Packer fans, it’s been too long since I’ve done an Xs and Os article.

This year I’ve tried to expand my writing and try different approaches, but nothing brings me back to my happy place quite like film study. One of my goals since coming on here to Pack To The Future was to help make Packer fans the smartest football fans in all of the NFL. So to those of you who look forward to my weekly film articles here at PTTF, don’t worry because there will be plenty from here on out.

In my goal to help make Packer fans the most educated fans throughout the league, film study is the number one source of knowledge to accomplish this goal. Sure, the casual fan can pick up some tidbits from the broadcast version of the game, but I know that there are plenty of people out there longing to dive deeper. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to do just that in this week’s film study.

This week I wanted to focus on the defensive side of the ball, specifically the linebackers. To my usual readers, this shouldn’t be a surprise, as many know that my love for defensive football runs deep. The reason behind championship teams’ success always falls on the shoulders of the defense. If the Packers want to have a championship-caliber team, it begins and ends with this side of the football.

The defense has been up and down all season. Some games the front 7 will have a great game against the run, other games they struggle to stop a nosebleed. The thing I’m looking for right now is consistency. I believe we saw a little bit of that as the Packers took on the Giants in week 13.

Blake Martinez hasn’t had the season that I anticipated he would. Sure, he’s leading the team in tackles, but it’s the little things that catch my eye. His run fits have continually been a cause for concern this season.

This play gives me hope that things are starting to trend upwards. The Giants come out here in an 11 personnel look, running the inside zone. The Packers counter it with their 23 front. As you can see, in the Packers front they have their interior defensive lineman lined up in both a 2 and 3 technique. The 2 tech is lined up head up over the guard, while the 3 tech is slightly shaded.

Martinez has the 2 tech (Clark) and edge (Za’Darius) lined up to his side, leaving him to cover the B gap. However, the running back changes his path shortly after receiving the handoff, meaning that Martinez has to redirect and help make the stop. Any time the run goes away, a disciplined linebacker knows he has to scrape over the top to help. I liked his positioning and lateral movement at the end of this play.

Any time a linebacker faces the run he knows he has to play it downhill. Any room for hesitation does nothing but give up ground the offense and leave a linebacker out of position. I didn’t like this play at all from Martinez. Notice how he anticipates the run coming to him. A middle linebacker never wants the running back to come to him, rather, he should meet the linebacker head-on in the gap.

Here is a much better job by Martinez playing the inside zone. His key in this look is going to be the running back. With an offset back, it is almost a dead giveaway to the defense as to where the play is going. Not many teams in the NFL will run the play back to the short side. Surprisingly, that’s exactly what happened here with Barkley.

It’s a good read by the running back. He sees the defensive front getting collapsed and decides to bounce it back to the short side of the field. Preston Smith gets beat by the tight end and gives up the edge, making a stop here even more crucial. Darnell Savage does a nice job blitzing from linebacker depth and making the stop, but what I wanted to focus on was the position of Martinez at the end of this play.

His initial read is correct, as he scrapes downhill towards the playside B gap. When the back changes direction though, Martinez changes with him and is able to rally and help get in on the play. Again, little things like this are a big improvement at the inside linebacker position.

When it comes to playing the run, the run fits is what everything boils down to. Each player needs to know who is responsible for what gap. In any scheme, teams will play the run using either a 2 gap or 1 gap look. Mike Pettine uses a combination of both in his defense, depending mostly on the front, but here he shows a 1 gap look.

The front shown here is an under front out of the nickel package. In an under front, the 1 technique (Clark) will be shaded to the strong side of the formation with a 3 technique (Lowry) playing backside. The run fits here are simple:

  • Clark plays the playside A gap
  • Martinez plays the playside B gap
  • Lowry plays the playside C gap
  • Preston Smith sets the edge

While the run fits to the playside look good, the biggest bust comes from the backside, as Goodson over-pursues this play and misses the cutback. Any time a play goes away from the Buc (weakside) linebacker, he must slide over and anticipate the cutback run. If he overpursues, it could mean bad news for the defense. Fortunately, this play was shut down, but I think it is worth noting that the Goodson has to play this more patiently. It can mean the difference between a 3 yard gain or a 15 yard gain.

Bottom line is that I’m not too sold on the Packers linebacker play just yet. While things are slightly improving week to week, there is so much work that needs to be done. The inside linebacker position is by far the weakest point of this defense. If the Packers really want to be that championship-style defense that I mentioned earlier, things have to start getting better at this position.

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