I was optimistic last week. I guess I’m optimistic every week. But the offense looked better last week, and that improvement went hand-in-hand with Mike McCarthy resuming playcalling duties. Perhaps my hope was misplaced. Watching Aaron Rodgers struggle to throw 82 yaards in the first half against the 28th ranked passing defense was painful to watch. I guess the problems go deeper than just a change in playcaller.
Yes, there are issues. But it’s Christmas, so let’s not dwell too much on those problems here. There should be plenty of time for that next week. For now, let’s celebrate the fact that the Packers have clinched a playoff berth for the 7th consecutive year. That’s a tremendous achievement. It’s tied for the longest active streak (with the New England Patriots) and only two seasons behind the longest such streak in NFL history (9 seasons, shared by the 1975-1983 Cowboys and the 2002-2010 Colts).
So do as Hope Schlottman says and smile.
Let’s get to the film. As always, stats and ratings from Pro Football Focus.
I know I just said, “let’s not dwell too much on those problems here,” but that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing. Because I am a filthy liar. Let’s start with the defense
I looked at a play remarkably similar to this last week. That play turned into a touchdown run (albeit a short one). This one was worse.
If you look at the Packers pre-snap alignment, you will see a massive hole in the middle of the line (more specifically, the A gap to the right of the center), and a complete lack of linebackers in the middle. To make matters worse, the defenders bookending the middle of the line are Julius Peppers  and Mike Neal , neither of whom is known for their prowess in the run game (Peppers is a decent run defender, but it’s not his bread and butter).
The reason I say this is worse than last week is because the men in that position last week were B.J. Raji  and Mike Daniels , both guys who are more than capable of blowing up a run play on their own.
This was an easy check at the line for Derek Carr  to make, and it gave Latavius Murray  a huge hole to run through.
Speaking of huge holes to run through…
This play kind of piggybacks off the last one. There are linebackers in the middle of the field, but not across from the center. There are no defenders over the A gap. At the snap, Jake Ryan  immediately cuts inside to take away that running lane. Basically, the Packers showed them a hole then took it away.
It didn’t matter, though. On this play, the defense hinges on either B.J. Raji  or Julius Peppers  winning their battles. Raji is turned inside by a double-team while Peppers is turned out by J’Marcus Webb , once again creating a very large hole for Latavius Murray  to run through.
It wasn’t always the run defense that had issues. Here is one of Amari Cooper’s  touchdown catches.
He starts the play in the slot on the right side of the line. There’s nothing fancy about the route: it’s a simple deep corner route. The Packers are in Cover 2, but the underneath coverage is hard to decipher. From the looks of it, it’s pattern-match man. (Without getting too deep into it, pattern-match man 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.) There appears to be some confusion between Damarious Randall , Casey Hayward  and Morgan Burnett  as to the responsibilities on the right side of the line.
The outside receiver runs an out under the deep corner route by Cooper. Hayward, starts the play in the slot and jumps over to cover the outside receiver once he sees the tight end is back to block. He reads the route perfectly and has the receiver covered.
Meanwhile, Randall sticks with the outside receiver, playing over the top while Hayward plays underneath. While that is happening, Cooper continues unimpeded to the end zone. Burnett is back in coverage, but he seems to be playing over the top, as if he expects help underneath.
I believe that Randall was supposed to drop deeper into coverage to help with Cooper once Cooper went deep. It’s quite possible Hayward was supposed to stick with Cooper, but, given his technique, I believe he did was the coverage called for on this play.
Pattern-match man is a tricky coverage, especially with young corners. It can be extremely effective, but it can also be extremely difficult to master.
I’m putting this in The Bad, but that’s really just due to the outcome. I like this playcall. It’s a wide receiver screen to Randall Cobb  out of the bunch at the top. The problem here is that the Raiders read this perfectly and Malcolm Smith  didn’t get caught up in the scrum.
I like this playcall, but it was a bad defensive alignment to run it against.
This was a first and goal play. Aaron Rodgers  is looking for a quick throw to his left. Both Randall Cobb  and Jeff Janis  are essentially running the same route: fake a slant, run an out (with Cobb then cutting back in at the goal line). For Cobb, this was derailed by his defender disrupting him at the line and the poor field conditions causing him to lose his footing during his break at the line. For Janis, this was derailed by him being a little too slow out of his break. Also, looking at how quickly Rodgers wants to throw this ball, I’m thinking Janis was supposed to be running a route short of the goal line. He’s nowhere close to coming out of his break by the time Rodgers is ready to throw.
Here’s what I think happened: the initial read is to Janis. When he wasn’t ready, Rodgers checked to Cobb, who had slipped. He was then out of time, so he fired the ball over the head of Janis.
The Raiders had this covered well, but a quick, accurate throw from Rodgers would have gained positive yardage, if not a touchdown. It’s frustrating that it fell apart due to a slow route and poor field conditions.
Speaking of frustrating, here’s Aaron Rodgers’ late-game interception. When I saw the play live, I figured it was a poor decision/throw by Rodgers, with a subpar effort by Jeff Janis to come back to the ball. Watching this now, I think I’m ready to put this all on Janis (or at least 95% on Janis). Rodgers has a tight window to fit this ball into, but he does have a window. Janis has a step on both defenders. Rodgers is off-balance when he throws this ball, so it’s a little further inside than it should be. Still, it’s a catchable ball for Janis. Instead of going up and fighting, Janis simply fades into the end zone. He even jumps, like he thinks he actually has a chance of catching this ball. He does not have a chance of catching this ball.
