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Keys to Packers’ 2021 offense: Aaron Rodgers winning with patience, precision and a short and sweet method

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A few weeks back, we used this space to dig into what the Green Bay Packers have done differently on defense this year to help themselves stay afloat despite the absence of their two best defensive players. With the Packers on the verge of improving to 13-3 for the third consecutive season, we’re now going to dive into one of the most important aspects of the team’s offense. 

At first glance, Green Bay’s offense doesn’t seem all that special. The Packers rank 15th in the NFL in yards and 13th in the league in points. Go a bit more granular and you see some improvement: the Packers are 12th in yards per play and eighth in points per drive. They also rank eighth in the share of their drives that end in a touchdown or field goal. None of those figures is necessarily the sign of an elite offense. And yet, the Packers rank second in the league in offensive efficiency, as measured by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. 

So, what gives? 

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To me, it all comes down to the Packers’ ability to do the one thing that has given so many other top offenses trouble at different times throughout this season: move the ball down the field slowly, with short gains, without getting impatient and making a mistake. The Packers have averaged 6.4 plays and 35.4 yards per drive thus far this season, the second- and fourth-best figures in the NFL. They also hold the ball for an average of 3 minutes, 14 seconds on any given possession, the highest mark in the league. Maintaining that degree of possession is incredibly difficult, but Green Bay has gotten there by turning the ball over on only 5.2% of its drives, the single-best mark in the NFL. 

The Packers’ ability to move the ball downfield in small chunks is more impressive when you consider the relative ineffectiveness of their running game compared to years past. Aaron Jones had averaged 5.2 yards per carry prior to this season. A.J. Dillon averaged 5.3 per carry as a rookie. They are at 4.4 (Jones) and 4.3 (Dillon) per carry this season, likely owing to the season-long offensive line carousel the Packers have been on. David Bakhtiari has yet to play this year. Elgton Jenkins played in only eight games. Josh Myers lasted just five. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that both backs have yards before contact per carry averages below the league average, according to TruMedia. 

Rather than with the run, the Packers matriculate the ball downfield via the short pass. No team in the NFL is better in the quick game, largely because no quarterback in the NFL is better than Aaron Rodgers in the quick game. On throws within 2.5 seconds of the snap, according to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers is 208 of 277 for 1,811 yards, and 22 touchdowns, and he has yet to throw an interception. Those figures yield a 119.9 passer rating, an obviously elite mark. And he’s accumulated those numbers while releasing the ball in, on average, 1.75 seconds — tied for the fastest trigger in the league on quick-strike throws. 

Rodgers is better than anybody at working the area close to the line of scrimmage, both because he has one of the best close-to-the-line weapons in the league in Davante Adams and because the design of the Packers’ offense builds in more “layup” throws than any other offense in the NFL. There’s a reason that Rodgers ranks first in the league in EPA per dropback on non-red-zone throws of 0 to 10 air yards, and that the distance between Rodgers in first (0.27 EPA per play) and Ryan Tannehill in second (0.19) is equivalent to the distance between Tannehill and 11th-place Matthew Stafford (0.11). The design, working in concert with Rodgers’ decision-making and lightning-quick release, all congeal together to create easy, low-risk gains.

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The Packers have a diverse and varied screen game, but my favorite variation is what I call the flat screen. (It probably has another name but I like it because it describes exactly what the play is.)  

These are throws that stand almost no chance of being intercepted or even affected by any defensive lineman. They get the ball into the hands of a playmaker with a ton of space in front of him, and also with plenty of blocking. Because Rodgers releases the ball so quickly, there’s little chance of an offensive pass interference penalty being called on one of the receivers for blocking before the pass arrives. Maybe they only gain 4 or 5 yards, but they loosen up the defense, keep the chains moving, and give players a chance to create a big play on the perimeter. 

The Packers might also utilize more pick routes than any team in the NFL. The target of these plays is typically Adams, though they will also on occasion have Adams run off a defender and sneak a tight end or one of the backs into the flat to give Rodgers an easy pitch and catch for some free yards. 

More than anything, though, it’s Rodgers’ chemistry with Adams — and the pair’s respective elite talents — that makes the quick-game passing attack truly sing. They are both just so precise in everything they do. They put on a weekly clinic in footwork, body control, ball placement, and a whole lot more. It’s special to watch. The attention that must be paid to Adams (he almost always has safety help over the top of his route or his side of the field) opens up the easiest of throws to the other receivers, and Rodgers can just take the free yards and keep the offense moving. 

I’m not entirely sure how defenses are supposed to stop these types of throws. I’m not sure they even want to. Most defenses are concentrated on taking away the deep ball these days. The Packers hit plenty of those downfield shots, and with more precision than plenty of other offenses. But it’s their proficiency at the types of throws defenses want to force that makes them so tough to stop this year. 

