We were supposed to be at this game.

As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, I watch most Packers games with two of my brothers and a good friend. Since we all live in Kentucky, we don’t get many chances to catch Packers games in person. When the schedule was announced and we saw they would be in Nashville – about a 3 hour drive – we decided to go. Ticket prices were high at the beginning of the season, so we decided to keep checking in on ticketing sites throughout the season. We had hoped that the prices would drop as game day approached.

Our hope was misguided.  The ticket prices never really dropped. As we got into the week of the game, the cheapest tickets we could find were $250 for nosebleed seats in the corner of the stadium. We decided that was a little more than we were willing to spend, so we declined to drive down for the game, deciding instead to spend a fraction of that money on wings and beer at a local sports bar.

Our disappointment at not being able to attend the game in person dissipated soon after the game started. The Titans got off to a hot start and the Packers were never able to recover.

A small part of me still wishes we had been able to go to the game, but that’s the part of me that hates myself.

The division is still up for grabs, but I don’t have confidence in the Packers being able to right the ship at this point of the season. Some big changes need to be made. The last few weeks made this painfully obvious, and the loss in Nashville was the icing on the cake. I can’t imagine anything is going to happen in-season, but the fast-approaching offseason should be an interesting one.

Let’s get to the film.

I wrote about DeMarco Murray’s touchdown pass to Delanie Walker in One Big Play this week. You can read that here.

THE BAD

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Let’s start with DeMarco Murray’s [29] 75 yard touchdown run on the Titans’ first offensive play. I wanted to look at this play because I wanted to see what happened to the safety. I thought the Packers may have been in Cover 0, but Morgan Burnett [42] starts the play as the single high safety in the middle of the field. Tajae Sharpe [19] starts the play on the left side of the offensive line. At the snap, he runs behind Marcus Mariota [8] to fake an end-around. Ladarius Gunter [36] starts the play over Sharpe and follows him across the formation. Gunter has to take a wide loop behind the line, but he stays with Sharpe pretty well.

Burnett sees Sharpe running behind the line and reads end-around all the way, breaking towards the end of the line and vacating the middle. This leaves no one back deep when Murray runs through the line.

Let’s look at it from another angle.

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We saw what happened on the back end, but what happened up front? Let’s look at the left side of the screen.

When you’re running to his side, you have to make sure Mike Daniels [76] is taken care of. The Titans double team him and are able to shove Daniels off the line. By the time he recovers, Murray is already past him.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] is setting the edge. He is easily blocked out by Taylor Lewan [77], coming off his block of Daniels. Since Clinton-Dix is a safety setting the edge and Lewan is a tackle blocking out, this is no trouble. Murray is able to cut inside Lewan’s block.

Julius Peppers [56] starts off the line and drives too far into the backfield. If he narrows his rushing angle, he would have been able to cut off the blocker and at least kill some of Murray’s momentum. Instead, he is merely chipped by Jalston Fowler [45] and is easily knocked out of position.

Datone Jones [95] starts the play on the right side of the screen. He appears to have been the only man who was able to beat his blocker, getting inside the block and driving to the opposite side of the line. However, given his starting position, he was slowed just enough and wasn’t able to get to the hole in time.

At the linebacker position, both Blake Martinez [50] and Joe Thomas [48] read the end around, getting them out of position.
I don’t know that it would have made a difference – it probably would not have – but I’d rather have Thomas as the linebacker on the strong side than Martinez. Against a running team like the Titans, you need someone with the ability to blow up some plays in the backfield. Thomas is not terrific run stopper by any means, but he has shown a willingness to throw his body into the line and introduce a little chaos. He has a little Clay Matthews in him in that regard. I have not seen anything out of Martinez that leads me to believe he is capable of doing that at this point in his career.

I don’t want to put all the blame on the Packers, though. Yes, there were things they could have done differently, but this is a wonderfully designed and executed play by the Titans. They worked in just enough misdirection to throw off some of the defense, then blocked everything perfectly. I wish I could appreciate the beauty of it all through my tears.

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This is a 33 yard touchdown catch by Tajae Sharpe [19]. He starts this play at the top of the screen. The Packers are in Cover 1 Shallow Zone. That’s a problem.

You can see the Quinten Rollins [24] on that side of the field as he covers Sharpe: this is clearly zone coverage. Rollins takes Sharpe from the line to about 10 yards deep. Judging by the coverage on the other side of the field, I think he should have dropped back a few more yards, but that doesn’t really matter. On a shallow-to-mid zone, the concept is to take care of your zone, then pass off to the safety if the route takes the receiver deep.

