Eye in the Sky Week 1: Hello Football, Goodbye Fingernails

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I spent the day before this game up at my first ever HorrorHound in Indianapolis.  It was a blast.  If you’re interested in reading about that, you can check it out here.  It’s just a random assortment of pictures and thoughts from my time there.  I’m already looking forward to next year.

I never truly feel like football is back until the Packers play their first game.  So the Thursday opener was cool (except for the attempted murder of Cam Newton), but I didn’t get truly excited until I saw the kickoff in Jacksonville.

This was a nerve-racking game.  After starting off well, the Packers defense let Blake Bortles throw all over them.  Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins both had poor games, and the middle of the field was open all game.  The Jaguars attempted four 4th down conversions on Sunday, with two of those attempts going to the middle of the field.  They converted both of those attempts.  When targeting the middle of the field, Bortles completed 68.4% of his passes.  When targeting anywhere else, he completed 55% of his passes.

But none of that matters right now.  The Packers emerged victorious and are 1-0 after surviving a hot game in Florida.

Football is back.  The Packers are undefeated.  I feel good.  I feel great.  I feel wonderful.

Let’s get to the film.

THE BAD

yeldon-td-run-screencap

This is the TJ Yeldon [24] touchdown run.  Before we watch the gif, just take a look at this image and figure out the most obvious thing the Jaguars would do.  Yeldon is lined up on Bortles’ left.  The Packers have two down linemen – Mike Daniels [76] is the one on that side – with Clay Matthews [52] split out in a Wide-9 look, with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] starting a few yards deep in the end zone.

You can even look at the offensive line and figure out exactly how they’re going to block this.  Luke Joeckel [76, left guard] and Kelvin Beachum [68, left tackle] are in prime position to hit Daniels with a double-team down-block, while Julius Thomas [80] is inside of Matthews.  Provided Joeckel and Beachum are able to move Daniels, all Thomas has to do is get a chip on Matthews to open a wide hole for Yeldon to run through.  Julius Thomas is not known for his blocking prowess, but asking a tight end to get a chip block on a wide rusher is something even the most limited of blockers should be able to pull off.

Provided all of that happens up front, Yeldon has a huge hole.  With Clinton-Dix starting so far off the line, he could play it perfectly and the most he could hope for would be to bring down Yeldon inside the 2 yard line.

Let’s watch and see what happens.

bad-d-01_yeldon_td

Yeldon doesn’t hit the hole immediately, as he is initially supposed to run across the formation.  But the hole there is closed up by a combination of Blake Martinez [50] and Jake Ryan [47], with Nick Perry [53] setting the edge, so Yeldon cuts back into the place where Mike Daniels once stood.

Sure enough, Daniels was moved off his spot by a double-team, and all Julius Thomas needed to do was give Matthews a slight shove.  Yeldon needing to cut back gave time for Clinton-Dix and Sam Shields [37] to converge on him, but Yeldon is able to power forward and get into the end zone.

When you have two down linemen and split the defensive ends/linebackers out wide, it allows for huge holes to run through if anyone gets moved off their spot.  You can see just how easy that can be to do: with a tight end off the end, the two linemen can each be double-teamed and the outside guys can be simply moved out.  This is a good look if the offense is in an obvious passing situation, or if you have strong linebackers/safeties playing close and able to plug the holes.  This was a running situation with a couple inexperienced linebackers playing the weak side.  This was doomed for failure.

bad-d-02_gunter_on_hurns

Ladarius Gunter [36] is a perfectly fine player.  I rooted for him to make the team out of camp last year based on how he looked in the preseason and the reports out of camp.  I was happy to see him make the cut this year, even though the above play happened.

To be fair, this isn’t his game.  He isn’t the fastest guy (Gunter’s 40 yard dash time was 4.69 seconds), but he’s got good size and strength.  He also seems to be a smart player who knows how to work within his skill set.  On this play, Gunter is asked to cover Allen Hurns [88] man-to-man out of the slot.  That might be fine if the Packers were playing Cover 1 or Cover 3 – either of which would put a safety in the middle of the field – but they’re playing Cover 2, which puts Gunter one-on-one with a receiver who went for over 1,000 yards receiving last season.

