I’ve been trying to stay optimistic. To believe that the offense would turn around their troubles. In fact, I wrote a post titled “They’re Back” a couple weeks ago, after the Lions game. I could explain away their sluggish second half in that game with talk of dropped passes and conservative playcalling. And those criticisms were correct, but it wasn’t quite as simple as that. There is a larger issue here, and I fear it may not change unless something drastic happens. I can’t see the Packers making any major coaching changes/hires during the season, so we may be stuck with this team for 2016.

We opened the season looking at the schedule, joking about 16-0, knowing that was unlikely but still settling on 12-4. The schedule is suddenly looking a lot tougher, especially considering the Packers’ offensive woes.

The receivers are having a hard time getting open and Aaron Rodgers is missing them when they do. The offense’s best weapon in this game was a hobbled, hurdling Eddie Lacy. The run defense was gashed, and the pass defense gave up entirely too many big plays.

I fear the Packers offensive juggernaut we’ve grown accustomed to won’t be back this season. They seem to have picked up too many bad habits; settled into too many ruts. Rodgers is a transcendent talent, but he has gotten a bit lazy in his fundamentals and he is either ignoring his coaching or the coaching is ignoring him. The offensive scheme has become stale and predictable. A quarterback like Rodgers can – and has – overcome that issue, but he has not been able to do that for a full year now. To hope that a switch will suddenly be flipped and everything will be sunshine and roses with the offense again is a fool’s hope.

All that being said, Rodgers completed 73.8% of his passes in this game, his best mark since Week 2 against the Seahawks last season. If he hadn’t missed a couple open receivers, that would look even better. Davante Adams left the field with an injury, which meant more playing time for Ty Mongomery (10 catches, 88 yards). Jeff Janis also saw the field more in this game, and, though he only caught 2 passes for 14 yards, he was a willing blocker and his speed helped to open up some underneath throws. The offense wasn’t amazing at any point, but there seemed to be a marked improvement in the way the offense was able to move the ball after Adams went out. The offense had 4 turnovers, which isn’t good, but they were moving the ball decently well when those turnovers occurred. This game was bad, but it wasn’t all bad.

There I go, being optimistic again.

One note before I get started. A lot of the gifs this week have a weird green pixelated thing going on with them. I tried making them at least 3 times and it happened every time, always in the same patterns. I usually have them show up a little, but not like this and not in this many. I have come to the conclusion that certain images I looked at were haunted, or featured demons. I’ve seen Frailty, man. Those demons can’t fool me.
Anyway, I apologize for the oddness. Hopefully this isn’t a new trend. I also hope that this didn’t trigger some long-dormant being that kills everyone who watches these images within 7 days.

Let’s get to the film.

THE BAD

bad-d-01_witten_catch

The Cowboys lined up with one wide receiver on this play, split out wide to the left. They also came in with a dual tight-end look, both off the right side of the line.  Geoff Swaim [87] is on the outside, while Jason Witten [82] is lined-up between Swaim and the line. The Packers are in Cover 1 Man Under.  The problem is that everyone decided the two men at the end of the line weren’t worth covering. When is the last time Jason Witten ever caught a pass? Just leave that man uncovered. His hands are literal cement blocks.

While the defense is looking run, Dak Prescott [4] runs a simple play action and boots out to his left.  The boot is read well, but the receivers releasing was not, with Damarious Randall [23] looking into the backfield while Morgan Burnett [42] sits on an underneath route that Clay Matthews [52] appears to have responsibility of. Burnett settles into a wide zone while Randall makes a mad-dash across the field to try to catch up.  It does not work out and Witten ends up with a huge gain.

