Most Packers and Colts fans had this pegged as a shootout. With both defenses struggling a bit, this seemed obvious. And, though the 31-26 final score may indicate a shootout, it glosses over the fact that the Packers had 13 points going into the fourth quarter.

I wasn’t feeling bad coming out of the Falcons loss. The offense looked good and the Packers defense ran up against a really good offense at a terrible time. I expected the Colts to put up some points against the banged-up Packers secondary in this one, but I also expected the Packers offense to put up some serious numbers. After all, they were going up against a Colts defense ranked 31st overall (per Football Outsiders). And yet they couldn’t get anything going until the 4th quarter.

Coming out of the loss to the Falcons I felt optimistic. Now I feel nothing.
A great poet once said, “Sadness is a blessing. Sadness is a curse.” Right now, all I believe is the latter.

Let’s get to the film.

I wrote about Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s near sack of Andrew Luck in my One Big Play article. You can read that here.

THE BAD

bad-d-03_moncrief_long_catch

When I saw this play live, I assumed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] was late to rotate to the sideline, but that wasn’t the case.

This play takes place on 1st and 10. In the middle of the field, you’ll see the line of defenders – Blake Martinez [50], Jake Ryan [47] and Micah Hyde [33] – looking to snuff out the run and any underneath routes. Unfortunately, they’re all bunched up pretty tight and none of them drop deep enough to take away Jack Doyle [84] running a post off the left side of the line. You essentially have three defenders guarding one lonely running back out of the backfield. That’s not ideal.

T.Y. Hilton [13] is running a go route at the bottom, meaning Morgan Burnett [42] has to stay as the deep safety on that side.

That leaves Clinton-Dix alone in defending the middle of the field. With Doyle running free, Clinton-Dix has no choice but to step up and take that coverage. If he doesn’t, the throw to Doyle is an easy one and would have gained big yardage.

That leaves Ladarius Gunter [36] man-to-man with Donte Moncrief [10] at the top of the field. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, Gunter is not a speed guy. Unfortunately, Moncrief is pretty fast and is able to get quite a few steps on Gunter. Despite a clean pocket, Andrew Luck [12] slightly underthrows the ball, giving Gunter a chance to catch up and make the tackle, even if he can’t get a hand on the pass itself.

This seems pretty clearly like Cover 2, man outside, zone underneath. The Colts line up with only two wide receivers, so two deep safeties and man coverage on the outside pretty much assures they won’t get beat deep. This should force Luck into going to something short, which the line of defenders in the middle should be able to smother.

It breaks down when not a single one of those middle defenders runs with the tight end in the middle of the field. It’s almost as if Dom Capers said, “Surely they’re not going to throw to the middle of the field,” which would explain a lot of things.

So what should have been done in such a situation? First, let’s see what we have.
We have two wide receivers, two tight ends (one at the end of either side of the line) and one running back. Since the wide receivers are in man coverage on the outside, take those off. We’re left with our three defenders in the middle taking care of two tight ends and one running back.  Three-on-three.

You could go man-to-man, but they didn’t, so let’s roll with zone. I would go with a zone match-up with a slight variation. It’s kind of a rotating zone. You have three zones: left, middle and right. With Doyle breaking through the right defensive zone, Micah Hyde would run with Doyle, rotating Ryan to the right/middle while Martinez stays on the left. This would allow Hyde to run with Doyle, while Ryan still takes the running back out of the backfield and Martinez takes the tight end off the defensive left. It could also be looked at as zone until one defender declares, then it becomes man for the remaining two defenders. Under this coverage, it wouldn’t fall to Ryan to cover Doyle man-to-man from the jump: it gives the defender with the best angle a chance to run with the deep route, while the others rotate into their new assignments.

You could also go with a match-up zone. Essentially, take the route that passes through your zone and follow it.

I’m sure someone will tell me how wrong this is, but it seems like it would work in a situation like this. That coverage would allow Clinton-Dix an opportunity to look to help with the outside receiver instead of staying with the wide open tight end. Under this coverage, I’m not sure if Clinton-Dix would have rotated to the outside receiver, but I like to think that he would have. I certainly like the chances of Hyde-on-Doyle better than Gunter-on-Moncrief.

Since Doyle ran free and none of those guys is rushing the passer, I honestly have no idea what is going on. Smart money is on miscommunication.

bad-d-02_third_down

This is either a bad play by Blake Martinez [50] or a bad defensive play call by Dom Capers. I have watched this many times and I still don’t know who is at fault here. Follow me as we go through both of them.

First off, the play: it’s 3rd and 2. Martinez starts the play in the middle of the line. It looks like he’s rushing the passer from the middle before he bails out to take Josh Ferguson [34] out of the backfield. Ferguson gets a free release and has enough space to catch the ball and pick up the first down.

So who is at fault? Let’s look at both.

