Beyond the missing pieces in the Packers secondary, we found out not long before the game started that the offense would be without the services of Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery. Seeing as how this figured to be a high-scoring game, losing two huge pieces on that side of the ball was not a great bit of news.
Still, I found myself getting a bit excited. I hated that both Cobb and Montgomery would be out, but being short-handed means being forced to go to options you may not otherwise go to, and I was excited to get an extended look at Trevor Davis.
The offense put on a show in the first half, then slowed a bit in the second half. The Packers ended up on the losing side of this one, but it wasn’t due to their offense. The defense got lit up by the Falcons – the #2 offense in the league entering the game, per Football Outsiders – failing to generate any pressure all game. Julio Jones didn’t kill us (3 catches, 29 yards), but Mohamed Sanu had a big game (9 catches, 84 yards and the game-winning touchdown), while Austin Hooper always seemed to make a catch when the Falcons needed him to.
In the end, it was a 33-32 Packers loss. We saw some promising things on the offensive side of the ball, so the game wasn’t a total loss.
I wrote about the Falcons’ game-winning touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu at my new weekly feature, One Big Play. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Let’s get to the film.
Let’s look at a play from that final drive, this one a third down conversion to Austin Hooper . I wanted to see how he got so open on this play. I had originally chalked it up to, “Packers always get killed by tight ends,” but this isn’t quite so simple.
Hooper starts the play lined up to the left of the screen, set slightly behind the line. This is a play-action, with the line pushing to the right while Matt Ryan  bootlegs out to the left. Hooper starts this play by blocking Blake Martinez  down the line. As he’s getting finished with his block, he gives Martinez one final push and goes into his route. That push gives him more space from Martinez and gives him a little momentum to get out of the middle of the line quickly. Martinez recovers quickly and Julius Peppers  reads the bootleg well, but Hooper gave himself just enough room to find an empty part of the field for Matt Ryan  to deliver the ball.
It’s a sneaky play by the rookie tight end, and it gave the Falcons a big first down.
Let’s go back to a little earlier in the game, before Jacob Tamme  got injured. This is another example that looks the typical, “Packers have problems with tight ends,” complaint, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
Blake Martinez  is the inside linebacker on the right side of the defense. Tamme is lined up to the right side of the offensive line in a stacked look, slightly behind the line. He’s running a simple drag route. Martinez has a deep drop, and you can see him turning his head to look to his right. When he sees Julio Jones  is running a go route, he looks back to the middle of the field. He sees Tamme breaking open across the middle of the field, but he also sees Devonta Freeman  coming out of the backfield. The Packers are in Cover 2 Zone Under, but Ladarius Gunter  has a deep drop with Jones, so he’s too far off the line to do anything about it. Martinez is in a tough spot: he can’t commit to Tamme or Freeman, or the other man will be wide open with room to run. In fact, given Freeman’s elusiveness (and Tamme’s lack of elusiveness), committing to Freeman may have been the better call, since Gunter is in a good position to take down Tamme right after the catch.
Caught in a no-win situation, Martinez has to wait to see what Matt Ryan  does. As soon as Ryan commits to Tamme, Martinez breaks and makes the tackle.
The only defense against this would have been Gunter playing a shallower zone, but then you’re giving more space for Ryan to fit the ball into Julio Jones before Ha Ha Clinton-Dix  can rotate over. Given the choice between Jones in space deep down the field or Tamme/Freeman in space within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, I’ll take the latter.
On 4th down, the Falcons went with the ol’ fake handoff/pitch play. If you have ever tried this play in Madden, you will know that it very rarely fails. My youngest brother talks about this play call all the time and wishes more teams used it at the goal line. He wasn’t able to watch this game live, but I assume he was watching the replay by himself and screamed at the TV when this happened. “SEE?! I TOLD YOU!”
This is the long touchdown pass to Taylor Gabriel . The overwhelming reaction when this happened live was that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix  was late to rotate to that side. Gabriel starts the play as the outside receiver on the end of the line, with Demetri Goodson  clearly in outside technique. That technique is used as a way to funnel receivers inside. That’s exactly what Goodson does here.
Clinton-Dix is on the left side of the offensive line. He is clearly keeping an eye on Mohamed Sanu  at the bottom of the screen. Morgan Burnett  is at the other safety position, but he gets drawn up by Austin Hooper  running a curl in the middle. Burnett reacts before Hooper makes his break, but there are two linebackers in the middle who can take care of Hooper. Burnett should be back helping Goodson with the post route.
Instead, Burnett is drawn up and Clinton-Dix has to break hard to the middle of the field. He doesn’t get there in time and it’s a touchdown.
Goodson did not have bad coverage on this. Playing outside technique, it’s nearly impossible to break under the receiver in a situation like that, but Goodson is step-for-step with Gabriel down the field. It’s just a perfect throw by Matt Ryan . If Ryan hangs it up a little more, Clinton-Dix is able to get there. If it’s underthrown, Goodson would have a chance to jump underneath. If it’s thrown outside or high, Goodson would be in position to knock it away.