As it turns out, the receiver went deep, but there is no safety to hand off to. Morgan Burnett [42] is on the other side of the field and is there to take the handoff from Ladarius Gunter [36].

Rollins bites a little on the underneath route, but that’s not what derailed this play. I’m not entirely sure what derails this play. It’s either a bit of miscommunication – should be Cover 2 but the deep safety to that side misheard his assignment or something like that – or it’s a poorly designed defensive play.

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The Titans started the game by kicking an onside kick. Courtesy of a great recovery by Joe Thomas, the Packers had great field position. After gaining 6 yards on 2 runs by James Starks on first and second down, the Packers faced a 3rd & 6 on the Titans 43.

This is a great play design. Jordy Nelson [87] and Randall Cobb [18] are lined up off the right side of the line, with Cobb set slightly behind Nelson. Nelson is running a deep in, while Cobb is running a drag underneath Nelson’s route.

Look at the staggered defenders over Nelson and Cobb. The Titans are in zone, but this would have worked even if the Titans were in man coverage. In man, Nelson’s route creates a natural pick, with the shallow defender over Cobb unable to run through Nelson. In zone, the deeper defender in the middle is too deep to react in time to stop a completion to Cobb. His trailing positioning on the play means that Cobb would be able to pick up yards after the catch.

In this case, both defenders lock onto Nelson, leaving Cobb wide open in the middle of the field. Aaron Rodgers [12] sees this and just misses the throw. His feet are set, but he doesn’t really step into the throw. As a result, the throw is a little behind Cobb. It hits Cobb in the hands, but it’s far from a perfect throw. The Packers punt, DeMarco Murray runs for a touchdown less than 30 second later, and the Packers find themselves down 7-0, having squandered a golden opportunity.

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Once again we saw plays where Aaron Rodgers [12] had plenty of time to throw and ended up being sacked anyway. And once again I wanted to look to see what happened. Was he looking for the home run or did he not have anyone open?

To be fair, this play took place on 3rd & 13. To also be fair, not a single receiver got open. Davante Adams [17] starts this play at the bottom of the screen. He’s the only receiver that is able to get open, but the route takes so long to develop that Rodgers is getting pummeled by the time Adams flashes open. By my rough stopwatch skills, Rodgers has 3.38 seconds from the time the ball is snapped to the time he is first contacted. If it takes that long to get open for 15 yards, I’d say that’s a less-than-ideal route.

There’s a go/deep in route combo to the right of the line, but they’re more iso routes than routes working off each other. If the Titans were in zone, there’s a chance the deep in would have been open, but even then there likely would have been someone in the deep middle zone taking that throw away.

Jordy Nelson [87] is running an in-and-out route with a go at the end of it. But, like Adams, it takes so long to develop that he’s not even out of his deep break by the time Rodgers is contacted.

When you hear about the Packers running a lot of iso routes? This is a perfect example of that. They are asking for their receivers to get open, and they haven’t been doing that on a consistent basis. Some of that is on the receivers, but these routes simply aren’t very good. I understand that your hands are tied a bit on third and long, but I have to believe there are better options than this.

I had more plays to cover, but most of them all fit into the same categories we just covered and I didn’t feel like beating a dead horse. I’ll end up putting some of them up on Twitter. Less of my soul dies when I’m able to describe a failed play in 140 characters or less.

THE GOOD

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The defense was bad in this game. Very, very bad. That being said, they did have a smattering of good plays. This was my favorite.

Delanie Walker [82] starts this play in the slot off the right side of the line. He’s running up the seam, trailed by Joe Thomas [48]. Thomas has pretty good coverage, but Walker was able to get a step on him. Marcus Mariota [8] throws a perfect pass that hits Walker in stride.

Kentrell Brice [29] is the deep safety to that side. With two deep routes to that side, Brice is able to stay in between both of them. As soon as Mariota releases the ball, Brice makes a great break. He’s able to go high on Walker and knock the ball away without drawing a penalty. This was a terrific play from the young safety.

It’s worth noting that this was Mariota’s first incompletion of the game. It took place with 2:40 remaining in the first half. Up until this point, Mariota was 10/10 for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns, good for a QB Rating of 158.3.
What was remarkable about opening the game with 10 straight completions was how easy it looked. This was a contested throw, but most of his other throws were to wide open receivers.

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The bar is low for good defensive plays in this game, but I wanted to include this one. There’s not much to it: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] shoots through a massive hole and tackles DeMarco Murray [29] in the backfield. I wanted to point out how Clinton-Dix makes the tackle. In his rookie season, the big knock on Clinton-Dix was that he missed too many tackles. He had a tendency to lower his head right before he made contact, so one small movement by the ball carrier meant Clinton-Dix didn’t have him lined up anymore. But look at him here. He keeps his head up the entire time. When Murray makes a move to the inside, Clinton-Dix is able to move with him.

