The good, bad, ugly: Bob McGinn's 2021 Green Bay Packers team grades
Our resident Hall of Famer, Bob McGinn, dissects the Packers unlike anyone else. How did GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur truly perform this season, too? Rodgers? Special teams?
Here are my team grades for the Green Bay Packers of 2021 divided into eight categories. In most cases, statistics include the playoff game against San Francisco, which, by definition, was the most important game of the year. When an NFL ranking for the season is cited, those statistics don’t include the playoff game. Individual player grades by position will follow in the next week.
Today: Team grades
Next up: Player-by-player, position-by-position analysis
Bob McGinn tallies his weekly footballs.
The “Ty & Bob Pod” captures the ups and downs of the Packers’ season each week. Relive it all in the archives.
Alex Green escapes the abyss. Alcohol, weed, cocaine. It all had the former Packers running back on the verge of self-destruction. He opens up like never before in this Q&A.
Kenny Clark is the man of the house. When he was a kid, he watched his father get beaten and whisked away to prison for a murder he claims he did not commit. Dad is still in prison, too. Clark? He finally found himself in 2021.
Ahman Green was born to be a Packers running back. (You’ll learn something new about the team’s all-time leading rusher, too.)
Impossible life of LeRoy Butler. He’s up for the Hall of Fame again. In reality, Butler’s life is a miracle itself.
Meet the most interesting man in Green Bay.
PASSING OFFENSE (B-plus)
The Packers were more efficient than explosive. Just 15 of their 429 completions went for more than 35 yards, a sharp decrease from 22 a year ago and from 20 in 2019 and ’18. Only once, in the loss at Minnesota, did they throw for more than 350 yards. By the same token, the Packers led the league in time of possession at 32 minutes, 43 seconds. They finished eighth in passing yards (253.8) even though they were no better than a tie for 15th in pass attempts (593). A better gauge of a passing game is pass average, which is the result of dividing net yards by passes attempted and sacks. Here they ranked sixth. Green Bay ranked ninth in yards per completion (11.26). Of the 63 completions for 20 yards or more, Davante Adams led with 20, one fewer than his career best total of 21 set in 2016. Adams finished second to the Rams’ Cooper Kupp in receptions (123) and was third in yards (1,553). In all games, Adams’ total of 1,632 receiving yards was more than the total of the other seven wide receivers put together (1,539) just as his reception total of 132 surpassed his teammates’ total of 118. Aaron Rodgers led the NFL in passer rating at 111.9; his all-game mark of 110.9 was the third best of his career. His 18-game rating in 2020 was 119.2. Position coaches Jason Vrable (wide receivers), Justin Outten (tight ends) and Ben Sirmans (running backs) all could take a bow over the dropped pass total of 21, which was 20 fewer than a year ago and the lowest total since I began recording drops in 1990. Allen Lazard had a team-high four; Adams dropped merely three in 181 targets. Marquez Valdes-Scantling led the wide receivers in average yards after the catch with 5.15. The Packers slipped from fifth to 10th in percentage of sacks allowed. Of the 38 sacks, 25 were charged to the offensive line. Jon Runyan led with 4 ½. Of the six fumbles on receptions, two were lost: Juwann Winfree in Game 17, Marcedes Lewis in Game 18. Opponents rushed five or more on 26.3% of passes; the blitz rate of 6.2% with six or more rushers was the highest against Green Bay since 2015. Five of the 39 touchdown passes came on plays extended by the quarterback from the design of the play. The average distance of the 39 TDs was 14.2 yards, the team’s low since 2017. Rodgers’ average on his 37 TDs was 12.7.
