The band got back together this weekend. My youngest brother had not been able to watch a game with us for quite a while, but his schedule recently changed. So we put on our Sunday finest and met at our favorite sports bar. We ate too many wings and loaded nachos and were able to take in yet another insane victory. For a few hours I got to forget about my job and all the work I have left to do on my house and just watch the best quarterback on the planet engineer a late victory. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday.

Let’s get to the film.

I wrote about the Aaron Rodgers scramble and Davante Adams touchdown in this week’s One Big Play. You can read that here.

The Bad

On their first possession, the Cowboys faced 3rd and 13. Naturally, they converted it, with a 49 yard pass to Brice Butler [19]. But the how? Ah buddy…the how…

The Packers come out in a single high look, with Kentrell Brice [29] as the lone deep man. At the snap, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] – who started the play in the box – wheels around and takes up his spot as the second deep safety. Even though they gave a single-high look, the Packers were disguising their true defense: Cover 2 Zone Under.

It’s 3rd and 13, so just take a look at the underneath defenders. There are five of them, all hovering around that first down marker. With the Packers rushing four men, that leaves only two men to occupy the space further than 13 yards down the field.

As it so happens, the Cowboys send three receivers deep on this play.

Watch Clinton-Dix as he drops back: he’s caught between Butler running a post out of the slot and Dez Bryant [88] running a go route on the outside. Combine that with the fact that he started close to the line and had to bail at the snap, he never had a chance to stop this. If he runs with Butler, Bryant is free down the sideline. If he runs with Bryant, Butler is open on the post.

Clinton-Dix could play this a bit better, but he can’t win even if he commits to either Butler or Bryant immediately. One of them is going to burn him.

I know I’ve already said this, but starting close to the line does him no favors. I kind of talked about this a little in Week 1, although in a different context. It’s tough to read what the offense is doing when you’re essentially in recovery mode from the time the ball is snapped. Clinton-Dix has to read the deep routes of two receivers on his side and decide which way he needs to break, all while bailing to his deep position at the snap. That’s not a shortcoming on Clinton-Dix, or him playing this incorrectly: that’s the defensive playcall. Clinton-Dix didn’t decide to start at the line. He didn’t put himself in that position; that was just the call.

Speaking of the call, I don’t think this was a failure of any of the players. I believe the Packers were playing tendencies. It could be that the Cowboys had never sent three receivers deep on 3rd and 10+ during the Scott Linehan era. So they dropped five men to the sticks, assuming they wouldn’t get beat deep. Then they got beat deep. I don’t know if this is what happened, but it’s a semi-educated guess.

Kevin King [20] has been impressive so far, but he’s still a rookie so he’s going to take his lumps.

His lumps here come at the hands of Dez Bryant [88]. They are at the top of the screen. King is playing straight-up on Bryant. With Bryant set out as the lone wideout and the Packers with a single high safety, King isn’t getting any help on any underneath throw.

The Cowboys are running a slant/flat route combination to that side, with Bryant running a slant over the flat route from Terrance Williams [83].

At the snap, Bryant runs directly at King, selling a go route. King turns to run with Bryant at the exact time Bryant cuts to the middle. Dak Prescott [4] waits until Bryant clears Josh Hawkins [28] covering Williams in the flat and the Cowboys pick up an easy 13 yards on 1st and 10.

This isn’t terrible from King, but it’s something to keep an eye on. He did the same thing against AJ Green a couple weeks ago. I don’t mean to pick on King for this, as Green and Bryant are both terrific receivers and King is a rookie. I think he’ll be fine. Like I said, it’s something to keep an eye on.

2nd and 9. On the right, Randall Cobb [18] is running a dig over a flat route from Davante Adams [17]. Given the way Cobb pauses at the top of his break, I think this was supposed to create a natural rub. Adams’ defender jams him at the line, preventing Adams from getting to his mark. Because of this, the defender is not as far up the field as he’s supposed to be.

This ball is supposed to come out quick, but the quick throw to that side isn’t there. Aaron Rodgers [12] goes to his second read, but the pocket has begun to break down by that point. He escapes and throws the ball away.

