Aaron Rodgers stepped in as the Green Bay Packers’ everyday quarterback in 2008 following a tumultuous offseason that saw the rocky departure of long-time face of the franchise Brett Favre. Since then, Rodgers has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
In his five years as Green Bay’s starter, Rodgers has only thrown for fewer than 4,000 yards once, never thrown for fewer than 28 touchdowns and has never thrown more than 13 interceptions. He even helped lead the team to a 2010 Super Bowl title and earned himself Superbowl MVP honors.
However, in some senses, Rodgers has been good because he’s had to–the Packers’ offense is designed for the big numbers in the air.
When Rodgers ascended to the throne in 2008, he inherited a supporting receiver cast of Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley. This core group has been consistent, when healthy, and helped Rodgers out tremendously.
What Rodgers has not always had, however, is a supporting ground game. Sure, in his first two seasons Ryan Grant posted 1,200-yard seasons. That second season for Grant, in 2009, was the last time the Packers had a 1,000-yard rusher. Maybe more alarming, the last time the Packers had a player rush for 100 yards in a game dates back to week five of 2010 by Brandon Jackson (who rushed for just over 700 yards that season); that totals 45 straight games, counting the Packers’ two postseason games in 2012, in which the Packers haven’t had a 100-yard rusher.
This season, the Packers’ draft strategy seems to be looking to change this with the addition of former Alabama running back Eddie Lacy and former UCLA back Johnathan Franklin. However, the numbers by these two, and the Packers’ rushing unit as a whole, has been less than good. This culminated in a Friday-night matchup against the Seahawks in which the Packers’ two apparent starters, DuJuan Harris and Lacy, had -3 yards on 11 carries combined. To add injury to insult, Harris was placed on injured reserve Tuesday afternoon related to a knee injury, meaning he will not be available to start the season for the Packers.
Although the Packers have not had significant talent in their backfield over the last few seasons, their offensive line does have a share in the running games woes, a fact that Packers’ offensive linemen have admitted to.
When looking at the numbers, the problem makes itself more clear. Last season, the Packers’ running backs were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage just 19-percent of the time, better than the league average. However, the Packers’ offensive line did struggle to get their runner into the second level of the defense and beyond (see footballoutsiders.com for more information on the advanced offensive line metrics used). This is reflected in the Packers’ eight carries of more than 20 yards last year, which ranked 21st in the NFL last year and was only better than the Falcons, Broncos and Colts among teams that made the postseason.
The problem seen this preseason could also be a product of a change made this offseason, in which the team shuffled its offensive line in order to better protect Rodgers, the most sacked quarterback in the NFL last year with 51 sacks. By moving their best offensive linemen to one side of the ball, they’re exposing the other side, which can make it more difficult for the backs to get through.
Ultimately, the Packers will have to find a compromise between protecting Rodgers’ blindside and exposing their running backs to disadvantaged situations on the other side of the ball. With the way the Packers’ offense has shaped up over the last five seasons, to Lacy, Franklin, and Alex Green may just have to deal with the consequences of having a $130 million dollar man behind center.