In my previous post, I considered how the Kansas City Chiefs would be learning to live life without wide receiver Tyreek Hill this season. The Green Bay Packers face a similar challenge as well this year. The Packers traded Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders in their offseason after he requested to be moved given uncertainty regarding how much longer Aaron Rodgers plans to keep playing.
Hill caught 111 balls last year for 1239 receiving yards and nine touchdowns for the Chiefs last season. Adams was even better with 123 receptions for 1553 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. At first — and second glance — it may seem absurd to suggest that the Chiefs and Packers’ offenses may be better off in the long run after losing such productive players. But both of these potent offenses stalled at times last year despite having elite quarterbacks and top-level weapons like Hill and Adams. These experiences last year offer an interesting comparison that just might illuminate why both organizations were comfortable moving on from two of the very best wideouts in the NFL.
Green Bay lost at home in the NFC Championship Game to San Francisco by a 13-10 score despite the 49ers failing to score an offensive touchdown. It was the second-straight time that Aaron Rodgers saw his team get upset at home at Lambeau Field in the postseason. While the Packers had a 13-4 record in the regular season (while feasting on the weak NFC North competition), they only outgained their opponents by +37.4 net Yards-Per-Game. Rodgers has won two-straight Most Valuable Player Awards, but he has underachieved in the playoffs once again. Since leading Green Bay to the Super Bowl twelve years ago, Rodgers has a 7-9 record in his 16 playoff games. Firing Mike McCarthy and bringing in a head coach who had lunch once with Sean McVay was supposed to be the solution for the Packers’ offense when they hired Matt LeFleur in 2019. But despite a 39-10 regular season record, the offense has stagnated for this team in the playoffs.
In the case of the Chiefs, I argued that the allure of trying to get the ball to Hill was too intoxicating for Mahomes even when defenses overcompensated by playing two-high safety looks. I think the dynamic is similar for Rodgers when it comes to Adams, albeit for different reasons. The now 38-year-old veteran seems to have become finicky in his later years in the league. His “trust” factor with his wide receivers seems to be much higher than it is for Tom Brady and Peyton Manning back in his day who both seemed to need a few workout sessions before being comfortable in throwing the ball to (wide open) secondary targets. Of course, Brady and Manning are notorious for vigorous offseason programs designed to facilitate this trust and comfort. That’s not necessarily Rodgers’ thing. He seems to need years of experience and familiarity with his wide receivers before he develops trust. That helps explain why he drew a line in the sand last year for management to support his wishes by acquiring former Packer Randall Cobb as a free agent from Dallas despite his being on the wrong side of 30 years old. Cobb caught 28 balls for 375 yards last year.
Like Mahomes being enthralled with the electric plays he connected with Hill on a frequent basis, it is easy to understand why Rodgers would key on Adams. The now-former Packer has great hands with a huge catch-radius and runs very precise routes. But when it becomes clear to everyone — including the 49ers defense and the bettors backing the Packers in the NFC Championship Game — that Rodgers is either going to throw the ball to Adams, running back, Aaron Jones, or an occasional lob to the 37-year-old tight end Marcedes Lewis, good defenses are capable enough to stop that.
The Kansas City offense looks poised to get back to relying on schemes over talent this season. In Green Bay, the Packers will likely make a similar transition out of necessity. Like a parent hiding the video game console to get their child to do their homework, Rodgers will have to find new receivers to move the ball downfield if he wants to continue counting to throw the football in 61% of their snaps. Allen Lazard has the potential to step up as a primary option. Second-round pick Christian Watson from North Dakota State has demonstrated flashes of brilliance in college. Amari Rodgers is a second-year player from Clemson who was drafted with fanfare but only caught four balls last year. Sammy Watkins was signed as a free agent from Baltimore with still tremendous albeit unfulfilled upside. Cobb is still around, as is Jones and A.J. Dillon catching balls out of the backfield.
I am more optimistic about the Kansas City offense than I am about the Packers’ offense at this early point of the season — but the Green Bay defense is significantly better than the Chiefs’ defense right now. Losing talents like Adams and Hill is tough. But in a league that is lauded for rule changes that favor offenses and with offensive coaches given so much adulation for their innate talent to draw up plays, it is surprising to observe so much skepticism regarding the prospects for both these offenses despite the likely increased reliance on schemes and fundamental play-calling this season.
Best of luck — Frank.