GREEN BAY – A lot went into the success of the Packers’ 75-yard game-winning drive last Sunday in Dallas beyond the invaluable poise of a two-time MVP quarterback.
The mix of run and pass, the effective blocking on multiple levels, the lack of penalties pre- or post-snap, the clean execution.
Don’t discount the 75-yard drive from two weeks prior, either.
The dramatic drive against the Cowboys was the second time in three games the Packers absolutely had to have one. In Week 3 against the Bengals, the Packers were staring at 75 yards in front of them, down by seven, with 3:46 on the clock. A touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson with 17 seconds to go sent into overtime a game the Packers won shortly thereafter.
“You’re in those situations and you execute. That’s the first part,” Aaron Rodgers said on Wednesday, discussing the impact comeback moments can have on a team. “The more confidence you gain from certain situations like that, you get into it again in Dallas, and there was no doubt that we were going to go down and put ourselves in position to score.”
They’ve done it twice now, and while it would certainly be easier to win games without last-minute heroics, there’s no substitute for experiencing success at crunch time.
Rodgers called it “understanding how to win,” and receiver Davante Adams, who caught the winning TD pass in Dallas, took it a step further.
“Winning and playmaking is contagious,” Adams said. “It’s kind of a learned thing.”
So far this season, offensively speaking, the Packers have had to learn amidst several injuries, first on the offensive line, and then in the backfield.
As they continue to get healthier, the trademarks of the 2017 offense to this point have been its success on third downs and in the red zone.
A lot of that falls on Rodgers, but he also credited the coaches’ game plans in those areas for the impressive numbers. Through five games, Green Bay has converted 31-of-64 on third down (48.4 percent) and turned 15-of-19 red-zone possessions into touchdowns (78.9).
Those percentages rank third and first in the league, respectively.
“The plan has been fantastic,” Rodgers said. “When you can look at the plan going into it on third downs and red zone and go, ‘This one’s probably a touchdown, this one’s probably a touchdown,’ and then you go out and execute it, it feels pretty good.”
Different members of Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s offensive staff are responsible for specific portions of the game plan each week. As the plan comes together and is worked on in practice, parts can be added or subtracted, and things are generally finalized the day before the game.
The Packers’ current success on third down and in the red zone has carried over from last year’s late winning streak. In the victorious eight-week run to the NFC title game, the Packers converted 45.9 percent on third down and 74.2 percent in the red zone.
Rodgers believes that developed, at least in part, from the creativity required offensively last season when injuries depleted the running back position to the point receiver Ty Montgomery converted to the backfield.
“Maybe that got the juices going,” Rodgers said. “Those guys spend a lot of time on the plan, and they’ve come up with some good things. We cut it down at the end of the week, Mike dials it up, and we’ve been making it work.”
Rodgers pointed to specific examples from the Dallas game. On the first TD pass of the game, the design that isolated Adams on the corner fade required only a good throw from Rodgers.
Later, after rookie running back Aaron Jones burst off the right side for a 7-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, Green Bay had first-and-goal from the 10 on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
Rodgers said he made a slight adjustment, but a play-action fake to Jones that looked just like the earlier TD drew up the linebackers and safety, leaving Nelson wide open in the back of the end zone for an easy score.
“That’s the beauty of the sequence,” Rodgers said. “When you dial up some good scheme, and Mike dials it up at the right time, it just comes down to execution.
“Mike talks a lot about scheme is not a crutch. In this case, scheme has been a big asset for us.”
The Packers will look for any edge they can get on Sunday against the Vikings, whose defense ranks first in the league on third down (25.5 percent) and fifth in the red zone (38.5).
Rodgers pointed out that Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer’s defense is not only talented but now very experienced as well, with third-year cornerback Trae Waynes the youngest player in an active secondary.
The Vikings’ defensive backs are known for disguising coverages, giving looks on occasion that even a veteran QB like Rodgers hasn’t seen, or lining up in a familiar way only to run something else.
“That’s the kind of defense he wants,” Rodgers said of Zimmer. “These guys have been in the scheme for so long, they know each other’s body language, they have their own calls.
“This is an extremely intelligent defense. A lot of times you’re playing defenses, they’re going to give some stuff away, they’re going to give away some calls, some coverages. Not this one. You have to be good with your pre- and at-the-snap and post-snap reads, and know there’s going to be some times they’re going to get you.”