It’s nearly impossible to defend against a perfect throw. That’s exactly what happened here.
You know what’s hard to understand? Watching a two-man rush, yet still having a running back completely open immediately. Yet that’s exactly what happened here. This play starts with a whimper and ends in a bang.
I don’t even really want to talk about this play too much. Just watch the defense. They drop 9 men into coverage…but they actually drop all 9 of them. No one has dropped to either sideline. The middle of the field is well-covered – something that doesn’t always happen – but both sidelines are completely open. Terron Ward  isn’t trying to fool anyone here: he pauses for half a second, then takes off into his route. Either no one sees him or no one reacts. He just keeps drifting downfield. With 9 men in coverage, all the downfield receivers are covered. When Matt Ryan  finally works his way to Ward, it’s an easy dump-off throw then Ward makes a beeline for the end zone.
It looks like he’s going to get in, but Kentrell Brice  lays a devastating hit on Ward and stones him at the 1 yard line. If you watched him in the preseason, you know that Brice closes fast and hits hard, but I didn’t think he had a chance to stop this play. This was really impressive.
One more thing to note about this play. This took place on third down. On the podcast last week, I mentioned that the Falcons complete 61.1% of their passes for an average of 7.39 yards per attempt to the short right on third down. On third down, what happens? A pass to the short right.
Every now and then I say something that comes to pass and I feel really smart. Then I say 12 straight things that are wrong and the universe rights itself again. But until that happens, you can find me patting myself on the back so emphatically I’ll have to wear a sling for the next two weeks.
That’s too much bad. Let’s move on.
Since I just ran through some negative plays with the defense, let’s start on that side of the ball. This is a run by Devonta Freeman . I want to look at Datone Jones  on this play. He starts standing up on the right side of the screen. Ryan Schraeder  is setting up to block Jones inside. Jones cuts inside the block, evading the block and crashing into the hole in front of Freeman. Freeman reacts quickly – a little side-step and break to the outside – but his momentum was stalled by Jones getting inside. Instead of hitting the hole right in front of him, he has to move laterally, which gives the defense a chance to corral him.
Jones is seen as a pass rusher, but he has been solid against the run this year.
I almost put this play in The Ugly because it could have ended the game. Ultimately, I decided to put it here. This is on the final drive. Ladarius Gunter  is at the bottom of the screen, playing on the outside over Julio Jones . Mohamed Sanu  is also on that side of the line. Jones is running a deep dig from the outside, while Sanu is running a quick out underneath. Given the position of the inside cornerback, this would have been an easy completion if it was man coverage. But the Packers are playing zone.
Jones goes deep and Matt Ryan  seems to assume that the slot cornerback is playing man on Sanu. Ryan gets the ball out of his hands before Sanu is out of his break. Instead of running with Jones – which it initially looks like he is going to do – Gunter drops back into a zone, reads Ryan and breaks on the ball before Sanu turns around. It’s a perfect read and break, but Gunter just can’t haul in the pass.
This play happened with 1:25 remaining in the game, Packers leading 32-26. This looked for all the world like a pick-six. Had Gunter taken this to the house, it would have given the Packers a 39-26 lead (assuming a made extra point) with about a minute left. Game over.
But Gunter dropped it and the Falcons scored the go-ahead touchdown 3 plays later. This is a heartbreaking play. I put it here because it’s almost a perfect play by Gunter. As a poet once said, “Almost doesn’t count.” And she was correct.
Knile Davis  goes in motion out of the backfield. No one runs with him, signaling to Aaron Rodgers  that the defense is in zone coverage. The Falcons are in Cover 3 Zone Under with a single high safety. He knows Jordy Nelson  will be able to knife through the zone, and he does just that. Rodgers delivers a perfect strike, the Packers pick up 58 yards and score a touchdown two plays later.
Just take a moment to look at this pass. It’s so very pretty.
I looked at a play like this last week, so I thought I’d keep the train rolling. Through the first few games, there were a lot of concerns about the offense, but two of the biggest ones were Aaron Rodgers  not getting the ball out quickly, and Rodgers and Jordy Nelson  not appearing to be on the same page.
Which is why it warms my cold, dead heart so much to see something like this. Nelson is the outside receiver on the right side of the line. He’s just running a simple out pattern. He rounds his route a bit, but he’s right where Rodgers knows he’ll be. Rodgers drops back and gets rid of the ball as his foot hits the top of his drop. He’s able to release the ball before Nelson is out of his route. It’s a perfect throw to the sideline, and the defender has no chance to disrupt the pass. It’s a perfect strike to pick up the first down on third and 6, and it’s something this offense had been missing. It’s nice to see them start to get it back.
If you’ve read me for any time at all, you know I’m a sucker for wide receivers lining up in the backfield. It’s one of the reasons I love Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery so much.
