GREEN BAY — With his team averaging NFL-bests of 40.7 points per game and 6.9 yards per play, Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones could afford to take a dip in the hyperbole well.
"We have all the weapons we need here," Jones boasted last week.
When he said that, Jones was fully aware that two of Green Bay's top weapons — wide receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard — likely wouldn't be available when the Packers tried to push their record to 4-0 with a game against the Atlanta Falcons Monday night at Lambeau Field.
You can't blame Jones for his enthusiasm, though. The versatile, deceptive, run-first offense that coach Matt LaFleur promised to bring to Green Bay last season didn't show up until this season. Better late than never because once it did, the results have been spectacular.
The Packers' lowest point total in their first three games was 37 points. Despite running the ball more frequently, their 5.5 yards per carry was second in the NFL. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers' passer rating was 121.1, third-best in the league, and he did it despite Adams playing only the first game and a half due to a hamstring injury.
To be fair, the Packers have played some struggling defenses to open the season. But other than running into an occasional stop sign inside the 5-yard line, they've shown supreme efficiency with a tight end-heavy offense that features a dizzying array of motions, misdirection and bunch formations, all orchestrated by Rodgers, who is clearly more comfortable in LaFleur's scheme than he was during the coach's first season.
Still, the game against the Falcons figured to be the ultimate test of the offense's ability to win shootouts, something it clearly will have to do this season. There were three reasons for that.
First, the Packers defense has looked a lot like last year's beleaguered unit. The defense has continued to hemorrhage yards, meaning about the best the Packers can hope for is to keep the pressure on opponents offensively, then get a stop or a takeaway at a critical point in the game that allows them to clinch the victory.
Second, the Falcons have one of the NFL's most potent offenses, with quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Todd Gurley and wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley able to put up points on any defense. Sure, Atlanta came to Lambeau with an 0-3 record, but that record said a lot more about its flimsy defense than its scary offense.
Finally, and most important, the Packers were without Adams and Lazard, leaving the bulk of the receiving chores to a no-name group of tight ends and, other than Marquez Valdes-Scantling, a nearly unrecognizable group of wide receivers. Besides Valdes-Scantling, the receiver group consisted of Darrius Shepherd, who came in with one career catch for 1 yard, Malik Taylor, who had no career catches, and Reggie Begelton, who was playing in his first NFL game.
Sorry, but an NFL offense needs more weapons than that. Or does it?
The offense certainly was up to the task Monday as the Packers remained unbeaten with a 30-16 victory over the Falcons. Rodgers threw four touchdown passes — three to tight end Robert Tonyan — as the Packers moved the ball with ridiculous ease for much of the game, not unlike their first three victories.
One consistent aspect of the Packers offense this season has been the number of wide-open receivers for Rodgers to throw to. That was the case again Monday. Even with his makeshift corps of wide receivers, Rodgers completed 27 of 33 passes for 327 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, which adds up to a 147.5 passer rating.
Indeed, if LaFleur can figure out ways to get that group of receivers open, it is a sign that the scheme is just as important to the success of the offense as the talent. That hasn't been the case in Green Bay for the last five or six years.
Rodgers went right after the Falcons on Green Bay's first possession, taking the Packers 73 yards on seven plays, capping the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jones, who somehow slipped undetected into the flat despite being the Packers' only proven playmaker on the field. Rodgers drove the Packers to the 1 on the next possession, but Shepherd's inexperience showed when he cut off a short route just before the goal line and failed to reach the end zone, causing the Packers to lose the ball on downs.
The Packers' next three touchdowns all came on Rodgers-to-Tonyan passes. In each case, the Falcons secondary lost track of the third-year tight end, who is emerging as the red-zone threat that Jimmy Graham wasn't the last two years. Another major contribution came from Jones and Jamaal Williams, who combined for 13 catches and 135 yards out of the backfield.
The Packers have now scored 30 or more points in each of their first four games, something that had never happened in franchise history. Game after game, the run is setting up the pass and Rodgers is throwing on time and in rhythm to wide-open receivers. Even though the Packers didn't add a playmaking receiver in a draft filled with them, a different guy is showing up on offense every week — Adams the first week, Jones the second, Lazard the third and Tonyan the fourth.