RUSHING OFFENSE (B)
With Aaron Rodgers under center, the Packers have never been a run-first team. In fact, the last time they were was with Ahman Green in 2003. In 2020, they ranked eighth in rushing at 132.4, their best finish since 2013 when Eddie Lacy was in peak form. Almost predictably, they slipped back to 18th this year at 111.8 in addition to a 20th-place finish in yards per rush (4.26). Matt LaFleur, in coordination with Rodgers, has achieved a semblance of balance on offense. Their run rate of 42.5% was a tick above the NFL average of 42.1%. Green Bay’s run rate in LaFleur’s first two seasons was 43.8% in 2020 and 40.2% in 2019. Week after week, the Packers mounted a respectable threat on the ground, surpassing 100 yards 11 times. The only foe to shut them down cold was New Orleans (15-43) on opening day. Aaron Jones (840 in all games) and AJ Dillon (828) combined for 1,602 rushing yards in the regular season, making them the sixth most productive duo behind the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines (2,087), the Broncos’ Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams (1,821), the Browns’ Nick Chubb and D’Ernest Johnson (1,793), the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard (1,721) and the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison (1,650). In money situations (third and 1, fourth and 1), the Packers converted an impressive 19 of 22 on the ground. Jones was six for six, Dillon 10 for 12. As the outside-zone scheme morphed to more inside-zone down the stretch, the Packers had few missed blocks. With “bad” runs defined as runs for 1 yard or less in non-short yardage or kneel-down situations, the Packers had just 93 in 466 rushes for 20%, their lowest rate in at least seven years. Jon Runyan was charged with a team-high total of 14 “bad” runs. Minimal whiffing up front contributed to the average gain of 6.12 yards on first down, which ranked second in the NFL and was Green Bay’s best finish since 2011. The main negative was the paucity of long runs. There were just seven of 20 yards or more, the team’s fewest since the 20-game championship season of 2010. Jones posted the only 100-yard day. Rodgers’ rushing total of 101 yards was a career low even counting his injury-abbreviated seasons. There were two lost fumbles on running plays, which was the most since 2016. Just to keep defenses on their toes, LaFleur pulled a lineman on 34 runs compared to 25 in 2020 and 14 in 2019. Dillon drew the only penalty by a running back. Since Ben Sirmans became position coach in 2016 the running backs have been charged with merely eight accepted penalties.
PASSING DEFENSE (B)
Under first-year coordinator Joe Barry, the Packers stayed true to form virtually all season. Generally, that meant keep the safeties back, match receivers from combination coverages, seldom blitz and prevent the big play. It added up to a No. 9 finish in yards allowed and a tie for 13th in points allowed. The Packers were 10th in passing yards allowed at 219.1, their best finish since 2012; their pass-average finish of fifth was their best since 2010. The opponents’ passer rating of 86.9 ranked 10th. Just two foes clipped the Packers for more than 300 net yards passing, led by Minnesota’s 318 in a Game 11 defeat. The yield of 52 plays of 20 yards or more (2.89) was the team’s lowest average (2.88) since 2005. Six opponents had 100-yard days, including the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson (169), the Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase (159) and the Ravens’ Mark Andrews (136). Green Bay made 19 interceptions, its most since 2011 (31). That season was the last of a three-year run in which the Dom Capers-coordinated defense amassed 94 picks. Rasul Douglas led the way with five, two of which he returned for touchdowns. There also were 14 dropped picks. Eric Stokes was charged with six, the most since I began recording the statistic in 1998. Barry blitzed on 19.6% of passes, down from Mike Pettine’s 22.5% in 2020. Barry sent six or more on merely 1.5%, the lowest mark since I began charting blitzes in 1998. Of the 101 rushes by inside linebackers and defensive backs, De’Vondre Campbell was the runaway leader with 44. Those 101 dogs and blitzes from the second and third level paled in comparison to Pettine’s totals of 263 in 2018, 149 in ’19 and 143 in ’20. Given minimal blitzing, it wasn’t a surprise that the Packers’ rank of 17th in sack percentage was their worst since 2011 when they were 32nd; in seven of the previous nine seasons the Packers surprisingly had ranked in the top 10. The pressure total of 206 included 43 sacks, 58 knockdowns and 105 hurries. The Packers had 179 pressures last year, 212 in ’19. Rashan Gary (48) and Kenny Clark (46) were a consistent 1-2 pressure punch. Of the 10 passes batted down at the line, Dean Lowry accounted for five. The Packers forced seven fumbles on sacks and recovered five, their highest total since 2013. Situational defense, however, was the Achilles’ heel. The Packers tied for 23rd on third-down efficiency at 42.9% and tied for 28th in red-zone efficiency at 66%, its highest yield in more than two decades. Only two teams, Washington (34) and Indianapolis (32), allowed more touchdown passes than Green Bay (31). By subjective count, Darnell Savage allowed the most with 8 ½.