The Redskins falling to the Giants earlier in the day took some of the drama out of this game. Still, there were very good reasons to cheer for a Packers victory. The NFC North title was on the line, and holding that is always a point of pride.

And then we have the playoff match-up for next week. The loser would have to travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks, while the winner would have a home game against the Giants. No disrespect to the Giants – who have been playing very good defense lately – but I’d much rather face the Giants in Lambeau than face the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

So, while it wasn’t a “win or go home” scenario, we were still pretty amped for this game. A handful of us gathered at my house, ate cookies and watched the Packers claim the NFC North title.

The Packers ran the table, but there are still 4 more wins to get. The depleted secondary and inconsistent pass rush give cause for worry, but those worries will come later. For now, we celebrate. For now, we look back on the Week 17, division-clinching win over the Lions.

Let’s get to the film.

I wrote about Micah Hyde’s interception of Matt Stafford late in the game in One Big Play. You can read that here.

THE BAD

3rd and 9, midway through the 1st quarter. Packers are in Cover 2 Zone Under. Morgan Burnett [42] is down in the box to cover Eric Ebron [85] man-to-man, leaving Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] and Kentrell Brice [29] as the two deep safeties. Damarious Randall [23] is lined up tight on Golden Tate [15] to the right of the offensive line.

Andre Roberts [19] is lined up in the slot, running a post route. With Clinton-Dix picking up Marvin Jones [11] on the left side of the offense, the middle of the field is open. This forces Brice to slide into the middle of the field to pick up Roberts, leaving Tate open on the sideline.

Judging by how Randall starts to peel off Tate and look back towards the line after about 10 yards, I would say that Randall was in zone, and this was supposed to be handed off to Brice. Ladarius Gunter [36] and Clinton-Dix are doing the exact same thing on the other side of the field, leading me to believe that both sides are in the same coverage.

Randall also starts to look at Brice to figure out what was going on immediately after the play. There’s a chance of miscommunication here: perhaps Randall was supposed to be in man coverage but he thought he was in zone. If that were the case, I believe Brice would have been setting up more in the middle of the field instead of the wide zone he initially dropped into. After watching it, I don’t think this was a case of miscommunication: I think this was a case of the Lions calling the perfect offensive play against this defense.

Thankfully, Matt Stafford [9] floats this ball high and outside, making this an incomplete pass instead of a potential touchdown.

When I watched this live I thought, “Why is Jake Ryan [47] standing right next to Anquan Boldin [81] but isn’t actually covering him?” That is precisely the type of thing that led me to start writing about football in the first place.

Packers are in Cover 1 Zone Under. Boldin lines up just off the left side of the line. Eric Ebron [85] is lined up to Boldin’s left and Andre Roberts [19] is on the outside. At the snap, Ebron runs a clear-out route up the field, knocking Morgan Burnett [42] back and making room for the underneath routes.

It looks like Roberts and Boldin are running dueling routes; Boldin running an out and Roberts running an in a yard underneath Boldin. These routes are designed to create a natural rub. The routes the Lions actually run here works off the rub concept. They get the Packers to think it’s a rub route and the Packers act accordingly. Instead of following Boldin to the outside, Ryan holds in the middle, waiting to pick up Roberts once the cross is complete.

Instead of crossing, both Boldin and Roberts stop. This creates a small sliver of space for Matt Stafford [9] to fit the ball. He delivers a perfect strike on time.

This is a great play design and the Lions ran it perfectly.

Talking about well-run Lions plays, let’s take a look at this one.

1st and goal from the 3 yard line with 0:26 seconds remaining in the first half. The Packers are in Cover 1 Man Under. From left-to-right on the right side of the line, we have Eric Ebron [85], Anquan Boldin [80] and Golden Tate [15]. Over those receivers (again, left-to-right), we have Morgan Burnett [42], Micah Hyde [33] and Damarious Randall [23].

At the snap, both Ebron and Boldin run flat routes as a way to run interference for Tate. Tate takes a jab step to the outside to try to get Randall moving, then cuts quickly to the inside, under Boldin. Randall doesn’t bite on the jab step, but it doesn’t matter: Randall is blocked out of the play by Boldin and finds an easy path to the end zone.

