A win, the NFC North division title and a playoff game in Lambeau were within our grasp, but 3 quarters of ineffective offense caused those things to slip through our fingers. Instead of hosting the Vikings at Lambeau this week, the Packers will be trudging to FedEx Field to play the Redskins.
Losing the division doesn’t bother me too much. What bothers me is how the offense looked in this game. Once again, they were adrift on the open sea. They came out early in their Big package and ran the ball down the Vikings’ throats, but then they promptly forgot about the run and turned to the passing game, which looked out of sorts.
To be more specific, it looked out of sorts through roughly 3 quarters, at which point they went into a hurry-up offense with Aaron Rodgers calling the plays at the line. They looked much better from that point on, but they still weren’t able to overcome their early deficit.
There’s is where I usually say “As always, stats and ratings from Pro Football Focus.” Sadly, that is no longer the case. Pro Football Focus has gotten rid of their Premium Stats section, replacing it with Player Grades. All the helpful information that I used on a weekly basis (QB time in the pocket, QB under pressure, receptions by receiver by section of the field, catches and receptions against defensive backs, and so on) is gone. Now all they have are snap counts (which are readily available on a lot of non-paid sites) and their subjective player grades, which I stopped using a while ago. Now I find myself scrambling for stats. I can replace some of them with a combination of Pro Football Reference, Football Outsiders and NFL Savant, but I can’t replace everything I got from Pro Football Focus. To say I’m disappointed is a bit of an understatement.
Enough of my complaining. Let’s get to the film.
The Packers are in Cover 1 Robber Man Under (probably not the exact right terminology, but Morgan Burnett  playing a shallow zone in the middle leads me to call this Robber). Jerick McKinnon  starts the play in the backfield but motions wide before the snap. Being in man coverage, Jake Ryan  follows him. As soon as I saw Ryan running out to cover McKinnon, I said, “Oh no!” The only people in range of my voice were my wife and 6 month old daughter, who were both equally confused as to what my outburst was about.
This play was a disaster from the start, saved only by the fact that Teddy Bridgewater’s  downfield accuracy leaves a little something to be desired. Ryan was beat before the ball was even snapped. Between the time Bridgewater releases the ball to the time it lands, McKinnon outpaces Ryan by 5 yards.
The problem is that there’s really nothing to be done. With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix  playing the other side of the field, Burnett playing a shallow zone and everyone else in man coverage, there was no one to help Ryan.
It’s almost like having a fast player in the backfield and using motion can help a team create mismatches or something.
Here is Aaron Rodgers’  red zone interception to James Jones . A touchdown would have tied up the game with a little more than 2 minutes remaining. It was 4th down, and, while I like the decision to go for it (Mike McCarthy was fairly aggressive in this game, which I’m a big fan of), this throw confuses me.
Look at James Jones at the top of the screen. He sees Rodgers scrambling and comes back and to the outside. There is a ton of room on the outside. If Rodgers had thrown to the sideline, it would have been an easy touchdown. Instead, he throws back inside, where Jones has no chance.
There’s a possibility that Rodgers is looking for John Kuhn , who is running up the seam. Maybe he thinks that Kuhn is going to cut outside. However, for his entire route it looks like Kuhn is only thinking about running inside.
If you watch Rodgers, it looks like he gets into open space and briefly glances to the left before chucking the ball. Perhaps he sees Kuhn’s defender and assumes it’s underneath coverage on Jones. Still, if that’s the case, it seems like Rodgers would have thrown more inside to Kuhn, as that portion of the field is wide open.
Lastly, look at the rest of the receivers. There is a thought to try to get Randall Cobb  open in the middle by running under the other receivers, but a middle zone in the end zone nixes that. It was a nice thought, but it didn’t work.
I like the idea of leaking Kuhn out of the backfield late. The Vikings essentially made a wall at the goal line. If no one was paying attention, a little pass to Kuhn may have gotten them into the end zone. But that didn’t work, either.
What we have is a play call that tells 4 receivers to run into the end zone and turn around. That’s it. Just go and turn. When they’re not open initially – because the Vikings knew they needed to get into the end zone – there is very little movement to try to break free. Cobb works a little, but it’s a little late. If Rodgers had been able to hang onto the ball for another beat, he could have possibly hit Cobb in the back of the end zone, but it would have been a tight window. Both Richard Rodgers  and Davante Adams  just kind of stand there hoping their defender will forget about them.
