Eye in the Sky Week 2: Singing Those Minnesota Blues

Posted on


Well.  That was frustrating.

Since the Packers offensive struggles surfaced in earnest following the bye week last season, a lot of us said the same things.  “Losing Jordy Nelson hurts.  It’ll be hard to challenge teams vertically without him, but the playcalling isn’t helping.  Get Tom Clements out of there.”  Clements was out as playcaller before too long and is now spending games on Dom Capers’ napping cot.  Jordy is back this season.  Through 2 games, the Packers offense doesn’t look great.

Where do we turn now?  Who do we blame?  We can go with “Once Jordy gets back to 100%,” but we know that won’t fix everything.  Furthermore, hanging all of our hopes on a 31 year old receiver coming off an ACL injury probably isn’t the best bet.

We’ve heard such great things about Jared Abbrederis and Jared Cook, only to watch Aaron Rodgers lightly loft balls in the general direction of Davante Adams.

The more things change…

But all hope is not lost.  The Packers are 1-1 and barely lost to a division rival on the road while playing a terrible game.  Their two tight end look allowed them to move the ball pretty well, so that’s something I’m going to be looking for going forward.

The Packers have a lot of talent and have always rebounded in the past.  There will come a day when they won’t rebound; when the talent is old and/or depleted and the coaching staff can’t do a thing to help them.  But I don’t believe this is that day.  Coming into the season, this was a team that was picked by many to go to the Super Bowl.  I refuse to believe that dream is over after only 2 weeks.  There are troubling signs, but I choose to look to hope, for at least another couple weeks.

Clinging to hope does not mean burying my head in the sand, though.  There are some very real issues on offense that need to be addressed.  Mainly, the fact that defenses are not scared of the Packers beating them deep.  The safeties are creeping closer to the line, making windows in the underneath game smaller and smaller.  Despite of this development, the Packers are still running an offense meant to challenge the defense vertically.  These two things do not mesh.  The Packers are going to have to either start hitting passes down the field or attacking defenses horizontally.  Adjustments need to be made, and the Packers have not made them yet.

A change of personnel may be required.  There is speed and talent sitting on the bench.  While Davante Adams was on the field for 56 snaps, Trevor Davis, Ty Montgomery and Jared Abbrederis combined for 11 snaps.  After posting a disappointing catch rate of 53.2% last season, Adams is at 42.9% through two games.  Granted, two games is a small sample size, but a 42.9% catch rate is pretty ridiculous.  He is not a consistent receiver and can’t stretch the field.  I’m unsure what Adams brings to this team right now.  I understand why they don’t just dump him, but I don’t understand why some of the other guys on this roster aren’t getting a chance.

Things can turn around, but I can’t see that happening without a shift of offensive mindset.  Fingers crossed that it happens sooner rather than later.

Let’s get to the film.

THE UGLY

ugly-d-01_long_diggs_comp

Bringing in The Ugly for the first time this season.  Truth be told, I could put more plays in this spot, but I’m just going to go with one this week.  This is a 46 yard completion to Stefon Diggs [14].  He killed the secondary all game, and this gives a glimpse into how it happened.

Diggs starts the play at the top of the formation.  He is being covered by Damarious Randall [23].  You can see that Randall is showing outside coverage from the beginning.  Sam Bradford [8] also sees this.

Before the snap, Morgan Burnett [42] creeps closer to the line, while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] begins to back into the middle on the other side.  Knowing that Diggs is running a post, this is an easy pre-snap read for Bradford.  With Randall in outside coverage and a single-high safety on the other side of the field, Bradford knows Diggs will be wide open once he breaks.  The play-action seals it, as it brings Blake Martinez [50] and Jake Ryan [47] up a step, keeping the middle of the field free of dropping linebackers.

Out of the play action, Bradford can’t get the ball out fast enough.  He sets his feet and fires a bullet to Diggs.  It was an easy pre-snap read and an easy throw and catch, giving Diggs the ball in space with plenty of room to run.

I don’t know exactly what happened here.  I have some guesses:
1. There was a communication mix-up.  Randall believed he had safety help in the middle – Burnett in a shallow zone – in the short term, with Clinton-Dix available inside should the route go deep to the middle.
2. Burnett showed his hand too early.  He was supposed to stay back a little longer to disguise the defense’s intentions.
3. Nothing went wrong.  This is exactly how Dom Capers drew it up.

If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on #1.  Burnett is obviously playing the run here, so it makes sense for him to be close to the line when the ball is snapped.  Randall thought Burnett would be playing a shallow zone when Burnett was always meant to play the run.  I don’t know whether the mix-up is on Randall or Blake Martinez (the rookie with the headset).

This play is upsetting to me.  Let’s move on.