I wanted to bring up something on the other side of the line, as I thought it a bit odd that the lone safety – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] –  is lined up on the side with 1 receiver and 1 running back. With Ladarius Gunter [36] taking inside position on Marvin Jones [11] on the outside, it’s unlikely that Clinton-Dix would be able to do anything with Jones. Clinton-Dix is lined up over Zach Zenner [34]. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that he’s looking for the angle route from Zenner. Once Zenner releases to the flat, Clinton-Dix glides back to the middle.

The Packers quick-snapped this ball to catch the Lions with 12 men on the field. It worked, and the Packers got a free play out of it. However, the play they ran was less than good. In fact, it was bad.

I would guess that these plays rarely have any structure to them. I’m sure they run through drills in practice, but the whole idea is to catch the defense off guard, so they don’t always have the luxury of calling a play before they snap the ball.

It almost ends poorly in this case. Jordy Nelson [87] is running an in route out of the slot to the right, while Jared Cook [89] is running an in route out of the slot to the left. These are not stacked routes: they are running to the exact same spot on the field. Aaron Rodgers [12] threads the needle between the two deep-dropping linebackers.

Thankfully, both Nelson and Cook realize that they’re running straight towards each other and slide to the ground at the last moment. Otherwise we all would have seen Nelson and Cook run into each other at full speed. I think there would have been an injury there.

THE GOOD

We just looked at a short-yardage play that worked well for the Lions, so now let’s look at one that didn’t go quite so well for them.

The Packers are in man coverage. Anquan Boldin [80] goes in motion before the snap, ending up in the backfield. Micah Hyde [33] follows him, setting up directly across the line.

At the snap, you can see Hyde look to his left. I love that look. He sees Kentrell Brice [29] running in that direction to cover Eric Ebron [85], so instead of taking a direct path to Boldin in the flat, Hyde – knowing Boldin isn’t exactly famous for his blazing speed – loops over the top of Brice. Because of this, Ebron isn’t able to knock Hyde out of coverage. Hyde clears Brice, rounds the corner and makes a nice tackle to keep Boldin out of the end zone.

I almost didn’t look at this play, but then I did. This is Clay Matthews [52] near interception.

Let’s look to the right of the Lions offense to see what they’re setting up. Eric Ebron [85] is running a curl off the line while Marvin Jones [11] is running a post over top of that curl. The idea is that the curl will draw Kentrell Brice [29] up to the line, opening the throw to Jones. Jones is able to get off the line and get inside position on Damarious Randall [23]. To make this work out even better for the Lions, Brice reacts to Ebron and knocks Randall off his coverage of Jones.

The Packers are sending pressure to the right side of the Lions line, with Jake Ryan [47] looping around the line and Morgan Burnett [42] shooting the gap between the tackle and guard. Burnett played a lot of snaps over Ebron, so having him in that position isn’t necessarily a tip-off. But let’s look from another angle.

Burnett is on the right side of the screen. Before the snap, you can see him “sneaking” up to the line. Teams like to disguise when they blitz to take the offense off balance. Burnett’s subtle shuffle sells this play. It tells Matt Stafford [9] that pressure is coming from that side of the line. Furthermore, since Burnett is coming on a blitz, he can’t be dropping back underneath the route combo on that side.

It is often the case that you should throw to the side you’re being blitzed from. You need to get the ball out of your hand quickly, and it makes sense to throw to the spot that was just vacated by a blitzing defender. Burnett subtly telegraphs the blitz to lead Stafford to throw behind him.

Meanwhile, Matthews sets up on the left. At the snap, he loops around to fill the coverage hole vacated by Burnett. Since there is pressure, Stafford doesn’t have time to see this motion by Matthews. Stafford throws to Jones, only to find that Matthews is in the throwing lane.

This is a perfect example of a fire zone blitz. It was sold perfectly by Burnett and played perfectly by Matthews. Everything went according to plan, until Matthews dropped the ball.

Look at that first image again. Because of the routes on that side – and the blitz moving the line inside – there is a huge path to run through. There’s a decent chance this would have been a pick-six had Matthews held onto the ball.

Then again, as a friend of mine said at the time, “Matthews probably would have pulled a hamstring on his way to the end zone.” Too true.