This is where I mention that, going into this game, the Cowboys had the 6th ranked play action offense in the league, using it on 24% of their passing attempts and gaining 10 yards per play (up from 7 yards on non-play action pass attempts). The Packers went into this game with the 19th ranked play action defense in the league, facing it on 17% of passes and giving up 8 yards per play (up from 7.1 yards on non-play action pass attempts). I talked about this on the podcast last week as something to watch out for. Every now and then I get something right.

bad-d-02_beasley_wr_screen

If you look at the pre-snap alignment of the Cowboys’ top two receivers, this looks suspiciously like a wide receiver screen.  You will also notice that Ladarius Gunter [36] is the only cornerback over the top of that formation, playing outside technique.  At the snap, Dak Prescott [4] throws quickly to Cole Beasley [11]. Brice Butler [19] is able to get up on Gunter and turn him inside, opening a huge space for Beasley to run to on the sideline.

Someone should have recognized that there was an uncovered receiver on that side of the field. I initially thought the call was going to be for Blake Martinez [50] to buzz out to that side of the field to take away an underneath throw, but he’s dropping straight back into a shallow zone. His break to that side of the field is merely reactionary.

bad-o-01-cobb_catch

Packers start in a bunch on the left, but Randall Cobb [18] motions out of it pre-snap and lines out wide.  Richard Rodgers [82] is on the inside of the now-broken bunch, with Jordy Nelson [87] between Cobb and Rodgers.  At the snap, Rodgers runs a clear-out, while Nelson runs underneath (which is something we looked at last week).  It’s not a particularly tight route combo, so Nelson’s defender is able to stick with him.  (Ideally, Nelson would be cutting at Rodgers’ hip, leaving little-to-no room for the defender to follow.)

I put this play in The Bad not because of the result – a completion to Cobb for a decent gain – but because it shows some of the issues the Packers have had in the passing game. Watch each receiver off the line on their initial route. I already mentioned Nelson cutting too far behind Rodgers to create separation, but we also have Davante Adams [17] at the top of the screen running a go route, Eddie Lacy [27] looking for a block before sneaking out into the flat and Cobb running a deep post.  The only receiver that can be considered open on the initial move is Lacy. Not only is Lacy a last resort option, but he wouldn’t gain any more than 5 yards, as he has a linebacker shadowing him.

This play gains yards because the offensive line gives Aaron Rodgers [12] time and he’s able to give himself more time by expertly navigating the pocket and Cobb is able to get open when the pocket breaks down. This is not a case of Rodgers holding onto the ball for too long looking for the home run; this is a case of Rodgers holding onto the ball because he has four receivers running routes and not a single one of them is open, even though two of them are in man-to-man coverage on the outside.

You can see how this is not a sustainable offensive system.

bad-o-02-no_one_open

Aaron Rodgers [12] was sacked on this play by Justin Durant [56], but the Packers picked up a first down when Durant kindly attempted to remove Rodgers’ helmet and was called for a facemask penalty.

I pegged this play as one to look at because Rodgers had a ton of time to stand behind the line – my amateur stopwatch skills clocked him at 5.66 seconds before he was flushed from the pocket – but didn’t pull the trigger. So I wanted to find out if he actually had anyone open.

The only receiver I see open on the initial move is Richard Rodgers [82] running into the flat (ugh) after chipping a rusher at the end of the line. Richard Rodgers appears to be the last read in the rotation, so Aaron Rodgers doesn’t see him until he wheels upfield and has Barry Church [42] closing hard from the safety position.

Watch the other receivers and pay attention to their routes. Keep in mind that this takes place on 3rd and 12, so that explains all of the deep routes and why Richard Rodgers was the last read.

Two of the routes run towards each other in the middle of the field.  One deep-dropping linebacker takes away a throw to two receivers: Randall Cobb [18] and Davante Adams [17].  Not that it matters too much given the linebacker, but Adams runs an extremely lazy, rounded route, allowing the cornerback to easily cut underneath him. Even with no linebacker playing underneath the route, a throw to Adams would not have ended well.

Jordy Nelson [87] runs a decent deep curl at the bottom of the screen (a little slow out of his break, but not terribly so), but Church cuts underneath that route, eliminating it from being an option for Rodgers.

