Offense Finds Rhythm as Refs Improve Tempo

Mike McCarthy (Benny Sieu/USP)

Compared to the three-week average with the replacement officials, the offenses were operating in fast forward on Sunday. It was enough to make the team (almost) forget about some bad calls.

The standing ovation that greeted the real referees quickly turned to boos during the Green Bay Packers' victory over New Orleans on Sunday.

Sure, a couple of controversial calls went against the Packers again, but the return of the experienced and established officials made a huge difference for a Packers offense that depends so much on tempo.

That was evident on the Packers' second possession of the game, a no-huddle drive of seven plays for 62 yards that resulted in a touchdown and the team's first first-quarter points of the season.

"I didn't think about it. I expect it," McCarthy said of fast starts. "We have a lot of confidence as an offense. The communication, professionalism of the officiating — the biggest thing that helped our offense (was) having the officials back (and) the management of the game, to be able to get up there, play fast, play tempo. You get back to Week 1, we were in a no-huddle offense the first series (and) I think the game was stopped three times. So, that's where we like to play. I think that really helped us. I'm not making an excuse (about the lack of first-quarter scoring before), but my point is I wasn't worried about scoring points in the first quarter."

Offensively, the offseason focal point was adding more no-huddle into the repertoire. That's why the Packers aggressively pursued free-agent center Jeff Saturday rather than re-sign veteran Scott Wells.

Last season, the Packers averaged 61.8 plays per game and the full-game average was 127.3. With the replacement officials, the Packers averaged 65.0 snaps per game and the full-game average was 121.6. On Sunday, the Packers had 66 snaps — a modest increase stemming from the defense's problems after two dominant weeks. Combined, the teams ran 141 plays — almost 20 more than during the games officiated by the replacements.

Not coincidentally, the Packers had their best day on offense this season. To be sure, the caliber of the opponent had something to do with Green Bay's performance, but Aaron Rodgers threw more touchdown passes against the Saints (four) than he had in the previous three games combined (three). Plus, a team that had been struggling on third down and the red zone performed well in both areas.

"We were more consistent. We made plays when the opportunity was there," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said, downplaying the officials' role. "That's pretty much the analysis, really. As I said in the previous weeks, we made some plays at times. We weren't as consistent. We were playing some very good defenses. Statistically, New Orleans wasn't as good but they're still a NFL defense. We were expecting a tough challenge and they played hard and we just made plays when we had the chance."

Getting to dictate the pace of the game, Rodgers looked like an MVP rather than just another quarterback. Playing in a rhythm, Rodgers threw for 319 yards and wasn't sacked. In the first three games, the Packers averaged 226 net passing yards.

"Aaron's performance was the result of him and the rest of the offense performing consistently," Clements said. "If you get everyone performing consistently, then your offense has a good chance of doing well, and it's always said when an offense does well, the quarterback gets a lot of the credit. When it doesn't do well, he gets a lot of the blame. And that's the way it goes."

Not everything was smooth. The Packers were guilty of seven penalties and the teams combined for 17 — one less than the 18-penalty average of the first three weeks. McCarthy, who was 2-0 in challenges to start the season, went 0-2. Three big calls — offensive pass interference wasn't called on Marques Colston's touchdown, Jimmy Graham's third-down catch wasn't ruled an incompleption and Darren Sproles was ruled to have been down before he fumbled — went against the Packers.

Not that McCarthy cared in light of a key win.

"Hey, it's great to have them back," McCarthy said. "I thought their communication did make a big difference, clearly. The professionalism of the officials, the communication, the management of the game, it was definitely a totally different atmosphere. I think that was very evident if you paid attention to how fast the offenses were playing and the management of the game was able to keep up. It was great to have that part back for us and great to have them back."


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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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