A Packers game falling on Christmas Eve was a bit tricky. Luckily, we got the 1:00 game, so it started around the same time my daughter was going down for a nap. I knew I’d get a chance to watch the first half, but her naps are tricky business. If she woke up, I’d have to shut off the game and catch up later. I was hoping for a blowout so I’d be able to turn off the game knowing the Packers would be able to cruise to a victory.

As it turns out, I got a blowout and my daughter stayed asleep for the entirety of the game. That’s just the magic of Christmas, I guess.

The Packers weren’t able to get the running game going, so they had to rely on the passing game to move the ball. Coming into the game, the Vikings had the second ranked pass defense in the league, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The Packers proceeded to lay waste to the Vikings secondary, with Aaron Rodgers going over 300 yards passing, putting up a QB Rating of 136.6 and accounting for all 5 touchdowns. It was a little dicey there for a while, but this was a really fun game to watch.

One more win. One more win.

Let’s get to the film.

I looked at Clay Matthews’ strip sack and Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown run in One Big Play this week. You can read that here.

THE GOOD

I just had a lovely Christmas, I haven’t worked in a week-and-a-half and the Packers are one win away from nabbing the NFC North title. I’m feeling good. I’m feeling great. I’m feeling wonderful. For today, let’s just focus on the good plays. I’ll be looking at some of the bad plays on Twitter, because that seems like a good place to dump negative thoughts.

One final note before we get started. I’m trying something new on this post. In an effort to make load times for these posts shorter, you’ll now have to hover over each gif to see it play. Hope this works out for everyone. Please let me know!

I wanted to start off with this cool little pre-snap moment between Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] and Kentrell Brice [29]. Brice played 55% of the defensive snaps in this game. He has looked good, but I’ve seen him out of position on more than one occasion. With Morgan Burnett [42] playing more on the line to help with tight ends – as he is here – it’s essential that Brice is able to play well.

Just look at Clinton-Dix and Brice as the two deep safeties. Brice is standing directly behind Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix is looking at the alignment and the pre-snap movement to diagnose the play. As soon as he sees Jerick McKinnon [21] setting up behind Kyle Rudolph [82], Clinton-Dix tells Brice where to set up and what to do. By watching Clinton-Dix diagnose the play and hearing the results directly from Clinton-Dix, there’s no chance of there being miscommunication.

I loved seeing this.

3rd and goal from the 4 yard line. Packers were up 7-0 at the time. Clay Matthews [52] gets a free rush off the edge, converges on Sam Bradford [8] and knocks the ball away. I don’t really have a whole lot to say about the play when it comes to Matthews, but I wanted to look at what could have happened if this ball didn’t get knocked away.

Cordarrelle Patterson [84] is lined up wide to the left of the line. The Vikings are setting up a wide receiver screen for him, with Patterson stepping back and toward Bradford, Adam Thielen [19] blocking to the outside and T.J. Clemmings [68] circling out and blocking down.

It’s hard to say exactly how this would have gone for the Vikings. Thielen has Ladarius Gunter [36] lined up on the outside, but Micah Hyde [33] appears to have read this play well. He sits back in his shallow zone, then breaks towards the line when he sees Bradford starting his throwing motion. It’s possible Hyde could have jumped this route. However, it’s just as possible that Bradford throws the ball slightly behind Patterson and out of the reach of Hyde. If that happens, this looks like a touchdown. Patterson has speed and a good angle. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] is reading the play in the end zone, but I think Patterson would have been able to beat Clinton-Dix to the inside.

It’s not a bad job blocking on the outside, but allowing a free rusher off the edge to the side where you’re throwing a wide receiver screen seems like a losing strategy.

While we’re on the topic of Clay Matthews [52] batted passes, let’s take a look at this one.

3rd and 13. This takes place early in the 3rd quarter with the Vikings down 28-13. The call is a wide receiver screen to Adam Thielen [19].

Unlike the last play, T.J. Clemmings [68] attempts to cut Matthews. It just doesn’t take. He hits Matthews in the midsection. Matthews is able to brace himself against the hit and stay on his feet. Bradford pump fakes when Matthews is in the act of being blocked, then actually releases the ball after Matthews has recovered. Matthews is able to jump up and knock the pass away.

Let’s look to see if we can figure out what would have happened if Matthews hadn’t knocked this pass away.

It’s looking pretty good for the Vikings. Thielen is coming back to the ball from the outside and has a host of blockers in front of him. Joe Thomas [48] might have a shot to take Thielen down as he waits for blocking to get out in front, but that seems like a long shot. This looks like it would have been a huge gain.

