Earlier in training camp, when asked about the offense, Aaron Rodgers stated that some new wrinkles have been added to what is already a relatively unique, highly complex offense. This of course has left me to ponder the question, whatever could they be?
Not having witnessed any training camp in person, where some of the wrinkles at least likely would be on display, occasionally, I am left to my own devices and which is pretty much pure speculation. What is the offense lacking, what could they do with the roster as built? Now at least for a moment forget fringe players, if they thought about it in the offseason, it isn’t something that requires a bubble player to work. Also know that it likely isn’t something totally new, there is very little in the way of totally original concepts in football, most that appears new has in fact been borrowed from elsewhere and just applied to the situation at hand, whether from the pros or the from the college level.
My thoughts immediately go to the running back position. I think that a clue can be taken from the running back that was drafted, James Starks. James is tall and lanky for a running back. However he was noted as an excellent receiver in college; his size his predraft workout numbers are shockingly similar to James Jones’ in almost every respect. Also to be noted, if there is one position that McCarthy seems to be least creative with, it is the halfback position. Odd, since halfbacks are ideal for gaining yards when they have the ball. When I think of the offense that is not only what I feel the most similar to the Packers’, but also the most likely to be copied by other NFL teams, the Saints are on my mind.
The big difference between the Saints offense and the Packers is the Saints X-factor runner/receiver, Reggie Bush. The Packers do in fact have a player at least vaguely similar to Bush in Brandon Jackson, both of them have as a primary weakness poor between the tackles vision when running, both have as a strength open field running. And both are very fast. Jackson to this point in his career has had very limited opportunities running the ball, playing primarily on 3rd downs. However he has become an accomplished 3rd down back, and can do all the tasks asked of him well. Jackson didn’t have many carries either in college, in fact a vast majority of this year’s rookie class had more carries in college than Jackson has had in college and the pros combined thus far.
This past week, in their preseason game against the Seahawks, we saw at least two plays use concepts with the back that haven’t been oft used in Green Bay. The first is that Brandon Jackson motioned out wide from the backfield, lining up at a WR position. The other was a small little screen pass to the interior of the line.
There are a lot of advantages to using Jackson as a receiver. First is that he will tend to draw a LB or S in coverage, removing their potential to blitz, QB spy, or aid with the coverage of other eligible receivers. Next is the fact that if you throw him the ball, you are giving it to him where he is best with it. Jackson is very good with the ball in his hands. He is shifty, fast, runs with power, and is all around difficult to tackle. If it wasn’t for the fact that he isn’t very good at getting past the DL, he’d be quite a good back. Out on the perimeter, you completely eliminate his vision issue. Fortunately, he does have very good hands. The quick turn-n-toss and 1 step slants are plays that Jackson should excel at running.
For some reason McCarthy just hasn’t seemed to have the screen game in his repertoire, or at least uses it sparsely at best. Unusual given that he runs a WCO. The perfect antidote to a defense that is rushing the passer a bit too aggressively is a screen pass. Make the defenders think about the screen at least. It seems that the team has tried to incorporate screens in the past, only to be met with failure during their attempts. Often the problem was not play design, but execution. This seems odd for the running backs since the running back coach was quite good at being the receiver on screen passes as a player. Due to the ability of our WR’s and TE’s to draw safeties deep, and the fact that our interior lineman are significantly younger and more mobile than our tackles, I would expect that much of our screen pass work would be to closer to the middle of the field than the perimeter.
Beyond expanding the role of the halfbacks, I think that McCarthy is going to push the limits with Jermichael Finley, and exploit the mismatch problem that he creates as much as he can. A frequent formation that we have seen already is Finley alone on one side of the line, and 3 WR’s on the other. Any team that dedicates extra coverage to Finley is a team that created a nice box count to run into or nice easy coverage for our WR’s to take care of. Undoubtedly the schematic potential if Quarless develops as hoped, paired with Finely, makes McCarthy giddy.
One thing that I have noticed this PS, beyond schematic items, is that Rodgers seems to be significantly more effective using a hard count or deceptive count while at the line, compared to years past.
Whatever this season’s wrinkles are, one can only hope that they contribute to taking our offense into the stratosphere, instead of getting a little use before discarding as ineffective.