THE BAD

bad-o-02_rodgers_sack

One of the main knocks on Aaron Rodgers [12] is how long he holds the ball.  That has definitely reared its ugly head lately.  I wanted to show an example of one of the sacks he took in this game and look at some of the factors that contributed to it.

The first thing I want to point out is the depth of the Vikings safeties.  The deepest one is standing 14 yards from the line of scrimmage.  This has been an issue going back to last season.  Defenses just aren’t scared that the Packers can beat them deep, so they’re squeezing the life out of the short game.  Can you blame them?  Through two games, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams have accounted for 89.88% of the total wide receiver snaps.  Nelson doesn’t look like his old self, Cobb is known more for quick-cuts than straight-line speed, and Adams is a slow possession receiver (with inconsistent hands).  Until they start showing that they can beat defenses deep, this is what the Packers are going to see.  (The Packers with prime Nelson were seeing safeties 18-22 yards deep on a regular basis.)

Next stop on our sadness tour: the outside receivers on this play.  We’ve got Jordy Nelson [87] at the bottom and Davante Adams [17] at the top.  The corner alignment on each side is interesting: the cornerback opposite Nelson starts the play 7 yards off, indicating that they still respect Nelson’s speed, if only a little.  The corner opposite Adams is playing a couple yards off, indicating that they don’t respect Adams’ speed.
At the snap, both Nelson and Adams run go routes.  Adams has a decent move at the line which allows him to create a little space, but not much.

Now, to the tight ends.
Richard Rodgers [82] starts the play in the backfield in a fullback position.  At the snap he comes through the line, hits a linebacker and runs across the formation.
Jared Cook [89] is in the slot.  He is running a slant, trips and rolls on the ground.

It looks like Rodgers’ first read is Cook.  Even if Cook doesn’t fall down, that’s a bust.  He has a linebacker over the top immediately, then one dropping back to take away the quick slant.  Even if Rogers stays with him, the shallow safety – who started the play 9 yards deep – is there to pick him up.  No luck on that one.
The second read may be Richard Rodgers, but that’s also a bust.  With a linebacker on his tail, best case scenario is a no gain.
The third read is likely Adams, but by that time the pocket has broken down and Rodgers is sacked.  If he had time, I assume he would have thrown it to Adams, but it would have had to be a pinpoint pass to have a prayer of being complete.

If the Packers had some speed on the outside, it would open up some holes underneath.  Deeper safeties usually mean deeper linebackers, which opens up a lot of underneath throws.  Get the running game going a bit, pull those linebackers up a step and suddenly you have space behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties.  If the running game is really working, the safeties will be pulled up more and suddenly there’s a lot of room behind them to hit some bombs.
As it stands now, the safeties are playing closer to the line which allows the linebackers to play closer to the line.  The tight windows are tighter than they used to be.

Per Football Outsiders, the Packers average 3.7 yards per play on play action plays, which ranks them 30th in the league.  (They average 5.9 yards per play on non-play action plays, ranking 25th.)  This makes sense, given what I just talked about.  If linebackers and safeties are playing closer to the line, there’s not much benefit in drawing them in closer.  Until the Packers can start hitting plays over those pulled in defenders, their play action offense isn’t going to improve.

This is just one sack, but it shows the larger problem the Packers have been dealing with going back to the middle of last season.  They have two ways they can fix this:
1. Scare defenses with the ability to hit deep passes again.  If Nelson isn’t at 100%, that means trying to get Ty Montgomery (22 snaps this season) and Trevor Davis (5 snaps this season) more involved in the offense.  The only way to make the safeties back off is to show them why they should respect the deep game.  Get some guys in there that can challenge defenses vertically, hit some big passes and watch those small windows in the short passing game get a little wider.
2. Start stretching the field horizontally.  So many of Green Bay’s passing concepts rely on the ability to beat their men deep.  That’s not happening, so it’s time to shift a bit.  Again, this method relies on a bit of speed, or at least some quick, crisp route-running.  That means more Montgomery, Davis and Jared Abbrederis (34 snaps this season).  This calls for a lot of quick routes that play off of each other.  It calls for a lot of Cobb and Montgomery in the backfield.  It calls for routes that play off of each other.  Natural rubs.  Designed wide receiver screens.  Trips formations.  Men going in motion.  It calls for a lot of things that the Packers haven’t exactly been known for.  This is not necessarily a massive overhaul, but rather a slight tweak in offensive philosophy.  Stretch the defense side-to-side, and suddenly you’ll find that you have more shots available down the field as well.

