The Packers enter Sunday’s game with Washington ranked No. 2 in the NFL with a 75 percent touchdown rate, converting on nine of 12 opportunities, which trails only Philadelphia (80 percent).
“That’s been the key point up in the offensive meetings is we get in the red zone, we’ve got to score,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. “We don’t want three points, we want six. It’s been a big emphasis on offense and we’re trying to convert in the red zone.”
In 2009, Green Bay ranked No. 9 in the league in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 34-of-62 trips (54.8 percent) inside the 20. The biggest negative for the Packers was pass protection as they allowed a league-high nine sacks in the red zone, forcing them to settle for field goals more than they would like.
Through Week 1, the Packers have allowed just one sack inside the 20, and it came this past Sunday when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked in the second quarter on a first-and-goal from the Detroit 7 for a 7-yard loss. The offense still converted though, with Rodgers threading the needle to Finley for a 13-yard touchdown pass on third down.
“Our red-zone success, I think it says a number of different things,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “It probably starts up front. The protection has been good down there. The quarterback has had room to throw. In the Detroit game, on the third down to Jermichael, I don’t know if you can really defend that.
“The point I’m making is the players are on the same page. Starting with the planning, I think the ability to play in tight spots and play faster with our weapons down there has been a plus so far this year. We felt that we needed to run the ball better coming off of last year’s study. So you want to be balanced, but I just think our perimeter group starting with the protection, the quarterback and the timing has picked up.”
That improved protection for Rodgers has helped him post a passer rating of 124.2 in the red zone this season, trailing only San Francisco’s Alex Smith (124.6) in the NFL (min. 10 attempts). He has connected on 12-of-16 passes for 77 yards and five touchdowns, and has spread those 12 completions around to seven different players.
Even more impressive are Rodgers’ career numbers inside the 20. He has yet to throw an interception in the red zone in 36 career starts, posting a 109.0 rating on 97-of-158 passing (61.4 percent) for 615 yards and 41 touchdowns.
The challenge for the offense now is to get inside the 20 more often to create those opportunities for Rodgers and his pass-catching weapons. The Packers have had 12 red-zone trips this season, an average of three a game, which ranks tied for No. 12 in the league. Last season, Green Bay averaged just under four red-zone drives a game (3.9), which ranked sixth in the NFL.
While the Packers have converted third downs overall so far this season at a similar clip compared to last season (46.5 percent in 2010 and 47.0 percent in 2009), they haven’t had as much success in third-and-short situations. Through four games, they rank tied for No. 24 in the league when they need four or fewer yards on third down, converting just 50 percent (7 of 14) of those situations. Compare that to last season when Green Bay ranked No. 3 in the league at 67.8 percent (40 of 59).
“I haven’t done a good enough job on third downs for us to get more opportunities, to finish those drives off, to take those plays from three-and-outs to drives that end up with points,” Rodgers said. “I’ve got to be critical of myself first. I haven’t got the job done.
“I think the protection has been great. Five sacks as compared to I think 20 last year after four games, my body definitely appreciates that every Monday and Tuesday. I think we have been efficient in the red zone. We just need to do a better job on third down and be more consistent in order to take some pressure off the defense.”
Morgan Burnett’s season was cut short after just four games when he sustained a torn ACL in his left knee in the first half against Detroit, but the rookie safety is trying to look at the bright side of not being on the field the rest of the year.
“The main goal is just work hard and put the same effort into rehabbing and getting back right, and still learn at the same time,” Burnett said. “Now I’ve got a chance to look at the game from a different aspect.
“This is my chance to get an extra year of just film study and picking up on certain things, learning the defense, and just having a chance to watch other safeties in the league like top safeties like Troy Polamalu and learn from those types of guys. Just take a positive mindset going into this situation and know that everything is going to be OK.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said during his Monday press conference that the coaches weren’t even able to identify which play Burnett sustained the knee injury on when they watched the game film. Burnett said he felt “tightness” in his knee after Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson was tackled near the Green Bay sideline and he attempted to get out of the way.
“I really didn’t think nothing of it because I kept playing, but I just went on and told the trainers about it before it got worse,” said Burnett, who estimated he played 12 more snaps after initially feeling the tightness in his knee. “That’s when they X-rayed it and looked at it and gave me my results.
“I was walking around fine and I’ve got full range of motion, so I was shocked when I got the news.”
Burnett said surgery to repair the torn ACL has not yet been scheduled, but that he plans to continue to be around the Packers’ facility throughout the season and attend meetings.
“The organization as a whole has been very supportive,” Burnett said. “They are keeping me lifted up now, just guys coming and giving me encouraging words.
“That’s very encouraging to hear stuff coming from my teammates, even coming from the coaches and the front office, so that means a lot. It helps motivate you to really think positive and really put your full effort into coming back and getting healthy.”
Cornerback Charles Woodson was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday for his performance against Detroit last Sunday.
Woodson posted a career-high 14 tackles and returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown in the Packers’ 28-26 win over the Lions.
The interception return for a TD was the eighth of his Green Bay career, which set a franchise record, topping the previous mark of seven held by Herb Adderley (1961-69). He now has 10 career INT returns for scores (two with Oakland), good for No. 3 in NFL history behind only Rod Woodson (12) and Darren Sharper (11).
It is Woodson’s fourth Defensive Player of the Week Award as a Packer, which is the most in franchise history. Defensive end Reggie White was honored three times during his career in Green Bay.
Woodson is the third Packer to win a weekly award this season. Kicker Mason Crosby won the NFC award for Week 1 at Philadelphia on special teams, while linebacker Clay Matthews took home defensive honors for Week 2 vs. Buffalo.
Linebacker Nick Barnett (wrist), linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder), tackle Chad Clifton (knee), safety Nick Collins (knee), fullback Quinn Johnson (glute), cornerback Sam Shields (calf), tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder) and Woodson (toe) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins (hand) and safeties Derrick Martin (ankle) and Charlie Peprah (quad) participated fully.
For Washington, starting running back Clinton Portis (groin) has been ruled out for Sunday. Ryan Torain, who has played in four career games with one start, is expected to be the No. 1 back for the Redskins on Sunday.
Punter Josh Bidwell (right hip) did not participate and tackle Trent Williams (toe) was limited in Wednesday’s practice. Safeties Chris Horton (ankle) and LaRon Landry (wrist), guard Kory Lichtensteiger (knee) and quarterback Donovan McNabb (thigh) were all full participants.
Additional coverage – Oct. 6