Despite Success, Packers Empty Backfield Formations Will Always Make Me Nervous All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Aaron Rodgers needs to get rid of the ball quickly in empty-backfield formations.

Whenever the Packers lined up in an empty backfield formation last season, I got nervous.

Could Clifton and his creaky knees keep a speed rushing defensive end out of the backfield? Could the Colledge/Wells/Sitton interior combo handle a middle blitz without the safety net of a running back? Could Aaron Rodgers make his reads quick enough and get rid of the ball ontime? Could the ancient Mark Tauscher or the young Bryan Bulaga hold up the right side?

These are thoughts that raced through my head whenever Rodgers broke the huddle and set up behind center, all by his lonesome.

“That’s the franchise quarterback standing there all alone,” I would yell. “Somebody go stand next to him and protect him!”

If Julius Peppers or Ndamukong Suh broke through, there’s nothing Rodgers could do besides curl up and hope no major bones shatter while he’s driven to the turf. I resumed yelling: “Do we really want to alter the course of the franchise just so we can get Brett Swain in the game or line up a running back as a receiver?!”

Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried so much. The Packers were good in empty backfield sets.

Football Outsiders charted each team’s success in empty backfield formations last season. The Packers used an empty backfield 11 percent of the time (second most often in NFL) and averaged 5.5 yards per play (11th overall). Their DVOA with an empty backfield was 29.6 percent, ninth best in the league.

These are good numbers. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much.

Even though the evidence points to empty-backfield success for the Packers, I’ll likely always shudder when Rodgers lines up without at least one partner in the backfield. It’s my nature, I guess.

Whenever I play Madden on the PS3, the Packers are almost impossible to stop with an empty backfield, five wide-receiver set. Somebody gets open, and Rodgers just zips him the ball.

Sophisticated offenses, feakishly athletic receivers/tight ends and rules that favor the passing game are making real-life football more like Madden every season. We’re probably going to see the use of empty backfields increase in the coming years.

That’s not good for my blood pressure. Hopefully it’s good for the Packers.


Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .


8 thoughts on “Despite Success, Packers Empty Backfield Formations Will Always Make Me Nervous

  1. I get a little nervous as well. But the more I think about it, if Rodgers knows that he does not have anyone in the backfield to help him out he knows he cannot wait that extra second. Make the easy throw and move the chains. In the beginning of the season Rodgers was not using the check downs as well as he could have. In the second half and playoffs it seemed like he saw the light and took what defenses were going to give him. Rodgers internal clock either improved as the season went on…or he just started listening the the alarm instead of hitting snooze.

  2. Et tu Adam! I have nightmares of AR being extracted from a large hole in the middle of the field.

    However, 5.5 average seems to point out that the empty backfield is used more for short yardage situations than the game breakers we would like to see. In that case AR is getting rid of the ball before the rush can reach him. I hope!

    1. I think the problem is that people mix up the empty backfield with the run and shoot.

      The empty backfield nowadays is just an extent of the WCO.

      The premise of the WCO was to deliver the ball to the receivers in space, in a way so that it would turn the passing game into a running game.

      The spread takes it to another level, with even more mismatches and easier throws to the QB. When you add a mobile QB like Rodgers, or a treat to run the ball like a Reggie Bush, defenses can’t simply play the pass.

  3. Love the empty backfield. It plays to our team’s strenght.

    The WRs are put in space to make plays, which is their best trait (as opposed to win the physical game and get jump balls).

    The OL is asked to do what they do best (pass block).

    And the ball goes to our best player, who not only is an amazing QB, but who also has the treat to run out of that formation.

    With Cobb in the mix and the treat to motion him to the backfield and let him run the ball against a spreaded defense it will be even deadlier. I don’t mention Finley being back specifically because Finley will make every single formation better…

  4. If Cutler was the QB in this empty backfield scenario,yes,I would agree that it’s indeed EMPTY!

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