The one thing the Packers needed to happen this week – a loss by the Lions – had happened. All the Packers needed to do was to pull out a win against the 3-win Bears and they would retake control of their own destiny.
A 17-point third quarter lead had evaporated. I was watching the game at a friend’s house and it felt like we went from elated to deflated in the span of 5 minutes.
But if we hadn’t already, we learned a very valuable lesson: never count out Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers won this game with 0 passing touchdowns and 3 rushing touchdowns, something that seemed like an impossibility a few weeks ago. The defense was lit up by Matt Barkley in the second half, and that’s concerning. But the offense responded when they needed to and came up with a massive play in the biggest moment of the game.
The Packers are 8-6. The division is there for the taking. Two more wins and the Packers will be the kings of the NFC North. Two more wins.
Deeps breaths, everyone. We’re almost there.
Let’s get to the film.
I talked about Aaron Rodgers’ 60 yard bomb to Jordy Nelson that set up the game-winning field goal in One Big Play. You can read that here.
One of the things I do when I’m watching a game is to look at the pre-snap alignment and see if I can guess where the ball is going to go. It’s a fun little exercise. It has kind of trained me to look for holes in a defense, but also makes me think of possible counters to that hole. Perhaps the receiver looks open on a slant off the line, but linebacker could drop back into a zone and take away the throwing lane.
This is one of those times. Look to the right and you’ll see Alshon Jeffrey  being given a huge cushion by Damarious Randall . The pre-snap read looks easy: Jeffrey runs a quick slant, Randall can’t recover and it’s an easy touchdown for the Bears.
That’s exactly what Matt Barkley  sees. He gets the snap, takes one step back and fires the ball as Jeffrey is coming out of his break.
Joe Thomas  is the counter to that. You can see him off the end of the left side of the line. While the other defenders on his side rush Barkley off the edge, Thomas gives one step in like he’s going to rush, then drops back into his zone.
Had Thomas dropped straight back, this could have been an interception. I don’t think Barkley ever saw Thomas dropping into coverage off the edge. Instead, Thomas drops to the side and Jeffrey is wide open.
I’m not entirely sure where the blame falls on this. Did Randall line up deeper than he was supposed to? Was Thomas supposed to drop straight back? Or was this the scheme?
This is Jordan Howard’s  touchdown run midway through the 4th quarter.
I’m going to talk about Julius Peppers’  strip sack of Matt Barkley  in a bit, but now is not that time. Now is the time when I talk about him getting easily washed out of a running play.
Kenny Clark  has a really nice move in the middle. With the Bears line sliding to their left, Clark is able to dip his shoulder and get inside the block of Cody Whitehair . This gives Clark a really nice push to the backfield and forces Howard to take a wide turn after getting the handoff.
If Peppers had been able to get any push at all from the outside, it would have made for a smaller hole for Howard to cut back to. Instead, Peppers is unable to hold any ground and just kind of gets pushed along with the current. With both Joe Thomas  and Jake Ryan  being wiped out by offensive linemen, Howard finds a nice lane to the end zone.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix  seems a little slow to react here. By the time he cuts back towards Howard, Alshon Jeffrey  is there to put just enough of a block on him to stop him from making a play.
As we will see later, Peppers is still capable of making plays, but he’s also more than capable of doing this.
The Packers found themselves only up by 3 points midway through the 4th quarter. This was on 1st and 10 from their own 27. Aaron Rodgers  drops back and, after looking off the safety, throws deep to Davante Adams . The cornerback has good coverage and the safety is rotating over, so this is an extremely tight window to fit the ball into.
The pocket was collapsing a bit, so Rodgers had to throw this ball before he was ready. If he had looked to his right, he would have seen that all of the defenders had cleared out from that side, through a combination of the two deep routes and Jared Cook  running a drag out of the backfield. Ty Montgomery  releases into the flat to that side and finds himself wide open with plenty of room to run. This could have been a huge gain.
This play occurs two plays after the one we just looked at. It’s 3rd and 6. Watch Davante Adams  out of the bunch on the right side. He’s running a curl about a yard short of the first down. Between the bunch forcing his defender to play off the line and Adams’ quick cut, he has about 7 yards of cushion. If this ball leaves Aaron Rodgers’  hand as Adams is coming out of his break, he would be able to turn upfield and get the first down.
