The Green Bay Packers are one of the few remaining NFL teams that employ a fullback. In 2016, they ran from a two-back set 45 percent of the time, according to Football Outsiders.
That was the third-highest percentage in the league, trailing only Buffalo (57 percent) and New England (51 percent).
That’s just context, though. The important statistics are these.
The Packers averaged a really nice-looking 4.8 yards per rush when running out of a one-back set. They averaged a pretty average-looking 3.7 yards per rush when running out of the two-back set.
That’s slightly more than a yard per rush difference, which is substantial.
There could be a number of causes of this.
Perhaps defenses expect the run and thus, are more prepared to stop it when the Packers line up in a two-back set. Perhaps the lead back actually clogs things up for the ball carrier, resulting in fewer yards per rush. Perhaps Mike McCarthy’s running plays out of the two-back set just aren’t that good. Perhaps the fullback, Aaron Ripkowski, just isn’t all that great at creating running lanes.
Maybe all of these things play a factor.
Certainly, most of the league has come to the conclusion that the two-back set should not be a prominent part of an NFL offense. Only seven teams ran at least 40 percent of the time out of the formation in 2016.
The league average was 25 percent and seven teams ran out of the two-back set less than 10 percent of the time. Twenty-one teams came in under 30 percent.
But we well know that no one is going to tell Mike McCarthy how to run his offense, so we doubt anything will change with the Packers’ running game. It’s really an afterthought for McCarthy anyway.
Clearly, the numbers say more one-back formations. Ty Montgomery averaged 5.9 per carry in 2016. How about Ripkowski more as a change-of-pace bruiser and short-yardage guy?
Or, the unthinkable? The Packers just drafted three running backs to go along with Montgomery. They carried two fullbacks last year, with Joe Kerridge joining Ripkowski. It isn’t logical that the Packers will keep six backs on the final roster.
Could they finally be phasing out the fullback? A possibility to keep in the back of your mind.