Run Game Remains Vital to Offense’s Success in 2020

An emphasis on the run game bodes well historically for the Packers. 

We’ve heard since Matt LaFleur got hired as the 15th head coach in Packers history that he wants to emphasize the run game in his offense. But what exactly does that mean? We know LaFleur’s offense operates out of an outside zone running scheme, but what can that do for the success of the team long term?

In 2019, the Packers attempted 573 passes and 411 rushes on offense. That translates to the offense running the ball 42% of the time. 

This intrigued me, so I decided to look up the 2010 season. When the Packers won the Super Bowl, the offense ran the ball 44% of the time, even with Ryan Grant lost for the season due to injury week one. The Packers made it work with guys like Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn, and James Starks. And while we think about the explosive offense centered around receivers like Greg Jennings, James Jones, Donald Driver, and Jordy Nelson, the ground game contributed quite a bit to the success of that 2010 squad. 

Up through 2015, the Packers hovered right around 44% running the football, whether it was done backfield-by-committee or after Eddie Lacy exploded onto the scene in 2013 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

In 2016, however, the “Run the Table” season, Mike McCarthy only ran the ball 37% of the time on offense. While the Packers got all the way to the NFC Championship Game, it felt like a team that would live or die by the arm of Aaron Rodgers. Remember 2016? The season where Rodgers threw 40 touchdowns and only seven interceptions? Where he posted 4,428 yards through the air and a 104.2 quarterback rating? Rodgers himself had more rushing touchdowns that season (four) than any running back on the team, the closest being Ty Montgomery with three. 

In 2017, the rushing numbers spiked to 41%, but a lot of that can likely be attributed to Rodgers’ collarbone injury. With Brett Hundley starting nine games at quarterback that season, the Packers weren’t nearly as likely to attack opposing defenses through the air. 

Enter 2018, Mike McCarthy’s final season with the Packers. Green Bay only runs the ball 34% of the time on offense, and the Packers crawl to a 4-7-1 record before McCarthy is relieved of his duties right after the Cardinals game. 

While the numbers themselves don’t illustrate an entire picture, they do help to emphasize the Packers’ shift away from the run game during the latter half of McCarthy’s tenure in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers posted his second MVP season in 2014 when Eddie Lacy ran for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns and the offense ran the ball 45% of the time. Rodgers didn’t have to be Superman. And by allowing Rodgers to play the game he’s good at, he still posted astronomical numbers, throwing for 4,381 yards and 38 touchdowns with only five interceptions.

Now, entering 2020 with Aaron Jones coming off a career year, Jamaal Williams establishing himself as a pass-catching back, and A.J. Dillon a second-round draft pick known as a bruising finisher, Rodgers shouldn’t have to play Superman here, either. And that’s a good thing. 

As Rodgers enters what he’s described as the “back nine” of his career, the focus should shift towards a more balanced offense. The same happened with Brett Favre and it happens with any aging quarterback. While Rodgers is still capable of commanding an offense and making big plays in big moments, that’s not what a LaFleur offense expects of him, and that’s significant. 

If the Packers are going to make a playoff push in 2020 and beyond, the team is going to do so relying heavily on the ground game. Consider the drafting of A.J. Dillon and Josiah Deguara as further evidence to support that point. 

In a loaded wide receivers class, the Packers opted to sign a quarterback of the future and a power running back. That says a lot about LaFleur’s long-term expectations for his offense.

Now none of this means that Rodgers isn’t still a vital part of the team’s success in 2020 and beyond; let’s not write him off just yet. All this means is that he won’t have to work as hard to put up gaudy statistics to keep the team successful. 

2016, by all accounts, was a fluke. That was a mad Aaron Rodgers reminding the rest of the NFL what he can do, with or without help. In 2017 and 2018 when the Packers missed the playoffs, a large part of that was due to a lack of balance on offense (though, again, 2017 is kind of an anomaly due to injury). 

It’s not surprising that in 2019, with a new head coach emphasizing the run game, Aaron Jones had a career year, setting a franchise record with 23 total touchdowns and over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Expect more of that in 2020. And expect that Packers to exceed the 42% run percentage in 2020, too, because it’s actually the lowest total for a playoff Packers team since 2011. 

While Rodgers still threw over 4,000 yards and only four interceptions in 2019, he didn’t have to play the perfect game (even though he did against the Raiders) in order for the Packers to win. He only put up 26 touchdowns through the air in the regular season (his second-lowest touchdown total playing a full season since taking over as the Packers' starter), and Green Bay still won 13 games. If Rodgers takes a second-year jump in LaFleur’s offense, just like MVP-winning Matt Ryan did with LaFleur as his quarterback’s coach during his Super Bowl year, and the Packers remain focused on emphasizing the run game, then the rest of the NFL should officially be on notice.

