The Packers officially wrapped up their regular season campaign last week with a thrilling victory over the Detroit Lions. The Packers offense has given fans a lot to cheer about this season, but they’ve also given us some causes for concern, especially in the passing game. There’s been a different feel in the air this season. It feels as if you never know which offense is going to show up on a given week. Some weeks, such as against Dallas, the offense thrived. In others, such as last week’s game against Detroit, it could never seem to get going.
The one look that has given the Packers passing attack fits year has been man coverage. When reviewing the tape, it seems as if this is the most frequent coverage call that defensive coordinators make when playing Green Bay. While there is no specific data to prove this, I just have a simple gut feeling that man coverage is what I see called every week when reviewing the film. As we take a look at the tape, I have a strong feeling that you will agree that the Packers have got to find answers in the passing game against this look.
Let’s start with this clip from the early part of the Packers week 17 game. The offense motions into a 3X1 set with Lazard and Adams running a mesh concept, a vertical route from the number 2 receiver and a dig route by the number 3. Up front, Rodgers has 6 man protection off of a quick three-step drop. Rodgers attempts to hit Valdez-Scantling on the go route by over-throws it.
The mesh is a great concept to run against man coverage. The goal of the mesh (or rub) is to get almost shoulder to shoulder and “rub” the defender away from the route. It puts the defense in a bind as they have to play the route over the top. The execution here is not what you want to see in the mesh. The defense is able to pick it up with ease. What the offense is wanting to accomplish here is to basically screen the defender running with the drag route. Space and timing are of the utmost importance.
Rodgers got a little too quick with his throw here. I’m curious as to why he didn’t hang on to the ball just a split second longer and let the routes develop. While Detroit did send pressure, it seemed like the Packers offense was able to pick it up easily after the nice block by Williams. Again, the mesh takes time.
Here’s another look from the 3X1 set, only this time under center. As you can see pre-snap, the defensive back runs with Lazard when he goes across in motion, giving away that it is man coverage. This is important for the offense, as they can check out of the call or adjust routes to run against the coverage look. This also shows how important motion is in an offense, as it can sometimes give away what coverage is being run.
I don’t like the call here at all, especially with 10 yards to go on an early down. Lazard does a nice job of running the comeback but doesn’t get enough separation from the defender. Adams runs a deep curl and Allison goes vertical. To me, the offense has got to be doing something to shake defenders or running concepts to free them up. Rodgers gets flushed from the pocket and tries to find his check-down with Jones as he runs in the flats. Plays like this are frustrating because they seem as if they are just wasted downs.
We haven’t seen much of the quads look (four receivers to one side) this season but LaFleur digs into the playbook and shows it here as the Packers offense marches down the field in Lions territory. The quads look is a great formation to get the defense to check out of a coverage or to isolate a receiver.
I like the route combination being run here. We see two routes breaking across the field with two routes going vertical. What I don’t like, though, is the throw from Rodgers. He ends up sailing this one out of the back of the end zone while it appeared that he had Adams breaking free across the field. The two vertical routes do a nice job of setting up the crossing look. By sending two deep, it can sometimes freeze the free safety and free up the middle of the field. With a player like Adams, I like those odds. Rodgers just seemed too trigger happy in this game. I understand wanting to make a big play, but at the same time, you want to take high percentage throws. Detroit does a good job of locking down the receivers, but I feel like this was one that the Packers offense could have won.
Again the offense motions to a 3X1 set and runs a play that is a great man coverage beater, only not so much in this situation. The route combination comes from the smash concept. Here is a diagram to help better understand the routes being ran:
While the formation is different in this diagram (empty rather than 3X1) the concept remains the same. The two routes you want to see in a smash look is a hitch and a corner route. You can see both of those routes being ran as the inside receiver runs the hitch and Lazard runs the corner route. The smash is effective against man coverage because defensive coaches teach their defensive backs to play inside leverage in man coverage, leaving them vulnerable to routes like the corner route (or any out breaking route for that matter). It also puts the free safety in a bind. He has to either honor the vertical route of the number three receiver or help on the corner route. As you can see from the video clip he has a brief moment of hesitation but plays it pretty well overall.
Again, the playcall is one that is good against man coverage but the execution isn’t there, and that ultimately was the theme of this game. I think Matt LaFleur has done a great job of calling plays to put the players in the best possible position to succeed against man coverage but it’s up to the players to execute. How do they do that? Timing, repetition, and communication. All three of those elements are essential to a successful passing attack.
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