Eye in the Sky: Even Miracles Can’t Save You

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I promised myself I wasn’t going to get too tied up in this game emotionally.  “It has been a disappointing season (inasmuch as a 10-6 season with a playoff berth can be disappointing).  This team hasn’t played very well and they’re going up against a Cardinals team that has been one of the best in the league all season long.  We already beat Washington and we’re playing with house money at this point.  If we win I’ll be excited.  If we lose I won’t be too sad.”

I told myself all of this and actually thought I’d believe it.  Then the ball was kicked off, the Packers kept it close and I told myself they had a chance.  “We can win this.  If we can win this, we can win next week and we’re in the Super Bowl.”

The Packers botched a series deep in their own territory and those thoughts were gone.  “Oh well.  That sucks, but they fought hard.”  Then Bruce Arians decided to throw the ball and we had a chance.
Hope.

The Packers proceeded to waste a ton of time on their final drive.
Hope vanished.

A long pass to Jeff Janis on 4th down and the insane Hail Mary tied the game up and I was all in.  “Go for two,” I shouted.  “GO FOR TWO!”  They didn’t, but my hope was high.

Then overtime happened and the Packers were booted from the playoffs before I ever came down from the high of the Hail Mary.  And of course, despite what I told myself before the game, my heart was broken.

One of the things I hate so much about the loss is that it’s going to be impossible to look back on that Hail Mary and not immediately think about what came next.  The joy I felt in that moment is gone forever.  It’s still an amazing play – both by Aaron Rodgers and Jeff Janis – but I won’t be happy when I think about it, even as amazing as it was.

Football is cruel.  Beautiful, but cruel.  And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Let’s get to the film.

THE UGLY

BAD-D-02-fitzgerald_ot

Look away if you are faint of heart.  This is the long completion to Larry Fitzgerald [11] in overtime.  I didn’t want to watch it, but I felt like I had to.  I wanted to see what happened.  Those who forget their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.  We call it The Dom Capers Principle.

Fitzgerald starts the play at the bottom of the screen, motioning towards the line.  He simply runs a deep crossing route.  Pressure gets to Carson Palmer [3] quickly, but there is an opening and he is able to escape.

When we saw this play live, we were thinking what most of you were probably thinking: “That ball is going to be intercepted.”

Of course, when the ball finally arrived at its destination, the only person in the zip code was Larry Fitzgerald.  I cut off the clip before he started running because I’m not a total monster.  But you can see how much open space he has, and you know how it ends.

On the initial look, this is on Julius Peppers [56], who is on that side of the field and breaks towards the line once he sees Palmer running outside.  There is no reason for Peppers to do this – a defender was already closing on Palmer, who, to be kind, lacks top-end footspeed – but Peppers hadn’t dropped deep enough to break up this pass anyway, even with the ball taking its time to float across the field.

Earlier this week, Dom Capers said Fitzgerald was the responsibility of Damarius Randall [23], who starts the play lined up across from Fitzgerald at the bottom of the screen, but drops off once he starts crossing the field.  Apparently it was Pattern Match (I talked about Pattern Match a bit in my write-up of the Raiders game.  In case you missed that, Pattern Match essentially starts as zone coverage, but switches to man after the initial route breaks come from the receivers.  Basically, once a receiver declares his route, the coverage stops being zone and becomes man.)  Given how the rest of the defense reacts, I would say that is the case.

Still, I wonder what the benefit is of calling out a rookie after this game for the biggest defensive breakdown of a playoff game.  He hedged his bets a little by saying that someone should have been able to take down Palmer, but it certainly looks like Capers is pointing his finger at Randall and saying, “Him.  He’s responsible.”  Given how well Randall has played this year (I’ve considered buying his jersey, so you know it’s serious), I hate that this is how he is viewed to close out the season.

THE BAD

BAD-D-01-jones

Datone Jones [95] had a very nice season.  I thought this would be a good season for him, and I’m glad he rewarded my faith in him.  This play isn’t particularly bad, but I wanted to point it out.  Kind of a “what could have been” in a game full of them.

Jones starts the play in the middle of the line, but drops into zone at the snap.  As he’s running out of the screen, watch his head.  He kind of glances back, but he’s more concerned with getting to his spot than he is with reading Carson Palmer [3].  As a result, he runs right by the spot Palmer is staring at.  Had Jones started paying more attention to Palmer as he was dropping, this very well could have been an interception.  I wish Jones had been paying more attention, but this is a difficult drop.  To drop that far to his left coming from the middle is a lot of ground to cover.