Speaking of things that angered me in this game, here’s this play. With 15 seconds left and no timeouts, they run a quick screen for Richard Rodgers  in the flat, which is about the worst call you can make in that moment.
They actually have numbers at the top, with both James Jones  and Randall Cobb  on that side with only 1 defender. But Jones whiffs on his block and Richard Rodgers had already broken his 1 tackle this month, so he collapses in a heap, in bounds. Through some miracle the Packers were able to get another play off, but there would be no miracle on this day.
Here’s the thing: I say it’s the worst call you can make in that moment, and that’s not entirely true. I see the thought behind it. “We have blocking numbers. A quick throw could gain an easy 10-15 yards and get out of bounds in about 6 seconds, giving us the possibility of 2 shots at the end zone from inside the 30.” Where this thought process breaks down is that they are throwing a ball to Richard Rodgers in the flat. Even if he wasn’t tackled, by the time he turned up field and got out of bounds, it would have wound 10 seconds off the clock to lumber for 7 yards.
And look at the other side. There’s actually more room over there – and Davante Adams  makes a great block – but the man running the route is John Kuhn , who isn’t exactly known for his blazing speed.
The more I think about it, the less I hate the play call and the more I hate the personnel being in the places they are. Here’s what I would love to see: on the left side, put Jones and Richard Rodgers as your up receivers and Jared Abbrederis as the pass catcher underneath. On the right side, keep Adams on the outside, but put Cobb in the backfield and have him run the route Kuhn is running. If you wanted to, you could replace Richard Rodgers with Jeff Janis (playing special teams, he knows his way around a block in open space) on the left side. Problem solved.
Except it’s not, because the Packers refuse to hire me.
Since I just lambasted Richard Rodgers (or, rather, how Richard Rodgers was used), let’s look at something he did well. Andrew Quarless  and Richard Rodgers  are coming off the right side of the line. They’re essentially running the same route, with Quarless running his a little deeper and cutting a little later. (For the record, it would be nice to run a wheel route behind this off the right side, as the defense is all moving left, but the Packers do not do those things. In this case, there is a defender over there, so it probably wouldn’t have worked, but it would be a nice wrinkle in this play to take advantage of what you’re forcing the defense to do by flowing the rest of your offense to the left.) Rodgers gets behind the linebackers and easily finds some open space in the middle of the field. It’s an easy throw and catch.
I’ve said it before and will continue saying it: this is how Richard Rodgers should be used. He’s not quick. He’s not fast. But he is big, has good hands and is no fun to tackle with a head of steam.
Cris Collinsworth talked about this on the broadcast, but, since I’ve mentioned it in this space before, I thought I’d bring it up here. Davante Adams  starts at the bottom of the screen and runs a crossing pattern. His man shadows him but doesn’t stay on his hip through the slight cut, and Adams finds himself wide open. Instead of leading Adams into Andrew Sendejo  and certain death, Rodgers throws the ball to Adams’ back shoulder. This forces Adams to stop, and also indicates that he should come back inside instead of continuing outside. I’ve seen Peyton Manning cause many injuries by constantly leading his receivers into oncoming safeties, so I always love seeing this from Rodgers.
Davante Adams had a really nice day. He caught 4 passes (on 6 targets) for 54 yards. Nothing eye-popping, but he was solid and sure-handed. After some of the terrible performances we’ve seen from him this season, it was nice seeing this going into the playoffs. This was a nice move here, too. He set his line across the field, then subtly shifted in to create space. It was a well-run route by Adams, and that’s not something I’ve been able to say for a while.
I’ve made jokes about James Jones’  favorite route being “slowly jogging in a straight line”, but this shows how he able to create some separation downfield, despite his diminishing speed.
Jones starts the play on the bottom. With his defender playing bail technique, Jones sets up outside, looking like he’s running a fly up the boundary. Then, just as his defender is starting to turn, Jones gives a quick cut inside. With the safety in coverage in the middle of the field, there is a lot of open space for Jones to run.
I love how he sets this up. Slowly fading outside, baiting his man, then a quick cut to find room. It’s a beautiful little move.
Something else to bring up here: if this is a good throw, Jones scores a touchdown. Instead, Aaron Rodgers underthrows Jones by quite a bit. I wouldn’t be shocked if we get to the offseason and hear about how Rodgers has been playing with a sore shoulder/elbow/wrist/hand/ribs for half the season.
