The Green Bay Packers came into their week 9 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers heavy favorites. By the time the final gun had sounded, the Packers were wondering what in the world happened.
The game didn’t start out quite as expected. Presnap penalties killed a couple of drives early on. Through much of the first half and well into the second, the Packers defense added to the inefficiency of the day as they had no answer for the Chargers passing attack as well as the run. The Packers defense has been the backbone of the team this season, much to the surprise of the Packer faithful. The offense has been headlined for years as the unit that carried this team, but from week one on, the defense has been the one to put the Packers in position to win games.
Sadly, that wasn’t the case on Sunday. This game had almost the same feel like the Packers week 4 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. The defense didn’t have an answer for the Eagles offense that game. Philly seemed to be able to do whatever they wanted against the Packers defense with ease. In that game, much of their success came on the ground. Against LA, it was the pass that hurt that Packers.
The Mesh Concept
One particular route combination that game the Packers defense fits was the mesh. The mesh concept uses two receivers running across the field, usually to “rub” a defender off of one receiver. Watch here as the Chargers start out in an empty set using both of their number 2 receivers to run the mesh.
The Packers start out in a single-high look. Single high coverage usually means that the defense will either be running cover 1 (man coverage, 1 player free) or a cover 3 (3 deep zone). On this particular play, the defense goes with a cover 1 look. As you can see, as soon as the mesh is run it throws off the defense. This is the same look that gave the defense problems against Kansas City. The best way to combat this is to give a “gator” call as soon as the receivers break in, which allows the players in coverage to pass off their receiver to one another. The key to this is communication. The best defense is a talking one. Lack of communication could have been the reason why we have seen so many players being left wide open.
Another thing that helps eliminate the threat of a big gain off of a mesh concept is the inside linebacker rerouting a receiver. While the rules in the NFL may prevent a linebacker from being as physical as he wants to, he can still slow down a receiver by getting a hand on him or make the receiver alter his path. Anything to help throw off the timing helps in this scenario. This play was just too easy for the offense.
Phillip Rivers seemed to find the holes in the Packers secondary for much of the afternoon. The quick passing game led to some big plays and set up scoring drives for their offense. Plays like the one shown above are just one example.
The Packers again show a single-high look, only this time we see a rush from the nickel. Mike Pettine hasn’t blitzed much this year simply because he hasn’t had to. In this game, he was trying to find any answer he could to throw off the timing of the Chargers pass game. These types of adjustments happen week to week. If what you have been doing isn’t working (rushing 4) then its time to throw something into the mix to find results.
Rivers does a nice job on this three-step drop to see the blitzer and get the ball to his tight end which is running a vertical route. The soft spot against a cover three is anywhere between the safety and linebackers, and this pass was right on the money. Blake Martinez gets put in a bind against the play action. He must honor the run first, but then quickly get depth in his hook/curl zone. He seems to play a little more shallow than normal here. While the initial read appeared to be correct, the lack of depth he gets is concerning. Solid zone coverage is all about landmarks. Players know where to push to and how wide to get. While this may vary against certain route concepts, the inside linebacker usually pushes anywhere from 10-12 yards deep and about 2 yards outside of the hash marks. Without adequate depth from Martinez, this cover 3 look will always be a bust.
Running Back Routes
It was reported throughout the game that both the Packers and Chargers favored throwing to their running backs more than any other teams in the league. That had to be in Mike Pettine’s game plan. The inside linebacker vs running back match is always a crucial one to watch in the passing game, especially against the Texas route.
The Texas route, also referred to as an “angle” route, is a route ran with a running back where the initial track is angled towards the boundary, and then cut back sharply inside. It’s one of the hardest for inside linebackers to defend, as the running back can often catch the linebacker over pursuing the play.
That seems to be the case with Blake Martinez on this play. The Texas route, as well as any other route defended by an inside linebacker, should always be played from the inside-out. A linebacker can always recover from the inside-out. However, if the route is ever over-ran it is much harder to recover back to the inside. Martinez was probably anticipating a flat route ran by the running back, only to watch him cut back inside.
Its hard to fault Martinez too much on this play. It’s one of the hardest routes for a linebacker to defend. When playing it, the linebacker must come to balance, play on the balls of his feet and stay square. If ever found out of position the running back will capitalize on it.
These plays may not seem like much, but defenses are far too often hurt by the short passing game. The analogy used by many coaches when referencing the short pass (or run) game is that it’s like chopping down a tree. A swing here and there may not seem like much, but if you swing the ax enough the tree will eventually fall down. That’s exactly what happened to the Packers defense against the Chargers.
The good thing about all of this is that it can easily be corrected. The Packers have a good chance to get back on track as they come back to Lambeau to take on the Panthers in a Week 10 showdown.
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