BAD-O-01_rodgers_in_flat

It’s only fitting that I end The Bad – the final one of the 2015 season – with this play, as I’ve been talking about this non-stop all season.  You know how it goes.  Sing along with me.  Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.

Richard Rodgers [82] starts the play motioning in from the top.  At the snap, he runs to the flat.  This is third down and the play called for Richard Rodgers to run a route to the flat short of the sticks. Here we are in the Divisional Round and they’re still running this crap.  Aaron Rodgers [12] is lucky this wasn’t a pick six.

Here’s something else to notice here: look at the bottom of the screen.  Jared Abbrederis [84] is clearing out room for James Jones [89] who is running a screen underneath Abbrederis.  It appears as though Jones has more than enough room to pick up the first down.

To recap: on the top of the screen we have a curl-flat route combo with Randall Cobb [18] as the curl and Richard Rodgers as the flat.  On the bottom of the screen we have a wheel-screen route combo with Abbrederis as the wheel (creating a natural pick) and Jones as the screen.
I blame the coaches for continuing to run Richard Rodgers in the flat, but some of this is on Aaron Rodgers for not looking at his other options.  After all, just because Richard Rodgers is running in the flat doesn’t mean Aaron Rodgers has to throw it to him.

I tried to keep this portion short (for my own sanity as much as yours), but it was still rough to get through.

THE GOOD

GOOD-D-01-guion

I have three good defensive plays, and they all pretty much follow the same pattern: defensive line dominating offensive line.  I’ll get through these quick so you can spend time just staring at them.

Here we have Letroy Guion [98] shoving Mike Iupati [76] on the left side, while B.J. Raji [90] is shoving Ted Larsen [62] in the middle.  David Johnson [31] doesn’t have much room, but he tries to hit a small hole.  Guion dekes to his right, then uses his leverage to pull Iupati through him and take down Johnson as he hits the line.

GOOD-D-02-raji

Here we have B.J. Raji [90] his hands and a quick step to the right to blow past Ted Larsen [62].  Carson Palmer [3] is able to get the ball away, but he’ll be thinking about this for a very long time.

GOOD-D-03-raji_guion

And finally, here we have Letroy Guion [98] and B.J. Raji [90] easily slipping by their blockers to make a play in the backfield.

Jake Ryan [47] is in the vicinity, but he does not pile on after the play to make it look like he was in on the tackle.  It’s like he learned nothing from A.J. Hawk.

GOOD-O-01-abbrederis_wr_screen

I lamented the number of screens to Richard Rodgers earlier, so it’s only right I point out when these go to other players.  Jared Abbrederis [84] starts to the left side of the line.  At the snap he backpedals to the flat, catches the ball and uses his speed to get to the outside.  It’s not an amazing play, but I’m much happier seeing this play go to someone like Abbrederis than Rodgers.

Something else to note here: watch the hit on the sideline.  When this happened, my brother said, “You know that skill that allows certain players to avoid taking big hits?  Abbrederis has the opposite of that.”

GOOD-O-02-janis_slant

Directly before this play, a friend of mine was talking about how none of the receivers struck fear into the hearts of the Cardinals.  “It’s not like the Cardinals are scared of Jeff Janis running a slant route.”  Then this happened.  In your face, Seth.

Like the above play, this isn’t an amazing play.  But it’s a nice little route combo on the outside designed to pick to have Richard Rodgers [82] pick the defender off of Jeff Janis [83].  It doesn’t work, but Janis runs a sharp little slant route and makes a nice catch.

Later in the game, he ran a nice comeback route on the sideline.  I’m not saying Janis is the answer, but he showed enough promise in this game to dream on a bit.  We know he has the speed, and he showed some really nice hands in this game.  With Jordy Nelson back next year, the receiving corps should be stacked, so I don’t know if he’ll get a huge role, but he showed enough to stick around.  His skills on special teams will certainly help him make the team again.

GOOD-O-04a-janis_td

Speaking of Jeff Janis [83], he also did this.  He starts the play at the bottom of the screen, running a curl.  When he’s not open and he sees Aaron Rodgers [12] starting to scramble, he breaks in at the perfect time and Rodgers finds him in the end zone.  I love this angle because you can see when he breaks.

GOOD-O-04b-janis_td

I love this angle because you can see Rodgers work.  He ducks inside and finds a hole to the outside.  He sees Janis, but he can’t throw it just yet.  He also sees Deone Bucannon [20] closing.  Rodgers is able to holds Bucannon to the middle by not looking directly at Janis, and also by giving a little pump fake towards the middle.  It’s not much, but it’s enough to hold Bucannon.  Then, when Rodgers has the right angle on Bucannon, he releases the ball to find Janis in the end zone.  Perfect timing by Rodgers and Janis to make this happen.

