I’ve always said that I’d rather lose in a blowout rather than a nailbiter; in a blowout loss, there’s not just one play you can point to and say, “If this play had gone differently, we would have won.” When you lose 44-21, no one play would have made the difference.

That being said, playoff losses are never easy, especially when you’re only one game away from the Super Bowl.

We went to our favorite sports bar for this game, but we bailed once the game was obviously out of reach. Losses are hard, and they’re made even harder when you have a table of boisterous men sitting at the next table. So we retreated to my friend’s house to drink bourbon and lament the end of the Packers season.

I’m proud of this team for the way they rebounded after a 4-6 start. I had written them off after that loss to Washington. To watch them make a deep playoff run was truly unexpected. In time, I think the enduring image of this season will be watching the celebration after the Divisional Round win in Dallas.

The pain will fade. I hope you stick with me through this last, abbreviated Eye in the Sky of the 2016 season. I’ll be back next week with a year-end wrap up. I can’t wait.

Let’s get to the film.

In One Big Play this week, I went back to the Rodgers-to-Cobb play to win the Packers the NFC North Division in 2013. You can read that here.

THE BAD

I don’t want to take up too much time here, but I do want to point some things out. I’ll try to get through it quickly.

This was less than a minute into the game. It highlights some of the problems the Packers defense had, while also featuring a dropped pass from the Falcons. If I’m going to talk about some bad plays from the Packers in this game, I might as well kick it off with something also going less-than-perfectly for the Falcons.

Taylor Gabriel [18] is lined up wide off the right side of the line. The Packers are in Cover 3 Zone Under. Damarious Randall [23] is on the side of Gabriel. If you’ve been reading any of these articles this season, you’ll know that “Damarious Randall” and “zone coverage” are two phrases that have not played well together this year. This play is no different, but it’s not quite as bad on Randall as I had originally thought.

Randall is playing outside technique. He backpedals with Gabriel off the line, keeping his eyes on the line. Gabriel sells a post route. As soon as Randall bites on the route, Gabriel cuts towards the sideline.

Clay Matthews [52] comes very close to hitting Matt Ryan [2], but he’s steered a little wide and can’t quite get to Ryan. Ryan fires the ball before Gabriel is out of his break. The ball arrives on time and hits Gabriel in the hands, but it falls to the turf. It goes down as incomplete, but this should have been an easy 18 yard gain for the Falcons.

Randall did not play this well, but he could have played it perfectly and it wouldn’t have made a difference. As the deep defender, the general rule is to always be deeper than the deepest man on your side. Gabriel has a fair bit of speed, so it makes sense that Randall is giving him a bit of space, but he gives him a bit more space than he should. Still, with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] being taken away from the middle by Julio Jones [11] on the other side, Randall couldn’t sell-out to stop the sideline route or the post route would be wide open for a touchdown.

This is a perfect read and throw from Ryan. With no underneath defenders and Randall in outside technique, it would have been nearly impossible for Randall to do anything about this throw, even if he had played it perfectly.

When I was naming off Falcons weapons we needed to limit on this game, Patrick DiMarco [42] was not on that list. I guess that was my mistake.

Taylor Gabriel [18] starts this play on the right side of the line, but motions to the left pre-snap. That gets the defense thinking end-around. On top of that, Matt Ryan [2] fakes the hand-off to Tevin Coleman [26]. Those two things hold the defense to the left side of the field.

While all that is going on, DiMarco – in the fullback position – runs towards the line faking a block, then simply sneaks out to the right. After being on the receiving end of the playfake, Coleman runs through the middle of the line on a middle curl. Jake Ryan [47] picks up Coleman through the line, but no one pays any attention to DiMarco. Ryan has time to sit back and wait for the play to develop. When all is said and done, the Falcons pick up 31 yards.

The Packers are bringing pressure on this play, which works out in the Falcons favor. No one was back to pick up DiMarco out of the backfield.

The Packers are in Cover 1 Man Under, which also contributes to this. If they were in zone, someone would be on the side of the field DiMarco runs to. But Damarious Randall [23] is in coverage on Gabriel, which pulls him across the field. Micah Hyde [33] is in coverage on Levine Toilolo [80] and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] appears to be holding the edge against the possible end-around.

It’s a perfect call for the Falcons.

Packers in Cover 2 Pattern Match Zone. To the left of the line, the Falcons have (from left-to-right) Mohamed Sanu [12], Taylor Gabriel [18] and Julio Jones [11]. At the snap, Sanu runs a go route (covered surprisingly well by Clay Matthews [52] from the middle), Gabriel runs a deep dig and Jones runs a dig under Gabriel. Ladarius Gunter [36] is lined up across from Jones. He starts following Jones on the initial cut, then hesitates and steps back.

Let’s talk about Pattern Match Zone for a second. In the simplest terms, Pattern Match Zone is zone coverage with man concepts. The defenders read the routes of the receivers and react in man coverage once the receiver enters their zone. There are variations to this – of course – and those variations are important here. In one variation, a defender will use man coverage once a receiver enters his zone, then fall back into zone once the receiver leaves. In another variation, the defender will be in zone, read the breaks, then use man coverage on the receiver that will be entering his zone or has entered his zone. This second version is essentially zone at the beginning and man after the receivers declare their route intentions. It all gets a bit complicated, and I think that’s what happened here.