Here’s a play that looks like the Clay Matthews [52] we have become accustomed to watching. He starts this play on the left side of the screen, over Taylor Decker [68]. Matthews gets both hands into Decker’s chest, knocking Decker backwards. Matt Stafford [9] sprints out to his left and hands the ball to Zach Zenner [34] just behind Decker. Matthews sees this. Using the little bit of space he created by knocking Decker backwards, Matthews is able to get past Decker and gets his hands on Zenner. Matthews isn’t able to bring Zenner to the ground, but he knocked him off balance and slowed him down enough for Letroy Guion [98] and a gaggle of other tacklers to converge and finish the job. The Lions lost 3 yards on the play.

Great move by Matthews to knock Decker back and make a play on Zenner in the backfield.

I still have no idea how Aaron Rodgers [12] escaped from this madness. More than that, he escaped, found an open Jared Cook [89] for an 11 yard gain.

He’s a magician.

One more time.

The man is not human.

After Golden Tate scored the touchdown we looked at earlier, the Packers found themselves down 14-7 with 0:23 seconds left in the half and the ball on their own 20. Not content with simply sitting on the ball and heading into the half, they decided to take a shot downfield.

To the right of the line, we have Jared Cook [89] just off the line, Geronimo Allison [81] in the slot and Jordy Nelson [87] on the outside. Aaron Rodgers [12] is flushed from the pocket early, leaving the right side of the field as his only option.

The Lions are in Cover 3 Zone Under. Nelson runs a go route. Since he has gotten inside position on Darius Slay [23] and there are no other deep routes to the middle, Rafael Bush [31] comes over from his middle safety position to help with coverage.

Cook runs an out route, and this is where things start to break down for the Lions. Instead of sitting back and playing over Allison, Glover Quin [27] rotates down once Cook is out of his break. Don Carey [26] is the shallow defender on that side, and he also runs to the sideline with Cook.

Part of the reason the Quin stays with Cook is because Allison runs an nice out-and-up route. When Quin sees Allison cutting out, he breaks down. Once Allison turns and goes up the sideline, Quin stays with Cook, possibly believing Slay will pick up Allison after Bush has picked up Nelson. Clearly, that is not the case. With Nelson taking Slay and Bush and Cook taking Quin and Carey, that leaves Allison all alone once he is out of his break.

Rodgers gives Allison a little hand motion to stop and come back for the ball. If Rodgers leads Allison, Slay would have a chance to make a play on the ball. By stopping his route and coming back to the ball, Allison is able to make the catch and still pick up a couple extra yards before going out of bounds.

I wanted to take a quick look at this play to highlight some of the ways the Packers have been using Jordy Nelson [87] as a slot receiver.

He starts this play going in motion from left to right, stopping at the end of the line. Don Carey [26] follows him across the line, but ends up lining up over Richard Rodgers [82] once he gets there. With no one shifting to play over the top of Nelson, this tells Aaron Rodgers [12] that Carey is likely man-to-man with Richard Rodgers, while Nelson will be part of the zone coverage reads in the middle of the field.

At the snap, Rodgers sees Carey running with Richard Rodgers, confirming man coverage. In the middle, DeAndre Levy [54] drops wide to take away a quick throw to Nelson. Nelson runs an out over Richard Rodgers and gets open.

But watch how Levy responds to the subtle manipulation of Aaron Rodgers. Once Rodgers sees Carey following Richard Rodgers, he knows he will be throwing to Nelson. He also knows that Nelson will beat Levy out of the break to get open. Even then, he takes one final step to make sure Nelson will be open. Watch Rodgers’ head as he goes through his progression. He looks down the middle, then over to the right to see Carey, then back to the middle before going back to the right and hitting Nelson. That last little look to the middle is enough to pull Levy back into the middle and away from Nelson. It’s not much – only a step – but it’s enough to make sure Nelson is wide open.

There’s no one in the middle of the field for Rodgers to throw to. He’s merely looking off Levy.

Ready for a touchdown party? I know I am. These will not be in chronological order: they will be ordered according to how fun they are.

This is the final Packers touchdown of the game, which put them up 31-17 with 2:54 remaining. There’s not much to talk about here: Davante Adams [17] beats Nevin Lawson [24] off the line and gets outside. Aaron Rodgers [12] takes a couple steps back and lofts the ball high to Adams. It’s not a great throw by Rodgers, but Lawson never turns to find the ball. Adams jumps and catches the ball above the outstretched hands of Lawson.

