Red Hot to Ice Cold in Red Zone

Rodgers (Scott Kane/USA Today Sports)

Green Bay's offense ranks eighth in the NFL inside the 20-yard line but the last four games have produced some dismal results. How can that be, given Aaron Rodgers' success inside the red zone? This is a critical note considering Detroit's red-zone defense ranks ninth.

The NFL rankings show that the Green Bay Packers boast one of the league's best red-zone offenses.

The recent reality, however, tells a much different story.

Entering Sunday's NFC North game against Detroit, the Packers are ranked eighth in the league by scoring touchdowns on 59.4 percent of their treks inside their opponents' 20-yard line. Since the last drive of the game against Jacksonville on Oct. 28, the Packers have scored just one touchdown on eight red-zone possessions.

"We've hurt ourselves, at times, with lost-yardage plays of one kind or another," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said on Thursday. "Penalties — we scored a touchdown last week but had a penalty; called it back."

Here's a look at the last four games:

Minnesota (0-for-2 red zone; 0-1 goal-to-go). First quarter: On second-and-10, Aaron Rodgers threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to James Jones but T.J. Lang was flagged for holding. The Packers settled for a 30-yard field goal. Fourth quarter: On second-and-goal from the 9, Don Barclay was flagged for holding on a play in which Jared Allen sacked Rodgers for minus-2. A false start on Josh Sitton moved the ball back to the 16. After a give-up run, the Packers converted a 31-yard field goal.

New York (0-for-2 red zone; 0-for-0 goal-to-go). Second quarter: On third-and-1 from the 11, Alex Green was stopped inches short of a first down. Rather than go for it, coach Mike McCarthy brought out the field goal team, with Mason Crosby hitting from 28. Third/fourth quarters: On first down from the 19, Rodgers threw incomplete, hit Green on checkdowns of 1 and 4 yards, then had his fourth-down pass to Jermichael Finley broken up linebacker Chase Blackbourn in the end zone.

Detroit (0-for-0 red zone; 0-for-0 goal-to-go). The Packers' touchdowns came on passes of 20 yards to Finley and 22 to Randall Cobb, with Crosby tacking on a 39-yard field goal on a drive that tied at the 21.

Arizona (1-for-3 red zone; 1-for-2 goal-to-go). First quarter: A 5-yard completion to Jordy Nelson on second-and-goal from the 8 was overturned by replay – and Nelson was lost for the day with a sprained ankle. On third-and-goal, Finley was flagged for a false start. From the 13, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb on a short pass, with Cobb getting blocks from Donald Driver and Finley to get into the end zone. Third quarter: Erik Walden's interception gave the Packers the ball at the Cardinals' 17. A 2-yard run by Green and two incompletions set up a 33-yard field goal. Fourth quarter: The Cardinals muffed a punt inside the 10-yard line. The Packers get docked for a failed red-zone possession when Rodgers took three knees to end the game.

As much as the Packers are cold in the red zone now, they were red hot earlier in the season. Starting with Week 4 against New Orleans, they scored touchdowns on 4-of-5 possessions against the Saints, 3-of-3 against the Colts, 3-of-3 against the Texans and 2-of-3 against the Rams. That's an astounding 12 touchdowns on 14 red-zone possessions.

The slump is a surprising downturn. Last season, Green Bay ranked third in red-zone efficiency with 65.2 percent touchdowns. Since Rodgers took over as quarterback in 2008, the Packers are third in the league with 60.2 percent touchdowns, including 60.4 percent clips in 2008 and 2010.

Nonetheless, Rodgers remains one of the best red-zone passers in the game. His 113.0 rating is 0.6 ahead of Drew Brees, his 64.6 percent accuracy trails only Alex Smith's 70.6 percent, and his touchdown rate of 33.3 percent is fourth.

While Rodgers has been hot, the running game has been cold. In the red zone, Green is has carried 10 times for 18 yards. That 1.8-yard average is aided by a 9-yard run. He's averaged 1.0 on his other nine attempts.

"It's harder in the red zone because there's less space to defend and things happen quicker but we've been successful at it," Clements said. "We just have to make sure we don't hurt ourselves. We have to make them stop us."

The Packers, however, have stayed afloat by getting more long-range touchdowns. Green Bay's last eight offensive touchdowns have been from at least 20 yards. The Packers haven't had a touchdown of less than 13 yards since Rodgers hit Driver for a 4-yard score against Jacksonville.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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