Week 4 was not kind to the Green Bay Packers, particularly the defense.
Mike Pettine and the Packers defense strung together three solid weeks of run defense, only to see it collapse against the Eagles. Coming in, I knew Philly’s offensive line would be stout. Pro Football Focus graded out their line well. In fact, they had the Eagles offensive line as the second-best in the league.
It was the key matchup of the night. Personally, I have been quick to praise the Packers front seven all year long. They looked like one of the premier front seven units in the NFL. Both Za’Darius and Preston Smith had been playing well, Clark and Lowry were holding things down on the interior, and Martinez had flowed well to the ball and got the defense pointed in the right direction.
Although they looked impressive, the wheels fell off completely on Thursday night.
There is only one way to tell what went wrong, as is the same every week, and that is through film study.
Let’s start by discussing gap control. Gap control is the heart and soul of every run defense. The Packers are a 1-gap team, meaning every player in the front is responsible for their gap, and no one should run through it.
The Packers come out here in an under front in the base package. Lancaster, shade technique, is lined up to the strength of the offensive formation. Clark is in a backside three-technique, lined up to the weakside. Lowry is in a 5 technique or shaded outside of the tackle, and both Smiths are playing the edge and are responsible for forcing the play back inside.
The gap assignments should look like this:
- Preston Smith = Play contain.
- Dean Lowry = C gap.
- Tyler Lancaster = A gap.
- Kenny Clark = Backside B gap.
- Za’Darius Smith = Play backside contain.
- Blake Martinez = Playside B gap.
- B.J. Goodson = Backside A gap.
There are two things wrong with this play. First off, Lowry gets completely washed down by the extra tackle, who was substituted in for this “heavy” package. When a defensive lineman feels the pressure of a down block, he should widen his stance, get a good base and hold ground. The other alternative is to take out the blocker’s legs and “make a pile”, which forces the ball carrier to bounce the ball outside to the force players, in this case, it would be Preston Smith.
The second thing wrong is that Martinez gets cut off by the playside tackle. He did a decent job flowing to his gap, but I felt like he was a step too quick in his read. Thankfully, Savage reads it well and does a good job of coming downhill in run support.
Knowing The Assignment
A look Pettine likes to run out of the nickel is the under front. As opposed to the over, Clark will be lined up in a shade technique to the strong side of the offensive formation. Again, every player needs to know their gap before the ball is even snapped. Most players know their gap based on alignment. Since Clark is shaded to the strength, we know that his gap is the playside A. Gary is setting the edge, so we know that he’s playing the C. This leaves the playside B gap, which should be occupied by Blake Martinez.
Martinez struggled in this game. I felt like he was either a step too quick or too slow to the football. While he may have been reliable in the passing game, I didn’t feel too confident about his abilities against the run.
Notice as soon as the ball is snapped how he starts to drift to the playside A gap. This was already occupied by Clark. It doesn’t take an advanced mathematician to figure out how this is a bad scenario. Two players in the same gap mean that one is unaccounted for.
This all comes back to assignment football. If every gap is filled, then every player is doing their job.
Out Of Position
Mike Pettine has run this pinch stunt more often this year than any other line stunt. In a pinch look, both defensive ends are going to “pinch” inside, or stunt the inside gaps. This means that both Martinez and Amos have to play a touch wider to account for the B gaps. I like to see the Packers mix in line stunts, but after getting gashed time and again in this game, I felt like this wasn’t the right time for a call. On the other hand, I can see Pettine’s point of view. He wants to do something, anything, to throw off the offensive line. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen here.
I’m not entirely sure what Adrian Amos read on this play. Watch at the snap how he begins to widen out. My guess is that he was reading the tight end, who zone blocked towards the outside. Amos widened out, anticipating the zone run. Although he may have read it correctly, it took him completely out of the play, which I can’t completely fault him for.
I don’t like this play by Martinez at all. Again, he’s a step too late and gets cut off by the guard. I get that this will happen at times. An inside linebacker can’t beat the guard or tackle down block every play. However, I want to see how a linebacker will counter the down block. He needs to rip through that block and get to the playside. I didn’t see any of that by Martinez against this run. The guard was able to get both hands on him and drive him out of the play. What you really want to see is a linebacker take the inside arm and “rip” through the block, doing anything he can to separate himself from the block. The Eagles completely had their way with the Packers defense in this area.
The Packers have a tough test in week 5 as they take on another great rushing attack in the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have a stout offensive line and will be hungry coming off a loss to the Saints. Let’s hope that Mike Pettine and the defense had a good week of preparation as they look to turn things around.
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