After the Titans game, I adjusted my expectations on this Packers season. I knew they came into this game against Washington only one game out of the division, but I also knew they hadn’t looked good for a while and the upcoming schedule saw them facing quite a few teams that were playing well.

As Packers fans, we have become accustomed to seeing our team in the playoffs every year. But every now and then, things don’t break right and we find ourselves with the Packers on the outside looking in. Whether you want to blame coaching, injuries, execution or a combination of those things, the fact remains that there are some very real issues with this team.

And so I have adjusted my expectations. This loss wasn’t fun to watch, but I wasn’t heartbroken. I don’t expect the Packers to make the playoffs this season, and that takes a lot of the stress off of watching a game. If the Packers win, I’m happy. If they lose, I’ll do my best to shrug it off and focus on some of the on-field stuff. Mainly:
1. What did the Packers do that I really liked?
2. What did the Packers do that I didn’t like?
3. Who played well?
4. Who played terribly?

At this point, I try to give myself something to keep me looking forward to watching games every week. Little things to celebrate and get excited about. I’ll still be tracking the bad plays, but it’s the good ones that keep me excited for the next game.

We’re going to look at The Bad in a moment, because that’s what we do here. But I implore you to find things to be happy about on this team. You can be frustrated and still find reasons to get excited every week.
We get to watch Aaron Rodgers – a future Hall of Famer – play every week. Even on his down weeks, it seems like he’ll do something I’ve never seen before.
We get to watch Randall Cobb. He’s not having the best season, but he still has incredible short area quickness and is able to juke defenders in tight areas better than just about anyone.
We get to watch Ty Montgomery play a hybrid wide receiver/running back role and dream of all the things the offense can do when he and Cobb are on the field at the same time.
We get to watch Jordy Nelson make back shoulder catches and incredible sideline grabs. He still doesn’t appear to be at 100%, but he still has flashes of his former self on occasion.
We get to watch Ha Ha Clinton-Dix develop into a great safety. It’s hard to see good things on this defense at the moment, but Clinton-Dix is a ton of fun to watch. He has improved every season.

If none of those things excite you, use this as an opportunity to teach yourself more about the game. If you don’t have a huge investment in the outcome itself, you can try watching the game in a different way without stressing out about how it ends. Take a few series and watch the line play. Curious how Jason Spriggs looks at right guard? Watch him every snap. Curious as to why Mike Daniels’ name hasn’t been called? Watch him and see if he’s being double-teamed. If he’s being double-teamed, expand your vision. Who is not being double-teamed and why can’t they take advantage?
Look at pre-snap alignments and see if you can spot holes. This isn’t always the easiest thing to do with the broadcast cameras zoomed in on the line, but you can still do a little bit of it. See a slot receiver uncovered? Take a look at what the defense does after the snap. Maybe they’re dropping a linebacker to take away the quick throw and sneaking in a safety to take away anything to the outside.
Watch the receivers and see who gets off the line well. You won’t be able to see the whole route, but you can see the beginning, and sometimes that’s enough to determine where you think the ball is going to go.

There is always more to learn. Take this opportunity to teach yourself about the game in a relatively low-stress setting. I think you’ll find enough things that are interesting that you’ll be involved in the game even if the Packers are losing.

You can voice your concerns. You can be frustrated. But, if you’re going to keep watching, at least try to make sure you have a little fun or try to learn something. Find something that brings you joy. Let me know what you find, either in the comments or on Twitter.

Pep talk over. Let’s get to the film.

I wrote about the 70 yard Pierre Garcon touchdown catch in One Big Play this week. You can read that here.

THE BAD

bad-d-01_garcon_complete

This play shows what can happen when you have one man out of position, and how it can compromise the entire defense.

I have talked about Blake Martinez [50] struggling with play action on more than one occasion, and it rears its ugly head on this play. Martinez starts the play as the inside linebacker on the left side of the defense. At the snap, Kirk Cousins [8] drops back for a play fake. Martinez bites hard – as he is prone to do – taking several steps towards the line of scrimmage before he realizes it was all just a ruse. He wheels around to get into his position, but it’s too late. Pierre Garcon [88] has come open in the middle of the field. Cousins is able to fit the ball between Ladarius Gunter [36] and Martinez and Washington picks up a 17 yard gain.