Neither of these are perfect, and they both call for the Packers to make some changes on their offense.  History does not suggest that they’ll do that, but here’s to hoping they’ll break from that tradition.  The offense is not broken, but it is in need of fixing.  I have ideas.  I have a notepad full of plays and formations that could aid in this offensive tweak.  I’m only a phone call away.

bad-o-05a_waynes_int

This is the pass that was intercepted by Trae Waynes [26] late in the 4th quarter.  I have a few things I want to point out, so we’ll be looking at it from two angles.  This first angle shows the poor route run by Davante Adams [17].  Adams is at the bottom of the screen, matched up man-to-man with Waynes.  (I don’t want to make a big deal of it, but note that the deepest safety is 10 yards.)

One of the keys to getting open – especially if you’re working within a limited skill set – is a well-run route.  A slow receiver can have a lot of success with nothing more than crisp cuts and changing speeds.  Take this play, for example.  Watch Adams.  He has a decent first cut to the inside, but he’s extremely lazy when breaking back outside.  Instead of sticking his foot in the ground and breaking hard to the outside, he takes a wide path.  Instead of creating a bit of space between Waynes and himself, Adams’ soft route takes him right back into Waynes.  To make matters worse, he drifts back as the ball arrives, allowing Waynes space to step in front of him and grab the pass.

This was a poor play from Adams.  No doubt about it.

bad-o-05b_waynes_int

It was also a poor play from Aaron Rodgers [12].  He briefly looks to the right to move the safety, then looks back to Adams.  He knows Adams is in man-to-man, but he can see that coverage is pretty tight.  Rodgers has a clean pocket to work with.  However, instead of stepping into the throw and driving the ball, he falls back ever so slightly.  This pass – to the sideline, into a tight window – needs to be thrown on a line.  By fading back, there is more loft on the ball than there should be.  Combine that with the fact that with the ball being thrown a bit inside, it gives Waynes plenty of time to step in front.
If Adams runs a crisp route and Rodgers fires a bullet to the sideline, this pass is complete (or, at the very least, not intercepted).  Instead, Adams runs a sloppy route and Rodgers floats a ball to the inside.  A lot of little things can easily add up to a big thing.

This angle highlights why Rodgers has had some issues lately.  He has always played fast and loose with his mechanics, sacrificing proper technique in favor of getting the ball out quickly.  His arm strength allows him to be able to do these things, but arm strength isn’t everything.  Sacrificing mechanics may work sometimes, but relying purely on arm strength usually leads to inaccuracy, usually in the form of floated passes.  In the past, Rodgers has always known when to throw an awkward pass and when to step into one.  Going back to the middle of last season, we’ve seen entirely too much of this.  With a clean pocket, there is no reason to throw the ball like this.  I don’t know if he’s not being coached, or if he is and he’s not taking the lessons to heart.

Tom Brady is maniacal about his mechanics, working on that part of his game extensively through the offseason.  It’s one of the reasons he is still so accurate, even at the ripe old age of 39.  Rodgers doesn’t need to be Brady, but he does need to get back to the basics in terms of his mechanics.  It doesn’t mean he has to throw every pass the exact same way, but he needs to work on repeatable mechanics when he has a clean pocket.  Rodgers is an otherwordly talent, but he’s making the game harder than it has to be right now.

THE GOOD

good-d-01_daniels_sack

I just wrote a whole lot of words and I’m tired.  Let’s watch Mike Daniels [76] destroy poor, poor Brandon Fusco [63].  Daniels was a monster all day.  I love watching him wrecking the line.

good-d-02-perry_peppers_sack

I also love this play, where Julius Peppers [56] and Nick Perry [53] destroy their dance partners and meet at the quarterback.  I see things like this and I honestly wonder how anyone is able to get up for the next play.  One hit like this and I would be calling for the cart to come get me and drive me straight home.

The defense – aside from Stefon Diggs using us as his own personal highlight reel – looked good.  After much hand-wringing about the state of the defensive line, the Packers defense has turned in two solid performances, particularly against the run.  Through two games, the Packers have allowed 78 yards rushing on 48 attempts (1.6 yards per attempt).  They faced a couple poor offensive lines, but those are still remarkably impressive numbers.  I’ll be interested to see how they hold up without Letroy Guion, but they’ve looked better than expected so far.

good-o-04_rodgers_quick_throw

Let’s end with a couple good plays by the offense.  They weren’t all bad.

This play starts pre-snap with Aaron Rodgers [12] reading the defense and moving Eddie Lacy [27] to his right to pick up the blitz.  Even with Lacy in position, Rodgers knows he has to get the ball out quick.  He gets the snap, takes a couple steps back and fires a strike to Richard Rodgers [82] in the middle of the field.  (Using Richard Rodgers more in the middle of the field brings a smile to my face.)

Richard Rodgers’ move is nothing special: he starts off the right side, gives a quick jab to the man across the line, then runs a quick slant to the middle.  Bang.  Quick, easy completion.

good-o-02_dual_outs

This play has Richard Rodgers [82] lined off up the left side of the line with Jared Cook [89] in the slot next to him.  The Packers ran quite a bit out of the two tight end look against the Vikings, and I really liked what they were able to do with it.  With Cook able to run routes out of the slot, this package allows them to be quite flexible.

