21

December

Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 15 at Chicago Bears

So special teams is one of those things that no fan knows about but we all love to gripe about.  For instance, other than the kicker, punter, long snapper and gunner, do you know the name of any other position?  I sure don’t but I will yell at the screen when the guy misses a block.  This is essentially what happened during the “punt, pass and puke” play as quoted by Drew Olsen on Green and Gold Today.  We all know it was a terrible play, and head coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coach Shawn Slocum both got plenty of heat for the call.  But why call the play in the first place?

 

 

 

The Situation: The score is Green Bay 21, Chicago 10 with 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter.  The Packers are sitting pretty well at the moment, the Bears offense hasn’t been able to move the ball (i.e. failing to convert a single 3rd down) while the Packers have had success both on the ground as well as in the air and look to burn some time with a two score lead.

Snap: The Packers come out with two players matching each gunner.  This is typically done to give the punt returner some more space on the edges but they give up any real chance of blocking the punt as well as being overmatched in the middle

The Kick: This picture was taking immediately after the kick, as you can see the Packers didn’t get anywhere close to blocking P Adam Podlesh’s punt (the closest Packers is 5 yards away and has already turned for pursuit).  I’ve circled WR Jeremy Ross (10) so keep an eye out for him as the play progresses.

Fielding The Punt: You can now see PR Randall Cobb (18) relative to WR Ross, also notice at this point, Ross still appears to be blocking the gunner.

Beginning of Trick Play: At this point WR Ross begins to peel away from the action and get ready for the lateral.  Also notice at this point no Bear has noticed that WR Ross is doing something other than blocking the gunner

The Lateral: This is just before PR Cobb makes the lateral pass.  Notice the vast majority of Bears players are still heading towards PR Cobb.

The Catch: The Bears react to the lateral pass but essentially it’s t0o late, WR Ross doesn’t have anyone within 5 yards of him and he has 5 blockers (two who are downfield) to only two Bears defenders.  Also notice he basically has no one infront of him as P Podlesh on the left hash due to PR Cobb. Unfortunately for the Packers, it appears as if PR Cobb’s pass floats on him a little and WR Ross has trouble fielding the ball, gets tackled by WR Eric Weems and the Bears recover in great field position

Conclusion:  So not one of the most “intelligent” plays ever called by the Packers but my assumption is that Mike McCarthy and Shawn Slocum aren’t idiots, so the question becomes what’s the rationale behind calling the play?

  1. Hypothesis – The Packers special teams hates the Bears special teams and wanted to rub it in their face.  This seems to be the general consensus among the media (Green and Gold Today and the Waddle and Silvy Show), who postulate that the Bears have always dominanted the Packers special teams and therefore the Packers wanted to run a trick play to snub the Bears.  Bears fans especially seem to use it as proof that the Packers were being disrespectful.  My contention is that the Packers were being disrespectful with their own intelligence with the play but I doubt either McCarthy nor Slocum would really risk calling such a dangerous play just to disrespect the Bears.  The Packers can clinch a playoff spot with a win against the Bears and are already ahead two scores in the 4th quarter.  Especially considering McCarthy’s M.O. of playing conservative (i.e. running the ball) when they have the lead late in the game seems to point that revenge wasn’t the main rationale.
  2. Hypothesis – Mike McCarthy and Shawn Slocum didn’t actually call the play, it was a “automatic”: Lots of special teams plays go on reads.  For instance, during week 2 against the Bears, the Packers kicking unit noticed the Bears were overloading the left side of the formation so they lateraled the ball to TE Tom Crabtree on 4th and 26th for the touchdown.  These types of plays aren’t specifically called, but players are given the option of calling them should the occasion present itself.  Keep in mind no one on special teams has a helmet with a radio (usually), so coaches can’t change the play on the line.  Furthermore, they probably wouldn’t call a trick play before seeing how the other team aligns.  This initially was my explanation for the play, but a couple things probably make this hypothesis false as well.  For one, there’s no way Randall Cobb has a chance of seeing the alignment of the Bears from 40 yards away to make the call to throw a lateral (unless it is somehow being relayed to him from the side line before the start of the play, which seems unlikely).  Second, it appears as if the rest of the punt unit is aware of the lateral, since there are so many blockers ready for Ross.
  3. Hypothesis – Aaron Rodgers ankle injury resulted in a trick play: This was Mike McCarthy’s explanation during his post-game press conference and frankly this seems to be the least likely of all the explainations.  For one, Aaron Rodgers was trying to walk it off on the sideline, so presumably he was still capable of handing off passes to a running back, and running three times and punting would definitely fit McCarthy’s M.O. when he’s ahead late in a game in the sense that it’s a conservative call that unlikely to back-fire in his face.  Secondly, Rodgers has played hurt before and I don’t seem to recall McCarthy trying trick plays a result.  Realistically, if Rodgers was hurt and needed a drive off, Graham Harrell or even Randall Cobb could play quarterback for a drive while Rodgers stretches the strain out.
  4. Hypothesis – The Packers saw something in punt returns that lead them to believe they could pull off a trick play: This is the hypothesis that I’m sticking to at the moment.  The Packers must have seen the Bears play punts a certain way in previous games or during the game that lead them to believe a lateral would work.  And really, the play is actually a pretty good one.  If Ross (one of the best returners at Cal) manages to field the ball cleanly and allude one player (and Jarrett Bush doesn’t get called for a hold), chances are good Ross scores a touchdown.  In fact the Packers must have been so confident that the play would work that they were even willing to call it when they were ahead by two touchdowns late in the 4th quarter.  Perhaps McCarthy and Slocum figured the Bears couldn’t move the ball on offense, so even if the play backfires the defense can bail them out.  While this is indeed what eventually happened, I’m not entirely sure I would have predicted that, especially if Alshon Jefferies doesn’t get his 3 offensive pass interference calls (which are very rare in the NFL).