This is Blake Martinez’s fault.
He has responsibility for the running back. Something about this play makes him read run – even though there is no play action – or a route through the middle of the line, so he crashes hard. By the time he realizes he has misread the play, it’s too late for him to stop the first down. He bails out and recovers in time to make the tackle, but not before Ferguson has crossed the sticks.

This is Dom Capers’ fault.
He brought five rushers on third down but neglected to have anyone set wide to take away the throw to the flat. Martinez’s responsibility on this play is to rush the passer. He sees the play develop and tries to cut off the easy completion, but can’t stop it in time.

My verdict: this is on Capers. Martinez has been a sucker for play action this year, but I can’t see him crashing the line without play action unless that’s his role on the play. In that case, it’s a head’s up play to recognize what is happening and try to stop the play before it picks up the first down.

You can counter with the argument that a defense is bound to leave someone open when you bring pressure, and I will grant you that point. But I also think that covering a running back out of the backfield on 3rd and 2 is a pretty obvious call, especially when the running back never even pretends like he’s going to stay back and block.

bad-d-05_hilton_game_clinching

Let’s look and see what happened on T.Y. Hilton’s [13] game-clinching reception. This takes place on 3rd and 2.

It’s pretty simple, really: the Colts have three receivers running routes and leave seven men back to block, assuming the Packers will be bringing some pressure. The Packers bring six rushers on the play, drop two linebackers into a shallow zone (for crossers and the possibility of a QB run) and three men into man coverage. The hope is that the rush will hit home before Luck can hit anything downfield, or that anything short will be sniffed out and stopped before the ball carrier/receiver can pick up the first down. The Packers also brought a lot of pressure in this game in anticipation of the run, so bringing six men at the line means the Packers would have a decent chance of stopping a running back in the backfield.

At the top of the formation, Hilton and Phillip Dorsett [15] are in a stacked look, with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] on Dorsett and Ladarius Gunter [36] on Hilton. Hilton runs a post while Dorsett runs a delayed wheel route under Hilton. The idea is to create a natural pick on Clinton-Dix, but the idea is also to create a quick and easy read for Andrew Luck [12]. With the assumption that pressure will be coming, the Colts want Luck to be able to read this quickly and get the ball out. By looking to the same spot, he can see if either receiver has separation out of their breaks. Dorsett is a few yards behind Hilton, but they both cut at the same time: Dorsett to the outside and Hilton to the inside. Luck is able to read the defense out of the breaks on both of them. If it’s zone, Clinton-Dix will take Hilton to the post while Gunter will take Dorsett on the wheel. Since they switch, it’s man coverage. Since Clinton-Dix isn’t knocked off the route, Luck is able to follow Hilton. Seeing Gunter has outside coverage, Luck knows he’ll have Hilton on the post. First down, game over.

Again, you’re going to run into issues in coverage when you bring extra rushers at the quarterback. The hope is that one of those rushers will hit home before the quarterback has time to make his throw. The Packers were not able to generate much of a rush on the Colts all game, and that contributed to their demise. Per Football Outsiders, the Colts are the worst in the league at keeping a pass rush off their quarterback, allowing pressure on 23.5% of dropbacks (As a point of reference, the Raiders are first in the league with a pressure rate of 11.5%). Earlier in the season, the Packers ranked 3rd in the league at generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but they have since fallen down to 11th, generating pressure on 17.9% of dropbacks. Against a powerful Colts offense with a terrible offensive line, the Packers needed to create some consistent pressure. They weren’t able to do that, and it killed them.

bad-o-01_nelson_incomplete

Let’s do a quick round of, “Hey, why didn’t Aaron Rodgers [12] throw it to that guy?” It’s a really sad game.

Jordy Nelson [87] is the first read here. The cornerback is playing deep. There’s no way anything other than an absolutely perfect throw is complete here. Knowing Nelson is running a go route and that Richard Rodgers [82] is running a post in the middle (against two high safeties), perhaps Rodgers should have adjusted his reads. Give a quick look to Nelson. If the cornerback is still in coverage, make sure no linebackers have dropped into coverage to take away the throw to Richard Rodgers, or that neither of the safeties are flying down to take it away. Since no linebackers dropped and neither safety made a move towards Richard Rodgers, this would have been an easy completion, and probably a touchdown (provided the ball arrived as soon as Richard Rodgers was out of his break).

Instead, Aaron Rodgers locked onto Nelson and forced a pass that should not have been thrown.

bad-o-03a_rodgers_int

This is Aaron Rodgers [12] interception. Let’s look at it from another angle.

bad-o-03b_rodgers_int

Rodgers makes no attempt to look anyone off. He doesn’t look to the middle of the field. T.J. Green [32] isn’t doing anything tricky here. If you look at the top gif, you’ll see him take a step down at the snap and just read Rodgers. He just keeps drifting to his right and is in a great position to break once Rodgers releases the ball. If Rodgers had taken a quick look to the middle, he would have seen Green. If Rodgers had taken a quick look to his right, it would have frozen Green and wouldn’t have allowed him to get such a good position.

