Key for Packers WRs: Break more tackles

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Too often, when James Jones turned on game film last season, the Green Bay Packers receiver didn’t like what he saw.

“A lot of times we did self-scouting, and we’d get tackled by one guy way too much, way too much,” Jones said.

While it doesn’t completely explain why the Packers went from third in the NFL in total offense in 2011 to 13th last season -- it’s worth examining the impact it may have had on last season’s production.

Clearly, it has been a topic in receivers coach Edgar Bennett’s room, so much so that when a question to him was prefaced with the statement, “James Jones said too many times last year he saw one guy …” Bennett interrupted because he knew exactly where it was headed and finished thought by saying “…bring us down?”

However, the numbers don’t show a drastic difference. In 2011, the Packers ranked fourth in the NFL in both yards after catch (YAC) with 2,258 and yards after catch per reception (6.01), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Last season, they dropped just two spots, to sixth, in total YAC (2,046), and three spots, to seventh, in YAC per reception (5.47).

Still, it likely played at least a small factor in the fact that Rodgers’ yards per attempt dropped from an NFL-best 9.2 in 2011 to 7.8 (his lowest average since 2008).

“You break one or two tackles and you’re turning 5-yard gains into 25-yard gains before the next guy even comes,” Jones said. “We do a lot of self-scouting, and that is definitely an emphasis. We definitely need to be more violent.”

Among the Packers’ top returning receivers, Jones saw his YAC decline the most. His YAC per reception was cut more than in half, from 7.15 to 3.44, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Part of that could be attributed to how many passes Jones caught in the red zone. Of his NFL-leading 14 touchdowns, 11 were of 20 yards or less. His total yards per catch dropped from 16.7 in 2011 to 12.3 last season.

“There were so many yards left on the field, and I can’t let that happen this year,” Jones said. “I’m trying to get better. I worked hard this offseason in the weight room, trying to get stronger and being able to run through some tackles.”

Jones saw the most significant decline in YAC, but he wasn’t the only one. Neither Randall Cobb not Jordy Nelson matched their 2011 numbers. (See accompanying chart)

It’s safe to say it was one of the focus points for the receivers as they prepared for Sunday’s regular-season opener at San Francisco.

At almost every training camp practice this summer, the Packers coaches put the players through a drill called “YAC and TACK,” in which the offensive players worked on tackle-breaking techniques while the defenders concentrated on tackling.

“It’s a mindset; mentally I’m not going to allow one guy to bring me down,” Bennett said. “That has to be the mindset. I must break tackles. I must win the one-on-one battles either by breaking tackles or making people miss. You’ve got to be elusive.”

Certain routes in the Packers’ offense don’t always allow for YAC opportunities. Stop routes or comebacks make it difficult because a defender is often right on the receiver’s back. However, slants and posts are ideal for breaking tackles because those are timing routes between quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the receiver.

“We want to get the ball out of Aaron’s hands and make one person miss and go get some yardage,” Nelson said. “It’s something we’ve stressed ever since I’ve been here and for the most part we’ve been very good at it.”