Here’s something else to look at. Look at the slot receiver off the right side of the offensive line. He’s running a skinny post and is wide open. Micah Hyde [33] and Morgan Burnett [42] play this as well as can be expected, but there’s something missing that allows the receiver to be able to run free.

Given the initial break he took away from the line, I believe Martinez was supposed to drop straight back and help with the underneath coverage on the slot receiver. This position wouldn’t allow him to break up a perfect throw, but it would force Cousins to fit the ball between Martinez and Burnett. If the ball is floated at all, Burnett would have a shot at an interception.
Dropping back into coverage would also allow Martinez to be in a good position to defend the throw to Garcon in the middle of the field.

The Packers have this covered pretty well, but one man out of position allows two receivers to get open. I hope this is something Martinez is able to correct next season.

bad-d-04a_reed_catch

Jordan Reed [86] starts this play off the right side of the line. He is in a stacked look, slightly behind the line. At the snap, he slightly wheels behind the up-man, then cuts just behind Micah Hyde [33]. Hyde drops into a deep zone and is in good position on Reed for most of the play, but, once he settles into his zone, Reed is able to cut behind and find a hole.

The up-man on that stacked look runs a post, clearing out the middle of the field for Reed to run into, while Chris Thompson [25] coming out of the backfield ensures that Joe Thomas [48] will be pulled towards the line in coverage. If Thomas doesn’t pull up to take Thompson, it’s an easy checkdown for Kirk Cousins [8].

The Packers are not in terrible coverage here, but Cousins has a lot of time to sit back and wait for this to develop. My stopwatch skills tell me he had roughly 4.5 seconds from the time the ball was snapped until he threw it. He does have to step up into the pocket, but he doesn’t really need to navigate anything; he merely steps straight forward into the opening.
My point is, the coverage wasn’t bad, but the lack of a pass rush meant Cousins could take his time and wait for something to open up.

bad-d-04b_reed_catch

Here is how the pass rush looked. Clay Matthews [52] is the closest to applying pressure. He starts in the middle and loops around to the other side of the line. He finds an opening and shoots through. But it directs him a little wide, so Cousins just steps up and Matthews isn’t able to adjust.

Julius Peppers [56] actually has a nice move here. He is able to shove Ty Nsekhe [79] into the backfield, but he’s unable to disengage and get a hand on Cousins. He’s unable to disengage because he is being held, but that is neither here nor there. This seems like one that could have been called – Peppers is on an island, in clear view of the official – but the flag didn’t come out. Oh well.

bad-d-05_crowder_td

Here is the 44 yard touchdown catch by Jamison Crowder [80]. He starts this play in the slot off the left side of the line. The Packers are in Cover 2 Man Under. The design of this offensive play was to split the two deep safeties, and it works to perfection.

Quinten Rollins [24] is man-to-man with Crowder. He is playing inside trail technique. It starts off well, but Crowder is too fast for Rollins. He is able to create a lot of separation and split the safeties. Kirk Cousins [8] underthrows this ball just enough for Rollins to be able to get a hand on it as Crowder catches it, but he can’t do much else. Crowder hauls it in for a touchdown. It was 16-10 before this play. With a missed two point conversion, this put Washington up 22-10 late in the 3rd quarter.

I wanted to look at the safeties on each side. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] is the deepest, playing on the right side of the defense, while Morgan Burnett [42] is on the left side. The outside receiver on Clinton-Dix’s side (DeSean Jackson [11]) is running a go route with a fade towards the sideline. The outside receiver on Burnett’s side (Jordan Reed [86]) is running a deep out.
Watch both of these safeties as the routes develop. Burnett stays in good position on his side until Reed breaks towards the sideline, at which point he turns his attention to the inside of the field. By that point, it’s too late for him to do anything.
As the deep safety on Crowder’s side of the field, this falls on Clinton-Dix. He doesn’t commit to Jackson, telling me that they’re not bracketing that receiver. Instead, he splits the difference between Jackson and Crowder. He makes a late break on Jackson just as Crowder turns to look for the ball. Clinton-Dix can see the receivers streaking down the field, and he can see that Crowder has created more separation.

