Man, I just don’t know what to say. In a season featuring a lot of ugly games, this may have been the worst (it’s a toss-up with the Broncos game).
The defense looked good early, but promptly fell apart as the game went on. The offense didn’t fare any better. The running game was stuffed early, so they leaned on the passing game to get down the field. It didn’t work. Aaron Rodgers was sacked 8 times, and was seemingly knocked down on every snap. And yet the Packers were still calling for a lot of 5-7 step drops for Rodgers, even with Don Barclay and Josh Walker on the field. Typing that sentence made me cringe.
Let’s get to the film. As always, stats and ratings from Pro Football Focus.
David Johnson  is a monster. There is no way around that. He’s fast, cuts quick and hits like a truck. He can run and catch. In this game, he gained 39 yards on 9 rushes, and also picked up 88 yards on 3 catches.
This move right here is nifty. It reminds me of something I used to do in an old Madden game. I would trade for Warrick Dunn and run a series of sweeps and screens to get him on the edge. When a defender was on his outside shoulder, I would hit the juke button to the inside for an unstoppable jump cut, and I was off to the races.
For the record, I am not comparing David Johnson to Warrick Dunn.
Yes, David Johnson is good, but look at the closing defenders. This angle may give us a better look:
There are three defenders closing (Damarious Randall , Morgan Burnett  and Nick Perry ), and they all overrun Johnson to the outside. It’s a quick move back to the inside, but there was no reason for all of them to play the same angle. Perry is the biggest culprit here. He’s coming from the inside. All he has to do is maintain his angle to the inside. Randall has outside and Burnett has straight-up. Perry crashes too hard to the runner and loses his angle. From there, it’s a series of missed tackles and a 44 yard gain for Johnson.
I call this bad defense, but it’s also a great offensive playcall by the Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald  is lined up in the slot to the right of the line. John Brown  is on the outside and David Johnson  is in the backfield. Packers are in zone. At the snap, Fitzgerald simply runs a slant curl to the middle of the field. Casey Hayward  starts the play over Fitzgerald, but can’t follow him to the middle of the formation as Johnson is running into the flat. At the top, Brown takes two defenders with him. Hayward is stuck. If he follows Fitzgerald, it’s an easy touchdown to Johnson. If he follows Johnson – which he does – he has to pass off Fitzgerald earlier than he wants to.
Joe Thomas  is the man in the middle. If he was reading the same thing Hayward was, he should have shaded towards Fitzgerald, making the window smaller. Alas, he did not, and it was an easy touchdown throw.
Again, the defense could have played this better, but it was a great playcall by the Cardinals. I wish I saw more of this out of the Packers.
Here’s another catch by David Johnson  out of the backfield, this one going for 29 yards. It’s not an overly complicated play: Jake Ryan  starts the play in the middle of the field and is man-to-man with Johnson out of the backfield. Ryan rushes towards Johnson’s left shoulder, so when Johnson cuts right he finds a lot of running room.
There are a couple things to point out here, the first of which is, once again, the routes being run by the Cardinals. Two players come out of the backfield and cross about 4 yards downfield. That’s not what gets Johnson opens, but it’s a concept that would work for that. It sets a kind of natural pick, and could also serve in confusing a zone defense. The two receivers at the bottom are also running a route combo off each other. Again, I’d love to see the Packers run more of this.
The other thing to point out is the fact that Jake Ryan just isn’t athletic enough to cover a good running back out of the backfield. Ryan is an improvement over A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Nate Palmer, but that doesn’t mean Ryan is great: it just means he’s better than what we’ve endured. I like Jake Ryan, but he has some pretty obvious limitations. This Packers defense will continue to struggle until they get a good inside linebacker to pair with Clay Matthews.
I thought I’d take a look at the play that made Aaron Rodgers mutter terrible things under his breath and prompted T.J. Lang to ask, “Why did you throw that?”
If you watch the offensive line, you’ll see that they are run blocking. This is a package play. Rodgers sees Davante Adams  lined up outside in man-to-man coverage against a shorter cornerback and decided a quick throw up top would be his best option here. It’s hard to blame him. Rodgers gets the ball out fast and throws a ball high for Adams. Adams gets his hands on it…but he drops it. Because he is Davante Adams.
Let’s look at this from another angle.
