GREEN BAY – It's fascinating to listen to quarterback Aaron Rodgers discuss how the Packers' offense continues to evolve in this third season together with Matt LaFleur and Nathaniel Hackett.
After the first of two joint practices with the New York Jets on Wednesday, Rodgers described the annual adjustments to date, and how the process started with trying everything at first, then narrowing the focus in Year 2, and now still "whittling down" but expanding in certain areas in Year 3.
"This scheme came in like this," Rodgers said, stretching his arms out as wide as he could, "and we tried to do as much as possible, and I tried to add in some of my own stuff from over the years."
The result in 2019, LaFleur's first as head coach, was massive volume, production in fits and starts, and middle-of-the-pack rankings. Yet from LaFleur to Hackett at offensive coordinator and on down through the coaching staff, everyone knew the Packers had the weapons, starting with Rodgers, to be much better.
So in the offseason, relegated to Zoom meetings due to the pandemic, everything about the offense was dissected and evaluated.
"We just kinda threw it all up on the wall and said, 'What worked and what didn't work? What fits the scheme and what doesn't fit the scheme? Do we have the players to run these certain routes, if not, let's get it out,'" Rodgers said. "Year 2 you saw real good focus on exactly what we have, the personnel, and what plays we can run with those guys."
The result in 2020 became All-Pro honors for receiver Davante Adams, a first Pro Bowl for running back Aaron Jones, a third MVP for Rodgers, and the No. 1 scoring offense in the league.
Now, for 2021, Rodgers said the sharpened focus on what the Packers do best is continuing, but with tweaks and twists that are broadening their options. Rodgers referred to this as "latitude" to make adjustments, an expansion of the playbook that's simplified because it's built from the core concepts that served as last year's foundation.
"Then obviously we always make room for creativity, whether it's myself or Hackett or Matt," he said.
Sometimes, the creative moments happen by accident in practice, where a player will line up wrong, or run a wrong route, and it actually works – or the film review afterward shows how it could. Voila, a new idea is born, yet it's not complicated because it's based on a familiar play.
So wherever things go in Year 3, some of what the Packers will run hasn't been drawn up entirely yet. And the creativity Rodgers noted could be called upon to an even greater degree than usual after opponents have had an entire offseason to study what the Packers did so well last year.
Whether they can maintain their lofty status league-wide, or even improve on any of last year's gaudy numbers (such as 80% efficiency in the red zone), only time will tell.
For his part, Rodgers doesn't appear focused on any statistics or rankings. He knows how the offense will look and feel when things are running well, and his challenge is to reach that state of operations.
Finding that level again should make for another memorable season, which is what he's after regardless of what the future holds. For all the uncertainty about whether or not this is Rodgers' last season in Green Bay, he wants to take the same approach he did last year, when he also wasn't making any personal future assumptions.
"I took the headphones off and enjoyed the surroundings and the road trips and the time with the guys," Rodgers said of 2020. "It's a good template.
"I don't want a farewell tour. I don't know what's going to happen after the season, but I'm going to enjoy it with the right perspective, for sure, and not look at it as 'I'm getting through this.' I'm going to enjoy the hell out of all of it."