If Rodgers had kept looking to the right for another split second, he would have seen Cobb with a sliver of space just past the defender of Adams. Unfortunately, he did not.

The Good

I said something bad about Kevin King [20] up above and I wanted to make it up to him. This was the first play of the game. The Cowboys were trying to pick up some easy yards and get Ezekiel Elliott [21] going, but King was having none of it.

Packers are in Cover 2 Man with zone concepts. King is one of those “zone concepts.” His job here is to hold the edge. He sits back, reads the play and reacts as soon as the ball is released. He comes screaming down the field and makes a terrific tackle on Elliott, before he can even really attempt to get upfield.

The Cowboys are setting up a nice screen to that side. If King had hesitated, he would have been taken out by Travis Frederick [72] pulling from the center position. King’s quick reaction to this led to a loss of 4.

With 0:18 left in the first half, the Cowboys held a 21-12 lead. Things were looking good for them, but the Packers would get the ball to start the second half, so some points here would be big. On 1st and 10, Nick Perry [53] easily beats Tyron Smith [77] off the right side the line, stripping the ball out of the hand of Dak Prescott [4], who was getting ready to throw. He’s looking to his left.

To the left, we have Dez Bryant [88] running a dig over a curl-and-out route from Ezekiel Elliott [21] out of the slot. Prescott is winding up to throw as Bryant is coming out of his break. Josh Hawkins [28] is on Bryant. Bryant pushes upfield and forces Hawkins to backpedal. Hawkins is still in his backpedal when Bryant cuts in, leaving Bryant wide open.

The strip-sack by Perry stopped Prescott from getting this ball to Bryant. If he had been allowed to release this pass, it would have been at least a 15 yard gain, and would have given the Cowboys a shot at a field goal to close the half.

Because it didn’t happen at the end of the game, the significance of this play is getting overlooked. But make no mistake; this was a huge play.

2nd and 10. The Cowboys offensive line devotes three men to shove Mike Daniels [76] and Kenny Clark [97] out of the middle. They act suddenly and without mercy – and with a little bit of holding on Clark – and accomplish their task. Nick Perry [53] is the lone man on the right, and he is blocked out by Tyron Smith [77]. The middle has been cleared.

But wait! Blake Martinez [50] shoots through the hole created by all that movement. Zack Martin [70] is the pulling guard, but Martinez shoots the gap before Martin can get there. Martinez slips past Martin and forces Ezekiel Elliott [21] to make a move and cut as soon as he gets the ball.

Meanwhile, Quinten Rollins [24] is shooting the gap from the slot. He runs over Martin and under Jason Witten’s [82] block on Josh Jones [27], crushing any hope Elliott may have had of escaping the confines of the backfield.

Great play by Martinez and Rollins. Martinez has really stepped up his game this year. He still bites harder on play action than I would like, but I have faith he’ll overcome it. He has been tremendous in the run game.

I don’t have anything eye-opening to say about this – Dak Prescott [4] throws too hard to a spot Terrance Williams [83] was not ready for and Damarious Randall [23] was in a good spot to capitalize on it – but I will always love posting pick-sixes.

1st and 10. I love me some good misdirection. Or, at least, the illusion of misdirection.

Before the snap, Randall Cobb [18] steps back from his spot and runs behind Aaron Rodgers [12]. The Cowboys are in zone, so no one follows him across the formation. Martellus Bennett [80] lining up off the right side of the line stops the linebacker from widening his drop to get a better angle on the streaking Cobb. At the snap, Bennett runs a curl, holding the linebacker to that spot. The playfake to Aaron Jones [33] to the left side of the line holds that side of the defense in place.

Jordy Nelson [87] runs straight down the field and blocks on the end, not starting his block until the exact time Cobb catches the ball. Great timing. I assume most things timed this perfectly are an accident, but perhaps that’s the pessimist in me.

I love how Cobb changes speeds. Starts off slow, breaks into a sprint as he breaks behind Rodgers, slows back down to look back for the pass and turns it on again with the ball in his hands.

I say “the illusion of misdirection” because the Packers are using the motion of Cobb to draw the eye of the defense, then end up throwing to him anyway. The defense can’t sell out on Cobb because that’s just part of the play: if they sell out to the right side, a handoff to the left to Jones or a throw to Davante Adams [17] on the left would kill them.

