Last season's Green Bay Packers went 13-3 and made a run to the NFC title game, but unlike previous successful seasons during the Aaron Rodgers era, this one was mostly powered by the defense. Green Bay finished the 2019 campaign ranked just 15th in total points and 18th in total yards, with each of those figures paling in comparison to typical Rodgers-led seasons.
It was the first season Rodgers played under new coach Matt LaFleur, and it was clear throughout the season that there were some growing pains as the pair worked together for the first time. One area where the Packers backslid was in their creation of big plays, and LaFleur took notice of that.
"One are we really need to improve on is creating more explosive plays," LaFleur said during a radio interview this week, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky. "We were pretty efficient ... but were 23rd in explosive plays. That starts with play calling [and] maybe take a few more chances to help generate those plays down the field."
Generally, teams consider explosive plays to be those that gain 20 yards or more. By this measurement, the Packers tied for 21st in explosive plays, with 59 of them. (They also ranked 21st in the percentage of their plays that turned into explosive gains, with 5.8 percent of plays gaining 20 yards or more.) LaFleur said the team ranked 23rd in explosive plays, so perhaps the Packers use a different measurement; but the fact remains that they were in the bottom-third of the league either way.
What's interesting is that he mentioned throwing the ball downfield more often as a way to generate more of those big plays. However, of the aforementioned 59 explosive, 52 were passes and just seven were runs. That means the Packers ranked 18th in explosive pass plays (52) and explosive pass rate (9.1 percent of pass plays turned into gains of 20 or more), and 24th in explosive runs (seven) and 25th in explosive run rate (1.7 percent).
More than that, though, the Packers threw the ball deep down the field more often than almost any team in the NFL last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers attempted 93 passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, second-most in the NFL. And it wasn't just volume; 16.3 percent of his throws traveled at least 20 yards, the third-highest rate in the league. The issue was that those throws were rarely completed: Rodgers' adjusted completion percentage (completions plus drops, divided by attempts) on deep throws was just 37.8 percent, a figure that ranked 26th out of 35 qualified quarterbacks.
It's worth noting that Rodgers' mark was higher when throwing to Davante Adams (40.9 percent) than to any of his other targets (36.6 percent), and that the Packers' idea of adding better targets for him this offseason was to sign Devin Funchess, who has caught just 13 of 55 deep passes thrown his way during his career, per PFF.
Green Bay heavily signaled this offseason that it wants to move to more of a run-oriented attack, so perhaps the Packers think they will create more explosive plays that way; but runs are both less efficient overall and less likely to turn into explosive plays than passes, and the Packers were not particularly good at creating explosive runs last year to begin with. If they wanted to create more explosive plays this coming season, they probably should have figured out a way to upgrade Rodgers' weaponry.