As I said, Gunter begins following Jones on the initial cut, then steps back. It looks like he believes the coverage calls for Joe Thomas [48] to drop off Gabriel and take Jones, while Gunter would drop back to pick up Gabriel. When Thomas doesn’t step up, Gunter tries to recover, but it’s not in time. Jones is wide open in the middle of the field with plenty of space to run into. Easy 19 yard gain.

Fake end-around with Randall Cobb [18] to distract the defense, then bam! Right up the gut with Aaron Ripkowski [22]. T.J. Lang [70] pulls across the formation to seal off the edge with Jared Cook [89], Corey Linsley [63] turns his man inside while Lane Taylor [65] and David Bakhtiari [69] turn their man out to open a huge hole in the middle. Ripkowski cuts back perfectly into the hole and picks up 12 yards, only to fumble the ball inside the Falcons 10 yard line. This one was a heartbreaker.

It’s a beautiful job of blocking up front, though. I’ve said this many times this season: everything went perfectly, until it didn’t.

THE GOOD

This was an ugly game, but there was some beauty to be found. Let’s take a minute to look at a few of those plays.

Mike Daniels [76] lines up in the B gap on the left. The Falcons are looking at hitting him with a double-team and blocking him outside, but Daniels beats that immediately with a quick slide-step to his left.

Directly to his right, Kenny Clark [97] does the same thing, deftly stepping around his man and getting into the backfield.

Devonta Freeman [24] gets the ball and finds that side of the line has been collapsed by two large men. Meanwhile, Datone Jones [95] gets an inside angle on his man, which opens a lane for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] to run through. Freeman attempts to cut it back across the line, but Clinton-Dix is there to shut it down.

In a game full of defensive breakdowns, I wanted to highlight one really good play from that side of the ball. Well done, gentlemen.

Falcons in Cover 1 Man Under. Packers are flat/corner combos on both sides of the line. The left side of the offense sees Ty Montgomery [88] running the flat route and Jordy Nelson [87] running the corner route. It’s a route combination that works well against this defense, but it could also work well against a zone.

You can see what happens. Montgomery’s curl route drags Brian Poole [34] shallow and to the sideline, while Nelson runs a corner route behind that. Nelson needs to beat Jalen Collins [32], and he does exactly that. With Poole being pulled towards the line of scrimmage, Aaron Rodgers [12] has a window to hit Nelson before Ricardo Allen [37] – the single-high safety – can get there. Nelson creates a decent amount of space out of his break for Rodgers to fit the ball. Rodgers releases the ball as Nelson is coming out of his break and the Packers pick up 27 yards.

Falcons in Cover 1 Man Under. Randall Cobb [18] is lined up in the slot on the right. At the snap, Cobb’s man comes on a corner blitz and he is picked up briefly by Jalen Collins [32] before giving way to Deion Jones [45] in the middle. Jones was up front biting on the small play action movement before wheeling around to cover Cobb on the crossing route, so he doesn’t have the best angle.

The pressure is collapsing the pocket, but Aaron Rodgers [12] is able to stand in, wait for the play to develop and deliver a strike to Cobb for 17 yards.

The Packers are running two routes on the outside, as well as Aaron Ripkowski [22] on a delayed release through the middle. With the Falcons in man coverage, that clears out a nice big throwing lane from Rodgers to Cobb.

I can’t see the number of the defender that originally starts over Cobb, but he looks like he’s going to be man-to-man with Cobb before peeling off to fall into a zone under Jordy Nelson [87]. Just a small example of a little wrinkle in an otherwise straightforward defense.

Let’s double-up on Randall Cobb [18] catches.

Aaron Rodgers [12] feels pressure coming from the back side, so he rolls to his right. Jared Cook [89] is running a drag/curl from the left side of the line. With the Falcons in zone and some deeper routes taking the attention away from the short middle, Cook is able to run free and sit in an open spot of the field. Rodgers could throw to Cook while rolling, but he’s not in any immediate danger, so he continues to look down the field for something else to open up.

Cobb is running a deep dig from the slot on the right side of the line. Once Rodgers flees the pocket, coverage starts to break down. Cobb comes back to Rodgers’ side of the field and looks for a spot that would allow Rodgers a throwing lane. He finds a a spot and sits in it.

Cobb’s man eventually peels off to cover Cook. With a linebacker closing on Cook from the middle, Cobb can’t stay where he is and still have an open throwing lane, so he shadows his man across the field to keep that window open.

Rodgers whips a pass into the field across his body – a big no-no – and somehow fits it between two defenders. It’s a 22 yard gain.

Here’s the throw from another angle.

Rodgers should have thrown this ball to Cook earlier in the play. While he was looking downfield, his easy option was taken off the table for him, so he had to make a spectacular play.

Part of me wishes he had made the easy throw to Cook, but another part of me was glad he was forced to make this play, because it’s so much fun to watch. Still, if you’re looking for high-percentage plays to help consistently move the offense downfield, this isn’t it.