But Adams is not Rodgers’ first read. It looks like that honor belongs to Randall Cobb , running a dig out of the bunch. Cobb runs a good route, but John Timu  has dropped back into coverage and is fading towards Cobb, so Rodgers wisely does not throw that pass.
The pocket breaks down before he can go to his secondary read. Instead of trying to force something, Rodgers – whose legs are currently held together by twine and bubble gum – breaks the pocket and attempts to run for the first down. The Bears stop him short of the sticks, the Packers are forced to punt and the Bears tie up the game on the ensuing drive.
Here is Julius Peppers’  strip sack to start the second half.
To get the negative out of the way, please notice the lack of pass rush from anyone else on that line.
Now that we’re done with that, let’s all just look at Peppers. He’s going up against Charles Leno  on the left. He is lined up wide and just beats Leno to the outside. You can see Peppers reach out to slap away Leno’s hands as he goes to turn the corner, only to find that Leno can barely even get his hands on Peppers. He’s able to get hands on Peppers briefly, but it’s too late to do anything. Peppers is able to get around Leno, slap the ball away from Matt Barkley  and recover the fumble. Again, Peppers can’t do this on a consistent basis, but he’ll still show something like this from time to time.
I had to check to make sure Jay Cutler hadn’t covertly checked into the game. Throwing passes high over the middle is a Cutler specialty.
To be completed, both of these would have had to be incredible throws. They most certainly were not that. Against the Bears, all you have to do is play centerfield and you’re going to haul in an interception eventually.
And by “you,” I actually mean you. The person reading this right now. Congratulations on your first NFL interception!
This play occurred on 3rd and goal with 1:27 remaining in the game. Letroy Guion  comes running on the field late, to much less fanfare than Christian Ringo  did last week. Guion doesn’t even make it to the line: he comes off the sideline, runs to the middle of the field, then stops when the ball is thrown. This is the third time this has happened this season. I don’t remember seeing this happen with any other team. That’s concerning.
The one thing I’ll say for Guion is this: had he run on the field from his spot on the sideline, he would have been offside. Instead, he runs down the sideline and doesn’t run onto the field until he is past the line of scrimmage.
Let’s not dwell on Guion. Let’s look at Micah Hyde  covering Cameron Meredith  out of the slot to the left of the line. Meredith is running a quick out. He runs straight up the field, then quickly turns his hips and gets to the outside. It’s a good route, but Hyde is with Meredith every step of the way. It’s a long throw for Matt Barkley  and Hyde is able to break under the route and break up the pass. The Bears are forced to kick a field goal to tie it up instead of taking the lead with a touchdown.
The coverage is actually pretty good across the board. Good job, everyone.
On the Packers third play of the game, they found themselves facing 3rd and 2.
The Bears are in Cover 1 Man Under. The Packers go with a bunch formation to the left side of the line with Randall Cobb  and Jordy Nelson  as the bookends and Jared Cook  as the man in front. Cobb is running a short curl, Nelson is running a drag and Cook is running a deep corner route. Cook blows by his man off the line, and is able to get even more separation when his man collides with a corner trying to get back to cover Cobb. Cook breaks open, but Rodgers has to dodge a free rusher to the inside of the line, delaying the throw a bit. The throw is a bit to the inside and behind him, but Cook is able to turn and make a really nice catch. It’s a 27 yard gain.
Also notice Davante Adams  isolated on the right. He beats his man to the outside off the line. If Rodgers had been flushed to the right, this is where he would have gone.
Let’s look at Rodgers’ escape from another angle.
T.J. Lang  looks inside to block Akiem Hicks  and lets Nick Kwiatkoski  blow right by him. Rodgers escapes with a little dip of his shoulder towards Kwiatkoski and a quick move away from him. Kwiatkowski gets a hand on Rodgers but isn’t able to bring him down, and Rodgers is able to get the ball to Cook.
This is also on the first drive. The Packers are facing 3rd and 11. Where does Aaron Rodgers  go? Back to Jared Cook , of course. The method is different, but the result is the same.