Or maybe he was thinking that Micah Hyde [33] man-to-man on DeSean Jackson is something he needed to keep a closer eye on (a decent call, considering Jackson burned Hyde for a touchdown earlier in the game). He figured Rollins had a better shot at catching up to Crowder than Hyde would at catching up to Jackson.
Or maybe this is damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. If Clinton-Dix rolls towards Crowder, Cousins unleashes a pass to Jackson. If that pass is complete, we’re all asking how Clinton-Dix could leave Hyde alone on an island with the speedy Jackson.

I understand Clinton-Dix shading Jackson, but Hyde has pretty good coverage and the throw to Jackson would be a much tougher one for Cousins to make. Once Clinton-Dix saw that Crowder was streaking past Rollins, he should be helped over the top and taken his chances that the throw to Jackson would either be broken up or thrown out of bounds.

bad-o-02_cobb_fourth_down

This play was on 4th and 7, early in the second quarter. The Packers were down 7-0 and found themselves on Washington’s 38 yard line. That’s too close to punt and too far for a field goal, especially with the wind whipping around like it was. I like that the Packers opted to go for it.

Randall Cobb [18] lines up in the slot to the right side of the line, running an in-and-out route. Aaron Rodgers [12] drops back, surveys the field, then breaks the pocket and throws low to Cobb. The pass is incomplete, but there is an illegal contact flag on the play, extending the Packers drive.

But look at Jordy Nelson [87]. He starts off the right side of the line, just inside where Cobb lines up. He’s running a deep crossing route and he appears to be open as soon as he clears the linebackers. What’s more, while the pocket does seem to be breaking down a bit, Rodgers still has time to step up and throw as Nelson flashes open. Did Rodgers get spooked and flee the pocket before was necessary?

That’s certainly possible, but something here gives me pause before declaring that to be the case. If you watch the linebacker dropping in the middle, he appears to be taking a step with Nelson across the field; it is only after Rodgers breaks the pocket that the linebacker abandons his post. Rodgers appears to be looking down the middle of the field; he must see that linebacker in position under Nelson. I don’t think that linebacker would have been able to undercut a good throw, but this isn’t the easy throw it appears to be at first blush.

One question to end this on: after deciding not to throw to Nelson, does Rodgers get spooked and flee the pocket, or does he run with Cobb’s route to get a better throwing angle?

bad-o-03_third_down

This play isn’t necessarily bad, but I was watching this live and it didn’t go the way I thought it would, so I wanted to take a look at it. I make the rules around here.

Jordy Nelson [87] motions across the formation before the snap, from right to left. He has a defender playing him straight up. Notice the large open area on the inside. I was waiting for Nelson to give his defender a little fake to the outside before cutting back inside. This play happened on 3rd and 7. While there is a safety sneaking down into the middle, I think Nelson could have gotten the first down if this was a slant and Aaron Rodgers [12] got the ball out of his hands quickly.

It was a late motion for Nelson, with him not getting set up until there were 3 seconds left on the play clock. I wonder if Rodgers would have adjusted the route if the motion had happened a few seconds earlier.

THE GOOD

good-d-02_perry_sack

We don’t get a chance to see many sacks from the Packers these days, so I wanted to highlight one I really enjoyed.

Nick Perry [53] starts this play on the left side the screen, across from Morgan Moses [76]. This is a move I’ve seen from Perry quite a bit. He gets Moses off-balance with a bull rush. When Moses finally regains his footing and pushes back, Perry uses this movement against him by ripping through him. It’s a wrestling move: use your opponent’s momentum against him, and that’s exactly what Perry does here. It’s a beautiful move.

good-d-03_matthews_run_stop

Clay Matthews [52] made his return in this game. This was his sole tackle, but it was a good one so I wanted to bring it up here.

