GREEN BAY — If and when Aaron Rodgers is back in the starting lineup, don’t expect the Green Bay Packers to be running a bunch of read-option plays like they did with Brett Hundley during Sunday’s victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Not that the two-time NFL MVP hasn’t lobbied for them in the past.
“Actually,” Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said, “he has run some.”
Rodgers probably won’t be running any with a still-healing, surgically-repaired right collarbone, which he fractured Oct. 15 at Minnesota and will be practicing with today and Thursday with the hope of eventually returning to game action.
But in the interim, it’s likely Hundley will be running the occasional zone-read play in Sunday’s game at Cleveland after how effective he was at it against the Buccaneers.
Especially given Hundley’s struggles throwing the football.
Hundley finished the team’s 26-20 overtime victory having completed 13 of 22 passes for just 84 yards — a season-low, narrowly beating out his 87-yard effort in a loss to New Orleans in his first NFL start.
The Packers ran a few read-option plays in that game, too; the difference this time was how effective that approach — and the running game as a whole — was.
Hundley ran seven times for 66 yards, including two zone-read runs for a combined 32 yards, while the Packers finished with a season-high 199 total yards on the ground thanks to rookie running backs Jamaal Williams (113 yards) and Aaron Jones (20-yard touchdown run in overtime).
“I think it added a lot, especially (in a game) when not everything is clicking,” Hundley said. “We weren’t in a rhythm for the second half, but being able to find something like that and put it in there made something happen and made a couple big plays, found a way to get it in there.”
Hundley primarily handed off on the few zone-read plays the Packers ran against the Saints — of his three runs for 44 yards in that game, two were scrambles and one was an 8-yard gain on a zone-read play during the second half. But against the Bucs, both plays fooled the defensive end who was setting the edge, allowing Hundley to take off for 14- and 18-yard gains.
Both those plays came late in the game, with Hundley’s 14-yard run on a third-and-2 helping set up the tying field goal in the fourth quarter, and his 18-yarder in overtime taking the Packers from their own 41-yard-line to Tampa Bay’s 41, leading to Jones’ TD run three plays later.
“You have calls that are normal D-and-D (down-and-distance) calls, situational calls, and you have calls that are both,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said when asked about the thought process behind the read-option calls. “It was something that was more (about it being a) certain situation when you get to the fourth quarter. Things get heightened.”
While the approach worked on a limited basis, don’t look for the Packers to suddenly morph into the 2012 San Francisco 49ers team that ran them out of the playoffs with quarterback Colin Kaepernick running (an NFL quarterback record 181 yards and two touchdowns) and throwing (263 yards and two touchdowns) all over Candlestick Park in a 45-31 rout. NFL defenses eventually caught on to the zone-read trend, and while effective when coupled with the element of surprise, it’s not realistic to use it extensively.
Bennett wouldn’t say when the Packers added the zone-read plays to their playbook and whether Kaepernick’s performance led to them incorporating it in their own scheme — “I don’t recall as far as the year,” Bennett said — but it’s certainly coming in handy now and gives Hundley another way to move the offense if the passing game is struggling.
“It’s definitely been a part of our package,” Bennett said. “They’ve been in our playbook, but you go into every game a little different as far as certain things that you want to emphasize. So over the last few weeks, we’ve been emphasizing plays like that a little more than in years past.”
That said, McCarthy made it crystal clear that he wants far more production from Hundley throwing the ball.
“Offensively, we need to do some things better than we did (against Tampa Bay). Clearly,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got to get the passing game clicking … We’ve got some things we’ve definitely got to clean up.”
Not such a crazy idea
Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook won’t be utilizing No. 3 quarterback Joe Callahan on any coverage units this week — “No,” came the quick reply at the suggestion — but Zook and McCarthy did toy with the idea of using ex-Packers rookie quarterback Taysom Hill in that role before the team waived him and he was claimed by the Saints at the end of training camp.
Zook had his office TV on after Sunday’s game and caught the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Hill recording two coverage tackles and nearly blocking a punt in the Saints’ 31-21 win over Carolina.
“We talked about it. We did,” Zook said. “We talked about because he’s a big, fast guy. I don’t know if I’d have ever had a chance, but we did talk about it. He’s playing pretty well down there.”
New Orleans coach Sean Payton told a great story before the Packers-Saints game in Week 7 about how he stumbled upon Hill while watching film of wide receiver Max McCaffrey, who’s back in Green Bay on the practice squad. Hill, the Saints’ third quarterback, had been inactive for the first 11 games before Payton decided to use him against the Panthers. Payton tipped the Fox Sports TV crew to his plans in a production meeting the day before the game.
“What I said was, this player is a special teams player who I think is going to do very well, and we liked the prospect as a quarterback,” Payton said Monday. “I think we saw enough on tape to claim him (from the Packers), to put him on our active roster.
“He’s athletic. I think he did a good job (Sunday), especially bringing some juice to the special teams. He can run, he has size. It was refreshing.”