Hurns doesn’t do much.  A quick stutter-step to the outside, then straight to the post.  Gunter tries to turn and grab a little to slow Hurns out of his break (and likely get called for defensive holding), but he can’t even do that.  By the time Gunter is able to get turned, Hurns is out of his break and streaking downfield.  An overaggressive angle by Morgan Burnett [42] allows Hurns to get to the sideline.

bad-o-02a_red_zone

We’re going to close out The Bad by looking at this series of plays from inside the Jaguars 10 yard line.  On first down, the Packers go with an inside hand off to Eddie Lacy [27] out of shotgun.  I don’t like giving the ball to Lacy out of shotgun, but this is a perfectly fine play call.  It’s first down and it picks up a few yards, setting up two chances inside the 5 yard line.

bad-o-02b_red_zone

Second down.  Halfback dive with Eddie Lacy [27].  This is where it starts to lose me.  Jordy Nelson [87], Randall Cobb [18] and Davante Adams [17] are the receivers on this play, with Jared Cook [89] on the field as the tight end, lining up in the backfield.  With these options, I would like to have seen Cobb in the backfield instead of Cook, with Cook lining up on the right side of the line.  Go play action, with Nelson running a slant on the left, Cobb running in the flat to the left, Cook running a drag/hook option to the middle, and Adams running a slant on the right.  If nothing is open there, have Rodgers buy time and see if something develops, or run it in himself.  (I have a play diagrammed with my own personnel options a little later in this column.)

bad-o-02c_red_zone

Third down.  This looks like a package play, with Rodgers giving the ball to James Starks [44].  Although, given Rodgers unhappiness at the end of this play, it’s unclear whether the give to Starks was his idea or if this was a draw.  Given the fact that none of the receivers are looking to block, I’m guessing this was a package play.

If this was merely a play action, it looks like Nelson would be open quickly in the middle.  But we’ll never know.  Instead of celebrating a touchdown, the Packers had to settle for a field goal.

I hate this sequence.  Let’s move on.

THE GOOD

good-d-01_martinez_in_coverage

Let’s start with the defense.  This play took place on the Jaguars first drive and I immediately pegged it as one I wanted to rewatch, if only because I couldn’t see what I really wanted to see on the broadcast.

The coverage skills of Blake Martinez [50] have been talked about since he was drafted.  I was excited to see him in action, so I made sure to keep an eye on him.  I didn’t have to wait long for a play of his to jump out at me.  He’s starting this play on the left side of the defense.  He is charged with guarding TJ Yeldon [24] out of the backfield.  Yeldon ran a 4.52 in the 40 yard dash, so he has a bit of speed.  Yeldon is running a wheel route on the play.  Beyond that, the outside receiver is running a slant, meant to create a natural rub.

We’ve seen this type of play run against the Packers quite a few times.  Unless a cornerback or safety picks it up, it has doomed the Packers to fail.  Martinez picks up the coverage immediately, avoids the pick of the receiver running a slant and still manages to stay step-for-step with Yeldon down the sideline.    The coverage is impressive all over the field on this play, but seeing a linebacker play this so perfectly really makes me happy.  Martinez didn’t have a great game, but this play shows off what he can bring to the Packers defense.  A linebacker that can cover.  Imagine that.

good-d-03_matthews_sack

Clay Matthews [52] picked up the sack on this play, but a handful of people deserve credit for what they did here.

Let’s start with Nick Perry [53] off the left side.  He goes directly at Jermey Parnell [78] at the snap, getting him off balance immediately and knocking him back into Blake Bortles [5]

The other mauling party here is Joe Thomas [48].  Morgan Burnett [42] lines up across from Brandon Linder [55] before the snap.  As soon as the ball is snapped, Burnett retreats, leaving Linder looking for someone to block.  While Linder does that, Thomas shoots the gap, destroying Denard Robinson [16] in the process.

