Packing the Stats: The Packers Have Traded Deep Passes for Run Plays

Since Aaron Rodgers took over the reigns from Brett Favre in 2008 the Packers have been known as a pass-first team.

Back in 2008 the NFL was still a fairly balanced league with an average 52/48 split in pass to run calls. The Packers were one of the teams that saw they could exploit defenses through the air much easier than they could by keeping a more balanced mix of run and pass.

The first five seasons of Rodgers being a starter the Packers called for a pass on 58.5 percent of plays, much higher than the 53 percent that was the NFL average over that time. Highlighted by their 61 percent of called pass plays in 2011.

Over time the NFL has become a passing league and percentages of pass plays have risen every season in the NFL since 2008. The NFL has become a passing league, which means the Packers once again have started to go against the grain.

Well, at least sort of.

Since 2012 the Packers have embraced the run and slowly started to come down closer to league average in percent of called pass plays.

 

Packers passing percentage vs NFL average since 2008

The graph above shows that the Packers did call for a pass on roughly 1.5 percent of plays more often than the NFL average last season, a far cry from 2011. Even though they are still passing more than most teams, there is no doubt that gap is closing.

That gap closure has started with the drafting of Eddie Lacy. Last season was by percentage the lowest amount of passes called in Aaron Rodgers’ starting career.

The four seasons before Eddie Lacy was drafted the Packers passed on 59 percent of plays. That number has dropped two percent down to 57 percent since Lacy has been on the team.

Oddly enough, the area that has been sacrificed in favor of the run game has been deep pass attempts. Going into last season the Packers averaged attempting a deep pass (a pass 20+ yards in the air) on 12.9 percent of plays since 2008. Last season that number dropped to a Rodgers career low 10.8 percent.

The two percent added to the amount of run plays and taken away from the deep passes may not seem like much, but that’s nearly 20 percent of the deep pass attempts taken away.

That’s interesting to think about because Rodgers has been one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in the NFL at throwing the deep ball over his career. Ranking first or second in accuracy on deep passes each of the last four seasons.

While the two percent drop in deep passes last season went directly to two percent more run plays, it hasn’t changed the efficiency that they ran those deep pass plays with. Rodgers’ 18.5 yards per attempt on deep passes was the second best of his career, second only to his unbelievable 2011 MVP season.

Since Lacy joined the team the Packers have thrown sub-twenty-yard passes at the exact same rate that they did pre-Lacy, 46 percent of the time. Clearly the strategy to cut down on the deep passes worked because they were as efficient as ever in the deep game and the Packers’ offense was second in the NFL in scoring at 29.7 points per game last year.

Going forward with coach McCarthy giving up play calling this coming season, it will definitely be something to watch to see how, if at all, the offense changes.

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Mike Reuter lives in the Twin Cities and is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas. He is a mobile tech enthusiast, a 19 year Gopher Football season ticket holder and a huge Packers fan. Mike is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @uofmike.

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  • Rusty Weise

    Remember when McCarthy said the number of yards gained from runs wasn’t as important as the number of runs attempted? Yeah, don’t we agree that was an excuse? When the success of Lacy started (vastly) improving the yards gained by running plays, the number of run attempts has apparently increased, too. I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s probably simple; the Packers didn’t run much when they couldn’t run well. And also, remember Rodgers and the six receivers on the cover of SI? If any team had that much talent in their passing offense, they’d probably pass a ton, too.

    • AgrippaLII

      Awhile back I checked out the game stats for the Packers running backs…I think it was the season before the Packers drafted Eddie Lacy. If the Packers got at least 80 yards out of one of their backs they usually won that game. So I agree with you…it’s the yards gained not the run attempts.Smoke and mirrors is a poor substitute for a good ground game come playoff time.

    • Archie

      Yeah, another example of MM feeding the fans BS.

  • My first thought was that the decrease in long passes was due to the injury and then departure of Greg Jennings and his yards/reception averages of 17.4, 16.2, 16.4, 16.6. But your stat: “it hasn’t changed the efficiency that they ran those deep pass plays with. Rodgers’ 18.5 yards per attempt on deep passes was the second best of his career” suggests that the stats don’t back up my knee-jerk opinion. I suppose the 18.5 yards per attempt on deep passes doesn’t perfectly correspond with ” deep pass (a pass 20+ yards in the air)” but it is close enough for me.

    Nice article. Kudos for having so many really good articles on this site lately despite the lack of hard football news.

  • croatpackfan

    Interesting comparison. Also, I think for the sake of truth, it will be interesting to see passing attempts vs running attempts in correlation with interceptions as well as fumbles. I think there we may find true improvement….

  • mark gast

    It seems that the OL is better at pass blocking than run blocking per PFF ratings and, as mentioned by other posters here, with Eddie Lacy, the running game is much better. Still, the pass is their bread and butter. After Burnett’s pick (with under 5 minutes left) in the NFC Title Game, I would have loved to see them go are an injured Sherman instead of trying to run against the best run defense. Of course, if Lacy was able to break a few tackles and rack up a couple first downs it would’ve seemed brilliant.

  • Taryn Miller

    Eddie Lacy has erased the need for many run attempts to simply keep a defense honest as MM often opined.One of the bigger failings of that,before lacy, was it didn’t command the stacking of the box as is hoped by an offense,especially when a Rodgers is at QB,thus leaving two high safeties and making lower the odds of deep passes being successful.

    While deep attempts have lessened,it has allowed for a more selective ability when to attempt them with higher odds of success.It’s always easier to set up the pass via the run and as much as Rodgers disproved that to extents at times before Lacy,he’d prefer to have the run do what is expected for the pass and make life easier for him whether needed or not. 🙂

    • Archie

      Thank god the days of Ryan Grant, Brandon Williams and Alex Greene are gone. Starks and Lacy are so much better! The OL has gotten better at run blocking too, especially when they added power players to the arsenal. Pack OL has never been real good at zone blocking.

      • Brandon Donald Richards

        Do you mean Brandon Jackson?

  • Rossonero

    Nice article considering we are in the dry season for news. Thanks and keep ’em coming!

  • Interesting article, but I suspect that the drop to 10.8% deep passes last season might be due to Rodger’s late-season injuries. I could be wrong, but an easy way to check would be to look at the deep pass percentage per game and see if it lowers drastically after the injury.

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