Matthews starts the play on the left. This is a run play, so he has back side pursuit. Since the play is run to the other side of the line, Matthews is unblocked. He runs down the line trying to cut off the Robert Kelley [22]. When Kelley cuts back, Matthews makes a really nice read. He sees Spencer Long [61] looping back underneath the line to try to seal off the back side. Instead of taking on Long, Matthews loops over top of Long and is able to hit Kelley as he comes through the line.

This is a really smart play from Matthews. He didn’t have the impact I hoped that he would, but he is still a useful player. I’m curious to see what will happen if he is forced back into an inside linebacker role.

good-o-03_montgomery_td

While this play ultimately didn’t count – an offensive holding call wiped it off the books – I still wanted to take a quick look at it, mainly because I love talking about Ty Montgomery [88] whenever possible.

He starts in the slot off the left side of the line. His route is not a complicated one: it’s a little slant-and-out route, and he sells the slant perfectly. Look at his footwork. He gives a nod and a step inside before completely reversing course the opposite direction. With that one quick step in and out, he’s able to gain a few feet of separation, and that’s all he needs. Aaron Rodgers [12] gets the ball out of his hand quickly and it’s a touchdown. Until it is ripped away by the (totally legitimate) holding call.

good-o-04a_nelson_td

While part of me wishes that Montgomery touchdown had stood, another part of me is glad it didn’t, or we never would have had this play. This wonderful, glorious play.

Su’a Cravens [36] bursts through the right side of the offensive line untouched. Aaron Rodgers [12] pumps the ball, getting Cravens in the air. Cravens reaches out with one hand and ends up grabbing Rodgers’ facemask. Rodgers is taken off-balance, but is somehow able to regain his footing, roll to his right and unleash an absolute bullet – across his body – to Jordy Nelson [87] in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

Let’s look at it from another angle.

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I have watched this play dozens of times and I still don’t understand how he did this. This is an absolutely insane play by Rodgers. Insane.

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This is a 22 yard completion to Randall Cobb [18] on 2nd and 8. There are two things I wanted to note here. First of all, Cobb and Davante Adams [17] are running the exact same route, directly next to each other. It’s an out-and-up, and it certainly looks like they’re part of the same synchronized diving team. Adams is slightly slower out of his break, so Cobb is further up the field when Aaron Rodgers [12] throws this ball. I don’t know if this was a throw to Cobb or Adams – Rogers may not know, himself – but Cobb goes up and nabs the pass.

It seems odd to me that they would both run the same route so close to each other. I don’t see what benefit it gives in a non-Hail Mary situation. I’m guessing there was a miscommunication on the play.

I wanted to look at the offensive line on this play, as well.

good-o-07b_cobb_catch

Don Barclay left the game at the half with a shoulder injury, so Jason Spriggs [78] took his place at right guard. Spriggs wasn’t perfect, but he was much more good than bad, especially on this play.

Keep an eye on him. He chips Chris Baker [92], making it easier for Corey Linsley [63] to pick up that block. Before Spriggs is even totally disengaged with Baker, he is able to shoot out his right hand to block Su’a Cravens [36]. Spriggs doesn’t just block Cravens: he puts Cravens on his back with one arm. It’s tremendous awareness from Spriggs to be able to get the chip and the block of the oncoming blitzer, and also tremendous strength to be able to put a linebacker on the ground with one arm.

One more thing: I bet Don Barclay is a really nice guy, but he’s not a great lineman. I don’t understand why a guy like Barclay should be playing through a shoulder injury while a perfectly capable guy like Spriggs is on the bench. I suppose the coaches trusted Barclay more than Spriggs. I assume that has changed a bit after this game.

good-o-08_cook_catch

Look at this pre-snap madness. A bunch route? A man in motion? What is going on? I’VE NEVER FELT SO ALIVE!