Between Perry and Thomas blowing up their men, Bortles really has no chance but to spin to the other side, where Matthews has beat Kelvin Beachum [68].  It’s a good move by Matthews to knock Beachum’s hands down and create space to get around the edge, but this sack is due to the destruction of Perry and Thomas.  I could watch this play all day.

good-d-06_bortles_sack

While we’re on the topic of the Jaguars offensive line being turned to dust before our very eyes, I present to you this play.  I don’t even have much to say about it.  Just keep watching it and follow someone different every time.  This is completely and utter destruction.  It ends when Blake Bortles’ [5] soul attempts to leave his body.

good-d-04_matthews_backfield

Let’s take a moment to appreciate a classic Clay Matthews [52] play.  He starts the play on the left side, lined up across from a trips formation.  He’s not there to cover: he’s there to destroy.

The Jaguars are setting up a sweep to that side.  It’s not poorly blocked on the whole, but they’re not quick enough to pick up Matthews.

Two men had a shot at him: Allen Hurns [88] is the receiver on the outside.  He tries to hit Matthews with a downblock while Jermy Parnell [78] is pulling over to hit him from the inside.  Neither can get more than a slight chip on him.  Matthews shoots between them and takes down TJ Yeldon [24] in the backfield.

When Matthews is at his best, this is what he can give you.  He can be a destructive force, capable of blowing up a play all by himself.  He missed some tackles in this game, but he was in the backfield quite a bit.  I’m hoping this season involves a lot of Clay Matthews: Wrecking Ball.

good-d-05_ryan_screen

I’m not the biggest Jake Ryan [47] fan on the planet, but he’s a smart player, so he’s capable of plays like this occasionally.  On this play, he starts on the left side of the screen, executing a twist with Blake Martinez [50] at the snap.  It works well and Ryan has a huge hole to shoot through.

As he comes through the line, he finds himself face-to-face with TJ Yeldon [24].  I can only assume Yeldon looked directly into Ryan’s eyes and said, “We’re running a screen,” because, instead of trying to power through Yeldon on his way to Blake Bortles [5], Ryan immediately gets into a coverage stance and follows Yeldon through the line.  Bortles has no choice but to throw it away.

This was a smart, heads-up play from Ryan.

good-d-07_clinton-dix_breakup

One of the things I love about having access to the All 22 film is the ability to watch safeties play.  A lot of their play is obscured by the broadcast view, as they play deeper than that angle shows.  Sure, we’ll see replays of big hits and interceptions, but that’s about it.  Watching the All 22, the good safeties really jump off the screen.  It’s how they survey the field.  How they react to things.  What they react to.  It’s a huge position on the field that I never really saw much of.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] is a good safety.  I think we all know this.  Just follow him on this play.  The Packers are in Cover 1 Man Under, with zone in the middle.  As the single-high safety, Clinton-Dix has a lot to look at.  You can see him glance over to his left, where Damarious Randall [23] has coverage on a post pattern.  While that is developing, Allen Robinson [15] is running up the seam.  Ladarius Gunter [36] is supposed to be covering him, but he loses Robinson immediately.  Jake Ryan [47] dropping back into coverage in the middle forces Blake Bortles [5] to throw a little higher than he would like to.

Clinton-Dix watches all of this unfold.  Once Robinson clears Ryan, Clinton-Dix commits to Robinson.  Randall has good enough coverage on the post that it would take a perfect throw to beat him.

Once Bortles releases the ball, Clinton-Dix closes.  It’s not overly aggressive.  He’s lining up the throw and the receiver.  He meets the ball at the highest point and is able to knock it away.  It’s a great play and it shows just how good Clinton-Dix is.