The Packers have this on film. Defenses will see this and know he has thrown to Cobb in the past. Maybe they cheat a little in that direction the next time and the Packers run a counter to that. Set up your tendencies then run counter to those established tendencies. That’s how you use plays like this from your past to create big opportunities in your future.

The Packers didn’t really wait to run a counter to that concept. The first play happened on 1st and 10 in the 1st quarter. This play happened on 4th and 1 in the 3rd quarter. The set-up is different on this so I don’t mean to compare the two, but they have Randall Cobb [18] running behind the line before the snap as a misdirection, then run counter to it. Aaron Rodgers [12] is behind center this time, so the fake is a jet sweep. The Cowboys appear to be in zone, but Jourdan Lewis [27] initially runs with Cobb across the line before passing him off to Orlando Scandrick [32].

It’s 4th and 1 and the Cowboys have stacked the box. By moving Cobb across the formation, the Packers drag the edge defender to the middle of the field, leaving Anthony Brown [30] as the sole defender on that side. Brown is lined up across from Martellus Bennett [80], and Bennett handles him easily.

With the edge defender gone, the Packers run a perfectly executed pitch to Aaron Jones [33] running to the left. The block from Bennett gives him plenty of room to operate, and late block from Lane Taylor [65] on the edge makes sure Jones won’t be taken down from behind.

A great call in a big moment.

On the right side, you will see Randall Cobb [18] in the slot and Davante Adams [17] on the outside. At the snap, it looks like they may be running a slant/flat combo. Adams certainly does a good job selling it on his initial cut, before he violently reverses back to the outside, leaving Anthony Brown [30] grasping at air. Adams beats Brown so bad that Brown tries to get a defensive holding call and isn’t even in a position to do that. It’s a terrible, horrible thing Adams did to Brown and I love it so much I would like to propose to it as soon as I save up enough for a ring.

Aaron Rodgers [12] drops in a gorgeous throw over Adams’ shoulder and the defender never has a shot.

Now take that last play and think about it in relation to this play. Same set-up: Cobb in the slot, Adams on the outside. Adams runs straight at the outside shoulder of Brown, gives a move like he’s going outside, then cuts back inside. Meanwhile, Cobb runs into the flat, dragging his defender to the boundary.

Brown has already been beat for a touchdown by Adams from this kind of look, so he’s back on his heels a bit. When Adams cuts inside, Brown recovers pretty well, but Adams has created space and Rodgers gets rid of the ball on time.

When you can execute slant/flat like this it opens up for the fake, and vice versa. Having a player with feet as quick as Adams is crucial to being able to do things like this.

Ah yes. The Lance Kendricks [84] special. Packers come out in a heavy look on 2nd and 4. Play action draws the defense up, and Kendricks simply runs behind the line of linebackers and in front of Orlando Scandrick [32], who is covering Davante Adams [17] deep.

The Packers go with a levels concept here: basically, a few receivers in the same line of sight, running their routes at different levels. Adams is deep, Kendricks is middle, Aaron Jones [33] is shallow. Rodgers can look to his left and read the defensive keys on three different receivers. Once he sees Scandrick going deep and the linebackers pulling up on Jones, he knows he can hit Kendricks.

Jordy Nelson [87] is running a post from the right, drawing the attention of the safety and ensuring he won’t be able to get over to Kendricks. If that safety keys in on Kendricks, Rodgers has Nelson man-to-man on a post to a vacated middle.

I have zero analysis to add to this. I just wanted to watch this insane throw and catch on a loop. Rodgers is running, takes no time to load up and delivers an absolute dime in a place only Bennett can reach it.

Let’s look at the touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson [87] real quick. First of all, this little hand motion occurs pre-snap when Nelson is lined up wide. Keep that in mind and look for it in the next gif.

That little hand motion moves Nelson from outside into the slot. That might not seem like much, but keep an eye on what that does for the positioning of Anthony Brown [30] on the outside. Brown is turning to look into the backfield – signaling zone coverage – but he’s lined up across the line from Nelson. When Nelson moves into the slot, Brown is aligned outside of Nelson. That leaves Brown on Nelson’s outside shoulder and Byron Jones [31] as the deep safety to the inside.