Ty Montgomery [88] starts at the top of the line and finds a linebacker in coverage.  He wheels to the outside but isn’t able to turn the corner.  He breaks open on a go route as a secondary move, but that’s after Rodgers has begun his spin out of the pocket.

Five receivers – two of whom stayed back briefly to chip – and not a single one of them is open.  Not only are none of them open, there’s not even an opportunity to “throw a receiver open.”  Rodgers doesn’t panic.  He doesn’t get happy feet.  He doesn’t try to flee.  He isn’t passing up open receivers early in their routes to wait on the home run ball.  He stands for 5.66 seconds in a clean pocket and doesn’t have a single option to throw to.

bad-o-03_rodgers_missing_cobb

Even though he completed 74% of his passes on the day, Aaron Rodgers [12] missed a handful of throws he normally makes.  I’ll finish off the bad by looking two throws he missed to Randall Cobb [18].

Cobb starts this play in the slot to the left of the formation.  He gets tied up with his man early, but is able to muscle through and get open on a corner route.  Rodgers has great anticipation and throw the ball as Cobb rounds out of his cut.  Cobb has a step on his man and Rodgers underthrows the ball.  If he had thrown the ball more towards the sideline or put a little more air under it, this pass would have been complete.  As it is, the fact that it’s slightly underthrown gives the defender a chance to catch up and knock it away.  This isn’t an easy throw, but it’s one that Rodgers usually makes.

bad-o-04a_missing_cobb

Speaking of passes that Aaron Rodgers [12] usually makes, here is a throw he missed to Randall Cobb [18] for a touchdown.  Rodgers anticipates the route and throws the ball before Cobb clears the safety.  Once Cobb clears the safety, he’s open, but there’s a tight window in which to fit this ball. The route leads Cobb to the back of the end zone, so Rodgers has to clear the safety and make sure the ball gets there before Cobb goes out of bounds.

Rodgers does all of that, but he just misses the throw.

bad-o-04b_missing_cobb

Here it is from another angle. Rodgers looks towards Cobb then looks away to hold the safety, before coming back and unleashing a bullet. He fades a little as he’s throwing to protect himself from an oncoming rusher, and that may be what sends the ball slightly high.

For what it’s worth, Rodgers thought the Cowboys were offside on this play and I absolutely agree with him.

THE GOOD

That’s a lot of negativity.  Let’s look at some good things they did.

good-d-01_peppers_strip_sack

Here is the beautiful, wonderful strip-sack of Dak Prescott [4] by Julius Peppers [56], with the recovery by Joe Thomas [48].  You can watch Peppers kind of deke Doug Free [68] on this play. Peppers puts his hand out towards Free’s left shoulder, as if he’s going to try a power move.  While Free braces himself for the move, Peppers pulls his arm back and simply runs around Free.  It’s a crafty move and it worked perfectly.

good-o-01_lacy_run

I still can’t believe Eddie Lacy [27] was hurdling people on a bum ankle. If I’m not mistaken, he hurdled three people during the course of this game. This was his first one and everyone as our table erupted at the sight of it.  It’s a perfect form hurdle and I said as much.
“Look how he just gets up high enough to hurdle the guy and keep running. If he got up any higher, he loses speed. Great form.”
“I think that’s as high as he can jump.”
“You’re probably right.”

The hurdle is the highlight and I could watch it all day, but it’s the blocking of the line and the patience of Lacy that allows for this to be such a big gain. It’s a single-back set.  At the snap, Richard Rodgers [82] runs underneath the formation to cut off the back-side rush, as the rest of the line slides right. Rodgers doesn’t throw a very good block on Jack Crawford [58], but it’s enough to slow Crawford down and redirect him.