----------------------------

Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV, podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said, and hosts a weekly live show called Happy Hour through Game On Wisconsin. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

NFL Categories: 
12 points

Comments (26)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Handsback's picture

May 29, 2020 at 06:57 am

Will add that this isn't a should but a must...Green Bay will be a running team baring any major injuries. They are changing the team chemistry to the point where Rodgers won't be able to check off to pass plays w/o the right personnel on the field. TJ Lang tweeted after the draft that the Packers will be a running team, but that Rodgers would be deadly with the play action pass sequence. I agree with Lang...just hope there's magic in that offensive line so they stay healthy again like last year.

+ REPLY
8 points
9
1
gkarl's picture

May 29, 2020 at 07:50 am

We'll always pass more than run, we have AR and NFL rules promote the pass. Good teams have to have the ability/personnel to do both and I think that is where MLF and the FO office have us headed. More balanced pass/run, 55/45, is good for many reasons. Control the clock, rest the defense, help AR but if we are good at both we dictate the game to the opposing defense, that's the real value and what MFL is aiming for.

+ REPLY
14 points
14
0
PeteK's picture

May 29, 2020 at 09:03 am

Absolutely, balance is the key.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Lphill's picture

May 29, 2020 at 08:08 am

But Maggie when Rodgers had a solid receiving group , jordy, Jennings, Jones , Driver he was able to deliver a Super Bowl. Now he has Adams and a bunch of question marks.

+ REPLY
-4 points
2
6
PeteK's picture

May 29, 2020 at 09:01 am

He would have delivered a SB with Lacy and without most of those receivers if it wasn't for the inexcusable Seattle debacle.

+ REPLY
10 points
10
0
Leatherhead's picture

May 29, 2020 at 11:49 am

2010 was the only year in Rodgers career where we had a Top 8 defense. Most seasons, the defense has been average to bad. We led the league in offense in 2014 with Richard Rodgers starting.

Maggie....it’s always nice to see people coming around to my way of thinking. Better late than never. But I do have to correct your “back nine” statement. Rodgers isn’t entering the back nine...he’s on the 14th hole.

If you want him healthy the next two years, you do everything you can to protect him. That means getting rid of the ball more quickly and running more. Rodgers should have a clean uniform at the end of the game.

Running more also keeps the opposing offense on the sideline, which helps the defense. A lot of people didn’t want to see this....they wanted Rodgers throwing it downfield a bunch. I was pretty sure that wasn’t the plan

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Stroh's picture

May 29, 2020 at 04:03 pm

In 2009 the year before the SB title the Packer D was #1 overall, under Capers. In 2010 the SB run had a Defense that was #5 in the NFL. Other years they climbed near top 10 as well, but injuries on D to important players like Collins, Woodson, Tramon, Bishop prematurely ended the great Defense they had and were hoping to maintain. Too many injuries to really great players prevented sustaining the Defense.

+ REPLY
3 points
3
0
fastmoving's picture

June 01, 2020 at 08:11 am

AR had a better WR group that 90 percent of the teams. How could you miss that.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
PeteK's picture

May 29, 2020 at 09:10 am

There are still many questions to be answered before we become a very good running offense. What is Dequara, how will Wagner hold up, will Jace be better than Graham(certainly better blocker already), can Dillon transition to the pro game( confident about this one)?

+ REPLY
1 points
1
0
Leatherhead's picture

May 29, 2020 at 12:19 pm

It’s DeGuara.

If you look at the available online video of him and Dillon, you’re going be very pleased.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
PeteK's picture

May 29, 2020 at 04:38 pm

I love what DeGuara could bring, but worry because playing in the NFL is a big step up from the American division.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
jannes bjornson's picture

May 30, 2020 at 05:48 am

They play a better style of football in the MAC and AAC than most Big Ten teams. He is the real deal, a football player.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
nostradanus's picture

May 29, 2020 at 09:26 am

Absolutely correct, Rodgers while still very good will not need to fill the stat sheet as much as in the past. The Packers absolutely sent a message to A Rodg with the drafting of Dillon, Deguara and three Guards, this is going to be an even more balanced offense.

The WR & TE group is like a basketball team!
Lazard 6’5, Funchess 6’5, EQ 6’5, Sternberger 6’5, Lewis 6’6, MVS 6’4, Kumerow 6’4. This is a Huge group that excels at run blocking and boxing out opponents. Adams and Degura are the midgets of the group at 6’2 and 6’1 respectively.

They now have running backs for all weather conditions rain, mud, snow , dome. You want some flash? (Jones & Ervin) Oh you say the field is muddy/snowy or you want a little late game ground and pound? (Dillon & Williams)

The Packers also drafted 3 young offensive linemen with a penchant for being nasty blockers which is also telling as to what direction thePackers offense is going, forget the finess offense of 10 years ago, the Packers are planning on playing dominant knock you on your azz real football!

As puzzling as the 2020 NFL draft was it has become very clear what the Packers general manager and head coach intend on doing with their offense moving forward should be fun.

+ REPLY
4 points
5
1
Lphill's picture

May 29, 2020 at 11:33 am

You forgot Reggie Begelton from Canada , he is only 6 foot.

