Aaron Rodgers, Packers' offense finally clicking, and at just the right time

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s taken two-thirds of the season, but the Green Bay Packers offense has finally begun to resemble the high-efficiency, nearly unstoppable group from last season.

Oh, what a couple of 30-point games will do for a team’s outlook.

The best part, according to Aaron Rodgers and Co., is that they believe the last two games, including Sunday’s 36-28 win over the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field, should have been even more productive.

“This should've been a 40-point game for us, like we felt last week [should have been],” Rodgers said after throwing for 307 yards and two touchdowns. “We're just not clicking in the red zone.”

On Sunday, they converted only three of their five red zone trips into touchdowns. In last week’s 34-31 loss at the Minnesota Vikings, they were 2-for-3. This from a team that led the NFL and set a franchise record with an 80% touchdown rate inside the 20-yard line last season.

“That's been kind of our bugaboo this season,” Rodgers said. “We had a couple opportunities with short fields on turnovers and only turned them into six points. That can't keep going.”

Their 55.3% red zone touchdown rate likely will be one of coach Matt LaFleur’s areas of focus during this week’s bye. But in the last two weeks, the Packers have nearly matched their league-leading scoring average of 31.8 points per game from last season. Even throwing out Rasul Douglas’ interception return for a touchdown against the Rams, the Packers’ offense has accounted for 61 points over the last two games.

And it’s a far cry from where they were sitting at halftime three games ago, when they led the Seattle Seahawks just 3-0 in Rodgers' return from his one-game COVID-19 absence.

While they have averaged just 23.1 offensive points per game this season to rank tied for 15th in the NFL, their two-week average of 30.5 ranks fifth in the NFL in that span.

“Every time we don’t score on every drive, I think our guys are disappointed or angry or upset,” LaFleur said. “We’ve got a lot of great players. But this is a tough league, and when you’re going against a tough opponent, realistically you’re not going to score on every possession. So you gotta give them credit, and it’s well-deserved.”

The Rams weren’t the NFL-leading defense they were a year ago, but they had been stingy enough, allowing just 22.7 points per game before Sunday.

That the Packers functioned without three of their top five offensive linemen – David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins and Josh Myers – made it all the more impressive against a defensive front that included Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd.

Although the Packers lost receiver Randall Cobb (four catches for 95 yards and a touchdown) at halftime to a groin injury and won’t get tight end Robert Tonyan (torn ACL) back this season, they appear to have enough offensive firepower down the stretch. Running back Aaron Jones returned from a one-week absence due to a knee injury, and Allen Lazard’s return from a shoulder injury meant the Packers started the game with their full complement of receivers.

Considering that the Packers started with that ugly 38-3 loss to the Saints in Jacksonville, Florida to open the season and now sit at 9-3 with three of their last five games at home, Rodgers was justified when he said, "I’d say that that’s a pretty damned good start."

“After that ugly loss in Jacksonville to open the season and, obviously, me missing a game with COVID and then all the injuries – Jaire [Alexander] and Davante [Adams] missing a game and Allen [Lazard] and Marquez [Valdes-Scantling] missing a lot of time, Bobby Tonyan being out for the year, Elgton Jenkins, Dave [Bakhtiari], Josh Myers, Z [Za'Darius Smith] – it’s been a lot of adversity, for sure,” Rodgers said.

Sunday’s formula against the Rams looked like the prototypical Packers late-season, cold-weather offense. Rodgers got the ball out quickly, completing 19 of 23 passes within 2.5 seconds of the snap, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, for his second-most completions on such throws in the last two seasons. He still hit on shots down the field to Adams, Cobb and Valdes-Scantling. Plus, he was locked in with Adams, who caught eight of his nine targets for 104 yards.

Rodgers dismissed the idea that they have to be a run-heavy team in cold and windy conditions, and Sunday proved that. But add in 30 combined carries for AJ Dillon (20 carries for 69 yards) and Aaron Jones (10 for 23), and the running game -- while not overly effective -- was at least used enough to keep the Rams from teeing off on their pass rush.

Even Rodgers’ fractured toe didn’t seem to be much of a hindrance; he scrambled for a 1-yard touchdown, beating cornerback Jalen Ramsey around the edge.

“It’s better for sure,” Adams said of the offensive improvement. “You all know me by this point, like, the way I want to see this offense move is at the potential that we have. And I don’t even like that word. Because it sounds like falling short almost. … So I just want to see this offense continue to get better as we get through this last stretch.”