The Lass Word: Early Down Success is Lethal

Awesome execution on first and second down leads to dominant time of possession

One week ago in this column I predicted the key to the Packers season opening game against the Vikings would be how well Aaron Rodgers threw the ball on third down.   What I didn't anticipate was that the offense would perform so efficiently that, by and large, they wouldn't even need third down.

Green Bay rolled up 31 first downs against the Vikes, but only six of them came on third down conversions.   The Pack was 6 of 11 on third downs.   That's not bad, but the real damage was done before the yardstick even flipped to third down.    The offense moved the chains seven times on first down, and a whopping 14 times on second down.   One conversion was on 4th down.   Three others came via penalty.   It all added up to an incredible 41:16 time of possession, limiting the Vikings to just 18:44, the lowest total in Coach Mike Zimmer's tenure with Minnesota.   

This is important because avoiding third downs, especially third and long, keeps the defense guessing and keeps all your options open.   Remember last season?   One of the Packers biggest problems was taking sacks on third down.   When Rodgers wasn't getting sacked, he was being flushed out of the pocket, forced to hold the ball, and then, all too often, having to just chuck it out of bounds.

But against Minnesota, the Pack was consisently getting four, six, eight yards on first down, setting up second down plays where the defense had to honor the run and therefore became vulnerable to the pass, particularly with their young corners.   Rodgers second quarter touchdown pass to Davante Adams came on second down.   Then, following the Jaire Alexander interception, Rodgers' 45 yard touchdown strike to MVS came on second down.   

In the 4th period a holding penalty put the Packers behind the chains at first and 20.   It was a critical moment in the game as the Vikings were surging back.   In the past, it was typical to see the Packers stumble through the next two downs, setting up third and long, and we all know how that usually turned out.   Not this time.   On first down Rodgers looped a beautiful long ball down the right sideline to Adams for 40 yards.  

Put yourself in the shoes of a defensive coodinator playing against the Packers when it's, say, second and three.   What do you have to stop?   Will they send power runners Jamal Williams or A.J. Dillon up the gut?   Will they slash wide with Aaron Jones?   Do you play up to take away the quick pass to Adams/Lazard/MVS?    What if they blow past you deep?   Do you bite on the jet sweep to Ervin?   You may be looking at multiple tight ends, any one of whom can block for the run or get out into a pattern.   So can the backs.   It's a pretty mind boggling array of weapons.   That's why we saw 14 first downs achieved on second down.   "It was stressing their gap integrity and their presnap eye discipline" said Rodgers on Wednesday.   "That's what this offense has done.   This was a better version of some of the things we did last year."

Yet only a few of those options are available at third and long.   A big part of the equation, of course, is Matt LaFleur staying aggressive with early down play calling.   In truth, the way Green Bay's defense struggled in the 4th quarter left him no choice. 

Now here come the Lions on Sunday.   They are already dealing with injury issues on defense and their secondary is especially suspect.   The unit collapsed in the 4th quarter against......Mitch Trubisky? up 21 points in the final frame and losing a game they should have won easily.   They have been getting skewered by the media and their fans all week.   Some have labeled them the Detroit Lie-Downs.    This makes me nervous.   They almost beat us twice last year and they are going to come into Lambeau fired up to redeem themselves.   "We know we're going to get their best shot," says LaFleur.   

The Lions will be trying to turn the time of possession tables around on the Packers by pounding them with an old nemesis.   LaFleur says running back Adrian Peterson looked pretty good against the Bears.   "It's pretty amazing.   He's been at it for a long time and he's been doing it at a really high level.   He's definitely defying the odds because I looked at what he did last week too and he still looked explosive and dynamic."

If you want an early indication of how things will go in this game, take note of how the Packers are doing on first and second down.   Let's keep all those options open.      




Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

5 points

Comments (6)

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 17, 2020 at 07:18 pm

This article is about first and second down success, but I think the true underpinning is LaFleur's vision for the offense.

To be honest, I thought Davante's dominance bailed out the Packers often. Without Pierce/Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, and an absurdly young CB group, it may simply be that MN has a bad defense.

0 points
splitpea1's picture

September 17, 2020 at 08:02 pm

Bad defense: According to the stats, Minnesota had no sacks, two QB hits, and seven QB pressures. Seven? That was Minnesota?

1 points
nostradanus's picture

September 18, 2020 at 07:09 am

Last season the Packers had too many early down penalties and short gains that put them in 2nd and long. Looks like they have a much better handle on it so far! Keep it going boys! Go Pack!

1 points
JosephMiller1967's picture

September 18, 2020 at 07:26 am

From what I can see the Packers' game is slowly improving. They kept having to many penalties and almost no gains, but that seems to change. Can't wait for the next games :)

-2 points
PatrickGB's picture

September 18, 2020 at 10:16 am

The team has evolved to be less predictable before the snap. That puts defenses in a quandary. So then a good execution on the next play results in positive yards. I like it.

2 points
mnbadger's picture

September 18, 2020 at 10:54 am

we had over 40 minutes of ToP and hardly seemed to run the ball. Somehow, ARod kept the pace moving while also consuming clock.
Masterful play calling and execution.
Detroit's offense scares me more than queens, if nothing else because of their QB and possibly commitment to a running game. Pack 48-24.

1 points