The Packers offense can correct course with these tweaks
The Packers offense didn't show up until the second half each of the past two weeks. With some adjustments, that shouldn't happen again.
Today's edition of The Leap is brought to you by Underdog Fantasy, an industry leader in daily and season-long fantasy contests.
Subscribers of The Leap can join Underdog Fantasy here with our special signup link to double your initial deposit up to $100. It's a great way to play fantasy sports with real fans while also supporting the work we do here.
The early optimism surrounding the Green Bay Packers offense gave way to a harsher reality over the past two games. During that stretch, the unit essentially went MIA until the second half, failing to score a point until the fourth quarter of a Week 3 tilt with the New Orleans Saints and producing just a field goal until the third quarter of last Thursday's matchup with the Detroit Lions. While the Packers roared back to life late in both contests, the deep deficits created unnecessarily difficult conditions for Jordan Love and a young, inexperienced offense.
Granted, Green Bay's problems extend beyond those slow starts on offense. The Joe Barry-coordinated defense continues to struggle against the run while special teams have drawn too many penalties and given up a return touchdown. Those issues have hurt the Packers at least as much as any prolonged stretch of offensive sluggishness.
However, given the potential of the personnel and coaching on offense, identifying fixes on that side of the ball provides the clearest path toward improvement in 2023. With a few tweaks, the Packers can correct course as they enter the second month of the season.
Designer plays and manufactured touches for Watson
Putting aside the Packers' famously conservative medical staff, the coaching staff must have known for some time that Christian Watson would play limited snaps upon his return from a tweaked hamstring. Watson picked up the injury shortly before Week 1 and battled through it for several weeks. The second-year wideout missed the team's first three games and thus has participated in practice only on a partial basis.
"When you do certain movements, it just kind of feels all around," Watson said of the experience of working through a sore hamstring. "If you don't have the injury, I don't know if you'll understand the terms of tightness or grabbing, but it just doesn't feel like it's firing properly. It kind of hinders you from doing certain movements and feeling as explosive. It's definitely tough to play with when you're not 100%."
Watson saw just 26 snaps in his 2023 debut, a far cry from the 45-plus he regularly handled after breaking out last season against the Dallas Cowboys. But even under such heavy limitations and likely playing without his top gear and full burst, Watson made an impact. After the Packers offense appeared DOA through two quarters and change, Watson provided the team's first explosive gain of the game, hauling in a deep shot for 24 yards. His encore came later that drive, using his speed to easily outrun a Lions defender in man coverage to the flat (with some assistance from Romeo Doubs' rub route).
Even with 11 days separating the Packers' game with the Lions and their upcoming tilt with the Las Vegas Raiders, Watson will probably still have a "pitch count." That means Green Bay's coaching staff will have to optimize the snaps he can play and continue to do so until he has moved past his hamstring issues.
Once Watson found his footing as a rookie, the Packers showed more resourcefulness in getting the ball into his hands. Some of those tricks could benefit them now, jet sweeps in particular. Like most of the other teams running a variation of Kyle Shanahan's offense, Green Bay has seen opposing defenses start to ignore the jet motion featured on many plays. Moreso than any other weapon on the roster, Watson provides the most meaningful threat on those plays as he demonstrated last year against the Chicago Bears.
Running Watson on jet sweeps serves multiple functions. On the front end, his speed and creativity in the open field can result in easy, explosive gains for the offense. But the full impact goes beyond the touches. Once Watson gives opponents a reason to respect the motion, defenders will begin to react to it. That can create lighter boxes and missed assignments when handing the ball off to Aaron Jones and the other tailbacks.
And, of course, Watson can and should receive more opportunities down the field. Throughout training camp, the Packers tried to feed him the ball on some of their staple play-action concepts like "heat-spear."
During the early parts of Matt LaFleur's tenure as Packers head coach, the team ran this play using Davante Adams on the deep curl and Allen Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling working the route over the top. Watson perfectly fits the latter role, using his speed and wide frame to take advantage of the space created by the concept.
LaFleur and his staff have plenty of other ways to manufacture touches for Watson too. Prioritizing them while the restrictions remain in place for the wideout's workload should do more for the offense than merely letting him operate normally in limited snaps.