Want the Packers to play more like the Rams? Then trade for Bell.
When asked on Thursday by Packers reporters what it is that the Rams do so successfully from the rest of the league in play-action, Coach Sean McVay said it was about the players.
“Well, I think it’s the players. I mean, it’s really not much different… the players are the ones that makes these plays and things come to life. You know, were doing what everyone around the league is doing so it’s not like we’re doing anything different.”
Certainly there’s some sportsman-like coach speech in there, but it says a lot.
Packers fans and outside analysts are railing on Mike McCarthy of late for his scheme, or lack-there-of. When he isn’t assaulted with epithets like “stale” or “predictable,” he’s belittled for not figuring out that the team needs to use Aaron Jones more in the running game. These critics demand to know why the Packers aren’t more like the Rams, clamoring, We’re wasting Aaron Rodgers!
However, what they fail to concede in their superficial analysis is that Aaron Jones is not Todd Gurley. McVay continued:
I think the play action is something that’s part of our foundational identity, something we believe in philosophically as an offense, but when you got a player like Todd he certainly legitimizes those play actions… certainly having a player of his caliber and his magnitude at the running back spot legitimatizes those run actions because of who it is and our offenses ability to run the ball pretty efficiently so far.
Play-action may not be the only part of the scheme that if executed better would solve all of McCarthy’s woes. But suddenly switching to more use of Jones probably won’t either. He can’t pass protect. He can’t be relied upon to play consistent downs. He might be the best back the Packers have, but with a Pro Football Focus receiving grade of 56.1, he can’t catch much either (both Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery are ranked higher). The reason the Packers aren’t like the Rams is primarily due to who they have at running back.
The one player in the NFL consistently talked about in the same breath as Gurley is Le’Veon Bell. The man can do it all. He can run. He can catch. He can block. And he can play every down. According to PFF, Bell is the most used back on “obvious” passing downs (third downs with six or more yards needed for a first). And his yardage numbers in 2017 in both rushing and receiving were only second to Gurley.
“The Packers have had some really nice players during Rodgers’ run,” wrote ESPN analyst Adam Rank, “but nothing like Bell. He fits that offense perfectly. Hell, he fits any offense perfectly. I’m already getting cold sweats thinking about Rodgers rolling out, extending plays and finding Bell wide open. It’s pretty scary. From a football perspective, there is clearly no downside to this.”
To be sure, adding Bell to the Packers would be costly. Kyle Brandt of Good Morning Football suggested a second-round pick and Ty Montgomery in a trade. Others have said it would cost one of GM Brian Gutekunst’s upcoming first-rounders. And clearly Bell is holding out from the Steelers because he wants the cash. But neither picks nor money would come near to what Gutekunst was willing to give to get Khalil Mack (two first-rounders and a bigger butt load of money).
But just like what Mack did for the Bears by making them instantly formidable, so too could Bell for Green Bay.
The “Big 4” of the NFC?
Some wonder if the Cowboys have the “Big 3” of the NFC East now that they have acquired Amari Cooper from the Raiders. There’s no doubt that the Packers would not only be the Big 3 of the North if they traded for Bell, along with Rodgers and Davante Adams, but with Jimmy Graham they would be the Big 4. They could be the NFC’s version possibly of what Kansas City has with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, and Travis Kelce in the AFC.
There are understandable concerns on Green Bay’s defense. The pass rush is a mess, and the safety situation is certainly holding the team back at times. But is Shaquil Barret of the Broncos or Landon Collins of the Giants realistically going to come in and instantly change this team into Super Bowl contenders?
With Aaron Rodgers at the helm the Packers are always going to be an offense-first team. Their strategy has often been to win by putting up big numbers that opposing teams simply can’t match. The best way to turn them around right now is to pick up the phone and trade for Le’Veon Bell. Then you’ll see an offense that looks more like the monster lurking in Los Angeles.