On this play, Rodgers and Cook are running the same pattern: it’s a dual outs route, with Rodgers lagging slightly behind.  They start their cuts at the same time, but Rodgers is a yard behind, as he starts this play with his hand on the ground.
On the outside to that side, Jordy Nelson [87] is running a go.

The Vikings are in zone and you can see what this does.  There are only two defenders on that side.  Nelson takes the outside man with him, while the inside man goes with Cook to the outside.  That allows Rodgers to come out of his break and sit in a free space.  That’s exactly what he does.

Against this look, there will always be someone open.  If the inside defender stays with Rodgers, the ball goes to Cook.  If the defenders stay with Cook and Rodgers, Nelson is open (again, if you look at the safeties you’ll notice they’re both within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, neither of them able to get to Nelson in time).  The only way a wrench is thrown into this is if the defensive end drops into coverage, but I’d like to believe that Richard Rodgers could get open on a zone-dropping defensive end.  Right?  RIGHT?!

Doodles With Dusty

doodle-3

After all my talk above about stretching the field horizontally, I thought I would come up with a play that would help do that.  I chose the personnel here based on the flexibility it gives if you go no-huddle.  You can do a lot of things with this group.

“This group” consists of Jordy Nelson [87], Randall Cobb [18], Trevor Davis [11], Jared Cook [89] and Richard Rodgers [82].  I would also be happy putting Ty Montgomery in place of Davis, Rodgers or Cook.

We’ve got a trips formation to the right side.  There are a couple options here.  If the defense is playing off, Aaron Rodgers [12] could fire a quick screen to Davis, with Nelson and Cobb blocking.  If the defenders are playing up, the screen is faked, then the receivers go into their routes.  After faking blocks, Nelson and Cobb release, with Nelson running outside And Cobb running in.  Combine that with Davis taking a step back then firing up field, there should be a mass of Vikings defenders in the area, a couple of them knocking each other slightly off their coverage.  That leaves either Nelson, Cobb or Davis free of a defender.  While Nelson and Cobb have defined routes, Davis has his pick, depending on the safety.  He can run a post, go or corner route.

If that fails, we have Jared Cook running underneath all the action.  The defenders on that side of the field may be scrambling with the receivers coming out of trips, which could lead to Cook being lost in the shuffle.  If he is man-to-man with a linebacker, the linebacker could be caught up in the scrum, leaving Cook open.  I would also run this same play with Cook in the backfield instead of off the line.
Richard Rodgers is away from the action, running a simple in-and-out route.  If there are two deep safeties, one may be pulled up to get Rodgers, leaving the other side of the field open.  If there is no deep safety to that side, it’s Rodgers and a linebacker in coverage.  There’s likely not much there, but it’s a possible safety valve if everything else breaks down.  (I didn’t draw it in this version, but Richard Rodgers also has an option to just sit in the middle of the field if he finds a hole.)

Provided the defense is up, the read is: Cobb, Nelson, Davis, Cook, Rodgers.
The other thing this play gives you is a bunch of reads in the same area.  Instead of looking all over the field, Aaron Rodgers can essentially look to the right side of the line and make all of his reads without too much movement.

This is a quick-hitting play designed to get people open and I love it dearly.

Random Thoughts:

– Eddie Lacy was out for a couple series, so we got a glimpse of the James Starks Show.  It was not pretty.  He looks slower than he has in the past, missing some of the burst he once had.  I don’t know that his time is coming to a close, but I do think it’s time to grip him a little less tightly.

– They keep playing that Subway commercial where the couple tracks their relationship based on Subway sandwich days, naming their daughter after Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Day.  I hate those people.  They’re terrible people and I never want to see them on my TV again.

– One of the Vikings’ defensive linemen’s name is Tom Johnson.  I heard Joe Smith is high on their draft board next season.

– Jake Schum’s average punt in this game was 38.6 yards.  In a dome.  I can’t wait to see what he does in Lambeau in a month.

– Joe Thomas has been a maniac through these first two games.  I was excited about what he could bring to the table last season, but it looks like I was a season too early.  He has been flying all over the field.

Albums listened to: William Fitzsimmons – Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2; Basia Bulat – Good Advice; Mandolin Orange – Such Jubilee; The Low Anthem – Eyeland; Wilco – Schmilco; The Head & The Heart – Signs of Light; James Vincent McMorrow – We Move; Scarlett Johansson – Anywhere I Lay My Head; Blink-182 – California


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.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tags: , , , , ,


Profile photo of Dusty Evely

By Dusty Evely

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

Want more Packers?

Connect with us!

Skip to toolbar