The three blocks to look at here are the ones thrown by Lane Taylor [65], David Bakhtiari [69] and JC Tretter [73].  Taylor takes his man and pushes him across the formation.  That poor guy never gets a chance to get his feet underneath him and Taylor just mauls him to the right.
Bakhtiari slides right down the line looking for someone to hit but doesn’t find anyone immediately. He gives Taylor a push, but that’s just so it looks like he’s doing something on tape. But then he sees his opportunity. Slightly after bumping into Taylor, he redirects back to the left, taking out one backside rusher and slowing down another.
Finally, we have Tretter. TJ Lang [70] takes the man across from him and turns him to the inside. This allows Tretter to come over the top and block him into the backfield.

Between Taylor clearing out and Bakhtiari taking care of those late backside rushers, a crease is formed.  This is where the patience and vision of Lacy makes a huge difference.  If he would have run into the line, he wouldn’t have gotten much. But, since he waited, he’s able to see the crease, cut back slightly behind Tretter and hit the crease with authority.

Watching good offensive line play is poetry in motion. With a bunch of fat guys. Yup. Poetry with fat guys.

good-o-04a_montgomery_catch

Aaron Rodgers [12] has his front arm swing like a pendulum and causes him to drive this ball into the ground, but it still ended up being a completed pass. This was not a good throw, but I really like what Ty Montgomery [88] does here, so I wanted to point it out.

Montgomery starts in the slot to the right side of the line. He runs a drag/curl and gives a little hesitation in the middle of the field. That little move stops his man. When Montgomery continues his route across the formation, his man is a couple steps behind. Randall Cobb [18] running a go route on the left side of the formation cleared out a bit of room for Montgomery to run after the catch.

I also love what Jeff Janis [83] does on this play. He’s running a post corner route to the right sideline, starting from the left side of the formation. That carries the safety with him and creates a hole for Montgomery to run to.

This isn’t exactly “scheming receivers open,” but it is running routes that can benefit each other. The Packers seemed to do more of it in this game, which gives me hope going forward. It didn’t happen quite as often as I would like, but I’ll take anything as a good sign at this point.

good-o-04b_montgomery_catch

Here it is from another angle. This really shows how much room Montgomery was able to create with just a little stop-and-go.

Something else to watch on this clip: look at Rodgers snag that snap. He nonchalantly grabs it with one hand while never taking his eyes off the field. If I catch something with one hand I celebrate for a solid 5 minutes.

I’m ready to admit that Aaron Rodgers might – MIGHT – be a better athlete than me.

good-o-03_adams_catch

This play made me laugh. It’s 3rd & 10, so all three Cowboys linebackers on the play simply back up to the 10 yard mark and just stand there in a straight line.  They don’t move. They just stand there. As a result, both Davante Adams [17] and Randall Cobb [18] get open past the sticks. Aaron Rodgers [12] throws to Adams for an easy first down.

good-o-08_cobb_td

This play is run for Randall Cobb [18] inside the 10 yard line quite a bit, and I love it every time. It’s pretty simple, really: Cobb runs a quick out, Aaron Rodgers [12] hits him with a quick pass, the outside receiver blocks his man and it’s on Cobb to turn the corner and get into the end zone.  Cobb doesn’t have great straight-line speed, but he has very good quickness and these plays put that on display.

good-o-06_montgomery_in_middle

Let’s close this out by looking at one of my favorite plays of the day.

On the left side of the line, Trevor Davis [11] is on the outside, with Jeff Janis [83] to his right and Randall Cobb [18] closest to the line.

On the right, we have Ty Montgomery [88] running a post out of the slot, while Jordy Nelson [87] is running a go route on the outside.

Now, let’s see how these work together.
Having Davis and Janis together on the left forces the safety to stay back. With two speedy receivers side-by-side, he can’t cheat on one of them, and he also can’t crash down on any routes without fear of getting beat. This helps to open up room for the routes underneath.
It also forces the safety to play fairly wide, splitting the difference between the two on that side of the field.  Aligning a bit wider to the outside helps open up the middle of the field.

