Eye in the Sky: Wild Cards and Goal Line Stands

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An ugly start had us all shaking our heads.  The way the offense was playing, an 11-0 deficit seemed impossible to overcome.  And it was really only as close as it was because DeSean Jackson did something stupid and our defense showed up big on the goal line (more on that in a bit).  Aaron Rodgers had been taken down for a safety (after our back-up center was blown-up at the left tackle position), the receivers weren’t creating separation, and, even when they were, Rodgers was missing them.  I didn’t necessarily think the game was over, but I wasn’t overly optimistic they would overcome it, especially given how their offense has looked for weeks.

Then, magically, Rodgers flipped the proverbial switch, the receivers starting getting open, J.C. Tretter ended up playing a solid game at LT and the running backs found some holes to run through.  Combine that with the defense playing extremely well and the Packers made a quick comeback and ended up winning 35-18.

The slow start was concerning, but it was good to see the offense finally come out and look like the Packers offense we’ve come to love in recent years.  Here’s to hoping they can keep that up against a much better Cardinals defense.

Let’s get to the film.

THE BAD

It’s hard to be overly negative after a playoff win, but there were some bad moments in this game, so let’s get those out of the way.

BAD-O-01-safety

We all know that J.C. Tretter [73] got shoved back into Aaron Rodgers [12] on this play, leading to a safety.  But that’s not what I was interested in looking at.  This play took place on 3rd and 13.  The Packers knew their line was struggling.  So what did they do?  Did they call for any quick throws?  Given the fact that the coverage in the middle of the field is playing off (and backing off before the snap), did Richard Rodgers [82] recognize this and look for the ball off the line?  The throw would be short of the first down, but it’s possible that he would be able to get a head full of steam and pick up the first down after the catch.

I don’t mean to single out Richard Rodgers here.  Just take a look at the routes here.  Keep watching this gif and follow a different receiver every time.  The only receiver who ran a route short of the sticks was Randall Cobb [18], and he was running into the flat with a defender playing over the top.  Every other receiver makes a beeline for the first down marker and turns around.  The only problem is that protection has broken down before a single receiver looks back.

I’m not in love with the idea of throwing short of the first down, but if you’re backed up in your own end zone with a shaky line and 13 yards to go, it seems like you would call a play that gets one of your players either in space or running free with a head full of steam.  This was a poor play call, especially given the situation.

BAD-D-02-hyde

I like Micah Hyde [33].  He does some things very well.  Covering an athletic tight end man-to-man is not one of those things, and it showed here.  I don’t have the coverage numbers, but Jordan Reed [86] had 9 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown, and Hyde was responsible for at least some of that.

This is the touchdown (it was also Reed’s longest catch of the day).  He starts the play lined up just off the right side of the line, with Hyde playing about 5 yards off.  Reed runs a nice route – deke inside, cut up – but it’s nothing spectacular.  Still, it’s enough to get Hyde slightly out of position, and Reed runs right by him without much trouble.  Kirk Cousins [8] makes a throw over the top for an easy touchdown.

I say that Reed gets Hyde out of position, but I don’t know that it matters too much.  Reed could have run straight down the field and Hyde wouldn’t have been able to stick with him.

Again, I like Micah Hyde, but he can be beat pretty easily with an athletic tight end.  He’s good in zone coverage, and I like him a lot close to the line.  I’d love to see what Ladarius Gunter [36] would be able to do here, but then you lose some of the benefits Hyde gives you.  Still, if Hyde struggles against the Cardinals, I’d throw Gunter out there and see what he can do.

THE GOOD

Now that we’ve got that bit of unpleasantness out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff, starting with the defense.

GOOD-D-01-raji

B.J. Raji [90] has had spurts of very good play this year.  He has moments where he seems to disappear, but I’ve been happy with his season.  I’d like to see him back in Green Bay next year, provided his asking price isn’t too high.

The line is blocking to the left.  They’ve got the edge sealed pretty well, with Darrel Young [36] coming through the hole and taking out Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21].  But that doesn’t matter.  Raji is able to slip past the block of Kory Lichtensteiger [78] and take out Alfred Morris [46] not long after taking the handoff.   It shows Raji’s quickness to be able to get inside the block and his strength to be able to drive through the arms of Lichtensteiger.

Here’s something else to look at: even if Raji wasn’t able to blow up this play, Mike Pennel [64] is doing a pretty good job of slipping his block and getting into the backfield on the left.  As a reminder: I really like Mike Pennel.

