Run it? Throw it? Packers still seeking winning formula on offense

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Eight games into the season, and the Green Bay Packers still don’t know how they need to play on offense in order to win.

Coach Matt LaFleur made one of his biggest commitments of the season to the run (31 attempts) on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, and the production matched (208 yards, most of it by Aaron Jones).

But they still lost their fourth straight game, 27-17, to one of the best teams in football, so even that can’t be declared a recipe for success.

The bigger problem is they walked out of Highmark Stadium with nearly half of their season completed, and they still don’t have a winning formula.

“We’re going to have to push the ball down the field in order to win games in this league,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.

Rodgers actually did some of that for a change. Both of his touchdowns -- a 19-yarder to Romeo Doubs in the second quarter and a 37-yarder to Samori Toure in the fourth -- were on throws of 15-plus yards down the field. It marked the first time this season he has completed two touchdown passes in the same game on such throws.

But it was more about the running game. Their 30 attempts were the most since their last win, a month ago against the New England Patriots. But because they were so far behind, their run-heavy game plan ate up too much clock to mount a legitimate comeback.

“It just depends on how we’re going to play,” Rodgers said when asked after the game if he needs to carry the team. “Tonight, limited attempts. For most of the game, we were running the football. So, if that’s how we want to play …

“If there’s more opportunities, I’ve got to raise my game. If it’s like tonight, I’ve just got to manage the game.”

When asked which way he thinks they need to play, Rodgers said: “I’m not sure. Let me go back and look at it and I’ll give you a better answer on Wednesday.”

As much as LaFleur has repeated this season that they need to get the ball more to Jones, who had his most rushing yards (143) since Week 15 of 2020, even he wasn’t ready to commit to that as their offensive identity.

“I do think there is something to having the mix, the threat, because otherwise, like, the fourth down’s a great representation of that,” LaFleur said. “You start getting everybody up in there, you’ve got to be able to throw it over their head from time to time as well.”

The fourth-down LaFleur was referring to came early in the fourth quarter, when they went for it on the Bills’ 26-yard line. They needed only a yard, and as effective as Jones was all night, he got stuffed for a 1-yard loss.

Even Buffalo’s Von Miller was surprised they ran it.

“I was like, ‘OK, they've got to start passing the ball. They've got to start passing the ball,’” Miller said. “But nope, they just kept on running. I even asked them, I even asked Aaron Rodgers. On that fourth-and-1, I was like, ‘Hey, you're not gonna drop back and pass the ball?’

“I'm not going to tell you what he said, because that’s my guy. I don’t want to get anything started. I was just, it was a shocker for me personally.”

LaFleur might have called the game differently had he not lost his fastest receiver, Christian Watson, to a concussion in the first quarter. In Watson’s return from a two-game absence due to a hamstring injury, the Packers put in a package of plays to utilize his speed.

After Watson went down -- and without Allen Lazard (shoulder) and Randall Cobb (ankle) -- their options at receiver were limited to the two rookies (Doubs and Toure), second-year pro Amari Rodgers and Sammy Watkins.

Perhaps general manager Brian Gutekunst will see this as an opportunity to help Rodgers by adding a receiver (or two) before Tuesday’s trade deadline.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry and his disappointing unit didn’t do much to help Rodgers & Co. from falling behind. The Bills scored on five straight possessions (three touchdowns, two field goals) spanning the end of the first quarter to early in the third quarter.

While this season might feel to some like 2016, when the Packers were 4-6 before Rodgers made his infamous “run the table” remark that sparked an eight-game winning streak all the way to the NFC Championship Game, this team at 3-5 hasn't found enough playmakers on offense, has underachieved on defense and has played with a lack of discipline (see the ejection of linebacker Quay Walker) and with a penchant for ill-timed penalties.

“When we went on a run back in ’16, we started those games faster so we could play more one-dimensionally on defense,” Rodgers said. “We just haven’t done that. We haven’t put up any points early in games to get our defense to have a chance to pin their ears back and get after the passer.”

ESPN Bills reporter Alaina Getzenberg contributed to this report.