Spreading Ball Around, Offense Was On A Roll

Don’t overlook one reason the offense got clicking and seemingly didn’t stop on Sunday in Pittsburgh -- virtually all of the team’s skill-position players got involved and made a key play at one time or another.


WR James Jones hauls in a 24-yard TD catch with just over two minutes left in Pittsburgh on Sunday. The score gave the Packers a 36-30 lead at the time.

After beginning a game with back-to-back three-and-outs for the first time all season, the Packers looked like they might be in for a long day offensively against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

But it turned into just the opposite. With 436 total yards and five touchdowns, the Packers had one of their better offensive days of the season against the league's fourth-ranked defense.

The explanations were numerous. Improved pass protection after a shaky start, only one offensive penalty (a false start), and better hands after an early case of the drops by the receivers certainly factored.

But don't overlook another reason the offense got clicking and seemingly didn't stop - virtually all of the team's skill-position players got involved and made a key play at one time or another.

The five touchdowns? Scored by five different players. The passing yards? Four different receivers posted at least 70 yards for the first time in franchise history, led by Greg Jennings with 118, including an 83-yard TD. Even the ground game, which had limited opportunities, produced two touchdowns as Ryan Grant busted a 24-yard scoring run and quarterback Aaron Rodgers scored from 14 yards out on one of his three scrambles.

"We had a lot of guys contribute," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "A lot of guys stepped up, played hard. We thought the effort was very good. We didn't have a lot of mental mistakes, so that was a positive. We only had one offensive penalty, which we've at times struggled with that part of our game.

"By far it's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a lot of good execution on film, there's a lot of good effort on tape."

The triggerman of course was Rodgers, who played what Head Coach Mike McCarthy called "one of his better games here in Green Bay." In addition to Jennings, he hit his other favorite targets as well, with Donald Driver producing a 49-yard catch-and-run, and tight end Jermichael Finley posting a career-high nine receptions, including an 11-yard TD.

But a clear sign of Rodgers' faith in and complete grasp of the offensive system was how No. 3 and 4 wideouts James Jones and Jordy Nelson got involved. Jones hauled in the 24-yard touchdown that gave the Packers a 36-30 lead with just over two minutes left, while Nelson had catches of 27 and 24 yards on his way to a career-best 71 yards.

"(It was) his discipline to trust his progressions, not pre-determine throws," Philbin said. "Not only get a good indicator pre-snap but let the play unfold and take what's there, not force the ball into an area where they've got more guys than you do or where the coverage dictates, 'Hey, I'm going to throw the ball to Jermichael here, I'm going to throw the ball to Driver, I'm going to throw the ball to Greg.'

"We don't have a lot of that on tape, and that makes you harder to defend I think when you're utilizing all the people that you have."

That was most evident on the three consecutive touchdown drives in the second half, which were the last three times the Packers had the ball in the game. While Finley was targeted for the mismatches he was giving the offense, Rodgers still hit six different receivers over those three possessions, and Grant broke his TD run on his only carry in a 17-snap span.

Down 24-14, the Packers outscored the Steelers 22-6 over a stretch of 17½ minutes. Though it unfortunately wasn't enough to win the game, as Pittsburgh rallied for the game-winning touchdown on the final play, it was a comeback on the road against a playoff-caliber team that will give the offense something to draw upon should it face similar circumstances again, perhaps as soon as next month in the playoffs.

"I think our guys really responded when we got down by 10 points," Philbin said. "When you score 22 points in the fourth quarter, it says a lot of good things about what your guys are doing offensively. The guys were kind of in that mindset that they weren't going to be denied. When they had possession of the football, they were going to get the ball in the end zone, and they did that.

"The guys made plays. We got the bug-a-boo of the drops out of our system for the most part that we had in the first half and just played better overall, sounder football."

{sportsad300}That was indeed true, particularly in three areas the offense had targeted for improvement after some slippage in recent weeks. Despite the team's winning streak stretching to five games, the offense had been experiencing some troubles with red-zone and third-down efficiency, and with turnovers.

--In the last four wins of the five-game winning streak, the Packers scored touchdowns on just 8-of-19 red-zone opportunities (42 percent), dropping their season red-zone rate to an even 50 percent (24-of-48).

--In the Chicago game in Week 14, the offense converted only 5-of-13 third downs (38 percent), including just 2-of-7 (29 percent) on third-and-4 or less, when it had been better than 70 percent (32-of-45) when needing 4 or fewer yards on third downs coming in.

--And over the final three victories of the streak, the Packers committed seven turnovers, after giving the ball away just eight times in the season's first 10 games.

But virtually all of that was rectified against the Steelers, at least for one week. The offense scored two of three times in the red zone (with the lone failure resulting in a missed field goal), converted 10-of-16 (63 percent) on third down, and did not turn the ball over.

In fact, the Packers not only didn't put the ball on the ground once in Pittsburgh, but only one pass even came close to being intercepted, a failed screen to Brandon Jackson late in the second quarter that nearly deflected into the arms of Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley.

"We feel like if we do a great job holding onto the ball, we're going to have a chance to win a lot of games," Philbin said. "That was the case (in Pittsburgh), and it's going to be the case again Sunday. If I'm not mistaken, we have 15 giveaways as a team, 14 on offense, which ties us with San Diego for No. 1 in the NFL.

"That's a great thing to hang your hat on. If we can keep doing that well, we're going to have a chance to win some games."

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