It’s a small thing, but it was a big problem when he came into the league a couple years ago. It’s nice to see that he has corrected that.

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See that stacked look off the left side of the line? It makes me happy. It’s something we haven’t been accustomed to seeing out of the Packers, but it’s happening quite a bit this season. That stacked look consists of Richard Rodgers [82], Davante Adams [17] and Randall Cobb [18]. The concept behind these stacked looks is to create a little confusion with the defense.

At the snap, Richard Rodgers runs under the line. Cobb runs a post while Adams runs a drag. Adams gives a shove to his defender to sell the run, then goes into his route. Aaron Rodgers [12] bootlegs out and hits Adams in stride.

Let’s look from another angle.

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Richard Rodgers takes a shallow defender with him while Cobb takes a deep defender. By rolling out, Aaron Rodgers is able to give himself a clear throwing lane. Since a couple defenders were cleared out, Adams is able to make the catch and pick up some yards after the catch. I love this play design.

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Davante Adams [17] is the outside receiver to the left of the line. At the snap, he gives a nice little move, then goes hard into his slant route. Aaron Rodgers [12] hits Adams in stride and he is able to pick up some yards after the catch.

Look the attention the linebacker pays to James Starks [44] out of the backfield. With Adams getting inside position on his defender, the only thing that can stop this play is one of the underneath defenders dropping under the route. The one linebacker that had a shot at doing that is in man coverage on Starks. When Starks fires out into the flat, it creates a hole in the defense.

Adams has been a terrific route runner over the past few weeks. The only explanation is that he read my articles and corrected himself. You’re welcome, everyone.

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Let the Davante Adams [17] lovefest continue!

He starts this play as the outside receiver to the right side of the line. His defender is playing him straight up. At the snap, he gives a little shake and gets to the outside. Aaron Rodgers [12] sees this immediately. With the defender to the inside, Rodgers throws a back shoulder pass to Adams. Adams does a great job adjusting to the throw: he’s able to make the catch while keeping his feet underneath him. While the defender is reacting to the outside throw, Adams is able to make the catch and cut back inside, spinning his defender around. By the time he is brought down, it’s a 46 yard gain.

A benefit to a back shoulder throw in this situation is that it keeps the ball away from the safety. If Adams gets inside position and Rodgers throws the ball to the inside, a safety is right there. A back shoulder throw ensures the safety can’t bother the throw, and it also ensures that Adams won’t have his head taken off.

This is a beautiful bit of timing we haven’t seen consistently from Rodgers and Adams. They’re really starting to click.

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Oh there you are, Jordy.

Jordy Nelson [87] has a big cushion from his defender. Aaron Rodgers [12] sees this and gets the ball out immediately. With Randall Cobb [18] blocking his man, the idea is to give Nelson enough time to make a move on his man and pick up some yards after the catch.

Nelson gives a quick stutter-step inside then accelerates to the outside, causing his defender to fall over. This is a lovely, lovely play.

A friend that I watched the game with said, “If you want to run a wide receiver screen, always throw it to Cobb’s side.” Cobb is a very good receiver on these types of plays; his short-area quickness really helps him to make people miss in tight spaces. However, he’s also an incredible blocker.
Nelson is also a pretty good blocker. When you have Cobb and Nelson on the same side of the field, the throw could go to either one of them and you know the other will be able to block.

I want to look at Rodgers’ release from another angle.

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He barely takes one step back from the center before that ball is out of his hands. I’ve talked in the past about Rodgers needing to work on his fundamentals a bit. That is still true, but he’s never going to be a guy who throws the exact same way every time. If he were to set up and step into this throw, the defender would arrive at Nelson the same time the ball did. There is a time and place for proper fundamentals. This play is neither the time nor place.

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This play shows how routes can work off of each other without the need for picks or rubs. On the left side of the line, we have (left to right) Richard Rodgers [82], Randall Cobb [18] and Jordy Nelson [87].

Richard Rodgers is running a little in-and-up route, Cobb is running an in-and-out route and Nelson is running a deep in behind Cobb’s route.

Here is what that route combination forces the defense to do.

Richard Rodgers takes up a couple middle defenders. His slight move to the inside draws his defender deep into the middle of the field, and the move up the field drags him further up the field.

Cobb takes his man towards the outside. Cobb gives a little hesitation move, but he doesn’t cut inside. By not cutting inside, that makes sure that no inside defenders are coming over to cut off the pass to the inside.

