In the Packers’ 38-20 win over the Redskins on Sunday, Aaron Rodgers passed for 480 yards. Of those 480, his receivers made 283 yards after catch (YAC) – more than half the total yards, and according to Bleacher Report, a feat not accomplished since 2007.
Why is it – when Rodgers tied the franchise record of 480 passing yards in a game, threw for four touchdowns and zero interceptions, completed over 80% of his passes, and posted a 146.0 rating – that this, the 283 YAC, is the most compelling stat of the game? The short answer: it demonstrates that Green Bay’s offense is virtually unstoppable when playing to the outside, which it is able to do when teams do exactly what Washington did on Sunday and play one-high safety. With Green Bay posting over 100 rushing yards for the first time in 44 games, opponents are forced to bring one safety down to the box to contain the run. Thus, Rodgers can go to his outside guys – and light up the sky.
In Week 1 against San Francisco, the 49ers gave the Packers mostly two-high safety looks – as most teams last year did, assuming (correctly) that Green Bay had no legitimate run threat and that Rodgers would be looking downfield to move the ball. That meant Rodgers was primarily going to his inside receivers – mainly, Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb, which limits the ability for explosive plays.
On Sunday against Washington, Rodgers had 34 completions. Of those, 25, or 74%, were to the outside, namely to James Jones, who had 11 receptions for 178 yards. And when Rodgers did go to Cobb and Nelson over the middle, he had situated enough of the game to the outside that he was able to reap big rewards – two of his four touchdown passes were over the middle. The other two were on short slants to his right, which is interesting when you consider that to move the ball down the field, Rodgers prefers to go short and to his left: 12 of his 34 passes were on short left slants. It’s effective at moving the ball. But when it came time to put points on the board, Rodgers went middle or right – perhaps banking on the fact that after favoring the left so many times, the Redskins would be forced to move their best corner, DeAngelo Hall, to the other side, leaving the end zone easily within reach.
Left to match up against only one safety, Rodgers’ weapons were easily able to catch balls in space, a facet of Green Bay’s offense that is crucial to its success – and, until now, had been the easiest to shut down. The fact that Cobb, Finley, Jones, and Nelson were able to break past Washington’s secondary for a total of 283 yards – half of which might have been left on the field if the Redskins had two safeties up high – and still post 139 rushing yards – is a strong, strong indicator that the Packers offense has finally found the balance it has been seeking between the run and the pass.
“[Rodgers is] at the point of his career where he is about making other people better, pulling everybody up,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game.
And if more defenses have to make the adjustments Washington found itself having to make on Sunday? Well, perhaps Rodgers will break that 480 yard passing record sooner than he thinks.