This was either an extremely poor read or very poor effort from Janis. Both are frustrating.
Here is Micah Hyde’s  interception. I don’t really have much to say about it. Just watch how perfect his coverage is. He starts in the slot to the right of the line and has man-to-man coverage. He is step-for-step with his receiver the entire way. When the ball is thrown, he undercuts the pass for an easy interception. Perfect coverage by Hyde.
Morgan Burnett  is so good around the line of scrimmage. You’ll see him lined up on the right side of the line. At the snap, he crashes to the middle. Once Latavius Murray  cuts outside, Burnett reads it and easily sheds the block of Andre Holmes  to make the tackle in the backfield. It’s a great instinctive play by Burnett, and just shows what he adds to this run defense.
Let’s all watch Mike Daniels  toss his man around to get to the ball carrier. Before the snap, he and B.J. Raji  shift to the left, to where Daniels is playing over the right shoulder of the center, Rodney Hudson . At the snap, he grabs Hudson to pull his way inside. Once Daniels sees Murray cutting outside, he throws Hudson back the other way and hits Murray as he cuts to the hole. Clay Matthews  and Jake Ryan  are also there, but it’s Daniels that makes this play.
I just praised Morgan Burnett’s skills in the running game, so here I’ll point out what he is capable of in the passing game. You’ll see him creeping towards the line before the snap. Once the ball is snapped, he backpedals, reads the deep cross behind him and breaks on it. Derek Carr thinks he has a wide open throw, but Burnett is able to dive and get his hand on the ball, knocking it away. Burnett has his troubles in the passing game, but he can be very good. This is one of those times.
Here’s a beautiful little touchdown run by John Kuhn . Kuhn is lined up as the fullback while Randall Cobb  is lined up as the halfback. At the snap, Aaron Rodgers looks like he is going to pitch the ball to Cobb, but instead gives a quick handoff to Kuhn. This motion to Cobb makes Ben Heeney  and Khalil Mack  react to their left, getting them out of position for the inside run by Kuhn. T.J. Lang  clears Stacy McGee  out of the middle, while Bryan Bulaga  seals off Heeney, opening a huge hole for Kuhn. For good measure, Kuhn trucks T.J. Carrie  on his way to the end zone.
This pass ended up going to Jared Abbrederis , but I love watching the routes on this play. We have dual drags running underneath digs. We have Randall Cobb  running a wheel route out of the backfield. We have John Kuhn  motioned outside to run a fly route against a corner while James Jones  and Davante Adams  are running in the middle against linebackers.
Again, the result of the play was a complete pass to Abbrederis, and that’s wonderful. He ran a great route, getting deep enough to get behind the linebackers and running until Aaron Rodgers had a window to fit the ball in. But it’s all the other route combinations happening on this play that make me love it.
Not only is there a blown coverage on James Jones  at the top of the screen, there is also blown coverage on Jared Abbrederis  out of the slot at the bottom.
I don’t have much to say about this play, but the day I don’t want to watch a 30 yard touchdown throw off the hand of Aaron Rodgers dozens of times in a row is the day I don’t want to live anymore.
– I didn’t have as much to say about these plays as I normally would, I’ll blame the holiday season and a baby who doesn’t want to stay asleep.
– Damarious Randall got lit up in this game. When targeting Randall, Derek Carr was 7/9 for 112 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT for a QB Rating of 116.0. Randall has been so good for the majority of the season, to the point where I sometimes forget he’s just a rookie. He’s bound to have days like this. Overall, I’ve been very happy with his season.
– Jared Abbrederis saw the field for 27 snaps, his highest snap count of the season. He didn’t have a huge game (3 catches for 33 yards), but he looked really good while he was out there. Between his play on the field and a ringing endorsement from Aaron Rodgers, let’s hope we see his snap count continue to increase.
– When throwing at Randall Cobb, Aaron Rodgers was 5/7 for 40 yards for a QB Rating of 85.4. Cobb also had 4 carries for 18 yards. These aren’t eye-popping numbers, but the versatility of Cobb allowed the Packers to get creative in the second half, leading to 16 points. In the second half, they often came to the line with Cobb and Kuhn in the backfield, with James Jones, Jared Abbrederis and Davante Adams split out wide, with Richard Rodgers on the line. This allowed them the flexibility to turn to a power run game if they wanted to or go with a spread offense (with a linebacker covering Cobb) if they wanted to. Because of the way they used Cobb, they were able to look at the personnel the Raiders had on the field and decide which match-up they wanted to exploit. This is one of the reasons the offense looked better in the second half than it did in the first half. With Abbrederis getting more playing time, I’m hoping to see more of this look going forward.
– Charles Woodson announced his retirement after the game. Like so many others, he was one of my all-time favorite players, and did a lot of memorable things in a Packers uniform. Players like him don’t come around very often, so I’m glad I was able to watch his career, and watch some very good years of his career in Green Bay.
– I know I’m not really saying anything groundbreaking, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a lot of fun. It wasn’t the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt like it belonged with the original trilogy. They nailed all the little details. I found myself sitting in the theater grinning like an idiot a number of times.
– The Packers are back in the playoffs. It hasn’t been a pretty season, but they’re currently 10-4 and in the playoffs. A lot of fan bases would kill for that. Remember to smile.
Albums listened to: Amanda Jenssen – Sanger fran on; Cage The Elephant – Tell Me I’m Pretty; Led Zeppelin – Houses Of The Holy; Ennio Morricone – The Hateful Eight Soundtrack