In case you couldn’t tell, I love Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

good-d-08_final_stop

I also love Damarious Randall [23].  This is the final meaningful play of the game: the Jaguars’ 4th down attempt.  Why a team throws a ball behind the line of scrimmage on 4th and 1 is something I’ll never understand.  But I don’t need to understand right now, because my team didn’t just try it.
(I will concede that there are cases where it could be useful, but banking on it as your only option seems like an incredibly risky move.)

Blake Bortles [5] fires the pass to Allen Hurns [88] immediately.  If he had waited half a beat longer, Clay Matthews [52] would have punched it to the upper bowl of Lambeau.

Matthews doesn’t get there and the ball ends up in the hands of Hurns.  Randall absolutely makes this play.  He’s playing his man deep.  As soon as he sees what’s coming, he makes a beeline for Hurns, cutting off his angle to the outside.  Once he does this, the play is over.  With his momentum going back inside, Randall is able to put a hit on him to hold him in place.  Joe Thomas [48] and Micah Hyde [33] are there to put him away.  Ball game.

Let’s look to the offense.

good-o-01_lacy-4th_down

I love that Mike McCarthy went for it on 4th and 1 from the Jaguars 21 on the first drive of the game.  It’s a gutsy call, but it also would have been a tough pill to swallow to start off with such good field position only to come away with a long field goal attempt.

Thankfully the play worked, or it may very well have been the last 4th down attempt we would have seen from the Packers all season.

It also shows a lot of trust in the left side of the line.  With Josh Sitton no longer in Green Bay, there has been a lot of talk about how Lane Taylor [65] would hold up.  To run behind him on such an important play is a pretty big deal.  Sure, they helped him out over there with Randall Cobb [18] and Jared Cook [89] in the backfield, but the point remains.

The entire line is blocking to the right, with David Bakhtiari [69] and Lane Taylor caving in the left side of the line.  The two defenders on the outside are left to Randall Cobb.  Cobb goes low and takes out both, springing Eddie Lacy [27] for a nice gain and a first down.

good-o-04_cook_in_flat

I complained a lot last season about the number of throws that went to Richard Rodgers [82] in the flat.  That play didn’t leave the playbook but the personnel changed, and sometimes that’s all that matters.  This season we have Jared Cook [89].  And, while he didn’t have the best debut (this play represents his only reception of the game), it’s enough to make me excited.  Cook is standing up off the line to the bottom.  At the snap he simply runs to the flat.  If this were Rodgers, he’d take a moment to turn and get running in the right direction and would be taken down after a two yard gain.  Cook may have questionable hands, but he’s quicker than Rodgers, and that quickness is put on display here.  He turns upfield quickly, finds a seam and hits it.  It’s nothing special – it was only a 7 yard gain – but it shows more potential than anything Rodgers did with similar plays last season.

It just goes to show that personnel can make a huge difference.  That certainly doesn’t excuse that Packers from keeping this play in their arsenal last season when they didn’t have a tight end capable of doing anything with it, but it sure would be nice to see a play that was ridiculously frustrating last season actually turn into something productive this season.

good-o-03a_adams_td

You’ve been waiting for it.  I’ve been waiting for it.  Let’s do it.  Let’s watch the Aaron Rodgers [12] to Davante Adams [17] touchdown catch.

I know it’s tough to take your eyes off Rodgers on this play, but I would urge you to follow Adams.  He starts the play at the top.  The cornerback plays it well: Adams runs a late break in and the corner gets inside position.  After the ball is released, Adams is able to get in front and use his body to shield the ball from the defender.  Once Adams has position, he kind of slows up and sticks his butt out, keeping the defender from getting a hand on it.  It was a great move to come back to the ball ever so slightly, and it was a perfect move to shield the ball.

Let’s watch it from another angle.

good-o-03b_adams_td

This throw traveled 35 yards in the air and Rodgers made it while being pulled backwards.  I still don’t understand how he does these things.

Before we end this section, here are a couple extremely short gifs from Eddie Lacy.

eddie_lacy_flip

I call this one “Eddie Flip.”

eddie_lacy_juke

I call this one “Eddie Embarrasses A Man So Bad He Has To Apologize To Everyone Who Ever Loved Him.”