Furthermore, with Green stepping down into the middle, it means that Jordy Nelson [87] was one-on-one on the outside. He beats his man off the line and has a couple steps on him. The single-high safety is too tied up on the other side of the field to close that much ground.

If Rodgers didn’t feel like taking a shot, Justin Perillo [80] is open on an in route off the right side of the line.

Rodgers had options on this play, but instead stared down Davante Adams [17] and allowed T.J. Green to get in position to intercept the ball.

bad-o-04_allison_incomplete

Let’s close out this section by taking a quick look at a play that was discussed on the broadcast. The end result of this play was a forced throw to Geronimo Allison [81] in the back of the end zone. Aaron Rodgers [12] had a relatively clean pocket, but he still let loose with his pass.

He takes a quick look to his right at the snap and doesn’t see anything open, so he goes back to his left. If he had stuck with the right side, he would have seen Jordy Nelson [87] draw the attention of two defenders on an in route, while the outside defender runs with Davante Adams [17] on a wheel route out of the backfield.

That leaves Trevor Davis [11] wide open on an in-and-out route. With his speed, there’s a very good chance he would have gotten into the end zone.

Beyond that, Adams has a step on his man. It would be a tight window – the back of the end zone is fast approaching – but a good throw can still hit Adams with enough room to make the catch in the end zone.

I don’t know why Rodgers gave up on the right side so quickly, and I don’t know why he didn’t look back over once he realized there was very little chance of the pass being completed to Allison.

I don’t understand a lot of things about this play, and that seems to be a common theme this season.

THE GOOD

I’m sad. I’m real sad. Let’s watch a couple good plays from this game before we call it a day, shall we?

good-o-01_montgomery_run

After missing a couple games with an injury, Ty Montgomery [88] returned and had another nice offensive performance, especially on the ground. He carried the ball 7 times for 53 yards, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

This the Packers first play of the game. It’s a simple power running play, with Montgomery as the ball carrier. Follow the fullback to the strong side and run to daylight.

Corey Linsley [63] and Lane Taylor [65] are able to double-team David Parry [54] and turn him to the inside, while David Bakhtiari [69] is able to push Robert Mathis [98] just wide enough to create a lane. Aaron Ripkowski [22] comes through the line and blocks T.J. Green [32] wide. Linsley is able to come off the Parry block and block D’Qwell Jackson [52] from the inside.

The hole is collapsing a little by the time Montgomery gets there, but there’s just enough room to squeeze through. Once he clears the Linsley/Ripkowski blocks, he has a bit of open field. He makes a move on Darius Butler [20] coming from the safety spot and is able to pick up a few extra yards before he is eventually taken down.

This run is the whole package: a solid job of blocking up front, burst through the line and moves in the open field. All of this adds up to a 24 yard run.

I love Montgomery. I just hope he stays healthy.

good-o-05_wr_screen

The Packers have had a nasty habit of throwing wide receiver screens to Davante Adams this year. Adams has been better this season, but short area quickness is not his game, and that is useful in the wide receiver screen game.

This time they went to Jordy Nelson [87] and all the angels sang. Nelson went in motion before the snap and no one went with him, signaling zone coverage. Nelson lines up behind Richard Rodgers [82] in a stacked look to the right of the line. At the snap, Rodgers begins running up the field while Nelson runs to the flat. Aaron Rodgers [12] throws a quick pass to Nelson. Richard Rodgers is able to get a piece of the inside defender, allowing Nelson an easy path to the outside.

Something else to notice about this play: they’re running the exact same routes to the left of the line with Randall Cobb [18] and Jeff Janis [83], with Janis running up the field and Cobb in the flat. In the pre-snap assessment, you can see that the inside defender is playing on the line on that side, making it less likely that Cobb will get a free release. Since this is a quick-hitting throw, Aaron Rodgers likely saw this before the snap and knew that the ball needed to go to Nelson.

good-o-10_nelson_quick_throw

Let’s look at another quick throw to Jordy Nelson [87]. This time there are two additional receivers on that side of the field: Davante Adams [17] and Randall Cobb [18], with Nelson closest to the line. (The Packers have been using Nelson out of the slot quite a bit this year and I’m a big fan of it.) The coverage is pretty deep, making this an easy throw. Nelson takes a step into the flat, turns around and the ball is there. Adams and Cobb are able to lock up their defenders, and Nelson is able to make the other one miss with a quick step inside. Nelson wasn’t able to get into the end zone, but the Packers scored a touchdown on the very next play.

When there’s off coverage, these throws are so easy. With a receiver or two to block on the side, the potential for additional yards is always there. Even without a running game, plays like this can do two things with the defense:
1. Force the safeties to play a little closer, opening up the deep ball.
2. Force the safeties to play closer to the sideline, opening up the middle of the field.

good-o-07_adams_catch

The routes to the right side of this line are the exact same routes the Packers ran against the Bears a few weeks ago, and this provided the exact same results.

In that post, I talked about the dual out routes the Packers like to run. They also run a fair number of dual in routes, and this works off of that concept. Those routes are on tape, so defenses are no doubt ready for them. To the right of the line, you’ll see Randall Cobb [18] running an in route from the slot. Davante Adams [17] is lined up wide, and he takes one step in to sell the route. The defender bites, and Adams is able to sharply cut to the outside. With the defender unable to recover in time, Adams is wide open and picks up 40 yards on the play.

This is the game-within-the-game. The Packers set up defenses with the same looks that are incredibly hard to defend. When they start biting on those looks, the Packers are able to mix it up a bit and play off the defense’s aggressiveness. I love this stuff.

good-o-08_cobb_catch

Randall Cobb [18] dressed for this game and I don’t think he saw a single snap in the first half. He just stood there on the sideline with his helmet on, looking for all the world like a sad kid who was promised playing time at any moment. “Just keep your chin up, little buddy.” We wondered if he was anywhere close to 100% healthy.

He finally saw some snaps in the second half. Overall, he played 23 snaps (33% of the offensive snaps) and saw two passes thrown in his direction, catching both of them for a total of 14 yards and 1 touchdown. This was his first reception, and it showed off what I love about Randall Cobb.

His defender is playing off, so Cobb simply turns and runs to the flat. Aaron Rodgers [12] gets the ball out quickly, so Cobb is able to turn upfield. His defender is crashing down hard, so Cobb gives him a little move. It’s not a crazy juke: it’s more the threat of a crazy juke. He takes one jab step inside before running outside. It’s not much, but it’s enough to freeze the defender and make him slightly off-balance. This small freeze allows Cobb to get the corner and pick up an additional 7 yards or so. Cobb has the ability to do a hard cut to the inside, so defenders have to respect that. He uses that to his advantage in this case.

good-o-11a_cobb_td

Let’s close out with this beautiful, wonderful touchdown pass to Randall Cobb [18]. Cobb starts the play in the slot to the right of the screen. Davante Adams [17] is playing closer to the line on that side and he is running into the flat. Cobb comes off the line looking like he’s blocking for a wide receiver screen to Adams. His defender buys it, so Cobb is able to cut to the inside while his defender is left grasping at air.

There are two safeties left in the middle of the field, and one of them shades towards Cobb at the initial move, closing the window. Cobb keeps running across the end zone. While the safety is following Aaron Rodgers’ [12] eyes to that spot, he’s not able to keep up with Cobb. Rodgers has a clean pocket and sees Cobb getting ready to clear the safety. Rodgers unleashes an absolute missile that is barely out of the reach of the safety. I mean, just look at this throw:

good-o-11b_cobb_td

From this view, you can see where Cobb is when Rodgers releases this. You can see him flashing from the right side of the screen. Rodgers releases this when Cobb is still to the right of the safety. This amazes me.

ONE MORE TIME! HIT ‘EM AGAIN RODGERS!

good-o-11c_cobb_td

I will never get tired of watching this throw.

Random Thoughts:

– Here is what Aaron Rodgers did by quarter in this game:

rodgers_by_quarter

– After rushing for 60 yards against the Falcons, Aaron Rodgers ran for 43 yards against the Colts. Ty Montgomery picked up 53 yards on the ground in this game, preventing Rodgers from becoming the leading rusher on the Packers two games in a row.

– Jordy Nelson may not be back to his old self, but he sure seems to have a nose for the end zone. Through 8 weeks, Nelson leads the team with 7 touchdowns. He is second in the league, behind only Mike Evans (8 touchdowns).

– Through the first half of the season, Aaron Rodgers has accounted for every single one of the Packers’ offensive touchdowns. The Packers have scored 2 touchdowns on the ground this year, both of them courtesy of Rodgers. Those 2 rushing touchdowns are a nice addition to his 20 passing touchdowns.

– In a “down year”, Rodgers is on pace for 4,000+ yards, 40 passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions. I’m not saying he hasn’t been struggling a little this season, but those are numbers of a very good season, yet we’re all asking, “What happened to him?” He hasn’t been his normal, brilliant self, but he is still having a season many teams would kill for.


Albums listened to: Esben And The Witch – Older Terrors; Sleigh Bells – Jessica Rabbit; William Fitzsimmons – Live; Efterklang & The Happy Hopeless Orchestra – Leaves: The Colour Of Not Falling; Esmerine – Lost Voices; Nada Surf – Peaceful Ghosts; California Snow Story – Some Other Places

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