Nelson is running behind Cobb and is a beneficiary of all of this movement. Nelson’s defender starts the play deep, and Nelson is able to create space with a quick cut. With Rodgers dragging men into the middle and Cobb dragging his man outside, that opens up a sliver of a window between all of those defenders. Aaron Rodgers [12] delivers the ball on time and Nelson comes away with a 14 yard gain.

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Let’s close out this section by looking at Aaron Rodgers’ [12] touchdown run. There’s not much to say about it: the pocket breaks down and Rogers escapes through the middle. Since the Titans are in man coverage, there aren’t many players looking in his direction, so he has a relatively free path to the end zone. Things get dicey once he reaches the end zone, but we’ll touch on that in a second.

One thing I did want to bring up is the lone defender in the middle of the field who is looking at Rodgers. He appears to be in man coverage on James Starks [44] out of the backfield. Rodgers is so good at throwing on the run that he can’t just abandon Starks. So instead of tackling Rodgers, he commits to Starks. Once he does this, there’s no one in his path.

A cheap shot in the end zone caused a bit of a dust-up between the two teams. That’s good. I liked seeing that. I know a lot of things have been said about this Packers team. One of the rumors that has been circulating for while is that some people on this team don’t like Aaron Rodgers. On his play, I saw the entire offense rally around their quarterback. I’m pretty sure a hated player doesn’t inspire that kind of action.

One more thing I wanted to mention about this play. Jeff Triplette was the referee in this game. He is the worst ref in the league. He is perpetually confused and seems to have no control over the game. Listening to him describe the simplest of penalties can be maddening. And so I present this final gif to you. It perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to watch a Jeff Triplette officiated game.

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As the two teams duke it out, you can see Jeff Triplette standing in the background in his white hat, grinning. He’s absolutely beaming. You can see him snap back to the game at the end, but he is thinking about anything other than the game up until that point. “Can’t wait to get to Golden Corral. I hear that chocolate fountain is back, yessiree bob.”
During the Packers game a few years ago, he flagged the Packers after a kick return for “men coming onto the field.” It was because the Packers offense was going out to start their possession. I swear this happened.

Random Thoughts:

– Per Pro Football Reference’s Play Index, this is the first game since 2008 (against Drew Brees and the Saints in New Orleans) that the Packers had an opposing quarterback attempt at least 25 passes and finish with a QB Rating above 145.
For what it’s worth, Aaron Rodgers has had 5 such games since 2008, his most recent one being his 6 touchdown strafing of the Bears in 2014.

– In his previous three games, Ty Montgomery carried the ball 19 times for 119 yards (6.3 yards per carry). He also caught 23 passes on 28 targets (82.1% catch rate) for 202 yards (7.2 yards per target). In this game he carried the ball 3 times for 9 yards (3 yards per carry) and caught 2 passes on 2 targets (100% catch rate) for 11 yards (5.5 yards per target).
His lack of touches were less because the Packers weren’t looking his way and more because he didn’t see the field too much. He played 22 offensive snaps in this game (28%). He got 33 snaps (45%) against the Colts a week ago, and that was when he was coming off an injury.
With as well as Montgomery has looked lately, I can’t imagine why he would get 22 snaps in a game where James Starks got 55 snaps (71%) and Richard Rodgers got 65 snaps (83%). Montgomery has shown himself to be a versatile playmaker. I don’t know if lack of snaps means the coaches don’t trust him in practice, but he always comes to play and you can really get creative with the offense when he is on the field. I understand that Trevor Davis isn’t going to see the field too much this season without some injuries at the top, but I can’t understand why someone like Montgomery has such a hard time getting on the field. The only reasonable explanation is that he is still nursing an injury. If he’s not injured, the team has some explaining to do (meaning they will never explain any of it).

– In looking at healthy running backs/receivers who have carried the ball on the roster right now, Ty Montgomery has the highest yards per carry (5.3). After Montgomery is Aaron Ripkowski (4.5), Randall Cobb (3.3), Don Jackson (3.2) and James Starks (2.4).

– If you take away DeMarco Murray’s 75 yard touchdown run – a fool’s dream, I know – the Titans finished the game with 88 yards on 29 carries (3.0 yards per carry). Against a team known for running the ball, that’s not bad. Now if it weren’t for that pesky 75 yard run…

– Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 8 times on third down. On those plays, the average distance to go was 9.25 yards, 6th worst in the league.


Albums listened to: Englishman – Unsafe & Sound; A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service; His Name Is Alive – Patterns of Light; The Bones of J.R. Jones – Spirit’s Furnace; Hem – Eveningland; Arborist – Home Burial

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