Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. The topics of this edition include:
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ASK THE LEAGUE: What's up with Aaron Rodgers and the Pack attack?
After watching Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense struggle at Minnesota in a prime-time matchup, the Twitterverse has been buzzing about the two-time MVP's play. Critics have started to question whether Rodgers is still on top of his game and if the offense can get back on track after being mired in a slump for nearly a year. I placed a few phone calls to some of my buddies around the league to get their take on what's going on with Rodgers and Co. Here is what I asked -- and their responses:
AFC defensive coach: "Rodgers is still special, but he makes his plays off extended plays -- their explosives come off scrambles or him running around in the pocket. They don't have a strong running game and they lack exceptional receivers, so he has to make magic happen. It's hard to live on improvisational plays in this league."
NFC scout: "The quarterback isn't playing well -- and he hasn't since last season. He is making rookie mistakes from the pocket. They also need more speed on the perimeter. They have some fast guys on the roster -- Jeff Janis, Ty Montgomery, and Trevor Davis -- but those guys aren't getting onto the field. They should think about putting those guys in the mix to give him some help."
AFC pro personnel director: "Rodgers is still a great player, but their offensive line is not very good. They've had lots of changes along the front line and it hasn't come together yet. Plus, Jordy Nelson isn't healthy on the outside. By mid to later in the season, they will be fine."
The Packers' offense has been out of whack for quite a while now, going well into last season. Like most observers, I thought Green Bay's offensive woes would be solved by the return of Jordy Nelson. The Packers' WR1 had emerged as one of the most explosive playmakers in the league prior to his knee injury in 2015, and his presence made life easier for the rest of the pass catchers on the field. But Nelson's return hasn't sparked the team's passing game and the receivers continue to struggle against tight coverage. Opponents are challenging the Packers' receivers at the line of scrimmage and they are simply unable to separate down the field. With defensive coordinators frequently using two deep safeties over the top to eliminate the deep ball (Cover 2-Man), Green Bay's having a tough time consistently moving the ball through the air.
Eddie Lacy and the Packers' sputtering ground game has contributed to the lack of explosiveness from the offense. Green Bay's RB1 is averaging just 55.5 yards per game thus far in 2016, and defensive coordinators refuse to commit extra defenders to the box with an unproductive back in the "dot" position. The Pack's glaring weaknesses on the outside are exposed when defenders are allowed to focus on stopping the pass and shutting down a one-dimensional attack.
As far as Rodgers, the former MVP is not playing well and his frustration has led to undisciplined play from the pocket. Rodgers is electing to play sandlot football in hopes of producing big plays, instead of patiently picking apart opponents by targeting checkdowns or underneath receivers in the route progression. Although he has always bought time and extended plays when the pocket collapses, Rodgers is beginning to move around and scramble before the play has fully developed. This has not only disrupted the flow of the offense, but it has made it hard for Mike McCarthy to get into a rhythm as a play caller, with a number of long-yardage situations on tap. With miracle plays hard to find on the script, the Packers need everyone, including the star QB, to pick up their play and help the offense get back on track.