DOODLES WITH DUSTY

jaguars-play

I mentioned above that I had a play to run inside the 5 yard line.  I bet you haven’t been able to wait to see it.

This is essentially a slat and flat combo, combined with a flood.  Randall Cobb [18] is huge in this situation.  Since he can actually function as a running back, the defense has to respect that.  The play starts with play action to Cobb.  That should pull the defense up a step.  Cobb and Richard Rodgers [82] are running flats to the left, while Jordy Nelson [87] runs a slant over the top.  With Cobb and Rodgers heading to the left and the defense up a step, that should allow a window for Nelson to break through.

On the right ride, we have Jared Cook [89] running a drag while Davante Adams [17] runs a slant behind him.  The thought here is that the defense will be shifted slightly to the left to account for the action on that side, which should free up Cook off the line.  If Cook isn’t free, a defender from the right may have pulled in to account for Cook, allowing for a free lane to throw to Adams.

The read for Aaron Rodgers [12] would be Nelson, Rodgers, Cobb, Cook, Adams.

You could have Cook fake a block for half a beat on the right before he goes into his route as well.  That should help shake him free, and also allow him to get a chip on any rushers coming from that side.

Random Thoughts:

– Aaron Rodgers has been in the league too long to try to call two timeouts in a row.  Turned a huge 3rd and 4 into 3rd and 9.  How were they not ready to run a play after just getting out of a timeout?

– It was great seeing Jordy Nelson back on the field, but he looked a little slow out of the break.  His presence on the field certainly opened up opportunities for others underneath, but he didn’t look like the same old Jordy.  Here’s to hoping it was just a timing issue.  We all knew there would be a little rust to knock off after missing an entire season, so I hope that’s all this was.

– The Jaguars went for four 4th downs, converting three of them.  It was a remarkable bit of aggressiveness by Gus Bradley, but they needed those conversions, as they only converted on 4 of 15 3rd downs.

– Playing in extreme heat, Julius Peppers played limited snaps (40% of the defensive snaps).  When he was out there, he didn’t do much of anything, failing to get himself into the box score.

– The offensive line as a whole had a decent game.  Rodgers was his usual self in navigating the pocket, but even when the pocket started to break down he always had a way to break out.  He escaped the game with 1 sack and very few hits.  It was nice to see him walk off the field with a relatively clean jersey.

– When throwing to the middle of the field, Bortles was 13/19 (68.42%) for 160 yards (8.4 yards per attempt).  When throwing everywhere else, Bortles was 11/20 (55%) for 160 yards (8.0 yards per attempt).

– When throwing to the middle of the field, Rodgers was 4/4 (100%) for 73 yards (18.3 yards per attempt).  When throwing everywhere else, Rodgers was 16/30 (53.3%) for 126 yards (4.2 yards per attempt).

– Both the offense and defense believe that the only part of the field that matters is outside the hashmarks.

– After a much celebrated preseason, Jared Cook put up a meager stat line here: 1 catch (on 2 targets) for 7 yards.  He drew a big defensive pass interference call late in the first half, but that was it.  He was out there for 33 snaps (52%), so it’s not like he barely sniffed the field.  Those of you looking for his big breakout are going to have to wait at least one more week.

– For all the concern over the lack of run stuffers in the front 7, the defense held the Jaguars to 1.92 yards per carry and a long of 7 yards.  That’s pretty impressive.  If they were able to generate any kind of consistent pass rush I’d be pretty excited right now.

As it stands, I’m excited anyway.  Football is back.  The Packers are 1-0.  How can I keep from singing?

Albums listened to: Dawes – We’re All Gonna Die; El Perro Del Mar – KoKoro; John Carpenter – Classic Themes Redux; Frank Ocean – Blond; Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle; Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool; Keaton Henson – Kindly Now; Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree; Okkervil River – Away

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By Dusty Evely

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

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