There are two downs in the game of football that teams always want to win; first and third. If you look at it from an offensive standpoint, teams want to do well on first down because it sets the tone for the entire series or drive. There are a lot of elements to look at when evaluating first down play calls. If a team wants to throw the ball more than that means that they could potentially get sacked and ruin a drive. It also means that they want to take a risk through the air which could pay big dividends on that series. If a team wants to run the ball more, it may mean that they are more conservative and don’t want to take a big chance. However, a big run on first down can establish a powerful running attack on a series.
This is an area of the Packers offense that I have been evaluating the last couple of weeks. With news coming out about McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin wanting to revamp the offense I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to dive into this topic. Throughout the article I will talk about not only opening drive plays on first down, but also other first downs throughout the series. The only plays I will exclude is goal line plays.
Lets take a look at a first down play ran inside the 30 yard line. The Packers are closing in on the red zone here so McCarthy keeps it on the ground and plays it safe. The Bengals come out in a base 4-3 under look. The nose tackle is shaded on the center and there #90 is the short side end shaded on the tackle. Looking at the play pre-snap it seems as if the B gap is the most vulnerable spot in this front, which is exactly where the offense runs it. #59, the Will linebacker, is the one responsible for filling the gap. You can tell this because of where the nose tackle and end are shaded. If they are shaded than it is a giveaway that they are responsible for that gap.
Notice the job by Lane Taylor on this running play. He does an outstanding job of getting to the play-side shoulder of the linebacker and working his body around him, giving Montgomery a clear running lane for a nice gain. The thing that stood out to me about this first down call is that they ran it to the short side of the field. Most offenses would run to the wide side. The defense is adjusting the strength of the formation to the wide side so it was a perfect opportunity for the Packers to run to the short side of the field.
Here’s another running play on first down, only this time it wasn’t as successful. This play was a drive opener unlike the previous clip I showed. The Packers come out in a 3×1 set with an off back. The 3 receiver side, along with the back, could cause some problems for the defense if the Packers went to the air. The thing they would be worried about is having 4 potential receivers flood one area and not having defenders be able to match it. This has me thinking that this play must be a pre-snap read. If you look at the box pre-snap there are 6, maybe 7, players who could get in on the play. The player I am skeptical of is the strongside linebacker, who is lined up outside of the defensive end. This is a difficult block for the tackle as the end shoots inside the gap. Not good angles and not a good way to start a drive off.
Here is the end zone angle to give you a better idea of how that play looked. The offense again is going to run this to the short side. If you take a look at the short side the Packers could have a possible 3 on 3 situation which would put Montgomery 1 on 1 with #36. Bulaga on the defensive end, Evans on #90, and Corey Linsley would have to cut off the middle linebacker. The difficult block would have to come from Lane Taylor. He would have to throw his body in front on #97 and cut him off. Unfortunately 97 and the end. #58, make the play.
Motion is always a good way to throw off defenses on first down. Richard Rodgers motions to the fullback position from the slot on this play. This can get defensive personnel out of position. If Cincinnati had a defensive back on Rodgers in the slot it would force him to bump over into the box and try to defend the run. This could put a bigger body on a small defender. The Packers didn’t pull many lineman on first down in this game but Evans is used here to pull around and lead up into the hole for Jamaal Williams.
Here is a play that I liked to open up a drive. The Packers come out in a 3×1 formation to the wide side of the field. The back is offset to the left which gives 2 potential receivers to one side and 3 to the trips side. Geronimo Allison runs a nice snag route while the other 2 push vertically down the field. Allison lines up as the # 2 man and breaks cleanly off the other routes. The 2 vertical routes is enough to drag the corner and nickel defender out of the play which gives Allison a good path.
The breakdown and change of direction are impressive by him on this play and gets the defender out of position. Bennett (I almost hate to even mention the name) breaks out after about 10 yards so his route is more of a flag route but starts off looking like he will continue to go vertical. You can see the linebacker, #57, start to gain depth in order to honor the route ran by Bennett which also opens up the snag route for Allison. It’s a good safe call on 1st down with a lot of choices to go to. Had the nickel and linebacker played the snag then Rodgers could have hit Bennett on his route.
Again the offense comes out in a 3×1 set, only this time with the back towards the 3 receiver side. This was more of an aggressive play call by McCarthy in my mind as he sent 3 receivers down field. A beautiful wheel route by the tight end and nothing but green grass in front of him. The other 2 receivers are going vertical with Nelson breaking off his route at about 25 yards. This sets up nicely for the wheel look. The nickel settles to play the flare route ran out of the backfield and it puts the entire secondary in a mess. It looks almost as if Cincinnati was running a quarter-quarter-half split field coverage, known as cover 6. If all else is taken away down field then Rodgers always has the drag route ran at the top of the screen. The best call is one that utilizes every player on the field. He has options for whatever the defense wants to run in the secondary.
I know that Mike McCarthy and new offensive coordinator Joe Philbin will have some good stuff up their sleeves this coming season and this is one particular situation I would like to see improve for the Packers offense. It could be pounding the rock on 1st down or going to the air, either way I hope to see the Packers establish themselves on the offensive side of the ball and get back to being the offensive machine that we are so accustomed to seeing in Green Bay
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Go Pack Go!