Both of those guys were out for this game, but that didn’t stop the Packers from using it. On this play, Davante Adams  lines up next to Aaron Rodgers  in the backfield. At the snap, he runs into the flat. His defender is coming from inside. He takes a poor angle, Adams is able to slip the tackle and gain 22 yards. It’s a simple little move that can throw off a defense.
I do have one thing I’d like to ask, though: why not put Trevor Davis in this kind of look? This is designed to create mismatches and difficult tackling angles. Speed is a good way to take advantage of those things. Adams has been on a good run the past couple weeks, but speed and elusiveness are not part of his game. I’d love to see what Davis’ speed could do to a defense in this role.
Let’s close this section out by looking at a couple plays I had brought up on Twitter, but wanted to make sure they were seen by more people. These are two reasons why I love Aaron Rodgers .
This is the touchdown pass to Jeff Janis . I’m looking at it from this angle because I don’t really care about breaking down the coverage: I want to look at the throw itself.
You’ll see Janis flashing across the back of the end zone late in the play. He has a defender trailing him and there is a safety in the middle of the field. It’s a tight window for Rodgers to fit the ball into, but he does it perfectly.
What makes this throw so perfect is the location of the pass. If you look at the safety, you’ll see that his intention is to take Janis’ head off. Rodgers also sees this. To make sure his receiver is able to walk off the field, Rodgers throws the ball low and as close to Janis’ back shoulder as he can afford. Janis goes to the ground to catch it and the safety flies right over the top. Rodgers does this kind of thing a lot. I know his receivers appreciate it.
This is the end of a quarterback scramble that occurs early in the 4th quarter. Aaron Rodgers  takes off and finds himself close to the first down marker as defenders close in around him. It’s second down, so he doesn’t need to dive head first and put himself in harm’s way. So he decides to slide.
As you can see, this isn’t an ordinary slide. On a slide, the rules state that the ball will be placed at the ball’s location the moment the quarterback’s knee touches the ground. Rodgers wants the first down but he doesn’t want to be killed, so he goes into a jump slide. This gains him another yard or so before his knee touches down. Essentially, he gains an extra yard without putting himself in harm’s way.
I’m sure this kind of thing has happened before, but it’s the first time I can recall seeing it. He truly is an exceptional player, always aware of his surroundings.
– When targeting Ladarius Gunter on the final drive, Matt Ryan was 0/2 and almost threw two interceptions. When targeting everyone else, he was 9/9 for 75 yards (8.3 yards per attempt) and a touchdown.
– Every time allows the opposing offense to drive easily down the field late in the fourth quarter, murmurs of, “They shouldn’t have played prevent defense,” start to surface. Those murmurs definitely showed up here and I wanted to see if there was any truth to them. So I looked at every play the Falcons ran on their final drive. I didn’t see anything that looked like prevent defense to me. I saw the safeties sitting a couple yards deeper than normal, but that’s to be expected: it’s not prevent defense, it’s just a matter of not wanting anyone to get behind you. Of the 11 plays, I saw two plays where the defense appeared to be playing a soft zone. Other than that, the defense played fairly normal. Some plays in press man, but mostly a little off-man coverage or a regular zone. The Falcons drove down for the game-winning touchdown because they are good and the Packers made a couple mistakes. I didn’t see anything that led me to believe that the Falcons won because the Packers were playing prevent defense.
– Another murmur that I saw pop up was, “The Packers went conservative in the second half.” Seeing as how the Packers put up 24 points in the first half and 8 in the second half, that appeared to be a valid point. But I wanted to look a little deeper at the numbers.
In the first half, the Packers had 24 passes and 6 rushes.
In the second half, the Packers had 23 passes and 7 rushes.
Kind of hard to say they went conservative when you see numbers like that.
In looking at passing zones, the Packers attempted 2 deep passes in the first half and 4 in the second half. In the first half, the Packers were 2/2 for 79 yards on deep passes, while they were 1/4 for 17 yards in the second half. That looks like the main difference to me; it’s not that they were more conservative, it’s just they didn’t hit on enough of the shots they were taking in the second half.
There are a couple other factors that contributed to this. In the first half, Aaron Rodgers was sacked once for a loss of 7 yards. In the second half, he was sacked twice for a loss of 16 yards, with both second half sacks coming on third down.
They also had one fewer drive in the second half than they did in the first half.
All these things combined – fewer hits on deep passes, a couple drive-killing sacks and one fewer drive – contributed to scoring fewer points in the second half. I see nothing that points to the Packers being more conservative.
– Davante Adams has put up back-to-back solid games. I’m not ready to declare him as a really good receiver, but I have stopped cringing every time the ball is thrown in his direction. I’m taking baby steps.
Albums listened to: David Bowie – Lazarus EP; Lydia Loveless – Real; Copeland – Eat, Sleep, Repeat; The Prayer Chain – Mercury; Sufjan Stevens – Michigan; T. Rex – Electric Warrior