The Packers and Patriots was one of the most anticipated games on the schedule this season. A lot of hype was built around Rodgers and Brady. Who could blame fans for that? They are two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Most writers on Twitter were breaking down reasons why they thought one quarterback was better than the other. It seemed like that would be a major story line throughout the game and soon following the game, but I took away something much different.
The Packers secondary has been a huge question mark on the team in recent weeks. When it was reported that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was going to be traded everyone was wondering what the Packers would do at the free safety position. Clinton-Dix hasn’t had the best years recently but he did offer some stability at the position. He knew the position well and wasn’t caught out of position too much. His biggest problem was finishing the play, tackle, or his job in coverage. He never looked lost, but the Packers were needing more production out of that position.
It was decided during the week that Tramon Williams would make the transition to free safety. Williams has got some snaps there in previous weeks. This would simply be the first time that he would play there throughout the entire course of a game. Williams has shown a lot of good things at the boundary corner position. He has quick footwork, a smooth back pedal and he knows when to turn and run. Those things made the transition pretty smooth. The free safety position, for the most part, is simple: be as deep as the deepest player. There’s more to it than that, which we will get in to later, but in man coverage concepts that a simplified look at the FS job description.
With Williams playing free safety it required both Alexander and King to step up on the boundary. Neither one disappointed. Jaire Alexander, in my opinion, has been the best defensive back on the team all year. There are two coverages he plays especially well; cover 1 and cover 3. Both are single high looks. Cover 1 is a man defense with one free defender. Alexander does a good job getting a good jam at the line of scrimmage (if press is called) turning and running with the defender and making a play. It doesn’t matter if a receiver runs a slant, drag, dig, post or go…he is going to stay in the hip pocket, track the ball and punch it out. Alexander is looking a great draft, paying big dividends so far.
Lets take a closer look at these things and how the defensive backs fared against the Patriots offense.
Lets start things off with Tramon. This is one play that caught my eye. The Packers are in a single high look with press technique called to the short side of the field. Williams looks like he initially wants to bite on the play action pass, catches himself, and turns and runs to recover well to play support over the top. Vision is crucial at this position. A play action look is a good way to throw off a safety who hasn’t had much time playing the position. This is just a good athletic play made by Williams. Without him recovering this pass could have went for six.
Now lets take a look at Josh Jackson. I didn’t mention him earlier but he had a pretty decent game for the most part. In the above clip, the Packers are playing a cover 2 look against a 2×2 formation. Jackson is rolled down playing as the hook/curl defender. Let me start by saying that cover 2 is a great call against this formation. Cover 2 is a balanced coverage that does a good job covering every area of the field. In this coverage, you have 2 deep halves protected with the free and strong safety, flats covered by corner, deep middle is played by the strongside inside linebacker and 2 hook/curl areas taken away.
Pettine is bringing 5 rushers here so one hook/curl defender has to rush. Jackson is the lone hook/curl player with Morrison drifting more toward the slot receiver on the other side. Just look at how Jackson breaks on this route though. He sees Edelman sit, so he screams downhill to make a play. Jackson almost gets there before the ball hits him in the hands. The hit is good enough to jar the reception loose and prevents a possible 4-5 yard gain. Its little plays like this that get me excited.
Kentrell Brice had a similar play with him, only this time in a cover 3 look. I love to see a defensive back who will come downhill and make a play like this. Offenses may think twice before they throw anything to the middle. A good defensive backfield is one that has to impose themselves early and make their presence felt.
I mentioned earlier that one of the things I like so much about Jaire Alexander is how tight he plays coverage. He is a guy who can constantly do this and get away with it. The defense is in a crucial spot here. The Patriots play well in the red zone and the margin for error here is thin. The defense knows they can’t give anything up. A score here for New England could change the course of the game.
The thing that Alexander does well while playing coverage this tight is using the inside press technique and forcing the receiver toward the boundary. As he forces the receiver out, it condenses the field for him and the boundary is used almost as an extra defender. He does that perfectly here. If an offense is going to isolate one receiver I would want Alexander on him all game. We saw this work well against the Rams and it worked well in week 9 vs New England.
The defensive backfield held their own against the Patriots. They surrendered 294 yards alone to Brady (and 37 yards to Julian Edelman). I thought for the most part they played good, technique football. Were there lapses throughout the game? Of course. One of the biggest drawbacks about the DBs this year is that they are young. Alexander, Jackson, and King are all young guys who are having a lot demanded from them. With more nickel and dime being played this position group has to stand out and perform well every week. With the loss of Jermaine Whitehead, this position group is thin. The Packers should be in playoff mode this week against the Dolphins. I have confidence though that Pettine and the entire defensive staff will put these guys in the best possible positions to succeed. I defense stepped up when they needed to in this game. Against the Rams, one of the best offenses in the league, they were held to 8 first half points. There has been a lot of positives with this group. However, the key is doing well game after game and down after down. Play each snap one at a time and the game will take care of itself.
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