GOOD-D-02-ryan

I ragged on Jake Ryan [47] quite a bit last week (for good reason), so I thought I’d highlight a good play of his in this game.  You can see him (starting offset to the left) simply follow the flow and shoot the gap to make a tackle in the backfield.  This is the kind of play that A.J. Hawk was incapable of making towards the end of his time in Green Bay.  Ryan is not without his issues (mainly that he’s slow and stiff in coverage), but he’s a good and instinctive run defender.  He is not the long-term answer at inside linebacker, but he makes enough plays that he’ll stick around for a while.

GOOD-D-03-matthews_perry_sack

The pass rush showed up in this game, racking up 6 sacks against Kirk Cousins [8].  To round out the defense, I’ll show two of my favorites.

This is a long stunt for Clay Matthews [52], starting from the right and looping all the way back around the left side of the line.  He is creeping up to the line pre-snap, and gives a little deke towards the line once the ball has been snapped.  It looks like he’ll be shooting the A gap (between Kory Lichtensteiger [78] and Brandon Scherff [75]).  Both linemen take a step back with this in mind.  It is then that Matthews bolts for the other side of the line.

Nick Perry [53] and Mike Daniels [76] are both rushing down.  Playing on the end, Perry is the key for making sure this works.  By taking a hard angle to the interior of the line, he forces Trent Williams [71] to come inside to block him.  This opens up the edge for Matthews.  With Williams moved in, Matthews is able to make a tight loop around the end, allowing him to get to Cousins quickly.  Cousins sees Matthews too late.  He tries to avoid the sack and ends up stepping into the oncoming Nick Perry.

This is only a four man pass rush, but it’s beautifully designed and executed perfectly.

GOOD-D-04a_cousins_ball_spike

I mentioned this on the podcast this week, but I wanted to bring it up again here, as I now have the aid of visuals.  Kirk Cousins [8] was sacked twice on 4th down.  The first sack was pressure off his blindside, so I can’t fault him too much for that.  This one, however, I will fault him with plenty.

At this point, the game was 35-18 with less than 3 minutes to go.  The Redskins have 4th and 3 at the Packers 4 yard line.  By taking a look in the end zone, it doesn’t appear as though Cousins has anywhere to go with the ball.  But, again, it’s 4th down in a playoff game, down 35-18.  What’s the harm in just throwing a ball up for grabs and hoping for the best?  Worst case scenario is that the ball is intercepted.  Still, taking a sack is just as bad in this situation.

It’s a four man rush, with Clay Matthews [52] crashing off the left side and Julius Peppers [56] looping around.  It’s not quick pressure, but it’s quick enough to move Cousins off his spot before being able to go through his progression.  He’s flushed to the right.  With Mike Neal [96] closing on him, Cousins knows he won’t be able to run for the first down.  Still, instead of chucking the ball into the end zone, he tucks the ball and takes the sack.

My favorite part of the play is at the very end.  He has tucked the ball and is being taken to the ground.  I don’t know what pops into his head, but he ends up spiking the ball.  It’s after his knee has gone down, so it doesn’t really matter, but what’s the thinking here?  An incomplete pass is just as bad as a sack from his perspective.  Even if he’s thinking, “I want to pin the Packers deep,” this would have been ruled intentional grounding even if his knee wasn’t already down.

Whatever his thought process was, it made me laugh and I just want to watch the ending of this play over and over.

GOOD-D-04b-cousins

Yeah.  That’s the stuff.

GOOD-O-01-abbrederis_getting_open

Jared Abbrederis [84] saw 28 snaps in this game, his highest snap count of the season.  While some of that was due to the unfortunate injury to Davante Adams [17], it was nice to see him on the field for as much as he was.  With Adams missing the Cardinals game, we’re sure to see more of Abbrederis this week.  I wanted to take a look at a couple plays of his.

This one ends in an incomplete pass, but that’s not on Abbrederis.  He starts this play just off the left side of the line.  He’s running a deep in route.  The Redskins are in Cover 1 Zone Under.  Just watch Abbrederis run this route.  He sees that Aaron Rodgers [12] has been flushed from the pocket.  He is also reading the defender in zone ahead of him.  Instead of running straight across the field, thus taking him directly behind the defender, he cuts his route in to get underneath the defender.  Rodgers sees it and tries to get it to him, but he doesn’t see the defender that has broken towards the line.  The ball is batted away and falls harmlessly to the grass.  Still, it’s a good play by Abbrederis of recognizing the coverage and adjusting his route.