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Gausman continues to shine as Blue Jays shut out slumping Yankees

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NEW YORK – Kevin Gausman is having a tremendous season, despite regularly encountering dumb luck. Consider that the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander headed into his outing Friday against the New York Yankees worth 4.4 wins above replacement, as calculated by Fangraphs, third among all big-league pitchers. Yet his ERA of 3.16 more was more than a run above his FIP of 2.08, and then of course there was his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, of .372, highest by a wide margin among qualified pitchers.

The way the Cleveland Guardians bled him for five runs last weekend in a 7-2 victory, finding holes on pitches that beat them, was a prime example of why the Blue Jays went 11-11 through his first 22 starts.

“It’s weird,” interim manager John Schneider said before the game. “When you put his stuff in a vacuum, he’s like, really, really, really good. So part of it is I think everyone goes through those fluctuations of up and down, lucky, unlucky, whether you’re a hitter or a pitcher. We like his stuff. Obviously, we trust it and I’m sure things will turn in his favour.”

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In start No. 23, they certainly did, Gausman dominating over seven shutout innings in pushing the Blue Jays to a third straight win, 4-0 over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

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Initially, it looked like he could be on for a night of struggle when DJ LeMahieu rocked his first pitch of the game, a get-me-over fastball at 91.2 m.p.h., 404 feet to centre where Whit Merrifield tracked it down on a play that had a 35-per-cent catch probability, and Aaron Judge followed with a walk. But Gausman escaped that inning unscathed, struck out the side in the second and allowed just three hits over the next frames while striking out seven.

The Yankees, already out of sorts for an extended period, flailed away helplessly at his mostly fastball/splitter mix, with eight of their 15 swings at splits resulting in a whiff. Even with his fastball velocity down a tick, sitting at 94.1 instead of his season average of 95, he was in command from the second inning onwards.

The offence, meanwhile, missing George Springer who fouled a ball off his knee during a five-hit effort in Thursday’s 9-2 win, didn’t make it one-sided in the same way but again posed a steady threat from the jump. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., was robbed of a home run in right by a leaping Oswaldo Cabrera on the game’s first pitch and the pressure was on from there.

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Yankees starter Jameson Taillon kept them in check until the third when Merrifield opened the inning with a single, advanced to third on Cavan Biggio’s double and scored on a Gurriel groundout.

An inning later, Alejandro Kirk opened the frame with a base hit before Teoscar Hernandez launched home run No. 18 over the wall in left-centre, having just missed a shot to centre in the second.

The Blue Jays wasted a chance to bury the Yankees in the sixth, when they put men on second and third with none out, but Lou Trivino came in for Taillon and stranded the runners. They did eventually manage to add on in the ninth when they loaded the bases against Aroldis Chapman before Ron Marinaccio surrendered a sacrifice fly to Danny Jansen that made it 4-0.

Jordan Romano then locked things down in the ninth, ensuring a brilliant night from Gausman didn’t go to waste. He’s now thrown at least six shutout innings in three of his last four starts, surrounded by that one bad-luck outing against Cleveland.

It’s a reminder of how great a season he’s having, one even better than his impressive stats suggest.

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Paul Goldschmidt launches a deep solo homer vs. Diamondbacks

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Paul Goldschmidt helped the St. Louis Cardinals grab an early 1-0 lead against the Arizona Diamondbacks, thanks to his solo homer in the first inning.



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Patriots’ Mac Jones made his preseason debut against the Panthers. Here’s how it went.

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The last time New England quarterback Mac Jones took the field for a game, the Patriots lost, 47-17, against the Buffalo Bills in the 2021 AFC wild card round. On Friday night, Jones got to see some playing time under the lights, as he started in the home game against the Carolina Panthers

Jones did not play in the team’s preseason premiere against the New York Giants, but he got his chance to kick off his sophomore year during Week 2 of the preseason.

From warmups to the team entrance, Jones was fired up to be in front of the Gillette Stadium crowd, and the home fans reciprocated the love.

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The Patriots offense got off to a slow start, going three-and-out on its first and second offensive drives. Its third drive was a different story, going 10 plays for a touchdown.

The highlight of the series was a beautiful 45-yard completion from Jones to receiver Nelson Agholor that set them up well for the eventual score. 

Jones, who changed his offseason workout routine and has been open about his diet, showed off his athletic ability by rushing in the red zone for seven yards. Then, a two-yard run from Ty Montgomery put the Patriots on the board to give them the lead. Jones was done for the night after that, finishing 4-for-8 for 61 yards.

The second season for a highly drafted quarterback, especially one who starts in his first year, is an integral one, and while Jones’ preseason debut was nothing crazy, he was able to shake the rust off.

Heading into a season where he knows the coaching staff and is familiar with the offense, Jones should improve from his rookie year. Training camp was not too impressive for the offense, which has no official coordinator and instead will be led by a combination of Joe Judge and Matt Patricia, two coaches with not much offensive experience.

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However, the connection between Jones and Agholor is what concerned fans can look at for hope as the preseason soon comes to a close.



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