, Kraft, Sims, and fourth-year tight end Josiah Deguara.

Green Bay called the package twice in December and both times it produced touchdowns. The first came against Kansas City in Week 13 when Sims came free underneath for a 1-yard TD pass on a Love play-action rollout.

The Packers then showed they could run out of the package in Carolina when Dillon took an inside handoff and plowed forward for a 1-yard TD run up the middle to cap a seven-play, 80-yard opening possession.

"I love whenever I'm in there with all the big tight ends and throwing Royce in, it's a fun package to be a part of," said Deguara, who was the H-back on Dillon's score. "The more we do that, the better in my opinion. Obviously, it throws the defense off a little because they don't see it a lot. Now, teams are gonna have to start game-planning for it and hopefully we continue to use it a little bit."

Newman, a former high-school tight end, has enjoyed contributing to the goal-line play, though he playfully admits he's "usually hauling ass" to get down the field after being told he's going in as the sixth offensive lineman.

Between the coaching staff's ideas and Love's composure in scoring territory, the Packers have given the opposition plenty to consider. Green Bay hopes to keep the creativity coming this Sunday night when it travels to face the Minnesota Vikings in a pivotal NFC North showdown.

And who knows what the Packers might have up their sleeves?

"There's a lot of stuff we can do," Deguara said. "It's always fun to see what the coaches come up with at the beginning of the week to go into the game."

The Packers' goal-to-go scoring plays this season (18-for-19):

Chicago (3-for-3): Doubs 8-yard TD catch, Jones 1-yard TD run, Doubs 4-yard TD catch
Atlanta (2-for-2): Reed 9-yard TD catch; Reed 10-yard TD catch (Rasheed Walker eligible)
NO (1-for-1): Love 1-yard TD run
DET (2-for-2): Christian Watson 1-yard TD catch; Love 9-yard TD run
LV (1-for-2): Dillon 5-yard TD run; Carlson 22-yard field goal
DEN: None
MIN (1-for-1): Doubs 1-yard TD catch
LAR (1-for-1): Jones 1-yard TD run
PIT: None
LAC: None
DET (1-for-1): Reed 10-yard TD catch
KC (1-for-1): Sims 1-yard TD catch (Newman eligible)
NYG (1-for-1): Heath 6-yard TD catch
TB (1-for-1): Kraft 5-yd TD catch
CAR (3-for-3): Dillon 1-yard TD run, Love 1-yard TD, Doubs 5-yard TD catch

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