Saying “it’s been a while” might be an understatement when talking about bringing you the first “Xs and Os” article of the 2020 season. 2020 has been a crazy year in itself, for many reasons.
Things have been quite different for me this season on a personal level, as I’m adjusting to the joys of fatherhood which slow down the film breakdown process from time to time but never fear, I’m ready to break down the Xs and Os all season long here at PTTF.
There’s a lot to dive into this week, especially on the defensive side of the football. The Packer faithful were quite vocal regarding their opinions of Mike Pettine and the Packers defense Sunday evening and for good reasons.
The defense had one of their worst showings under Pettine’s guidance during his time in Green Bay. There were glimpses of it from time to time this season, but in week 6 something was off…way off. The defense was just downright bad.
As a former high school defensive coach, I can sympathize with them up to a point. Sometimes there are just games where nothing goes right. Defenses can get into a slump mid-game where everything seems to go downhill. It can seem like it doesn’t matter what the play call is: something will inevitably go wrong. Again, I get it. However, as a fan of the Packers, I want to see more production out of this side of the ball.
Nothing is a better truth-teller than the film. It’s like the old saying goes, “the eye in the sky doesn’t lie.” Let’s take a look at the film and break down some of the highs and lows of week 6.
Let’s start with a good clip of the secondary. The Packers ran a ton of 2-high safety looks against the Bucs. One of the things I look for on film week to week is Jaire Alexander’s play in cover 2 because his reads are flawless.
The role of the cornerback in cover 2 is to defend the flat. Pre-snap, the corner should be looking inside and reading the #2 receiver. If there is a #3 receiver, which would be the running back in this formation, he will be Alexander’s key. (The way to number the receivers is to count from the outside in).
Alexander lets the X receiver slide past him, all while having eyes on the #3 receiver. As you can see, as soon as the back runs to the flats, Jaire is there to meet him. That’s exactly how cover 2 defense should operate. The advantage that it offers is having so much support underneath which will take away the short passing attack.
Talking about underneath support, the players at linebacker depth have a key role in taking away intermediate routes. With both corners occupying the flats and both safeties taking away the deep halves, it is up to the remaining three players at linebacker depth to take away the hook/curl zones.
If you look at the top of the play here, you’ll notice Tampa Bay running a quick comeback route with the Packers defenders in a perfect position to take it away. The only thing is that the defense fails to finish the play. Routes can be taken away like this, but if they don’t finish the play then it doesn’t mean much. Sadly, I think this was the theme of the day for the defense. Many times they found themselves in the correct position with the correct technique, but they simply did not finish the play. It’s as simple here as wrapping up and making the tackle.
Alexander again shows how well he diagnoses routes in cover 2 on this play. The Bucs release the back into the flats on a screen look, only to be picked up by Alexander. However, we again fail to see the defense finish the play. I’d like to see Jaire get his head to the outside of the receiver and make initial contact with this inside shoulder. With the head on the inside of the back, he is able to shake off the tackling attempt and pick up extra yards. This play was surprising to me, as we’re not used to seeing plays like this missed by Alexander.
One of the things that I don’t feel like the defense has done enough of this year is send extra rushers on stunts. It seems almost as if Pettine thinks his initial 4 rushers will be able to generate enough pressure on the quarterback. While we haven’t seen much production out of Preston Smith this year, I feel as if Pettine has got to dial up the pressure more.
A key component to a successful blitz call is to play sound coverage behind it. Watch here as the Packers send pressure with the nickel defender to the short side of the field.
Tampa Bay comes out in an empty set with an attached tight end to the wide side of the field. This tips the defense off to tell them that the maximum number of blockers that the offense can have here is 6. The stunt call has to outnumber one side of the line. The Packers end up sending only 4 rushers here, but with the nickel defending stunting it’s up to someone in the secondary to replace his position. The offense often looks to hit the receiver who has “replaced the blitzer.” The defense has to be quick in adjusting.
The Packers are running a cover 3 behind their stunt. The thing that really bugs me about this stunt is trying to drop a linebacker, who is rolled up on the line of scrimmage, in underneath support. Watch as the tight end runs across the field with the linebacker trailing him. Brady was able to find a soft spot in the coverage, but I feel as if the defender was out of position from the snap. This comes back to knowing your personnel on the field and what the matchups are.
One of the bright spots in the front 7 came from Montravius Adams. Adams is a player who I’m excited to watch this season. He has all the tools to be a successful defensive lineman in the league and be more than just a rotational player. Plays like this prove why.
It doesn’t look like much, but Adams does a perfect job on this play. Tampa Bay comes out in 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) running a split zone concept. The zone block can be one of the hardest for a defensive lineman to defeat. In order to be successful, they must reach the playside shoulder of the blocker and get across his face.
Green Bay is running a 33 front, meaning they have both of their interior defensive linemen lined up in 3 techniques. There are three key things that Adams does on this play to make it successful. First, he keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. Second, he plays with a wide base and isn’t easily driven off course. Finally, he gets to his aiming point. I love seeing the hustle to make this tackle from the backside of the formation.
Rookie linebacker Krys Barnes has been getting his fair share of reps this season. It can be a good thing at times to throw a young player into the mix, but it comes with growing pains.
In order to be a really good inside linebacker, you must work tirelessly on angles. That was a struggling point for Barnes in this game. On this play, the Packers come out in a “bear” front. The bear front requires the nose tackle to be lined up head up with the center, while the other two interior defensive lineman line up in the three-technique. This front doesn’t exactly give Barnes clean reads on the play, but he knows he has to cover tackle to tackle.
Tampa Bay comes out in a 12 personnel look running a simple dive play. With big-on-big blocking, Barnes should be freed up to make the play here. He’s a step too late and doesn’t get the correct shoulder on the ball carrier. You can see what happens if you are even a step too late on plays like this. Notice also how Barnes does a little hop in his read step at the beginning of the play. Something as simple as this can be crucial when defending the run.
The goal line is always a tough spot for the defense to defend, as they have to work with a short field, but this play had me up in arms.
So many things go wrong from the snap. Za’Darius Smith, who is usually outstanding in run support, gets the playside shoulder reached and gives up the edge. Barnes makes a poor read and goes inside of the formation, surrendering his gap. This leaves only Adrian Amos to set the edge and Ty Summers runs across the formation from the backside to try and make an attempt at the tackle. Defensive football only works if every player makes their read and takes accountability for their job. The Packers had just turned the ball over before this play but still had an opportunity to hold the Bucs to three. Sadly, this seemed to be the mentality of the day.
Outplayed, deflated, and complacent. This is no way to play defense.
The Packers defense has an opportunity to redeem themselves this coming Sunday against the Houston Texans. If I’m Mike Pettine and the Packers defense, I’m paying close attention to the small details this week in practice because as we’ve seen on the tape, sometimes these things can make all the difference.
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