As an added note, the Cardinals played 4 games on NBC this season, and every game Cris Collinsworth has made a big deal about the fact that Deone Bucannon weighs 211 pounds, wears #20 and plays linebacker.  “People say he’s too small to play linebacker, but look at him!  This kid just makes plays!”  Then he chuckles about something no one really understands.
I get it.  He’s undersized for a linebacker.  But you have to assume that most Sunday Night Football broadcasts have the same viewership, as it’s the only game on at the moment.  We’ve all heard the same exact tidbit at least once per game.  Come to think of it, it may be just a canned statement they run while Collinsworth has to step out of the booth for a moment.  If that’s the case, it makes a lot more sense.  My hat’s off to you on your ingenuity, sir.  It’s far more effective than saying something like, “I can’t be in the booth right now.  I’m afraid that in my weakened condition I could take a nasty spill down the stairs and subject myself to further school absences.”

GOOD-O-03-lacy_run

This is the 61 yard gallop by Eddie Lacy [27].  The line does an amazing job of making a wall on the left side.  They did everything short of making an arrow telling Lacy where to go.  I love Bryan Bulaga [75] coming across the formation, blowing up a linebacker, then looking for someone else to hit (he eventually gets caught flat-footed and getting beat down the field by Rashad Johnson [26], but there’s not much shame in a right tackle getting beat by a safety in space).

Justin Perillo [80] is on the back side of the play.  His job is to take out Markus Golden [44] and he does a tremendous job.  He gives Golden a little hook to direct him to the backfield, and to give Perillo a chance to hop back over the top.  It’s a tricky play, because he doesn’t want to hold Golden.  He pulls it off perfectly, completely taking Golden out of the play.

Lacy does a great job of following the blocking even after he makes his way to the end of the wall.  He cuts it back inside to get behind Bulaga and T.J. Lang [70] for a couple more blocks, breaks out his spin move on Tony Jefferson [22] and gets into the open.  Getting those last couple blocks was huge in breaking this run for as long as he did.  We’ve seen this from Lacy quite a bit, and I love it every time.

I’ve seen a lot of fat jokes, and that’s fine.  I get it.  I don’t make those jokes, but I get it.  Still, even though this has been a somewhat disappointing year for him, he is still undeniably talented.  His totals took a hit this season, but his yards per carry (4.1) and yards per reception (9.4) were pretty much in line for his first couple years (4.4 and 8.9, respectively).  My point is, I have not soured on Eddie Lacy.

GOOD-O-05a-hail_mary

Angle 1.

GOOD-O-05b-hail_mary

Angle 2.

I said this at the top but it bears repeating: it kills me that I look at this play with anything other than the excitement I felt at the time.  With pressure coming immediately, Aaron Rodgers [12] pulls off a reverse spin to his left, throwing 55 yards (more like 60 when you factor in where it was caught in the end zone) while fading back with two closing defenders.  With all those factors, he’s still able to throw the ball so that it comes in high enough to allow for Jeff Janis [83] to use his 6’3″ frame to high-point the ball in the end zone.  Everything about this play is amazing.  I’ve watched this second angle countless times, and it gets more unbelievable every time.

I know what comes next, and that kills the mood a bit.  But this play is unreal.

DOODLES WITH DUSTY

IMG_5813

Once again, I took a few minutes to draw up a play for next year while sitting on a conference call.  Coach McCarthy, feel free to use this.

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know my love for the full house backfield.  Once seen as a power running formation, different personnel groupings can really help unlock this.  It can concentrate the defense to the middle of the field.  With the right players, this formation can really help to exploit that.  That’s what I’m attempting to do here.

The backfield consists of Ty Montgomery [88], Randall Cobb [18] and Eddie Lacy [27].  At the snap, both Montgomery and Cobb come through line and run dueling routes.  If the coverage is man, this could create a natural pick, especially with all the defensive traffic that should be in the middle of the field.  If the coverage is zone, the receivers coming out of the backfield into traffic and making hard breaks could confuse defenders and make them pause for a beat, or drag two zone defenders with one receiver, leaving the other with some room to work.  Lacy stays back to help block.  If no one breaks through, he cuts to the flat.

On the outside, Jordy Nelson [87] is running a slant-and-go (“sluggo”), while Jeff Janis [83] is running a a drag-corner (I thought long and hard about who to pair with Nelson on this route combo, and figured the speed of Janis would help force overpursuit on the drag, while the speed of both Nelson and Janis will likely pull a safety slightly up the field, as they look to both be running short routes to the middle of the field).