Since Rodgers gets the ball out so fast, it’s hard to tell exactly how this would have played out if it were a run. You can see a hole opening on the right side (created by T.J. Lang  and J.C. Tretter ), and John Kuhn  hitting that hole to provide a path for Eddie Lacy  to run through. It’s far from a sure thing, but, seeing how the Packers line had been getting man-handled and how the Cardinals were stacking the box here, I can’t say Rodgers made the wrong decision. If Adams had hung onto this ball, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Hey, speaking of Adams having butter fingers…
Every now and then, Aaron Rodgers will make a throw that makes your jaw drop. Something so ridiculous you can’t even believe what you just saw. This was one of those times. Escaping the pocket to the right and throwing off-balance to the far side of the field.
And, of course, it went down as an incompletion, because Davante Adams couldn’t hang onto it.
I was a big fan of Adams last year and thought he would have a good year. I was wrong. This season, Adams has seen 84 targets. Of those 84 targets, 56 passes were tagged as catchable. Of those 56 catchable balls he has seen this year, he has dropped 10 of them. That means he has dropped 17.86%, which puts him at 80 out of 85 receivers who have seen at least 25% of their team’s targets.
Last season, his drop rate on catchable balls was 9.52% (4 drops on 42 catchable balls), which put him 60 out of 90 receivers who have seen at least 25% of their team’s targets. That’s not great, but it’s better than this season. Is the drop this year a sign of pressure getting to him, or the fact that more balls thrown his way mean he has more chances to drop passes?
My point is that Davante Adams hasn’t been good this year. Yet they keep trotting him out there, game after game.
Here’s one final Adams related stat: Jared Abbrederis has been on the field every week since Week 13. Over those 4 games, he has seen 71 snaps. In that same time, Adams has seen 252 snaps.
This section made me really sad this week and I didn’t even cover a lot of plays. Suffice it to say, the Packers had a lot of issues this week. The Packers have had a lot of issues for many weeks. Let’s move on, shall we?
There were some good moments in this game. Not many, but a few. This was my favorite. Look at the right side of the line. Mike Pennel  is lined up over Ted Larsen’s  right shoulder. At the snap, Pennel drives Larsen back, gets him off balance, then throws him like a rag doll. Pennel straight-up launches Larsen into the backfield, then takes down Carson Palmer .
It’s so beautiful that I made a gif just of that moment, so I can watch it again and again.
I’m glad Pennel has seen the field this year. He’s inconsistent, but he’s capable of very good things. He can still get lost on defense at times, but he has improved as the season has gone on. If he continues his improvement, he could be a huge asset on the defensive line.
I loved this run by Eddie Lacy . It’s a quick toss, he hits the hole quickly and hurdles a fallen defender to get into the open field. Once in the open field, he sees Josh Walker  out in front, looking for someone to block. Instead of continuing his cut back inside, he jumps back outside to get behind Walker. Once Walker engages on D.J. Swearinger , Lacy pops back inside and picks up 10-15 extra yards. It’s a great bit of running by Lacy, and I love the patience in the open field.
– It was an ugly game, but I liked that they were still making decisions to try to stay in it. They called a fake punt. They went for a two point conversion. They attempted an onside kick. In a game that was clearly lost, I like the aggressiveness that went into those calls.
– I know I listed a lot of Davante Adams stats up top, but here’s another one: when throwing to Davante Adams this season, Aaron Rodgers has a QB Rating of 68.6. Two other Green Bay wide receivers have at least 25% of targets: Randall Cobb and James Jones. When throwing to Cobb, Rodgers has a QB Rating of 101.1. When throwing to Jones, Rodgers has a QB Rating of 104.8. For what it’s worth, Rodgers has a QB Rating of 88.7 when throwing to Jared Abbrederis, but, with only 14 targets, that’s an extremely small sample size.
– Very quietly, Tim Masthay has strung together 4 solid games. Over his past 4 games, Masthay’s average net punt has been 45 yards. As a point of reference, Johnny Hekker has the highest net punting average in the league this year with 43.2 net yards per punt. I’m not saying Masthay is the best punter in the league, but I am saying he looks much better than he has for much of the season. (And that’s where I am right now: heaping praise on the punter.)
– This is nothing groundbreaking, but if the Packers go into the playoffs with Don Barclay and/or Josh Walker manning a tackle position, they will not get very far. In this game, they gave up a combined 5 sacks and 8 QB hurries.
– On the season, Aaron Rodgers has been under pressure on 35% of his dropbacks, which puts him 13th out of 30 quarterbacks who have taken at least 50% of their team’s snaps at quarterback. In this game, he was under pressure on 47.4% of his dropbacks.
Albums listened to: The Wonder Years – No Closer to Heaven; Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle, John and the Time Traveling Bicycle – The Acquisition of Memories; Low – Ones and Sixes; U.S. Girls – Half Free; My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall