After rolling to an easy victory against the Giants, we should have known that this team would find a way to make things more interesting this week.

Albeit a stressful ending, I’m just glad the Packers were able to come out on the winning side of this one, or it would have ranked near the top of the “heartbreaking playoff losses,” list. I talked last year about how a loss wipes out all the good feelings from the great plays that preceded it. I can’t think about how incredible Jeff Janis’ Hail Mary catch was without immediately remembering that the Cardinals won that game a few plays later. If Crosby doesn’t hit that 51 yard game-winning field goal, it’s possible I’d be saying the same thing about Jared Cook’s sideline catch in this game.
Thank you, Mason Crosby.

I don’t know what else to say. It was an incredible game. I don’t want many more of these types of games, but I like them every now and then to let me know I’m alive.

Let’s get to the film.

I took a look at a sequence of 3 plays that closed out the game in One Big Play this week. You can read that here. It was a lot of fun to write and I included a lot of celebration GIFs, so head over and take a glance at those if nothing else.

THE BAD

Let’s just get the Cowboys touchdowns out of the way early.

The Packers were up 21-3 with 6:10 remaining in the first half. They would be getting the ball to start the second half, so I was feeling pretty good. I kept repeating, “Don’t give up a big play here…don’t give up a big play here.” Then they gave up a big play. No one ever listens to me.

Packers are in Cover 1 Man Under. I originally thought it was Cover 2, with Micah Hyde [33] covering the deep zone to the defensive left, but Hyde following Brice Butler [19] into the middle of the field tells me that it’s Cover 1.

Butler is running a post route out of the slot to the right. Hyde starts the play with outside technique and carries it down the field, funneling Brice towards Clinton-Dix in the middle. Clinton-Dix sees this and slides over.

Dez Bryant [88] is man-to-man with Ladarius Gunter [36] on the outside. Gunter is tight on the line, but Bryant is able to beat him cleanly with a quick step inside before cutting to the outside. By the time Gunter turns to run, Bryant has all the separation he needs. Dak Prescott [4] throws a nice pass, Bryant comes down with it and gets into the end zone.

From this angle, you can see why Clinton-Dix ran over to help with Hyde. Prescott looks over to his right to pull Clinton-Dix to that side. He knows he has Bryant man-to-man on the outside, so if he can move Clinton-Dix, he’ll be able to heave the ball up to Bryant. Clinton-Dix bites and Prescott gets off a good throw.

Joe Thomas [48] is blitzing through the middle, executing a twist with Jake Ryan [47]. If Thomas is able to clear Travis Frederick [72] in the middle, he may have been able to get to Prescott as the ball was being released. As it stood, he bumped into Frederick on his way through the line and was a step too late.

Not the best defense from Gunter, but this was a really nice play from Prescott.

It’s hard to believe that Jason Witten [82] had never caught a postseason touchdown. This was his 8th playoff appearance, and, though he had better games, he had never caught a touchdown. Apparently all he needed to do was to play against this Packers defense.

Damarious Randall [23] is on the outside to the right, playing outside technique on Witten. The Cowboys run a play-action pass. Dak Prescott [4] doesn’t do a great job of selling it, but he doesn’t need to. It’s enough to pull Joe Thomas [48] and Kentrell Brice [29] a couple steps up to the line. The Packers are playing man coverage on the receivers with zone coverage in the middle. With Randall lining up with outside technique, it appears as though his job is to funnel Witten inside and take coverage over the top, while the linebackers clog up the throwing lane underneath.

At the snap, Witten runs out and engages with Randall to sell the run, then disengages and goes into a slant. Randall is shoved just a little by Witten, but it’s enough to knock him back a step, making it difficult to recover. He chases Witten, but it’s too late. With the linebackers pulled up to the line, Prescott has an easy throw to Witten in the middle of the field for a touchdown.

After dominating the first half, the Packers suddenly found themselves clinging onto an 8 point lead with a little less than 12 minutes to go.

I probably don’t even need to say much about this one. This is a bit different in that the Packers were bringing pressure, but the end result is the same. Ladarius Gunter [36] can’t hang with Dez Bryant [88] on a quick inside cut. Since the Packers are bringing pressure, there really isn’t anyone in the way of this throw. Dak Prescott [4] throws high and inside anyway, and Bryant – having the inside angle on Gunter – is able to go up and get it.

Jake Ryan [47] is rushing from the middle and gets shoved down the line. He makes a last ditch effort to jump up and block it, but he can’t get there. If this were a lower throw, Ryan may have been able to get his mitts on it. As it stands, the catch was made. After the two-point conversion, the Packers found themselves all tied up with the Cowboys with a little more than 4 minutes left on the clock.

Here is Aaron Rodgers’ [12] interception. It was his first interception since the Week 10 loss to the Titans in Nashville. When I saw this live, I assumed it was just a bad throw. Davante Adams [17] has a lot of room to the sideline, so a throw over his outside shoulder would give Rodgers a lot more room to fit this ball, and he would be throwing away from Jeff Heath [38].

The Cowboys are in Cover 3 Man Under. Rodgers starts by looking to his left, which moves Heath to the middle of the field. When he looks back to his right he sees Adams with inside position, so he throws down the field. Heath makes a great break on the ball and hauls in the interception.

There are a couple of things happening here. When Rodgers looks left, Heath drifts in that direction. Randall Cobb [18] is running a post out of the slot to the left of the line. It appears as though Heath turns his attention there. Cobb’s route takes him directly into Sean Lee [50] and the route cuts off. Once that route stops, Heath doesn’t need to pay attention to it anymore. If Cobb runs a deeper route – or breaks deeper to get around Lee – I believe Heath would have been forced to pay more attention to the middle of the field, which would have kept him from breaking back towards Adams to grab the interception.

I don’t know if Cobb was simply running a mid-curl or if he cut off his route once he ran into Heath, but the cut-off route in the middle of the field allowed Heath the opportunity to look back towards the boundary.

Rodgers read the coverage well. This was just a good, instinctive play by Heath. Rodgers could have put the ball further towards the sideline, but, with Adams running his route inside of his defender, it may have been tough for Adams to suddenly turn his head to the sideline and run under a pass to his outside shoulder.

Rodgers also could have put this ball a little further out in front of Adams, but, when your receiver has beat his man as badly as Adams has here, it’s always better to underthrow it a little instead of overthrowing it. A slight underthrow would still be a complete pass. A slight overthrow would be incomplete.

While this was a bad throw by Rodgers, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had originally thought.

THE GOOD

Let’s start off with one of my favorite plays of the game. Just like great plays in losses are forgotten because of the outcome, some great plays in wins are forgotten because they are followed with something bad. This particular play was followed moments later by Aaron Rodgers’ interception, but that doesn’t diminish this play.

The Cowboys were down 28-13 with 7:19 remaining in the 3rd quarter. They faced 2nd and 1 from the Green Bay 19 with a chance to get the game within 1 score with plenty of time remaining.

Terrance Williams [83] goes in motion pre-snap. Since no one followed him across the formation, that tells Dak Prescott [4] that the Packers are likely in zone coverage. Dez Bryant [88] and Cole Beasley [11] are stacked to the outside. When an offense gives a defense that stacked look, a defense playing zone has a tendency to sit back and wait for things to develop. That is what Prescott believes is going to happen here.

The throw is going to Beasley. At the snap, he steps back to catch the ball while Bryant steps up to block. Micah Hyde [33] reads it immediately. As soon as Prescott steps out from under center, Hyde cuts inside of Bryant to intercept the pass before Bryant or Beasley can get to it. It’s a great read and a perfect break on the ball. Were it not for a quick reaction from Bryant, this would have been a huge return for Hyde.

Apparently Ladarius Gunter [36] and Hyde both saw the same thing before the snap. Gunter pointed it out to Hyde, but Hyde was already reading it. Just a tremendous play. Hyde has made quite a few big plays during this winning streak. Let’s hope he’s able to keep it up for a couple more weeks.

Let’s just watch nothing but that jump for a while.

Lovely.

Kenny Clark [97] hasn’t been the force it was hoped he might be when he was taken in the first round. But he’s young (he turned 21 during the season) and he has shown enough flashes to make me believe he’s going to be very good.

This play is a great job of recognition by Clark. He starts this play in the middle. He splits Travis Frederick [72] and Ronald Leary [65]. They barely give him a glancing notice as they pull to the right. Clark notices this, then sees Ezekiel Elliott [21] running underneath the line. Without a moment of hesitation, Clark follows Elliott down the line and makes the tackle 2 yard loss. Terrific recognition from Clark and great athleticism to chase Elliott down the line.

With 0:44 left in the game, the Cowboys faced 3rd and 4 on the Packers 33. They were down 31-28. A 1st down here would keep their drive alive. They would be within striking distance for the game-winning touchdown, or they could run down the clock and kick the game-tying field goal as time expired. The Packers weren’t able to mount a consistent pass rush all game.

Dak Prescott [4] steps back to pass, looking left to right. Meanwhile, Clay Matthews [52] is starting off the left side and stunting over the top of Julius Peppers [56] to the middle. With Peppers taking up two blockers, Matthews has a free path to Prescott, but it’s not in time.

Nick Perry [53] is wide on the right. He runs deeper into the line than Matthews does, but the move is the same: a stunt over the top of Datone Jones [95] and into the middle of the line. Perry comes over the top of Jones and sees Prescott staring in his direction. Prescott hesitates for a split second before throwing, which gives Perry time to get in position, jump up and knock the ball down. With the ball falling harmlessly to the turf, the Cowboys kicked the game-tying field goal with enough time on the clock for a few huge plays from Aaron Rodgers and the offense.

I was curious about where Prescott was throwing, so let’s look at another angle.

Dez Bryant [88] is on the outside to the right, across from Ladarius Gunter [36]. The Cowboys are running a slants/flat route combo on that side, with Bryant running the slant from the outside and Ezekiel Elliott [21] running the flat from the slot. The Packers are in Cover 2 Man Under, so Gunter is man-to-man with Bryant. Bryant engages with Gunter, knocks him back a few steps, then disengages and cuts inside. With Elliott running to the sideline under Bryant and the left side of the Cowboys offense running outs and a go route, the middle is completely cleared out for Bryant. This is where Prescott is going. If Prescott is able to get this pass through the line, Bryant likely would have made the catch and would have had a lot of open room in the middle of the field.

Words can’t express what a huge play this was from Perry.

Since Jared Cook [89] got healthy in Week 11, he has been one of Aaron Rodgers’ [12] favorite targets in 3rd and long situations. On 3rd down and more than 6 yards to go, Rodgers has thrown to Cook 8 times, completing 6 passes and picking up 4 first downs. Most of those conversions seem to be about the same: Cook lines up just off the line or in the slot, drives straight up the field then runs an out. Rodgers throws the ball high and outside so the defender can’t knock it away. They’ve settled into a nice little groove.

On this play, Cook lines up off the right side of the line, across from Byron Jones [31]. Cook gets jammed at the line, but he’s strong enough to push Jones back and not get too delayed. He then drives down the field, dips his shoulder into Jones – to make sure he keeps outside positioning – then cuts to the sideline. Jones is able to stay in good coverage, but Rodgers throws the ball high and to the sideline. Cook is able to make the catch and pick up the first down.

To get a better angle on the throw, Rodgers breaks the pocket and runs to his right. He unleashes this rocket.

It’s an absolutely perfect throw. If he had stayed in the pocket, this throw would have been much more difficult. By breaking the pocket, he gives himself more of a direct line to Cook.

This is on a 3rd down conversion to Geronimo Allison [81]. You can see Allison in the middle: he starts on the left, runs a drag behind Jared Cook [89], doesn’t get open, so he reverses field and Aaron Rodgers [12] finds him for the first down.

I wanted to talk about this play just because I wanted to highlight the incredible job Bryan Bulaga [75] does. David Irving [95] is lined up wide on the right. Irving had a solid season. He only had 4 sacks, but he had 23 quarterback pressures (per Football Outsiders), which tied him for 27th in the league. That may not sound like much, but there were 125 players this year that had at least 10 pressures. Irving wasn’t always in the backfield, but he proved this season that he can be an absolute terror.

Irving drives into Bulaga, pushes him back then rips through and to the inside. It appears as though he has a clear path to Rodgers, but Bulaga recovers quickly and turns Irving back. It doesn’t look like much, but that’s because Bulaga is so smooth. Bulaga is never playing over his feet on this play; he has incredible balance. After Irving rips through, Bulaga is able to get his head back up, turn inside and head off Irving. It’s a stellar move that gives Rodgers the time he needs to complete this pass.

Corey Linsley [63] also gets a bit of a hold at the tail end of this, but he lets go before the flag comes out.

Meanwhile, David Bakhtiari [69] completely put the clamps on Benson Mayowa [93] on the left. The poor guy never has a chance.

If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for quick throws to Randall Cobb [18]. Cobb is in the slot to the right, across from Orlando Scandrick [32]. Scandrick starts the play close to Cobb on the line, but backs off before the snap. You can see Aaron Rodgers [12] glance over in that direction before the snap and see this.

This is a packaged play: the line is blocking for a run to the left for Ty Montgomery [88] and it’s up to Rodgers whether he wants to hand the ball off or throw a quick pass. After seeing Scandrick backing up, Rodgers had his mind made up. He takes one step back and whips the ball over to Cobb.

Cobb steps back and fades towards the sideline at the snap. That movement has Scandrick thinking that Cobb will be running into the flat, so he runs at Cobb’s outside shoulder. Instead, Cobb catches the ball and fires inside and up the field. That catches Scandrick out of position and Cobb is able to pick up a relatively easy 8 yards.

Let’s look at another completion to Geronimo Allison [81]. He starts this play in the slot to the right of the line, running a deep crossing route. He clears the linebacker on his side, but Anthony Hitchens [59] is able to wheel around from his spot in the middle to take away the easy throw. Allison is Aaron Rodgers’ [12] first read, but, after Hitchens closes the window, he is forced to move on.

Rodgers’ second read is Davante Adams [17] running a post on the outside to the right side. He gets inside Morris Claiborne [24], but Barry Church [42] slides over the top, closing the door.

Rodgers’ third read is Trevor Davis [11] on a corner route from the left side. He beats Brandon Carr [39] off the line to the inside before looping back to the sideline. The Cowboys are in Cover 2 Zone Under, so Carr simply backpedals and takes away the underneath throw to Davis. With J.J. Wilcox [27] coming over the top from the safety position, Rodgers has nowhere to go with the ball.

By this point, Rodgers feels pressure coming from his right, so he circles around and flees the pocket. Hitchens abandons his spot in the middle of the field to pursue Rodgers. Meanwhile, Allison – seeing that Rodgers has broken the pocket to the right – reverses field. With Hitchens no longer in the middle, Allison is wide open. Rodgers gets the pass off for a 26 yard gain.

This was an awkward tackle. We were all concerned that something terrible had happened to Allison’s knee, but he popped right back up. Kids these days, I tell ya.

On the right, Jared Cook [89] and Davante Adams [17] are running dual outs from the inside while Randall Cobb [18] is running a go route on the outside. Cowboys are in Cover 2 Zone Under. Aaron Rodgers [12] is looking for a quick throw to Adams, so he looks in that direction. He pump fakes, which draws Orlando Scandrick [32] from the outside, who drives in and pops Adams with a nasty hit to the head.

Scandrick abandoning the outside leaves Cobb a ton of open space before the safety can close. The pocket begins collapsing just as Cobb is breaking free, so Rodgers isn’t able to get the throw off. He flees the pocket and Cobb breaks deep. Rodgers gives Cobb a little hand motion and Cobb stops and comes back to Rodgers. Rodgers throws a bullet to the sideline just before he is crushed into oblivion. Cobb makes a tremendous sideline catch. It’s an incredible play. Let’s look at just the throw from another angle.

That’s insane. As he was releasing this ball, Joe Buck stated, “Rodgers just threw it away.” That kind of looked like what he was doing at the time, but he put it in a place only Cobb could make a catch.

With 0:30 left in a tie game, the Packers faced 2nd and 10 from their own 25. At this point, the Cowboys had 1 timeout remaining. If the Packers hadn’t picked up a decent chunk of yardage on this play, I assume they would have let the clock wind down and try to win the game in overtime.

The Packers are running a screen pass to Ty Montgomery [88] out of the backfield. He runs up like he’s going to block David Irving [95] and instead slips right by him. Corey Linsley [63] gets to the second level and blocks Justin Durant [56] to the inside. Davante Adams [17] is blocking Brandon Carr [39] downfield. Carr disengages with Adams and attempts to tackle Montgomery, but he’s too late and ends up taking out Lane Taylor [65] instead.

Montgomery follows Taylor down the field, cuts between Taylor and Adams and is able to get to the sideline. He goes out of bounds at the 42. It’s a huge pick-up of 17 yards in a big moment.

Touchdown party!

David Irving [95] jumps offside so Aaron Rodgers [12] gets a free play. Richard Rodgers [82] is in the slot to the left of the line, matched-up on Sean Lee [50]. Lee is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league, so I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but Richard Rodgers jukes Lee out of his boots. A quick step and head fake inside then stepping back outside and running up the field. Lee bites hard on the inside fake and Rodgers runs right by him.

In fairness to Lee, given Rodgers limited skill set, a 10 yard dig route seems much more likely than a go route.

Aaron Rodgers underthrows the ball, but that’s likely on purpose (much like the interception to Davante Adams we looked at above). Richard Rodgers has a few steps on Lee, so Rodgers can afford to underthrow the ball a bit. An overthrow means the ball would be incomplete; an underthrow gives Rodgers a shot.

Let’s look at it from another angle.