I don’t know what the call was initially, but I’m assuming that the hand motion not only changed Nelson’s position pre-snap, but also changed the route to a post. That makes the read for Aaron Rodgers [12] pretty easy. He’s looking to see what Jones does on the playfake and what Brown does at the snap. Jones biting on the playfake means he can’t undercut Nelson’s post, and Brown holding down the zone on the outside means Nelson’s post will easily beat Brown on the inside.

Just because Rodgers maneuvered Nelson where he needed him doesn’t mean the throw was easy; he still has to throw between Jones and the dropping Justin Durant [52] in the middle. Rodgers has a quick release and a terrific fastball, so he’s able to fit this between the defenders. Durant gets his hand up, but it’s just out of reach.

Terrific, next-level quarterback play from Rodgers right here.

Let’s look at a couple runs from Aaron Jones [33] before we get out of here for the day.

Gets deep up to the line before cutting outside. He’s kind of hiding behind the taller Jahri Evans [73] as he cuts, so Anthony Hitchens [59] doesn’t pick it up until late.

Once he gets outside, he hits Byron Jones [31] with a slight shoulder-shake that gives Jones a second of pause. That creates enough separation to cut to the outside – and under the block from Jordy Nelson [87] – to pick up extra yards before being brought down. Excellent vision and running in the open field. Also, a great job by Lane Taylor [65] and Lance Kendricks [84] to collapse the edge and allow Jones a clear path to get outside.

Jones takes the handoff out of the shotgun and reads the line. There’s a sliver in the middle that he runs towards but has a nice jump cut at the line behind the block of Jahri Evans [73] and in front of the block of Martellus Bennett [80]. Immediately after that cut, he cuts back under the block up the field by Bryan Bulaga [75]. After that, he just runs straight to the end zone. Great vision and decisiveness in his cuts to follow his blocks in a tight space.

It’s worth pointing out that Bulaga does a great job here. He helps Evans seal Maliek Collins [96] in the middle before bouncing out and keeping Jaylon Smith [54] on the outside. The timing on those blocks is crucial.

Jones follows the line to the left before cutting back across the formation. Great seal block by Martellus Bennett [80] on Damontre Moore [58] to help spring Jones into the open field. Again, he doesn’t cut until he’s close to the line, helping to hide him and also not telegraphing his intentions to the defense.

On this one, Jones doesn’t have to do any fancy footwork. He takes the handoff out of shotgun and simply keeps running in the same direction. Corey Linsley [63] and Jahri Evans [73] seal off the inside while Bryan Bulaga [75] directs Demarcus Lawrence [90] into the backfield. Evans gets up to the second level to seal Justin Durant [52] and Jones has a lot of room to work with.

This was on the Packers final drive. It was 2nd and 10 with 0:45 remaining in the game. Not only was Jones able to pick up the first down, he was also able to get out of bounds. Huge play.

Lastly, just look at this catch. I brought this up on Twitter and he said this goes back to his wide receiver days in high school. So big up to Burges High School for this, I guess.

Random thoughts

Probably not a surprise, but Rodgers closed this game extremely well. Prescott? Not so much.

Not surprisingly, the Cowboys tried their hardest to run out the clock in the 4th quarter. As it turns out, all that did was give them less time to come back from the inevitable Rodgers dagger.

Rodgers and Prescott had the exact same QB Rating on deep passes, but Rodgers fared better than Prescott in the short game.

In the passing game, the Packers did the majority of their damage when targeting the short left portion of the field. When targeting that zone, Rodgers was 9/13 for 79 yards and a touchdown.

The Cowboys fell behind on 1st and 2nd downs, but more than made up for that with their performance on 3rd down. That’s not a sustainable way to operate, but it worked pretty well in this game.


Albums listened to: Richard Edwards – Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset; Molly Nilsson – Imaginations; St. Vincent – Masseduction; Beck – Colors; Frightened Rabbit – Recorded Songs; William Patrick Corgan – Ogilala; Wolf Parade – Cry Cry Cry

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