Adam Thielen [19] was a terror. He caught 12 passes (on 15 targets) for 202 yards and 2 touchdowns. He basically did what Stefon Diggs [14] did in the Week 2 meeting, but slightly more.

Here is Thielen on a jet sweep. He gets the ball running full speed through the backfield, looking to either get to the edge or for a good cutback lane. He finds neither.

Damarious Randall [23] does a great job setting the edge, forcing Thielen to look inside. Jake Ryan [47] is gunning down the line, which gets rid of the cutback lane. Ladarius Gunter [36] flies down to take away the sliver of space between Ryan and the outside blockers. With the cutback lane gone, Thielen has no choice but to try to take the corner. Ryan dives over a blocker and makes a spectacular tackle.

This was a great job by the entire side of the defense. They don’t overpursue and everyone keeps their lane. The inside defenders string out the play and the outside defender sets the edge.

I don’t really want to unpack this play. I just want to say that I bet it hurts a lot to get hit by Mike Daniels [76] with a head full of steam. This was the first play of the 3rd quarter. If I was Sam Bradford [8], I probably would have just retired on the spot. I don’t need that kind of pain in my life.

This took place on the first drive, when Terrance Newman [23] apparently decided that he should go against his coaches wishes and cover Jordy Nelson [87] on his own.

The Vikings are in Cover 1 Man Under. Newman and Nelson are matched up on the bottom of the screen. Jared Cook [89] and Ty Montgomery [88] are lined up off the right side of the line. Cook runs straight up the field to engage with Chad Greenway [52] before running an in route, while Montgomery is running a drag underneath Cook. Cook is able to shove Greenway back, which means Andrew Sendejo [34] has to run over the pick to cover Montgomery. Montgomery running open across the line draws the attention of Harrison Smith [22].

All of that adds up to Nelson being isolated with Newman on the outside. Nelson runs at Newman’s outside shoulder. Newman doesn’t have the speed to backpedal and keep up with Nelson, so he turns to run with Nelson pretty quickly. With Newman on his outside shoulder and Smith cleared out of the middle, Nelson has plenty of room in the middle of the field. Aaron Rodgers [12] hits Nelson for an easy 15 yard gain.

While we’re talking about opening drive plays where the Packers focused on getting receivers open – a highly specific topic, I know – let’s take a look at this little beauty. It takes place on the play after the Nelson catch we just looked at.

On the left side of the line, we have Jordy Nelson [87], Davante Adams [17] and Geronimo Allison [81]. Ty Montgomery [88] is in the backfield. At the snap, Nelson runs an out while Adams crosses under Allison, with Adams running up the sideline and Allison running a post.

All of this action draws the attention of the safeties, and the route of Nelson draws a deep drop by Eric Kendricks [54].

Montgomery simply runs an arrow route to the flat under all of this commotion. Aaron Roders [12] gets the ball out quickly, allowing Montgomery a chance to turn upfield and get to the sideline. He puts his head down to finish his run and picks up the first down.

Great play design and execution to get Montgomery the ball in space.

The Vikings played a lot of zone in the middle with their linebackers in this game and the Packers took advantage of that with a lot of crossing routes. Those crossing routes can often take a while to develop, and the Packers offensive line gave Aaron Rodgers [12] enough time to sit back and wait for the receivers to cross the field more often than not.

Geronimo Allison [81] starts this play on the right side of the line, set in front of the bunch with Richard Rodgers [82] and Jordy Nelson [87]. It’s a play action, which draws the two inside defenders – Eric Kendricks [54] and Captain Munnerlyn [24] – up a step. Allison is running a drag, while Nelson is running a delayed and slightly deeper drag. The idea here is that if Allison pulls the defenders with him, Nelson will be wide open.

The defenders hold their ground. It looks like Munnerlyn has an eye on Richard Rodgers, who ran under the line out of the bunch. That bit of hesitation on Munnerlyn’s part means that Allison is able to clear the middle. Thanks to Davante Adams [17] pulling Xavier Rhodes [29] deep on a go route, Allison is wide open once he has cleared the middle.

The line holds and Rodgers is able to find an open Allison for 15 yards.

I have talked about the Packers use of dual out/in routes in the past, so I wanted to point out this play. Aaron Ripkowski [22] is lined up wide to the right of the line, with Davante Adams [17] in the slot. Adams is contacted down the field, making him slightly slower out of his break than Ripkowski, but the concept still works. The Vikings are in Quarters coverage. Ripkowski runs up the field, driving Terrance Newman [23] back. Once he cuts in, Anthony Barr [55] resumes coverage.