This is Aaron Ripkowski’s [22] 7 yard touchdown catch, and we’ll get into that in a second. Before we do, just take a moment to look at Aaron Rodgers [12] head. By my count, he goes through six reads on this play in a split second, and they’re all over the field. The penultimate read is to the open field where Ripkowski is running. Rodgers is just making sure no one had snuck into the middle

Think of this as an iso play in basketball. Everyone clears out to the edges, creating a one-on-one opportunity for the ballhandler. This is like that, but with Aaron Ripkowski.

All routes go to the edges, clearing out the middle. By scanning the field like he does, Rodgers ensures that the defenders won’t be rushing back to the middle. Ripkowski hesitates in the backfield, then clears out through a gap on the right. Rodgers throws to Ripkowski, who puts his head down and gets to the end zone. It’s a fun play design that essentially ties up 7 defenders with 4 receivers, opening a huge hole in the middle.

Davante Adams [17] starts this play on the right side of the line in the slot, between Jordy Nelson [87] and Geronimo Allison [81]. At the snap, Nelson runs to the flat while Adams sets up to block Nelson’s man. This looks like they’re setting up a quick throw to Nelson to the outside. Adams purposefully acts like he’s blocking immediately, giving both his defender and Nelson’s defender a chance to read it. Both of those men run with Nelson, while Adams simply runs to the middle and finds himself wide open for a touchdown.

Let’s look at it from another angle.

Glover Quin [27] rushes down late and sets up in the A gap. Aaron Rodgers [12] points this out to Aaron Ripkowski [22]. The Packers only had 4 seconds left on the play clock when Quin made his move, so Rodgers couldn’t move Ripkowski over to the other side. Ripkowski does a good job getting over to throw a block on Quin, but Rodgers faded to his right, which put him directly into the path of Quin. Still, he’s able to get the pass off and avoid a hit.

And then, of course, Adams celebrated by doing this. More than any of the other celebration penalties, I at least understand the flag for this. I believe it was Jimmy Graham who bent a goal post doing this during a game. This is less a flag for excessive celebration and more a flag to discourage an action that could lead to a lengthy delay in the game.

So I get it. This is an automatic flag and Adams knew that and it was dumb and blah blah blah. But man, look at that nice little 360 spin. For a regular dunk, I wouldn’t have liked it. But for something like this? If I could do this, I would gladly take a 15 yard penalty to show off those skills.

I’ve been waiting for it. You’ve been waiting for it. And now we find ourselves here, at the end of all things, to witness this ridiculous play, capped by an insane throw and catch.

Aaron Rodgers [12] drops backs, feels pressure coming from his right in the form of Josh Bynes [57] driving Bryan Bulaga [75] into the backfield. So Rodgers flees to his left and sets up outside the pocket. No one is open and so, with pressure once again advancing – this time in the form of former Packer Kyri Thornton [99] – Rodgers flees even further to his left. Once there, he sees the frightening Ziggy Ansah [94] flying at him, so Rodgers drifts left and fires a perfect, diving dart to the back of the end zone, where Geronimo Allison [81] – having started in the slot to the left before running to the middle before cutting back to the sideline – making a diving catch just out of the reach of Tahir Whitehead [59].

Let’s look from another angle.

Rodgers buys himself so much time here. He never panics. He never looks to run. He just keeps his eyes downfield, hoping that something will open up.

Let’s just look at that throw for a while.

Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.

Random Thoughts:

– This was a weird season. We saw a 4 game losing streak and had many people asking if our quarterback was past his prime, only to watch that very same quarterback go on a tear over the last half of the season, throwing 18 touchdowns and 0 interceptions over the final 7 games. We lamented the defense for their lack of turnovers only to see them create 15 turnovers over the final 6 games.
This was not a fun season, but it was certainly a memorable one. I’m excited and anxious to see what they can do in the playoffs.

– Due to time constraints this week, I was unable to jot down any more random thoughts. Apologies. If you have any questions about stats or anything else from the game this week, you’re always free to hit me up on Twitter or by email.


Albums listened to: Katy Goodman & Greta Morgan – Take It, It’s Yours; Blakroc – Blakroc; El Perro Del Mar – KoKoro; The Duke Spirit – KIN; Lou Rhodes – Theyesandeye; Yuck – Stranger Things; Soundtrack – Stranger Things

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