The Bears are in Cover 3 Zone Under. Cook is lined up on the left side of the line, with Jordy Nelson  on the outside. Nelson runs a go route, dragging his defender deep and pulling the safety over. Cook is running a deep out underneath Nelson. Cook is briefly slowed by a rusher on the outside, but he’s able to get to his spot and has a nice, quick turn to the outside, giving himself some space from his defender. The protection holds up just enough for Rodgers to find Cook out of the break. Cook makes the catch and turns upfield to fight for a few more yards.
Randall Cobb  starts on the right side of the line and runs a drag across the field, eventually ending up not far from Cook. If Cook didn’t get separation from his man, this pass likely would have gone to Cobb. He would have been a little short of the sticks, but Cobb is very good at turning upfield after making the catch.
Cook was great in this game, catching 6/8 passes (75%) for 85 yards (10.63 yards per attempt). It was his highest yards per attempt in a game since joining the Packers, and tied for his highest catch rate.
Let’s take a look at another angle real quick.
Rodgers isn’t forced to do much here, but look at that little slide to his left. He is able to avoid the rush and find an open throwing lane to Cook. A lot of words are spent talking about his ability to make plays once he breaks the pocket, but I don’t think enough words are spent on his presence in the pocket.
We just looked at a couple plays from the first drive, so let’s cap it off with the touchdown.
There’s not much to be said about this play. The line is sliding to the right, with Ty Montgomery  running across the formation looking for a hole. Bryan Bulaga  is matched up on Pernell McPhee . McPhee is rushing the passer and Bulaga is able to turn and make sure he stays in the backfield. Montgomery runs underneath that block and gets to the edge, only to find a distinct lack of a hole. So Montgomery just keeps running to the sideline, shrugging off a tackle from Tracy Porter  and getting to the end zone.
If you look at Montgomery in the backfield, you’ll see him kind of take a little step into the line before breaking it outside. He thought he saw a gap opening, saw it close, then kept running. This is a great combination of vision, speed and power.
In One Big Play this week, I talked a bit about the subtle route running of Jordy Nelson . Here is another example of that.
After a nice punt by the Bears, the Packers found themselves backed up on their own 1 yard line. The Packers went with a stacked backfield of Aaron Ripkowski  and Richard Rodgers  to help with protection. I’m sure the Bears were thinking this would be a quick handoff to Ripkowski to get the Packers out of the shadow of their own end zone. The Packers had other ideas.
The Bears are in Cover 1 Man Under. Nelson is on the outside to the left, matched up with Cre’von LeBlanc . Nelson runs straight upfield to the inside shoulder of LeBlanc. As soon as LeBlanc turns to run with Nelson, Nelson turns back to the sideline. LeBlanc scrambles to turn around and get back to Nelson, but it’s too late. Aaron Rodgers  gets the ball out of his hand as Nelson comes out of the break and the Packers pick up 17 yards.
There’s nothing flashy about this; it’s just a really well-run route by Nelson.
Let’s take a look at the protection.
The Bears send four rushers, but it’s a tricky rush. Bryan Bulaga  is looking out at Leonard Floyd , who drops back into coverage. Meanwhile, Akiem Hicks  hits T.J. Lang  with an inside rush move and Nick Kwiatkoski  follows right behind. Corey Linsley  is tied up with C.J. Wilson , leaving a huge hole for Kwiatkoski to run through. Ripkowski slides over to take on Kwiatkoski head-on, while Richard Rodgers delivers a nice hip-check to knock Kwiatkoski to the ground.
Great job to keep Rodgers upright long enough to find Nelson.
Here is Christine Michael’s  41 yard touchdown run. Look at the blocking up front. It’s glorious. T.J. Lang  pulls underneath Bryan Bulaga  to move Willie Young  to the outside, while Bulaga blocks down on Cornelius Washington . That opens up a hole for Lane Taylor  – pulling under the formation – to come through and get the seal block to the inside on John Timu . All of that opens a huge hole for Michael to run through.
Then Michael gets to the open field and puts on a show. He cuts inside Jordy Nelson’s  block on Deon Bush  to get to the middle of the field, throws Cre’von LeBlanc  to the ground with ease, then outruns Adrian Amos  to the opposite pylon.
I said the blocking up front was glorious, but that’s not entirely true: David Bakhtiari  gets thrown to the side by Mitch Unrein . It’s a weird angle for Bakhtiari, but it doesn’t look pretty.
But everyone else did their job. To paraphrase President James Dale, “The Packers still had 4 out of 5 blockers do well, and that ain’t bad.”