As I mentioned, Adams is contacted by Barr while running up the field. Barr comes off of that contact and settles into his zone just as Adams is breaking behind him. Aaron Rodgers [12] gets the ball out quickly and finds Adams in the hole in the zone: between Barr on the outside and Eric Kendricks [54] on the inside and in front of Harrison Smith [22]. It’s a beautiful route combination against this zone defense and a great read by Rodgers to get the ball out on time.

Here’s a deep crossing route by Jordy Nelson [87] that works, if in a slightly different manner than the play we just looked at above.

This is a two-man route, with Nelson on the right and Davante Adams [17] on the left. Christine Michael [32] runs into the flat in case the Packers are in need of a checkdown. Since this is a long developing route, the Packers kept a lot of guys back to block.

The Vikings are in Cover 3. Trae Waynes [26] is man-to-man with Adams, but it looks like everyone else is in zone.

Nelson gets a free release off the line, runs 20 yards down the field and cuts in. Adams runs 10 yards down the field and curls. The curl stops Waynes in the middle of the field and Nelson runs behind it.

Meanwhile, Harrison Smith [22] is reading the eyes of Aaron Rodgers [12]. He undercuts Nelson out of the break, thinking that’s where the ball is going. Doing this means Smith’s deep zone has been vacated. Andrew Sendejo [34] is the deep safety in the middle. He turns to run when it looks like Nelson is running a go route up the seam, so he’s completely turned around when Nelson cuts across the field.

All of these things mean that Nelson is wide open. With the extra blockers, Rodgers is able to stand in a clean pocket and wait for this route to develop. The Packers picked up 33 yards on the play.

You all ready for a touchdown party? I know I am.

Jordy Nelson [87] is lined up in the slot to the left, with Jared Cook [89] on the outside. Ty Montgomery [88] is in the backfield. Cook runs a go route, taking Xavier Rhodes [29] deep. Nelson is running an out, while Montgomery is running to the flat. Montgomery’s route draws Anthony Barr [55] to the edge, while Harrison Smith [22] drops into a shallow zone over Barr. Nelson finds a soft spot in the zone directly behind that action and curls. Aaron Rodgers [12] reads the coverage of Barr and sees Smith dropping straight back, so he knows Nelson will be open. He gets it out of his hand quickly, allowing Nelson a chance to turn and survey the field in front of him before making his cut.

Andrew Sendejo [34] is the single high safety. He converges on Nelson after the ball is thrown. Nelson has space towards the sideline, so Sendejo makes a break towards the outside. Since Nelson gets the ball quickly, he’s able to turn and see Sendejo flying down for the tackle. This gives Nelson a chance to make a quick cut back in and underneath Sendejo. Sendejo misses the tackle and Nelson is able to beat Eric Kendricks [54] to the end zone.

Let’s look at this from another angle.

Rodgers is fading to his left from the moment the ball is snapped, but, with both Montgomery and Nelson in the area, that movement doesn’t tip his hand. You can see him looking at Montgomery as soon as the ball is snapped, which is what draws the defenders in that direction. At the last minute, he looks to Nelson and whips the ball over.

Davante Adams [17] is on the outside to the right of the line. Geronimo Allison [81] is running a post from the slot on the left side, holding the single high safety in the middle of the field. Adams runs a little stop-and-go route, but Trae Waynes [26] isn’t fooled and stays with Adams every step of the way. Waynes is on the inside, so Aaron Rodgers [12] throws a back shoulder pass to the sideline. Adams gets away with a bit of a push-off – not as bad as it looked, but still a small one – and wheels back to the ball. He makes the catch and walks into the end zone.

Jordy Nelson [87] is running the exact same route on the opposite side of the field against Xavier Rhodes [29]. Rodgers goes through his progression on this play from left to right. He liked what he saw with Adams so he let it fly. If the progression were flipped, this pass likely would have gone to Nelson.

Ah, the old Rodgers-to-Nelson scramble drill touchdown. I know it well.

Aaron Rodgers [12] drops back and doesn’t see anything he likes. As the pocket begins to break down, Rodgers escapes to his right.

Jordy Nelson [87] starts this play on the outside to the right of the line. He runs a quick curl and is held up by Anthony Barr [55]. He fights a little, but never really tries to break away. Once Rodgers breaks from the pocket, Nelson turns and loops behind Barr, before ultimately cutting back to the sideline. Rodgers finds a gap between Barr and Trae Waynes [26] and hits Nelson.

Let’s look at this from another angle.

There are a couple things to point out here. Watch Rodgers after Nelson cuts to the middle of the field. Rodgers gives Nelson a little hand motion to cut back outside. Nelson immediately does so and Barr isn’t able to stay with him out of that quick cut.