GOOD-O-07_abbrederis_two_point

This is the Packers’ two point conversion.  Abbrederis is in the slot off the right side of the line.  I don’t have much to say about the overall play, so just watch the route he runs.  A little hesitation and deke to the right, followed by a quick cut inside.  He’s able to create space immediately, and, with no one in the middle of the field, he finds himself wide open.  Rodgers has quick pressure in his face, but he is able to find Abbrederis and get the ball out of his hand.  This is a great move by Abbrederis, and it’s one of the reasons so many people (including me) have been clamoring for him to get more playing time this season.

GOOD-O-05-adams_screen

Let’s look at the reason we’ll be seeing more of Abbrederis: the injury to Davante Adams [17].  Adams has had a horrendous year, so, while I’m excited to see more of Abbrederis, I hate that it comes because Adams got injured, especially with Adams coming off of two strong games.

This is the play he was injured on.  I don’t really want dwell on the injury too much, but I did want to look at this play.  I’ve harped on how often they go to the wide receiver screen to Richard Rodgers [82], so I wanted to highlight when they do something a little different.  Richard Rodgers and James Jones [89] are up front, while Davante Adams is playing behind them.

I love the blocking on this play.  The deep defender on the bottom sees the blocking and thinks he has a free run at Adams, but Jones loops from the inside to the outside to take care of that defender.  The inside man is unblocked, and, though he makes the tackle, he has to close fast and make a good play to do so.  Even then, he gets just enough of Adams to trip him up.

GOOD-O-04-adams_td

While we’re on the topic of Davante Adams [17], let’s look at his touchdown catch with 33 seconds left in the half.  With as poorly as they played in the first quarter, this put the Packers up 17-11 heading into the half.

Adams starts at the bottom, and there’s nothing fancy about what he does.  He takes a quick step inside his defender at the snap, then loops around behind him.  The defender loses Adams, who ends up wide open in the end zone.  James Starks [44] comes out of the backfield and runs into the flat.  This draws the wide defender up the field, which does not allow him to get underneath Adams’ route.

I say there’s nothing fancy about what Adams does, but it’s a nice initial move to set up the route, and it’s a nice route combo with Starks to make sure there would be no help underneath Adams.

GOOD-O-02-jones

I wanted to take a look at this long reception by James Jones [89].  The Redskins are in Cover 1 Robber Man Under.  Jones starts the play in the slot to the left of the line.  He and Davante Adams [17] are running matching 5 yard dig routes.  The coverage is good, but the line gives Aaron Rodgers [12] good protection.  Jones sees Rodgers buy some time and takes off deep down the field.  Jones’ defender is playing a little behind and is caught out of position by the sudden cut by Jones.  Jones doesn’t create a ton of space, but he creates enough and Rodgers delivers a perfect pass.

This is what the Packers offense can do with a little time.  Getting open on the initial move is preferable, but if that’s not there, these receivers can be very good about getting open on a second move.

GOOD-O-03a-cobb_jet_sweep

Ah yes.  The Jet Sweep.  It is a play that has burned the Packers on many occasions, seemingly always by the Seahawks.  It’s nice to see the Packers working this into their offense a little.  Really, I’m a fan of any play designed to get the ball into the hands of Randall Cobb [18].  I know Cobb has had a disappointing season, but this shows what he can do with the ball in his hands and a little space to work with.  The Redskins play this pretty well, but Cobb is elusive enough to pick up quite a few yards on this.  Let’s look at his moves from a different angle.

GOOD-O-03b-cobb_jet_sweep

There’s the Randall Cobb I know and love.  Watching him break ankles never gets old.  Ever.

GOOD-O-06-cobb_catch

Let the Randall Cobb lovefest continue!  He starts this play at the top of the screen.  The Packers have only sent out two receivers on this play, Jared Abbrederis [84] being the other receiver.  Abbrederis is running a fly, while Cobb is running a dig underneath it.  It’s not overly complicated, but it is meant to make sure Cobb sees man-to-man coverage, as the safety would tend to help over the top with Abbrederis.

It’s a good route combo, and it’s run well.  The timing and suddenness of Cobb’s cut is perfect, especially with his defender playing the outside shoulder.  It’s a nice sharp cut, the defender can’t recover in time, and the ball is thrown on time.  It’s a really nice looking offensive play, and it’s something that we haven’t seen much of lately.  This is a simple play, but it made me really  happy.

THE GOAL LINE STAND

I want to spend this section just looking at every play that went into the goal line stand, starting with what got the Redskins to the goal line in the first place.

