The oft-quoted defenition of “synergy” is that the “whole is greater than the simple sum of its parts”. There are a lot of ways this applies to football. An offensive line that has continuity is greater than the sum of it’s parts. A wide reciever corps, working in perfect concert, can be extremely effective even if the individual players are little more than average. A great quarterback can make the Hall of Fame even though he never had a stellar cast of wide receivers around him. Today, I want to talk about a push-pull effect that the Packers offense is about to employ that will push defenses to their limit -an offensive combo in which the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. And it is not the combo you think…
The most anticipated return on this year’s Packers team is that of Jordy Nelson, no doubt. The Packers offense was off last year and the loss of Jordy was the first of many dominoes in that regard. When Jordy returns, the Packers offense is expected to return to its game-changing ways. I have been boldly predicting that while last year was a perfect offensive storm (Jordy, McCarthy focusing on ST and defense, injuries to everyone including the line, etc.), this year will be the perfect year. OK, ok…not perfect but I see this offense as having the potential to be by far the best we have seen in the Aaron Rodgers era. But one of the key components is a complement to the returning Jordy Nelson and no, I’m not talking about Randall Cobb.
One offensive standing in which the Packers actually improved compared to the rest of the Aaron Rodgers era was rushing yards per game. Of course, the Aaron Rodgers era (’08-’14) had some very bad rushing years but be that as it may, 2015 was not that bad in terms of yards per game. But how many Packers fans were happy with the running game in 2015? Not me. While we moved up in rank, the rushing yards seemed to be very spotty and there was no telling if it was going to be dependable from one game to the next. Add to that some costly fumbles and you don’t even realize until you look up some dry, dusty stats that there was improvement in that area. Eddie Lacy started out out of shape and played hurt for much of the year. But Eddie Lacy is going to be a key component to the offense’s comeback in 2016. Here’s why:
When bloggers and analysts talk about stretching the field, they generally talk about it from beyond the line of scrimmage to the defensive backfield. WR’s stretch the field with speed. They also talk about stretching the field laterally by the splits and routes employed in a given play. But that analysis is missing a component.
Offenses with a strong running game stretch the field from the offensive backfield to the defensive back-field
The first thing to do is define this nebulous term “stretching the field”. For our purposes here, we will define it is “enlarging the area of concern” that a defense has. Defenses only have so many players (resources) and they have to make strategic decisions as far as where to employ them. When a team has a strong running back and has a track record of being committed to the running game, they stretch the field all the way from the running back in his three-point behind the quarterback to the defensive backfield. The reason for this is that a good running back requires an initial hit on their side of the line of scrimmage. Or, at the very least puts pressure on the defense to commit resources to getting a hit early (through the offensive hole, not at or beyond the line of scrimmage) by proving that if they don’t get hit early and quickly get covered up with bodies, they are going to churn up four or more yards per carry. Of course, in the NFC North the optimal example of this is Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson demands a stacked box. Not only that, but defenses know they have to get a body on him as early as possible to keep him in the three yard average range. If your running back gets 4 yards per carry, you can pretty much run any time you want and throw the ball when you want, a situation that every coach in the league works to get themselves into. The weakness that the Vikings have had is that they haven’t been able to stretch the field all the way back to the defensive backfield because Teddy Bridgewater has not shown deep ball accuracy. This is not the case for the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers.
If Eddie Lacy returns to form and can command respect from defenses once again, the Packers field of offensive play opens wide. This is where the never-spoken-of synergy between Nelson and Lacy comes into play. When Lacy is running well, and the Packers show commitment to the running game, Nelson’s job gets easier because the field gets longer. And the last thing defenses want is for Jordy Nelson’s job to get any easier. Eleven defensive players can only do so much and if they have to cheat up or commit even one more player to the box, the whole of that effect will be greater than the sum of its parts. With Jordy back, the defenses area of concern just got bigger and now the play action pass comes into play. And it is not just Jordy’s ability to catch the ball but the fact that he demands certain defensive resource commitments that heightens this push-pull effect. Even if Jordy isn’t the one who catches the ball, he creates opportunities underneath by requiring sometimes a double-team but at least a concerned safety over the top. If Eddie Lacy and the running game threaten, this synergy will stress defenses to the breaking point.
Recently, Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy has made it clear that he wants to simplify the offense. One of his goals is to run the ball more. This simple success was pretty much the only reason the Vikings took the division and went to the playoffs last year. The Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl run was strikingly concurrent with the fact that James Starks came on strong. If Eddie Lacy comes back fast and (not too much) lighter…the Packers offense will see the synergy between the running game and the long pass develop and the Packers’ offense become a juggernaut.
But McCarthy has also made it clear that he wants to focus on players, not plays. This means Eddie and Jordy and the whole crew will be the beneficiaries of a system that rewards and develops production and a winning attitude. All those in the national media who think the Packers are coming in to the 2016 season ‘looking up’ at the Minnesota Vikings have another thing coming. The Packers don’t consider themselves the underdog to anyone. And if they can have a healthier year, the synergy between a reborn running attack and the return of Jordy Nelson will have a push-pull effect that will force defenses to concern themselves with a bigger field so to speak.
The execution of the plan remains to be seen, but the potential is big…very big indeed.