GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When Aaron Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson for a 64-yard touchdown pass in the Green Bay Packers’ 19-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, it was the perfect illustration of what a running game can do for an offense.
Last season, when the Packers ranked 20th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, they often tried deep shot plays like the one Rodgers and Nelson hit on Sunday.
And they rarely worked.
What does one have to do with another?
Well, the shot plays -- where usually only one or two receivers go out -- are predicated on the defense, specifically the safeties, overplaying the run. Without the threat of an effective running game, there’s little or no reason for the safeties to come up closer to the line of scrimmage.
“It’s a play we’ve used a number of times in the past; we haven’t hit it much recently,” Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said.
On the third-quarter play, the Ravens kept both safeties outside the box. It’s a look the Packers often get from defensive coordinators who feel more threatened by Rodgers’ ability to beat them deep than any running play. But with the fifth-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, that appears to be changing.
Indeed, the Ravens’ safeties bit hard on the play-action fake to the left by Eddie Lacy, who was in the midst of a 120-yard game.
As recently as two weeks ago, defenses still had not shown that kind of respect for the running game.
“It’s a good development,” Clements said. “I think last year when we tried to run those types of plays, we got no reaction from the secondary. They were playing pass first, and they weren’t reacting to the run as much as they had in previous years. So with your ability to run the ball, I’ve said a number of times, if you run the ball it’s going to open up the play-action pass game and it certainly did.”
It left Nelson one-on-one with Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb. Nelson beat him easily and Rodgers, who rolled out to his right, threw a perfect deep ball.
“The run game’s been great for us this year,” Nelson said. “It’s great to have it. Hopefully we can continue to keep building with it. We just need to do our job on the outside.”