+ REPLY
2 points
2
0
Tundraboy's picture

May 29, 2020 at 09:58 pm

I love nasty Olinemen. Gregg style. Works wonders for protecting your quarterback and the running game.

+ REPLY
0 points
1
1
murf7777's picture

May 29, 2020 at 09:31 am

I believe what MLF wants is a balanced attack to keep defenses off balance. SB winning teams mostly have two things in common, a balanced offensive attack and a top 10 or even 5 Defense. The team is heading in the right direction.

+ REPLY
4 points
5
1
Since'61's picture

May 29, 2020 at 09:48 am

“We’re going to focus on the run game this season”.
“The run game is about number of attempts”.
“We need to work on the running game”.
“We will look at the tape to find more opportunities to run the ball”.

Mike McCarthy at some point or at multiple points during every season of his tenure in Green Bay.

As for going forward, I do expect the Packers to run more, especially if Dillon can be effective at the NFL level. If that happens our RB position group will be stronger than our WR position group for the first time since the Lombardi era. My concern remains with the OL. I’m not overly confident, at least not yet, that our OL is good enough to provide a dominating ground attack. The RBs go as far as the OLs effectiveness. Stay well everyone. Thanks, Since ‘61

+ REPLY
4 points
5
1
PatrickGB's picture

May 29, 2020 at 10:26 am

Maggie, stop making sense! “But, but why didn’t we draft a WR!?” All that crap about weapons that Rodgers needed ignores the run game. MM used to imply that the pass sets up the run. MLF doesn’t think so. This is no longer MMs offense. I am not sure about drafting a QB in the first round but the rest of the draft looks fine to me and the long term future of the team will look different than it did under MM.

+ REPLY
6 points
7
1
Leatherhead's picture

May 29, 2020 at 12:52 pm

Run more, pass less.

+ REPLY
-1 points
0
1
Stroh's picture

May 29, 2020 at 03:55 pm

Rodgers needs to accept that this is LaFleur's offense and not his. Too often in the past Rodgers has changed plays whenever he wanted and the rushing numbers show it. McCarthy would have the play called for a run and change to a pass. LaFleur is going to be running the ball close to 50% of the time. THis worked very well for the Bronco's and Elway as in the same offense (basically) as the Packers now use. Elway gave in and allowed the Bronco's to become a running team w/ Terrell Davis leading the way, and he got 2 SB trophies for his allowances. Now forward to today and will Rodgers be smart enough to allow LaFleur's offense to work for him the same way it did for Elway?

The Packers now have the RB to handle more rushing, especially if the are able to get Jones signed. Dillon and Jones would make a formidable duo that can allow the Packers to dominate on the ground. Drafting Dillon and Deguara are a clear sign the Packers want this, but Rodgers needs to accept the change for it to work. Will he? Last year doesn't really indicate that he will accept it.

+ REPLY
3 points
3
0
PhantomII's picture

May 29, 2020 at 09:34 pm

If Jones and if Dillon can stay healthy I think Rodgers will be able to see the offense get first downs running the ball along with TE play and see there is another way to keep moving the chains and get first downs instead of 3 and out with nobody open. The offense should run smoother than last year.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 29, 2020 at 04:30 pm

AR was on pace for 597 pass attempts in 2017. That's makes 2017 a heavily pass-first team.

I expect the Packers will run more than in the past. I don't foresee anything like 50%. I will believe something like that when I see it.

+ REPLY
1 points
1
0
murf7777's picture

May 29, 2020 at 05:19 pm

Probably more like 45 run 55 pass, but your still going to do what the D gives you. The difference in successful running teams is they prove they can run so the D has to play that or get pounded. Proving the run then allows for more open passing lanes. This is still a passing league and Arod will love giving up the rock to make throwing easier. I foresee him having a big year.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Since91's picture

May 29, 2020 at 11:41 pm

I am expecting a new version of offense this year. Using what worked best last year and adding a bunch of new wrinkles. I believe the coaches will use the toys we have to try and win each week. Some weeks will be owned by A Jones and other RBs and other weeks will be owned by Rodgers and his receivers. That’s a good thing! No more Rodgers stands alone and every defense knows it. Let’s see how the coaches use the illusion of complexity to create consistent success this year on offense.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Oppy's picture

May 30, 2020 at 10:18 pm

If Rodgers can stay committed to handing the ball off, and the RBs do their job, we should be able to bully the defense into moving out of their nickle personnel and into subbing in a LB or in-the-box safety. Once that happens, our extremely big-bodied corps of WRs/TEs can continue to serve the threat of heavy run looks but also feast on crossers over the middle of the field taking advantage of that LB or S with their 6'5" bodies and wingspans to match. Not to mention the occassional play action strike over the top. It all has to be built on the run game, and it can not be abandoned.

+ REPLY
2 points
2
0
RyanMedina's picture

June 08, 2020 at 04:04 am

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog, I will keep visiting this blog very often.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0

Log in to comment and more!

Not a member yet? Join free.

If you have already commented on Cheesehead TV in the past, we've created an account for you. Just verify your email, set a password and you're golden.