Touchdown Party. Not as much of a party today, though. It’s a Sad Touchdown Party.

Slant/flat combo on the left with Davante Adams [17] as the slant and Jared Cook [89] as the flat. Man, I love me a good slant/flat combo.

Not much to it. There’s no help on that side, so the read is pretty easy. If it’s man, hit the slant. If it’s zone, hit the flat.

You can see Aaron Rodgers [12] looking over in that direction for a couple beats before throwing. Cook stutter steps up the field before running the flat. It’s man coverage, which vacates the middle of the field. Adams takes a short jab step to the outside before cutting inside. With the middle open, Rodgers throws low-and-away to Adams. Adams gets a bit of separation, which makes it an easy throw, but it could still be knocked away if Rodgers puts it on the body of Adams. Throwing away from Adams ensures the defender won’t be able to knock the ball away, while throwing low assures that the safety in the middle of the field won’t have a chance to try to separate Adams from the ball. This throw gives Adams a chance to catch the pass and protect both himself and the ball.

Isolated route for Jordy Nelson [87] to the right of the line. It’s 1st and goal and the defender is thinking about a fade to Nelson. Nelson plays to this. He takes a couple quick steps out and up the field to sell the fade. The defender bites hard. Once he turns, Nelson jerks the route back inside. It’s such a violent reversal that the defender falls down.

The throw is a little behind Nelson, but I think that’s due to Ricardo Allen [37]. There’s a clear throwing lane to Nelson early, but Allen is coming on a delayed loop from the middle. If Aaron Rodgers [12] leads Nelson to the middle of the field, Allen could potentially get a hand on this pass. Throwing slightly behind Nelson makes for a harder catch, but there’s no chance of Allen getting a hand on the pass this way.

Random Thoughts

– The Falcons faced 9 third downs in the first half and they threw every single time. Matt Ryan was 8/9 (88.9%) for 84 yards (9.3 yards per attempt) and 2 touchdowns for a QB Rating of 145.1. Every completion either went for a first down or a touchdown.

– On throws to the deep portion of the field (15+ yards), Aaron Rodgers was 5/8 (62.5%) for 127 yards (15.9 yards per attempt).

– Defense was an issue in this game, and I heard a lot of talk afterwards about how bad Aaron Rodgers’ defenses were in comparison to Tom Brady’s defenses. I decided to take a look at that, but I wanted to expand it a bit. I looked at points scored for and against Tom Brady’s Patriots teams in the playoffs, but I added in a few other quarterbacks as well. I basically just took a few quarterbacks that have seen their team make multiple playoff runs. It’s an incomplete list, but I was working with limited time.
I had originally created a chart based solely on points for and points against, but I quickly realized that method ignored any scoring done by the defense and special teams. For an example, take Nick Collins’ pick-six in the Super Bowl against the Steelers in 2010. The final score of that game shows the Packers offense scoring 31 points and the defense giving up 25 points, but that’s not quite right. Since the defense accounted for a touchdown – and the subsequent extra point – the offense was really only responsible for 24 points in that game. Rodgers and company don’t get credit for that pick-six since they weren’t even on the field when it occurred.
On the other side of the coin, the Steelers defense didn’t get charged with the 7 points the Packers put up. I took those out of the points against, since the defense didn’t give up those 7 points.
This chart reflects those adjustments. The points scored subtract any points scored by the defense, while the defense doesn’t get charged with any points scored against them when they weren’t on the field.
Since every quarterback has played in a different number of playoff games, I went with an average instead of a total.
Enough talk. Here’s the chart:

Whether it took place in a win or a loss, Aaron Rodgers’ teams scored more points and had more points scored against them than the others on this list.

I wanted to go one step further to show exactly how much each quarterback benefited from defense and special teams points.
Like the above chart, I used averages.

Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger are the only people who had more defense/special teams points scored against them than for them, but I decided to go one step further. If a quarterback threw a pick-six, I wanted to hold that against them. After all, if the quarterback directly contributed to those points, I wanted to make sure they got dinged for them. I’m petty like that.
Go back to Collins’ pick-six in the Super Bowl. Roethlisberger threw that pass, so he doesn’t get the benefit of those 7 points: they’re added back to his points against total.
If we count pick-sixes against the quarterback who threw them, Rodgers is the only quarterback who has not benefited from defense/special teams points, while Russell Wilson is far-and-away the leader. His defense/special teams has averaged 2.33 points in his playoff starts.

One interesting note: in all the playoff games these guys have played, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson are the only quarterbacks that have thrown pick-sixes in the playoffs. Roethlisberger has thrown 4 (in 20 games) while Wilson has thrown 1 (in 12 games).

– I don’t have much else to say about this game. The Falcons have a very good offense and the Packers had a very bad defense. We needed things to break our way a bit to pull this out, and all of those breaks went against us. It wasn’t the best way to end a season, but the previous 8 weeks sure were a lot of fun.


Albums listened to: Kanye West – The Life of Pablo; Escondido – Walking With A Stranger; Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s – The Bride on the Boxcar: A Decade of Margot Rarities 2004-2014; Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Summer of Fear

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