Monday, June 20, 2016

Did The Packers Do Enough This Offseason: Run Offense

Unlike the Green Bay Packers' pass offense, which will only improve if a number of things go right (Nelson is healthy, Cook is a good free agent fit, the offensive line is healthy), the run offense simply needs more from RB Eddie Lacy:
Lacy's weight has been an issue for at least the past two seasons, and I could probably find articles about it during his rookie season if I tried to find them. He was reportedly down to 240 lbs. in April, which is still a lot for a running back, and losing weight should make him faster. That's not too important at the line of scrimmage, but it could turn some 10 yard runs into big plays.

RB James Starks. Starks was one of the worst running backs who had more than 100 carries last season, according to Football Outsiders. He's valuable as a pass protector and receiver, which is why it was a good move to re-sign him as a 3rd down back, but he's not going to replace Lacy unless they have no other choice.

The offensive line. Though they didn't miss many games, every starter on the offensive line missed some time with injuries. Unfortunately it seems like wishful thinking that a veteran offensive line would return the following season in better shape then they were the year before but that's the hope.

OTs Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs. Two of the three offensive players drafted last April were lineman who might help the running game. Murphy's the latter round selection but he's arguably better as a run blocker (he blocked last season for Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey last season) while Spriggs is more likely to be the athletic, pass blocking offensive tackle of the future. Though Murphy could help as a run blocker, he's not going to take over the starting job from any of the projected starters, he might be helpful as an extra tackle on short yardage situations.

Short of drafting a rookie running back to challenge Lacy in 2016, except it wasn't much of a 2016 draft class headlined by Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry as the top choices, the best way to improve the run offense was to ask more from Lacy this year. Based on his 2013 and 2014 seasons, his improvement is probably their best bet next season.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Did The Packers Do Enough This Offseason: Pass Offense

For the past several seasons, when I'm reviewing the changes made by the Green Bay Packers during the offseason, I'm usually focused on what they're doing to improve the defense. But this offseason I'm starting with the pass offense, which was a huge disappointment in 2015, and received as much help help as any unit this offseason:
QB Aaron Rodgers. It all starts at the top with any NFL offense. If 2015 wasn't his worst NFL season, then it came really close, which is still a career year for some starting QBs. On one hand, it's not fair to put all the blame on him when his offensive line was a walking M.A.S.H. unit and he lost WR Jordy Nelson for the entire season, and those are good reasons to expect he'll be much in better 2016 season. On the other hand, his completion percentage in 2015 was his lowest as a NFL starter (60.7%) and its declined every season since 2011. His yards per attempt also hit rock bottom (6.68 per attempt) and placed him near the bottom among qualified players (just ahead of Colin Kaepernick). He should improve when he has more time to throw (healthy offensive line) and Nelson back, but those troublesome stats are something to keep an eye on next season.

WR Jordy Nelson. When Nelson got hurt last year, I thought the Packers were going to have to spread it out and get everyone involved in the passing game. That would have been a real shift in their mentality because Rodgers had come to rely so much on Nelson and Randall Cobb for a majority of his targets. Instead, the Packers continued to rely heavily on their top receivers which featured an ex-Packer off the waiver wire (James Jones) and a second year receiver who wasn't ready for a heavy work load (Devante Adams). Despite glimpses from Janis, Abbrederis and Montgomery, all they've shown so far are glimpses and they can't be counted on yet, if at all. Nelson's return remains the key, and it's still incredibly important that he returns to full strength, otherwise the offseason will have been a bust.

OL Jason Spriggs. Maybe he was selected in anticipation of 2017, when three offensive lineman are up for free agency, but adding quality depth at offensive tackle for 2016 was still an important move. His addition can only help next season.

RB James Starks. He was the 10th best receiving RB in the NFL last season according to Football Outsiders, and that alone might have been why they re-signed him to a two-year contract. Coming into the 2015 season, I had hoped Eddie Lacy would become a difference maker as a receiver but that never happened. Instead it was Starks, though he never became a major part of the passing game, did become very effective as receiver when asked. At 6-2, he doesn't look the part of a prototype 3rd down back, but that might be what he's become. Re-signing him this spring was a small move that might really help the pass offense next season.

TE Jared Cook. First the bad news; Cook was awful in 2015. Among TEs who were targeted more than 25 times last season, Cook was the absolute worst according to Football Outsiders. The counter-argument is that it wasn't just Cook's fault; the entire Rams passing attack was a disaster (which explains the need for Jared Goff) and Cook is a great athlete who's just needed a good quarterback. Though Richard Rodgers (and Justin Perillo for that matter) were statistically much better than Cook last season, Rodgers and Perillo can't get away from anyone in coverage while Cook has the upside to become a major playmaker. This move can't hurt but Cook's next great season will also be his first, so don't book him a ticket for the Pro Bowl just yet.

While the Packers didn't go for broke this offseason, Spriggs and Cook were nice additions but neither of them broke the bank, they didn't stand pat either and think that Nelson alone was going to make them a better passing team. When you have the franchise quarterback in place, it's important to focus on re-loading instead of re-building, and that's what they did this offseason.