Let’s close this out by looking at a few defensive plays. Look at this. Just look at it. Not the completion, but the rush by the Packers. Both Julius Peppers  and Clay Matthews  sell their initial move perfectly to set up this stunt. Matthews gives a little fake towards Michael Harris  while Peppers fakes a swim move between Harris and Joe Berger . This holds Harris in place while drawing Berger to the outside. Matthews comes flying over Peppers. Berger is caught out of position, but still makes a nice recovery and is able to get a hand on Matthews. It’s a good play by Berger to knock down Matthews, but it’s a great call and execution by the defense.
Last week I highlighted a play in which Mike Pennel  threw a grown man through a stained glass window. Today, I will highlight Mike Pennel (lined up on the right side of the screen, between the LT and TE) shooting through a gap between two pulling linemen and blowing a play up in the backfield. He doesn’t get the tackle (Clay Matthews  gets that honor), but Pennel is the one who kills this play before it gains any traction. In looking at the blocking on the right side, there’s a chance for Jerick McKinnon  to gain some serious yardage if Pennel doesn’t make this play (depending on whether he would have been able to shoot the gap that Morgan Burnett  is attempting to close).
I really loved Pennel coming into last season. Now that he’s getting a chance to play, he looks like he could be a difference maker on the line over the coming years.
This is Micah Hyde’s  interception. It’s a colossally dumb decision by Teddy Bridgewater  (flashes of Jake Plummer and Aaron Brooks sprang to mind), but it’s also an amazing play by Hyde. Hyde stats on the left side, and he follows Mike Wallace  across the formation. He’s reading Bridgewater the entire time. When Bridgewater decides that throwing into coverage with his left hand is a good idea, Hyde breaks and makes one of the best catches you’ll see. One-handed, backhanded, falling down. It really is something.
I kept this clip running a little longer, because I love the reaction by Casey Hayward . Everyone else is excited. Hayward is losing his mind. I love it.
Before we get to Random Thoughts, let’s introduce a new section. I call it Doodling With Dusty (I am accepting submissions for a better name for it).
In my current job, I spend a lot of time on conference calls. In case my bosses are reading, I want to assure you that I pay attention to everything that is being said, but there are times when I sketch out a play or two while listening. It’s never anything too in-depth: I basically just draw routes.
For today, I actually drew up a couple plays. You may recognize this as the screen to Richard Rodgers in the waning seconds of the game. It’s not perfect, but I think it gives a pretty good idea of what the play call was.
This is my counter to that, and something I desperately hope they try this week (if not this week, then maybe next week in the Divisional Round). They’ve been running the screen to Richard Rodgers all season. Teams have seen it numerous times. Once they see a formation like this and Richard Rodgers stepping back at the snap, they crash it hard. This play works off of that.
Richard Rodgers  starts at the end of the line. Before the snap, he steps back and begins to motion towards the outside. When the ball is snapped, both James Jones  and Randall Cobb  feign a block, then go into their routes. Jones runs a stick-and-in, while Cobb runs an in-and-up. Combined with the crashing defense, this route combo should get at least one of them open. The hope would be that the crashing defense isn’t able to recover in time to cover a streaking Cobb. If Cobb is covered, Jones cutting underneath that route should get him a little space.
I know I said above that I don’t like this play for Richard Rodgers, but it’s what the Packers have put on film, so having him in there is the trigger for the defense to crash.
If that fails, we still have Eddie Lacy  running an angle route out of the backfield and Jared Abbrederis  running a curl/out option route.
The idea is to get someone open for a quick throw. Aaron Rodgers  would pump to Richard Rodgers, then have Cobb as his first read. If Cobb is covered, Rodgers would then check to Jones, then Lacy then Abbrederis, in a left-to-right reading.
It’s not perfect, but a concept like this could work, especially if the defense bites hard on the screen.
– There was a lot of talk about the disappearance of Clay Matthews over the last couple games. He had 0 tackles in the Raiders and Cardinals games, and just seemed largely absent. He showed up in a big way in this game. Though he only put up 1 sack and 2 tackles, he created a lot of pressure and re-routed a lot of running plays. He seemed to be living in the backfield. It was nice to see that heading into the playoffs.