And one more time, from the broadcast.

Rodgers put the ball between Lee’s helmet and arm. Incredible.

Ty Montgomery [88] motions behind the line before the snap. Sean Lee [50] follows, telling the Packers the Cowboys are in man coverage. Since the Packers will be running Montgomery across the formation, Lee will be forced to cross the formation to make the tackle.

T.J. Lang [70] does a wonderful job taking out Lee. He chips Jack Crawford [58], then is able to quickly get to the second level and get a block on Lee. He’s not able to wall him off to the inside, but he is able to slow him down just enough.

Corey Linsley [63] is able to turn Terrell McClain [97] inside while Lane Taylor [65] is able to get upfield and block Anthony Hitchens [59] out. That action opens a sliver of room between Linsley and Taylor, and Montgomery is able to see it and squeeze through. Barry Church [42] tries to cut off Montgomery in the backfield, but he needs to step around Taylor to get there, which makes him a step too late. Lee – having been held up by Lang – is just a tad late to fill the hole. Montgomery is able to push his way into the end zone, with a little help from David Bakhtiari [69] and Jared Cook [89].

Man, just watch Corey Linsley [63]. He just jumps on Terrell McClain [97] in the middle of the field. They tell you to get your pads low for leverage, but sometimes things like this can happen. I like to think that Linsley let out a war cry while he was doing that, but I have no way of knowing that for sure.

David Bakhtiari [69] blocks out on Damien Wilson [57] while Jason Spriggs [78] blocks down on Benson Mayowa [93]. Aaron Ripkowski [22] flies through the hole and takes out Anthony Hitches [59].

All of that opens a large hole for Ty Montgomery [88] to run through. Sean Lee [50] is flying from the middle of the field and Lane Taylor [65] overruns the block, allowing Lee to get inside. He contacts Montgomery in the backfield, but Montgomery simply leaps through the tackle attempt and finds the end zone.

I like to imagine that Edgar Bennett shows up at every running back meeting, shows a 5 minute video of himself diving after every carry, looks everyone dead in the eye and leaves. Montgomery took that lesson to heart on this play.

Jason Spriggs [78] entered the game as an extra blocker on the left. Unless he’s playing due to an injury for someone else on the line, Spriggs doesn’t see much time unless it’s as an extra blocker on a run. Aaron Ripkowski [22] and Ty Montgomery [88] are behind Aaron Rodgers [12] in the I-formation. This is an extremely heavy package. No receivers are lined out wide, although Richard Rodgers [82] is on the left side of the line and Jared Cook [89] is on the right side of the line. It’s 1st and goal at the 3, so the Cowboys are thinking this is going to be a run.

At the snap, Ripkowski runs to the A gap on the left and Rodgers fakes to Montgomery behind him. That gets all the action flowing to the left. Cook blocks J.J. Wilcox [27] on the end of the line, then rips through and runs to the right corner of the end zone.

Rodgers sells this fake perfectly, going so far as to turn his back and delay his bootleg, as if he’s watching to see if Montgomery gets a touchdown. Finally he spins to the outside and finds a wide open Cook for a touchdown. It’s a great play call and perfect execution.

This play put the Packers up 28-13 with a little more than 11 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter.

Random Thoughts:

– On 3rd down, Aaron Rodgers was 6/9 for 123 yards. Every one of those completions picked up a 1st down. He was sacked twice.

– The Packers struggled a bit to put up points in the second half, but Rodgers’ numbers actually went up. His completion percentage jumped from 62.5% in the 1st half to 68.4% in the 2nd half. His yards per attempt jumped from 8.0 in the 1st half to 9.6 yards in the 2nd half.

– This is one of the best tackles I’ve ever seen.

– Trevor Davis got 5 offensive snaps in this game while Jeff Janis got 1. The tide is turning.

– Nick Perry has started petting his cast after making a big play and I’m here for it.

– I don’t like the way Jason Garrett chews gum. It makes me extremely uncomfortable.

– For those of you keeping track at home, I’m perfectly fine with a man petting a cast but not okay with a man chewing gum. I need someone to tell me what’s wrong with me.

– At one point the Packers were 4-6. That happened this season. This win put them in the NFC Championship Game. I still can’t quite believe what is happening, but it’s nice to be along for the ride.

– I just wanted to see that celebration one more time.


Albums listened to: Soda Shop – Soda Shop; The xx – I See You; Sparklehorse – It’s a Wonderful Life; The Explorers Club – Together; Tegan & Sara – The Con; Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards; Rihanna – Anti

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