The goal is that either Nelson will be open due to a safety being caught out of position, or Janis will be open due to an overpursuing defender on the drag and the safety taking Nelson.  If neither of them are open, either Montgomery or Cobb should be able to emerge from the middle with some running room (the benefit of having speed on the left side is that it should be cleared out a little when Cobb clears that side of the line).  Failing all of those, Lacy may have some room to navigate in the flat.  The read would be Nelson, Janis, Cobb, Montgomery, Lacy.

Beyond that progression, a lot of this is up to Aaron Rodgers [12] and how he reads the defense.  If the safety in the middle is sneaking up and breaking towards Nelson’s drag, the first read would be to Nelson.  If the safety stays back and the defender on Janis is playing inside coverage, the read is to Janis.  And so on.

Random Thoughts:

– I said above that I wanted the Packers to go for two after the Hail Mary.  Here are some reasons why:
In the Cardinals 5 drives in the second half, they averaged 7.4 plays, 43.6 yards and 2.4 points.  They didn’t punt once, but Carson Palmer was intercepted twice, once in the end zone.
In the Packers 6 drives in the second half, they averaged 4.8 plays, 35 yards and 2 points.  They punted twice, had one interception and another drive end with a turnover on downs.
My point is that the Cardinals had been moving the ball pretty consistently in the second half, while the Packers struggled.  Even their last drive was a nightmare with 2 astounding plays thrown in.  I would assume that trend would continue into overtime.  Instead of kicking the extra point and rolling the dice in overtime, why not go for two?  You’re two yards away from either winning or losing the game.  On the season, the Packers were 4/6 on two point conversions.  All of those were passes, so perhaps Mike McCarthy didn’t quite trust this inexperienced receiving corps to make one more play.  The real reason is likely more obvious; to make a call like this in this moment, you know that it’s all on you.  If it fails, the coach is the obvious scapegoat.  There are so many risk-averse coaches, because it’s a tenuous position to hold.  The only coach who could make a call like this would be one who knows his job isn’t in any immediate danger.  Someone like Mike McCarthy.
I get the decision to kick the extra point, but the trends of the second half strongly point to going for two and winning or losing on that play.  Certainly McCarthy has some insanely creative play for 2 yards tucked away on that playcard, doesn’t he?  If not, I’d be willing to help out with that.  I’ve got a lot of conference calls and an entire offseason to work with.

– When throwing to Jeff Janis, Aaron Rodgers was 7/11 (63.6%) for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns, for a QB Rating of 146.8.  In everyone’s favorite stat from the game, Janis had 101 receiving yards on that final drive.

– When throwing to everyone not named Jeff Janis, Aaron Rodgers was 17/33 (51.5%) for 116 yards, 0 touchdowns and 1 interception, for a QB Rating of 47.0.

– Jared Abbrederis played 72 snaps in this game.  Jeff Janis played 40 snaps.  For the season (including the Wild Card game), Abbrederis played 127 snaps and Janis played 135 snaps.  Their snaps in this game accounted for 36.2% of Abbrederis’ season snap totals and 22.9% of Janis’ season snap totals.  For two guys who hadn’t played much this season, they showed up in this game and performed admirably.

– Tim Masthay averaged 35.8 yards per punt, with a long of 37 yards.  It’s a disappointing end to a disappointing season for Masthay.  He showed some flashes, but he was inconsistent at best.  I hate to say this about a fellow Kentucky alum, but the Packers are really going to have to look at replacing him this offseason.

– Speaking of Kentucky alum, I really hope Randall Cobb is okay.  A bruised lung sounds awful.

– As has been said ad nauseam, this was a disappointing season, and this was a disappointing way to end it.  Still, in this game the Packers took the Cardinals – one of the best teams in the league – to overtime, playing with a receiving corps comprised of a slow James Jones and two totally untested receivers in Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis.  This wasn’t a pretty game, but this team scratched and clawed and did everything in their power to win.  It didn’t work out, but I’m proud of what this team did in this game.  Now we sit back, watch the rest of the playoffs without stress and dream of the 2016 season.

– This is normally where I end Eye in the Sky for the season, but I have an idea for one more article.  Look for that in the next week.  I’m pretty excited about it.

Albums listened to: Daughter – Not to Disappear; Dawn Landes & Piers Faccini – Desert Songs; Eliza Hardy Jones – Because Become; Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour of Bewilderbeast; Hinds – Leave Me Alone; Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

Thank you for reading. Dusty Evely is a featured writer for Titletown Sound Off. You can follow him on Twitter @DustyEvely. For even more Packers content, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

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By Dusty Evely

Lover of sports, horror movies & good music. Below-average second baseman.

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