– On their first drive, the Packers came out in a Big package (shown above). James Jones was the lone receiver, Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers were the tight ends and Eddie Lacy and John Kuhn were the backs. They ran it pretty well out of that formation. It wasn’t spectacular, but they worked their way down the field and got a field goal on the opening drive. Eddie Lacy did the bulk of the work on the drive, carrying 7 times for 28 yards. Again, not spectacular, but it was good for 4 yards a carry. After that drive, Lacy ended up getting 6 more carries for the entire game. Abandoning the running game is something that the Packers have done far too many times this season. Let’s hope they don’t forget about the run in the playoffs.
– We just witnessed a down year for Aaron Rodgers. Going back to when he became a starter in 2008, this year he set career lows in completion percentage (60.7%),yards per game (238.8), yards per attempt (6.7) and QB rating (92.7). His TD percentage (percentage of touchdowns thrown per attempt) of 5.4% was second worst of his career.
However, even in a down year, he still threw for 31 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions (his interception percentage of 1.4% ranked him second in the league this year, behind only Tom Brady at 1.1%). His 5.4% TD percentage ranked him 10th in the league. He was 24th (out of 51) in yards per game, 25th (out of 35) in completion percentage, 30th (out of 35) in yards per attempt and 15th (out of 35) in QB rating. His 31 touchdowns put him 10th, throwing 2 more touchdowns than Kirk Cousins, who set franchise records with the Redskins this season. He was also sacked 46 times this year, second in the league to Blake Bortles with 51.
My point is this: yes: Rodgers had a down year. It was a little concerning to see him struggle like he did. The only reason is seems so disappointing is because he has set such insanely high standards for himself. By all accounts he had a perfectly fine season (especially considering he was without his top weapon all season and has been dealing with protection issues for large portions of the season), but he wasn’t his usual spectacular self. It’s disappointing, but I still have faith in Aaron Rodgers.
Let’s take a second to look forward to the Redskins game this weekend, using Football Outsiders’ DVOA stat. I’ve talked about it before, but it’s one of my favorite football stats, because it takes so much into account. If you want to read more, go here.
PACKERS ON OFFENSE
The Packers have the 16th ranked passing game, while the Redskins have the 19th ranked passing defense. They could have some success here, but I’m scared of what Ryan Kerrigan can do to this Packers line as a pass rusher. I expect Rodgers will have a pretty good game, but he won’t come out and set the Redskins defense on fire.
Where the Packers can really hurt the Redskins is in the running game, provided they don’t forget about it. The Packers have the 10th ranked rushing offense, while the Redskins have the 22nd ranked rushing defense. The Redskins have played 5 games against teams that ranked in the top 10 of in rushing offense. In those games, they gave up an average of 133.2 yards on the ground.
PACKERS ON DEFENSE
The Redskins have the 6th ranked passing offense, while the Packers have the 6th ranked passing defense. While that’s a pretty high ranking for the Redskins passing offense, they have played 3 games against top 10 passing defenses and have not cracked 200 yards in the passing game in any of those games.
The Redskins have the 32nd ranked rushing offense, while the Packers have the 19th ranked rushing defense. Last time I checked, the NFL only has 32 teams.
It has been a well publicized statistic that the Redskins have not beaten a team that finished with a winning record this season. While that’s true, they only played 3 teams with winning records, going 0-3. The more interesting point to me is how they fared against those three teams. The average score of games against winning teams saw them losing by a score of 35-15.3. Against all other teams, they averaged winning by a score of 26.3-21.1. They turned the ball over a total of 9 times in those 3 games.
The Packers played 7 games against teams that finished the season with a winning record. They went 3-4 in those games, with the Packers losing by an average score of 26-22.1. In all other games, they won by an average score of 23.7-15.7. They turned the ball over a total of 9 times in those 7 games.
Both teams over performed their Pythagorean expectation by 0.77 wins.
I see an ugly game ahead. The Packers will focus on pounding the Redskins on the ground, while the Redskins will try to gain traction in the passing game, but will struggle to make enough plays to drive down the field. Throw in a couple turnovers from the Redskins, and I’m seeing a 27-17 Packers win.
I know it has been a somewhat disappointing season, but the Packers are in the playoffs. I could not be more excited. On Sunday, put on your favorite jersey, engage in your superstition of choice, grab a few beers and prepare yourself for Packers playoff football.
I can’t wait for Sunday.
Go Pack Go.
Albums listened to: Motorhead – No Remorse; David Bowie – Blackstar; The Black Heart Rebellion – People, When You See the Smoke, Do Not Think It Is Fields They’re Burning; The Casket Girls – The Piano Album; Deantoni Parks – Technoself; Keaton Henson – 5 Years
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.