Jared Cook [89] is the front man in the bunch formation to the left of the line. He fires off the line running a go route, making contact with his defender off the line to create a little space. After that, Cook just runs right by him. Aaron Rodgers [12] delivers a ball to the outside, which Cook is able to run under and catch.

There’s nothing particularly major to break down on this play, but I wanted to bring it up here for one reason: when is the last time we had a tight end that could do these types of things? I’m not all aboard the Cook train, but he made an impact in this game that we haven’t seen since the days of Jermichael Finley.

good-o-10a_cobb_catch_and_run

Randall Cobb [18] starts the play in the slot off the left side of the line. He runs a shallow dig and Aaron Rodgers [12] hits him out of the break. A safety is there to greet him, but Cobb is a strong man with a low center of gravity. Cobb is able to take the hit, spin off it and rumble for a big gain. By the time he was finally brought down, he had picked up 47 yards. I want to look at this from another angle, just to show how violent this hit was.

good-o-10b_cobb_catch_and_run

Keith Marshall [39] has Cobb lined up perfectly. Cobb sees him and goes into his spin as Marshall lowers the boom. Instead of taking the entire hit, Cobb is able to glance off of one of Marshall’s shoulders and get to the outside. It’s great vision and anticipation by Cobb to see this coming and get his body in a position to do something about it, and great balance to be able to stay upright.

One last thing about this play. Look at the snap. It’s at Rodgers’ knees. He plucks it out of the air with one hand like it was nothing.

good-o-09_starks_td

For our final play of the week, I wanted to look at one of the easiest 31 yard touchdowns you will ever see.

Before the snap, Randall Cobb [18] motions across the formation and lines up outside of Jordy Nelson [87] on the right. Richard Rodgers [82] is set slightly behind the line on the right. At the snap, Cobb and Nelson run dual drags across the formation, while Richard Rodgers comes underneath the formation to block.
Davante Adams [17] is the lone receiver on the left. He’s running a go route.

All of this motion from right-to-left leaves the right side of the field completely open. James Starks [44] sneaks out of the backfield to find himself alone on that side of the field. With all the attention being paid to the receivers, no one stays home with the running back. Starks hauls in the pass and cruises into the end zone. This was the first play of the 4th quarter, and it made the score 22-17. Two plays later, Pierre Garcon caught a 70 yard touchdown pass and we were all sad. But this play was beautiful.

Random Thoughts:

– I might as well weigh in on Ty Dunne’s latest column. I don’t have a ton to say about it, but I will say that I don’t like when Aaron Rodgers’ personal life is dragged out as a reason for a down year. I don’t know Aaron Rodgers. I don’t know his family or his situation. If he hasn’t talked to his family in two years, there might be a good reason for it. There might not be. Either way, that’s none of my business and it’s not for anyone to speculate on.
There was some decent stuff in that column, but I’d prefer to leave anything about his personal life out of the conversation when it comes to his performance on the field, because the fact is that no one really knows if his personal matters factor into his on-field performance. It’s purely speculation, and there has been entirely too much of it.

– When throwing to the deep middle, Kirk Cousins was 4/4 for 195 yards and 2 touchdowns. All 4 attempts occurred in the second half.

– Here is Aaron Rodgers completion percentage by quarter:
1st quarter: 50.0%
2nd quarter: 66.7%
3rd quarter: 55.6%
4th quarter: 80.0%

– Trevor Davis was not on the field for a single snap.

– After complaining about snap counts last week, Ty Montgomery (29 snaps) saw more snaps than Richard Rodgers (21 snaps), although the decrease in Rodgers’ snaps is more a product of Jared Cook (43 snaps) being back than anything.

– Washington had two touchdown drives that took less than a minute.

– With 33 yards on the ground, Aaron Rodgers once again found himself as the Packers leading rusher.


Albums listened to: Dear Euphoria – This Night Will Flee; Eli Na – Nature is My Mother Now; Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct; Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker; Kevin Morby – Singing Saw; Bugseed – Bohemian Beatnik; Lubomyr Melnyk – Illirion; The American Analog Set – From Our Living Room To Yours

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