Here’s the other thing: Rodgers puts the ball away from Barr but still into the body of Nelson. That allows Nelson a chance to slow his momentum enough so he doesn’t get his head taken off by Waynes. Nelson is able to catch the ball and get under the big hit from Waynes. It’s a good thing, too, because that looks like it would have been nasty.

How did Nelson celebrate his second touchdown of the game?

By running out to the 20 and spiking the ball, of course. Jordy has been showing some fire after big catches this year. I dig it.

I know a lot of people dislike Richard Rodgers [82], and I totally get it. However, I am not one of those people. Most of my frustrations with Richard Rodgers have less to do with him and more to do with how the coaching staff has used him. He’s not a guy who is going to make people miss in space. He’s not going to take a short pass in the flat and do much with it. Using Richard Rodgers on the edges of the offense won’t do much good. He’s a big guy with good hands. He should be used primarily in the middle of the field. The Packers have done more of that this year and it has done my heart good.

On this play, he is on the right side of the line with his hand on the ground. He just runs a little seam route, but it’s the way he runs it that creates space for him to catch the ball. At the snap, he angles out towards Harrison Smith [22], which forces Smith to back up. As Smith is backpedaling, Rodgers makes a really nice cut back towards the middle of the field. That quick step and turn back inside gives Aaron Rodgers [12] a big target to hit. Andrew Sendejo [34] doesn’t see the cut back inside until the ball is on the way. He tries to break on the pass, but he’s not able to get to Rodgers until he’s already in the end zone.

One other thing to note on this: Aaron Ripkowski [22] starts in the backfield. He comes through the line to run a middle curl. That route holds Anthony Barr [55] in place. If Barr is able to drop even a couple steps back, this becomes a much tougher throw. But Barr is held in place and the Packers found themselves ahead 38-13 in the 4th quarter.

Random Thoughts:

– Jordy Nelson has been tremendous down the stretch. I made a little chart breaking up his season. Since the Packers have played 15 games, I broke it down by the first 8 games and the last 7 games.

– On third down, Aaron Rodgers was 8/9 for 79 yards and 3 touchdowns, for a QB Rating of 142.8. They failed to pick up a first down on 2 of those completions. He was also sacked 3 times for a combined loss of 30 yards.

– On third down, Sam Bradford was 7/14 for 47 yards and 1 touchdown, for a QB Rating of 81.5.  They failed to pick up a first down on 3 of those completions.

– When throwing deep, Rodgers was 5/9 for 163 yards and 1 touchdown, for a QB Rating of 137.5.

– We went to see Rogue One last week and we loved it. I need to watch it a couple more times before I figure out where it ranks among the rest of the Star Wars series – a ranking I’m sure you’re all eagerly awaiting – but I have a feeling it’s going to rank very high.

– While I’m on the topic of Star Wars, allow me a few words about the passing of Carrie Fisher. Like a lot of people my age, I grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy. I had a brief period in my life where I declared them to be overrated, but I chalk that up to a rebellious phase. I rewatch them every couple years and it’s remarkable how well they hold up.
Fisher is known to most of the world from her role as Princess Leia, and she was perfect in that role. She was strong and independent and beautiful. When The Force Awakens came out, we saw that, while her brother and husband had left due to a pain they could not endure, Leia stayed and fought. She was the strongest of them. She got no glory from it – she was the one handing out the medals, not receiving them – but she did it all the same.
But she was more than Leia Organa. She was Carol Peterson, the suspicious yet supportive wife of Ray Peterson in The Burbs (one of my all-time favorite movies). She was Liz Lemon’s role model. She was the mystery woman who tracked down Jake & Elwood Blues and attempted to kill them with a flame thrower. She was Bianca Burnette, the woman who was “this close” to getting the part of Princess Leia, but losing out to “the one who slept with George Lucas.”
But more than all of that, she was Carrie Fisher. She was an inspired writer. She was a brilliant and unsung script doctor. She was an outspoken advocate on mental health issues, famously saying, “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving that, but bring it on. Better me than you.” She was the adored celebrity who would go to fan conventions and walk the floor for hours, buying books and artwork.
By all accounts, she was kind and sweet and honest and funny and caring. The world is a poorer place without her in it.
To Carrie Fisher. She lived a life the majority of us can only dream of, and died in a wholly unique way: drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.

Albums listened to: Nine Inch Nails – Not The Actual Events EP; Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3; The Clash – Give ‘Em Enough Rope; Michael Giacchino – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Jimmy Smith – The Sermon!; Lanu – The Double Sunrise

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