GREEN BAY, Wis. – The only thing worse for an offense than a turnover might be a three-and-out series. And the Green Bay Packers have been the kings of those this season.
As good as they’ve been at the former – only the New England Patriots have given the ball away fewer times than the Packers – it’s startling to see how often Aaron Rodgers and the offense have trotted off the field without gaining a single first down.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, no team in the league has a higher rate of three-and-out drives this season, at 40 percent. Last season, the Packers finished tied for the lowest three-and-out rate, at 24.9 percent. They have finished in the bottom half of the NFL in three-and-out percentage (defined by ESPN Stats & Info as a possession without a first down or a touchdown) only once since Rodgers became the starter in 2008.
“You can’t have it,” Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “We go back and look at who we are and what we’re about. We want to play fast. We want to play with great tempo. We want to keep the chains moving. We have to be more consistent in situational football. That’s really the bottom line.”
For weeks now, Rodgers, coach Mike McCarthy and just about everyone associated with the Packers offense has expressed the need to run more plays. Three-and-outs aren’t helping.
Yes, the Packers ran a season-high 72 offensive plays (not counting those blown dead by penalties, which are counted in the NFL’s official snap counts) in Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers despite eight three-and-out series out of 16 total possessions. But in their three previous games, they failed to reach even 60 plays, including two games in the 40s.
It’s no wonder the Packers rank 31st in the NFL in total offensive plays (with 479) ahead of only the St. Louis Rams (456).
“There are plays to be made out there that we’re just not consistently making as often as we were,” Rodgers said.
Much of it can be attributed to their inability to convert third downs, but it’s not like they’re winning first down, either. The Packers rank 30th in yards per play on first down (4.82), which puts them in second-and-long and third-and-long situations.
“You’ve got to start fast,” offensive-line coach James Campen said. “When you get going, first and second down, you get that feeling that you’re rolling, and you have to sustain that and just keep going so you keep drives alive. That’s the responsibility of [the offensive line], to bust our tails to do that.”
Three-and-outs don’t just hurt the offense; they affect the defense, too. The Packers possessed the ball for less than two minutes on three consecutive three-and-out series in the second quarter Sunday, which meant little time for the defense to rest.
“You definitely want momentum, and it helps in a number of different areas,” Bennett said. “It keeps our defense off the field, gives them the proper rest, and going back to what we said earlier, we want more attempts. In order to get more attempts, you’ve got to be consistent in situational football.”