Ty Montgomery  is great, isn’t he? Let’s close this out by marveling at how great he was in this game.
Montgomery follows the blocks to the right. It’s all jammed up, so he casually hits a wicked jump-cut back to his left, finds a hole sealed by Aaron Ripkowski  and David Bakhtiari , runs through the hole and finishes off the run by knocking over Deon Bush .
Here, Montgomery follows T.J. Lang  as he pulls across the formation, tries to cut back, finds nothing, goes back to the outside, finds a sliver of room, runs through it, spins out of a tackle attempt from John Timu  and gets to the open field. This looked like it was bottled up in the backfield and it ended up being a 61 yard gain.
This is a tremendous move in a small space by Montgomery. He hits the hole and finds Nick Kwiatkoski  in his way. Montgomery gives a little juke to the inside to make Kwiatkoski think he is cutting back. Kwiatkoski moves to hit that hole and Montgomery goes to the left, leaving Kwiatkoski tackling air.
Montgomery gets into the open field, circles back to the middle of the field and picks up 15 yards after contact. I’ll say this right now: I would not like to try to tackle Montgomery. He finishes off his runs with malice in his heart.
This is just mean, man. Once again, Montgomery fakes hitting the cutback lane before cutting back outside. On this one, he gets both John Timu  and Demontre Hurst  to fall to the turf with nothing to show for it.
After that, he cuts inside the block of Randall Cobb  on the outside, cuts inside Akiem Nicks  flying from the inside and gets to the middle of the field. Again, this looked like a short gain at best, and Montgomery turned it into 26 yards.
Montgomery takes the handoff and runs straight at the line. He could go to the right, but Deon Bush  is flying up to cover that gap. So he opts for the smaller gap that doesn’t have a safety running full speed at him. T.J. Lang  gets a good block on Akiem Nicks , giving Montgomery a space to run to. Corey Linsley  is able to get to the second level to secure a block on Nick Kwiatkoski . Nicks reaches out to grab Montgomery as he comes through the line, but Nicks isn’t able to get much more than that. With Linsley still holding his block, Montgomery is able to power through Nicks’ arm tackle and get to the end zone.
– Ty Montgomery ran off-tackle to the left 6 times. He had 106 yards (17.7 yards per attempt) and a touchdown. Not too shabby.
– Here is a breakdown of the Packers rushing attempts by quarter. I removed QB runs from these numbers.
– On third down, Aaron Rodgers was 3/5 for 104 yards.
– If you look at the stat sheet, Randall Cobb was targeted one time in the game. That’s a bit misleading. His lone target came on a pass that Aaron Rodgers threw out of bounds; Cobb just happened to be the closest receiver in the area. I decided to go through and watch every snap of his on offense to see if it looked like there was anything wrong with him.
I didn’t see anything alarming. He was running a lot of shallow-to-mid crossing routes and the Bears had a lot of zone defenders in the middle, creating a lot of traffic. The Packers ran a few package plays where they had Cobb stepping back to receive a wide receiver screen, but every single one of those plays ended up being a run. There were a number of plays where he was open quickly, but he wasn’t the primary read. He was good out of cuts and was his usual self when blocking. He looked fine to me. I think it was just one of those days.
– Damarious Randall was benched in the fourth quarter. If you’ve been reading me at all over the last couple of years, you’ll know that I love Randall. I went through every snap of his to see what was going on.
When playing man coverage close to the line, he looked really good. His coverage skills are excellent. It was in zone and in man coverage where he started 7+ yards off the line where he really seemed to struggle. He was playing too deep, as if he was more concerned with getting beat deep than he was with trying to be where he should be. I don’t really have an issue with playing not to get beat deep, but he was playing entirely too far off the receivers. In some cases, I saw him 10+ yards off the receiver. That’s too deep to try to make any play on the ball.
Randall has a ton of talent and I think he’s going to be a very good player. I think he needs to trust in his talent to know where he should be playing. I think he’ll be fine. This is just a small blip.
Albums listened to: Gemma Hayes – Bones + Longing; Kid Cudi – Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’; Chevelle – The North Corridor; Maria Taylor – In The Next Life; Common Children – The Inbetween Time; Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gates; Passenger – Young As The Morning Old As The Sea; Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones; The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now; The Beatles – Let It Be…Naked