Saturday, September 27, 2014

Packers-Lions Tape Tales: One Personnel Package to Rule them All and Other Stories

Once upon a time, Mike McCarthy used to be known as the king of swapping out personnel to find the most advantageous matchup; he'd go with an inverted wishbone, two-fullback look one snap, and split four wides and a TE out on the next snap. At least against the Lions, those days seemed to be over with. Except for a brief period in the third quarter when they went with four wides, the Packers ran their three-WR, one-TE, one-RB package exclusively. Not once did anyone go in motion before the snap, Cobb was always the slot WR and was never alone on a side, and the main variation seemed to be whether the TE was split out or tight; it was almost always shotgun. No two-TE sets, no fullback on the field (kuuuuuuhn?), no bunches or stacked WRs, nothing. I mention this not as a criticism necessarily--after all, if it worked, who would complain--but it was very jarring to see on tape.

-Speaking of the offense, there was much blather this week about Rodgers focusing too much on Nelson, but I really didn't see that on tape. He was targeting Quarless and Cobb with decent results right up until the bitter end.

-Ndamukong Suh, he of ill fame, *abused* Lang and Linsley inside. Another much-ballyhooed topic this week was Lacy and his lousy 3.1 yards per carry. Well, a lot of those runs were out of the shotgun, and I counted three times where Lacy wanted to take it straight upfield but Suh had destroyed Lang inside--and I mean destroyed; the first time it happened, Suh's initial punch turned Lang completely around, putting him perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. When that happened, Lacy inevitably bounced it outside and got strung out, since he lacks great speed, and smothered. This happened to Harris as well. Starks seemed much better at picking his way through trash and turning upfield, perhaps because he committed to the inside runs more beyond the initial read.

-The Packers ran some really weird blocking schemes in an effort to control Suh, Nick Fairley and their comrades. Here's an example. First and 10 in the first quarter.  Ezekiel Ansah is the RDE, Fairley the RDT. Opposite them are Bakhtiari, Sitton and Richard Rodgers, tight to the line next to Bakhtiari. At the snap, Sitton immediately pulls to the second level, Rodgers takes the DE, and Bakhtiari turns and blocks Fairley from the side as he flies upfield, effectively trapping him out of the play. (The play went south because of Suh's crushing Lang as previously mentioned, but that had little to do with this blocking pattern.) The Packers pulled Sitton, Lang and Linsley quite a few times, mixed in cut-blocks on passing plays, and once double-teamed both Suh and Fairley while leaving Ansah unblocked (which somehow worked). It looked like a lot of time and effort went into controlling Detroit's defensive front, but with one TE and no FB, I saw a lot of DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch flying into the line and getting past a guard or center whose job it was to deal with him. Corey Linsley, bless his heart, looked very unaware on the second level when trying to pick up LBs.

-I think we get spoiled by Rodgers’ ability to make something happen outside the pocket; usually, it’s a first down to Cobb or some other big play. Today, Rodgers always seemed to be facing very tight coverage when he rolled to the right, and ended up throwing into coverage or throwing it away. I think this was because of the ubiquitous Suh and Fairley, who several times shot into the backfield on passing plays and forced Rodgers to move sooner than he’d have liked to. Because the receivers didn’t have as much time to lose their coverage, as they usually do on a Rodgers rollout that takes 4-5 seconds to develop, the rollouts didn’t look nearly as good.

-On defense, the Packers had no answer for Reggie Bush. Whenever the Lions wanted Bush, or third-down back “The Chronicles of” Theo Riddick, the back would circle out of the backfield, wide-open, and catch the ball for an easy five yards before the CB or S wrapped him up. The Packers’ ILBs were either too slow to get over to Bush from the middle of the field or were looking at beautiful butterflies, but almost every time the Lions tried it, it worked.

-The Lions never had an answer for Peppers. He had several hits on the QB in addition to his sack, all of them after flying around the corner against the Lions’ woeful RTs. He shared partial responsibility for Neal’s sack, forced another two incomplete passes with QB hits, and was as responsible as anyone for keeping Green Bay in the game.

-Two depressing things to close. One: No matter how many Packers are on the field, third-and-short for the enemy always feels like a foregone conclusion, whether they’re running against the nickel or a four-DT line. Two: Tramon Williams and Micah Hyde delivered some solid hits, and the D-line was generally able to cover people up, but man, our linebackers. Neal, Hawk, Lattimore, Barrington: when they’re not bouncing off backs or receivers and letting them churn forward for more yardage, they’re getting driven backwards for extra yardage even when they make the tackle. You watch footage from the 2010 team, like the Redskins game in Week 5: when someone catches a ball over the middle or runs up the gut, they get stopped. It doesn’t have to be a blow-up hit, but the ballcarrier generally stops moving forward when hit. Must be nice to be the Seahawks or somebody and take that sort of thing for granted, because we can’t do it consistently.

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