Green Bay Packers: Rodgers at the top of his game in pursuit of second Super Bowl
The Packers agonisingly fell one game short of the Super Bowl in 2020, which was a memorable season for Aaron Rodgers.
It was a memorable season for the Green Bay Packers, but one that ultimately ended similarly to the last.
The Packers went down to a frustrating NFC Championship Game defeat to eventual champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one year on from losing at the same stage to the San Francisco 49ers.
In between those events, Aaron Rodgers put together a sensational season to be named NFL MVP for the third time.
Rodgers responded perfectly to the Packers trading up and drafting his potential replacement, Jordan Love, in the first round of the 2020 draft, puzzlingly eschewing the help at wide receiver he appeared to need.
Consecutive 13-3 seasons under Matt LaFleur are to be applauded.
But one Super Bowl ring seems an unfair return for a quarterback of Rodgers’ quality, so it is time for the Packers front office to do more to get him over the hump as his career enters its latter years.
We have used Stats Perform data to scrutinise how they might go about doing it on the evidence of their 2020 campaign.
Led by a remarkable season from Rodgers, who threw for a career-high 48 touchdowns and just five interceptions, the Green Bay offense was rolling.
There were calls ahead of the season for further receiving threats to be brought in to complement number one option Davante Adams.
While those did not arrive, passing to the first-team All-Pro was a cheat code in 2020, with Adams racking up 115 catches, 1,374 yards and a league-leading 18 touchdowns in 14 regular season games.
The Packers were ninth with 256.6 net passing yards per game, but that figure came with them having the least attempts (526) of any top-10 passing offense, suggesting they often had much more in the tank if it was needed.
Similar can be said for their 57 completions of 20+ yards, which ranked ninth in the league. When Rodgers did go deep, they were highly effective and the average yards gained on those throws was 33.1, third best in the NFL.
— NFL (@NFL) February 16, 2021
Marquez Valdes-Scantling emerged as an impressive deep threat, averaging 44.8 yards per catch on the 10 of those 20+ yard plays he accounted for. His overall record of 20.9 yards per reception from 33 catches was the NFL's best.
The Packers' run game was strong, with 134.2 yards per game good for eighth in the NFL, while they were 16th for runs of 10+ yards with 49 such plays. Running backs contributed in the pass game too, with only Adams and tight end Robert Tonyan having more catches for the team than Aaron Jones' 47.
There may still be calls for Rodgers to be handed a stronger supporting cast, but after such an impressive year they may not be as loud this offseason, with attention perhaps better focused on other areas of the roster.
The Packers' defense was better than average in 2020 and, with a rampant Rodgers leading the offense, a defensive unit like that is all you need to contend.
In terms of headline numbers, they were ninth in yards allowed (334) and 13th in points allowed (23.1). The pass defense was seventh in yards per game (221), while they were 13th against the run.
Green Bay registered 41 sacks (10th), allowed 5.49 yards per play (14th) and their opponents’ scoring efficiency was 16th in the NFL, so you need to dive deeper to before finding anything alarming.
One area for improvement is the need for more game-changing plays. The Packers had 18 takeaways, putting them in a tie for 25th, while they only forced 26 rushing plays to result in negative yardage (tied for 28th).
A bend but do not break defensive strategy appears to have largely fared well, but playmakers can change those one-off postseason games where the margins are so fine, and the Packers do not have too many of those.
On the plus side, the defense allowed just 48 big plays of 20+ yards (third in the NFL).
However, nine of those went for TDs and Green Bay fans will not forget cornerback Kevin King's struggles against the Bucs in a hurry.
Pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith was not as productive as last year but still registered team-leading figures of 12.5 sacks, 12 TFL and 23 QB hits.
He could do with improved support up front, while the spot opposite lockdown cornerback Jaire Alexander looks like one which could do with reinforcing.
On the whole, there is room for improvement but a solid base to build from.
— NFL (@NFL) February 7, 2021
Green Bay are not flush with cash as they enter the offseason around $4.5million over the estimated cap ($185m).
On the plus side, they do not have too many top contributors hitting free agency.
Retaining or replacing one of the NFL's top centers, Corey Linsley, is a key priority.
Both running backs, Jones and Jamaal Williams, are also poised to hit the market, so it may be difficult to retain both of them, especially if they want to justify drafting AJ Dillon in round two a year ago. He only played 97 offensive snaps in the regular season.
King did his free agency hopes few favours in the playoffs, while offensive line may be an area of focus after the departure of tackle Rick Wagner, who played in every game and started nine.
In terms of incomings, with limited funds Green Bay will need to pick their spots but will know a star veteran could make all the difference.
With Rodgers in fine fettle and with LaFleur overseeing a team proven to be contenders, you can expect them to be connected with any high-profile free agents who hit the open market.
That has already been the case with recently released Houston Texans icon J. J. Watt, who ultimately joined the Arizona Cardinals.
After his heroics last year, Pack fans will think any impactful signings the front office can make will be a deserving reward for Rodgers, who is back at the top of his game.
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