• In the first six weeks of the season, Jordan Love averaged 9.9 air yards per pass attempt.
  • The Packers move from slightly below average to top-10 in several metrics when they have even 1 explosive play on a drive.
  • On the first 15 offensive plays of the game, the Packers rank #28 or worse in several key offensive metrics.

Early in the first quarter of last week’s game vs. the Broncos, the broadcast crew of Kevin Harlan and Trent Green mentioned that in their Saturday interviews with Packers QB Jordan Love, he mentioned their goal was to “find completions.” This seemed to be code for throwing shorter passes that were more likely to be caught.

Instantly, I knew this would be a disaster because it wouldn’t be attacking the weakness of the Broncos defense. But let’s first start with where the Packers were prior to their game with the Broncos.

In the first six weeks of the season, Jordan Love averaged 9.9 air yards per pass attempt.

That was the deepest in the NFL.

The Packers threw deep (15+ air yards) at the NFL’s #5 highest rate and faced a gauntlet of defenses that have done really well vs. deep passing.

  • #2 Saints
  • #9 Raiders
  • #14 Lions
  • #15 Falcons

Averaging the deepest target depth in the NFL vs. teams that are great at defending deep passes is far from an ideal strategy. But let’s move past that for the time being.

It also does not mean that throwing deep when you finally do play a team that is bad vs. deep passes is a bad strategy.

And the only team the Packers had played that was below average vs. deep passing was the Bears (#30).

In that game, Love went 3-of-6 for 85 yards (14.2 YPA) and +1.03 EPA/att when throwing deep.

And that was a Week 1 game where the Packers were thin at WR.

Now, skip to the Packers’ game plan for their Week 7 game against the Broncos.

All-Access Package

Finally, after weeks of playing extremely good defenses vs. deep passes, the Packers faced a team that was bad at defending deep passes.

Denver ranked #31 in defending deep passes.

The Broncos were allowing 16.9 YPA (#31), +1.17 EPA/att (#31), and 64% completions (#30) on passes thrown 15+ yards downfield.

The NFL average for those numbers was 11.4 YPA, +0.35 EPA/att, and 42% completions.

A margin of 22 percentage points below average (64% vs 42%) is massive.

Green Bay had two weeks to come up with their game plan.

They should have seen how terrible the Broncos were defending these passes.

They should have looked to take advantage of it early in the game.

Yet, they chose to do the exact opposite.

In the first half of the game, on 13 pass attempts, Love averaged just 2.4 air yards.

On 13 attempts, Love threw only ONE ATTEMPT which traveled longer than 4 yards downfield.

One attempt longer than 4 yards?!

This clearly was planned by Matt LaFleur during the bye week.

He thought it was in their best interest to reduce target depth in hopes of increasing the completion rate.

And somehow that tradeoff would give them a better chance to beat the Broncos.

He made that decision despite playing the #31 defense vs. deep passes.

And despite the fact that explosive gains win games.

Explosive Gains Win Games

When the Packers have 0 explosive plays* on a drive, they average:

  • 0.98 points per drive (#16)
  • 18% of drives score points (#20)
  • 16% of drives reach the red zone (#19)
  • 51% of drives result in a punt (#20)

When the Packers have even 1 (and exactly 1) explosive play on a drive, they average:

  • 4.53 points per drive (#5)
  • 80% of drives score points (#7)
  • 67% of drives reach the red zone (#6)
  • 0% of drives result in a punt (#1)

*For the purposes of this analysis, an explosive play is defined as any gain of 20+ yards.

The Packers move from slightly below average to top-10 in all these metrics when they have even 1 explosive play on a drive.

They move from #20 to #7 in rate of scoring points with just 1 explosive play on a drive.

They move from #20 to #1 in rate of punting with just 1 explosive play on a drive.

And yet, with two weeks to prepare for the Broncos, the Packers chose to play small ball. They chose to throw the ball only 2.4 yards downfield. They chose not to hunt explosive plays.

What Happened to Play Action?

Prior to facing the Broncos, the previous 3 defenses the Packers faced ranked #8 (DET), #15 (LV), and #16 (NO) against play action.

The Broncos ranked #31 against play action on the season.

The last time the Packers played below-average defenses vs. play action was back in Weeks 1 and 2 when they played the Bears (#26) and Falcons (#28).

Those were the only games they scored 24+ points on the season.

Love averaged +0.64 EPA/att vs. the Falcons on 10 play action dropbacks and +0.27 EPA/att vs. the Bears on 8 play action dropbacks.

In the Broncos’ prior game against the Chiefs, they surrendered 5-of-7 for 100 yards (14.3 YPA) and +0.58 EPA/att when Kansas City used play action.

The Packers were using play action at the #6 highest rate and finally were able to play a defense terrible against it.

And yet in the first half vs the Broncos, they used play action just 4 Love dropbacks.

On the day, look at the splits for the Packers when using play action:

  • With play action: +0.94 EPA/att, 60% success, 9-of-9 (100% comp), 10.0 YPA
  • Without play action: -0.02 EPA/att, 38% success, 12-of-22 (55% comp), 4.1 YPA

How the Packers took two weeks off the bye to scout the Broncos and develop a game plan…and then decided against using a lot of play action in the first half is absolutely baffling.

It made zero sense.

On the season, the only time the Packers used less play action in the first half was in their game against the Lions, who rank #2 vs. play action. So that made sense.

But the Broncos? They weren’t #2 best vs. play action in the NFL like the Lions…they were #2 worst in the NFL.

Using play action just four times in the entire first half?

Unacceptable.

Importance of Building a Quick Lead

If anyone should know the importance of building a lead, it’s Matt LaFleur.

Since he took over in Green Bay in 2019, the Packers are 34-6 (86%) when leading at the half.

When trailing at the half?

The Packers are 11-18 (38%).

Why the Packers would implement a strategy in the first half out of a bye week that specifically neutered the ability to gain big plays by not attempting to be explosive downfield nor using play action was more than puzzling.

Particularly because the Broncos were an absolutely terrible defense against deep passes (#31) and against play action (#31).

LaFleur’s Scripting has been Bad

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