Janis and Cobb running dual outs helps to clear out the middle of the field, with their defenders flowing with the routes.

Nelson takes his defender upfield with his route, and the defender playing over Montgomery is playing zone to take away anything underneath to Nelson. (Even if he doesn’t run with Nelson, he would have a hard time getting under Montgomery in the position he is in at the time the ball is snapped.)

All of this is designed to clear out the middle of the field for Montgomery, and it works like a charm. Aaron Rodgers [12] is likely reading the cornerback over Montgomery, then the safety, then the defender over Cobb. If the corner over Montgomery stays with Montgomery but is playing straight up, Rodgers knows Montgomery will beat him on the cut. If that defender fades back and the safety crashes down, he knows he has Nelson in the back corner of the end zone or a quick throw to Janis or Cobb (likely Cobb, with Janis blocking to open up the outside for Cobb to run). If the corner drops and the safety stays back – as they do here – he just has to make sure Cobb’s defender hasn’t dropped into the middle. If he hasn’t, Rodgers, knows the middle is wide open for Montgomery.

It’s a terrific play design with a number of options, all based around reading a couple defenders. It’s beautiful.

Random Thoughts:

– We went to a local sports bar to watch the game this week. They had Miller Lite for $1. I usually don’t go in for Miller Lite, but it was hard to pass that up. We all got out of there relatively cheap, but none of us felt great. Cheap beer does not agree with my system, and I will absolutely do it again the next time we go. I do not learn from my mistakes.

– I’ve been watching Packers games with my youngest brother for as long as I can remember. He, another brother of mine and a good friend (who might as well have been a brother) have watched countless Packers games together. He is a police officer and his schedule recently changed, so this was the first Sunday he had to miss because of it. We miss you, bud. Stay safe out there.

– Aaron Rodgers before Davante Adams got injured: 17/25 (68%), 146 yards (5.84 yards per attempt), 0 touchdowns, 1 interception. QB Rating of 66.4.

– Aaron Rodgers after Davante Adams got injured: 14/17 (82.35%), 148 yards (8.71 yards per attempt), 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions. QB Rating of 122.5.

– It’s overly simplistic to say that offense improved this drastically merely because Adams was not on the field, but it was impossible to miss that the offense looked much better after he departed. Some other guys – notably Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis – saw more time on the field than they had all season. I don’t like that Adams got injured – he seems like a good guy and I have wished injury on very few players in my lifetime – but I think the offense showed enough while he was out for him to see a diminished role even when he’s healthy enough to see the field again.

– After playing a combined 17 offensive snaps in their first 4 games, Ty Montgomery saw 35 snaps this game (which accounted for 50% of the offensive snaps). This is the line he put up in those 35 snaps: 10/12 (83.3% catch rate) for 98 yards. This was a really great showing from Montgomery. I’m hoping this convinces the coaches he needs to see the field more.

– I love these throwback uniforms. Part of me wishes they didn’t have names on the backs, but I guess that would hurt jersey sales.
The one thing I don’t like about these throwbacks is that the Packers have pulled all Acme Packers merchandise from the Pro Shop in favor of these. I love Acme Packers gear and it kills me that I can’t find it through the Pro Shop anymore.

– Lastly, you may have noticed that I am on a new site. This was started with the guys from the Pack to the Future Podcast I’ve been doing for a year or so now, and we’re extremely excited for this new site. We’re going to be doing a lot of cool stuff going forward. Thanks for checking it out and I hope you keep coming back. It’s a bunch of great guys and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s going.

Albums listened to: Denison Witmer – The 80s EP; Call Me Constant – The Sun, The Moon, The Dark, The Dawn; Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Luke Cage Soundtrack; Devendra Banhart – Ape in Pink Marble; Ultimate Painting – Dusk; Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate; Eliza Hardy Jones – Because Become

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