BAD-D-01-jackson_non_td

I’d like to thank DeSean Jackson [11] for being in the league for 8 years and continuing to do stupid stuff like this.  Damarious Randall [23] is outrun by Jackson on a crossing pattern.  It’s an easy throw, Jackson gets the corner and seems to be in for the touchdown.  Yet for some reason he decided to hold the ball behind him, not breaking the plane.  “It’s all good,” the Redskins probably thought.  “We’ve got three plays to punch it in.”  NOT TODAY, GOOD SIR.

First down

GOAL_LINE_1

A run up the middle.  B.J. Raji [90], Mike Pennel [64] and Letroy Guion [98] help to collapse the middle of the line, making sure that Alfred Morris [46] is forced to his left.  There is a sliver, but it is promptly shut by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] and cleaned up by Jake Ryan [47].

Excitement level:

ex_machina_dance_gif_3

Second down

GOAL_LINE_2

Off-tackle run.  Letroy Guion [98] is sideways, off-balance and more than a little awkward, but he’s able to shove his man into the backfield, forcing Alfred Morris [46] to cut further to the outside.  Guion breaks free from his block just as Clay Matthews [52] shoots the gap to make sure Morris doesn’t break free.

Excitement level:

 

ex_machina_dance_gif_5

Third down

GOAL_LINE_3

After a delay of game penalty pushing the Redskins back to the 8 yard line, they decided to pass.  Pierre Garcon [88] runs a nice route and it’s a good throw, but Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] reads the play and breaks on the ball, making sure it is incomplete.

Excitement level:

ex_machina_dance_gif_1

The Redskins would kick a field goal on 4th down, making the score 5-0 instead of 9-0.  DeSean Jackson’s poor decision-making led to this, but the defense really stepped up and held the Redskins out of the end zone.  It was a thrilling sequence.

DOODLES WITH DUSTY

IMG_5795

I found myself on a call the other day and thinking about what the offense will look like next year with a healthy Jordy Nelson [87] and Ty Montgomery [88].  This is inspired by the Randall Cobb [18] Jet Sweep that I talked about earlier.

This play starts with Cobb in the slot, Nelson and Davante Adams [17] as the outside receivers, and Ty Montgomery and Eddie Lacy [27] in the backfield.  Pre-snap, Cobb takes a step back and goes in motion towards the middle, setting up a Jet Sweep.  Except it’s a fake Jet Sweep.  At the snap, Aaron Rodgers [12] turns to fake the handoff to Cobb.  Montgomery comes out of the backfield to the right, acting like he’s blocking a backside defender.  I believe these two things will help to effectively fake the sweep, moving the linebackers to the left.  With the defense moving in that direction, Montgomery will then release to the right, against the flow of the defense.  Even if the defenders give only a step to the sweep side, this should open up some space for Montgomery.  It’s a quick throw from Rodgers and it will get Montgomery in space.

If the defense doesn’t buy it, there are other options.  The sweep should draw the attention of a safety, which would have them out of position to help against a Nelson slant to that side.  If that’s not there, you still have Adams on the right, Cobb possibly running with space, or, as a last resort, Lacy sitting down in what will hopefully be a cleared-out middle.  The progression will be: Montgomery, Nelson, Cobb, Adams, Lacy.

Random Thoughts:

– There was a fear before the game that Sam Shields missing the game would mean that DeSean Jackson could have a very big game.  He was held to 2 catches (on 5 targets) for 17 yards.  Even if that final number was 18 yards and a touchdown, that’s not bad.

– I highlighted one of his 2 sacks above, but I’d like to talk about him again.  Nick Perry had a really good game.  He was on the field for 26 snaps and was disruptive for most of those.

– When throwing to Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers was 4/4 for 48 yards and a touchdown, for a QB Rating of 156.3.  Doesn’t it just figure that Adams would finally turn his season around just in time to get injured?

– I think we all agree that this season didn’t live up to expectations.  But the regular season is over.  The Packers now have a playoff win under their belts (on the road, no less), and that’s something to celebrate.  Be as optimistic or as pessimistic as you want heading into the Cardinals game (I tend towards optimism), but be happy about this win.  It was a fun one.

– Lastly, not to be all self-promotional, but I’ve been a part of the Pack to the Future podcast with Brian Fonfara and Jordan Peck for the last half of the season.  It has been a blast.  If you haven’t listened to any of them yet, I wish you would and give some feedback.  It’s available from Titletown Sound Off, Packers Talk Radio Network and iTunes.  Our latest episode focuses on the upcoming Cardinals game.

Albums listened to: David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars; David Bowie – Hunky Dory; David Bowie – The Next Day; David Bowie – Low; David Bowie – Heroes; David Bowie – Pin Ups

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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