So that’s what I’m sticking with at the moment, but I would like you to comment below on why McCarthy, who isn’t a stupid football ball coach would try such a dangerous and potentially stupid play.

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Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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13 Responses to “Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 15 at Chicago Bears”

  1. Mutinus Mutunus says:

    Hypothesis – McCarthy thought the game was in hand and pulled out this play so playoff opponents would have more punt return options to worry about.

    The Packers obviously saw something the Bears were doing that made them think this play would work. If the execution would have been there it would have worked. But why run it in that situation?

    The Bears had not done anything on offense since the 1st quarter. Who knows why they gave up on the run after the 1st quarter, the Packers had no answer.

    If the Packers needed points I think this would have been a good play. But in this situation it was idiotic. I was yelling at the TV when it happened.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • Ed says:

      Hypothesis:
      The Packers hate the Bears. When the Bears win, their offense typically does ‘just enough.’ As stated, that wasn’t happening last Sunday. The Bears typically win with defense and special teams. Rodgers had just finished disecting their defense for 3 TDs. Beating them senseless with a special teams play for the second game in a row would put a stake in their hearts and leave them lying for the sun to burn. McCarthy gets the rivalry. There was no reason not to leave the ‘automatic’ trick play in the game plan and no reason not to try it. Needing points or not is not even in the decision process — pulling this off would have utterly embarrased the Bears in fornt of their home crowd. The Packers hate the Bears.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Ed says:

        ‘front’ not fornt. %$(&!

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      • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

        Well it can be argued if the Packers really hate the bears as much as the fans hate each other, but would you rather have the Packers lose the game and pull off the trick play or for the Packers to win and fail at the trick play? Throwing salt on the injury seems to be secondary to winning the division. Ironically, the Lions do seem to care more about their image than actually winning games.

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        • Ed Schoenfeld says:

          Thats an interesting question. I wasn’t so much proposing what I would want them to do as what I thought was actually going on.

          As far as what I want, I don’t want this Packer team to get complacent. I think this year’s team’s biggest flaw is the tendency to sit on their laurels and go into a prevent mentality. I think we saw that in Indianapolis and I think we saw them get blown out in New York because they started the game in an ‘even keel’ emotional mood and never respond to the Giants’ level of emotion.I think McCarthy recognized that and calls some daring plays when he feels his guys are dragging a bit, starting with the fake punt in week 2.

          WHat I liked about this Bears game was that it wasn’t just McCarthy who got the team to raise the stakes emotionally. Rodgers did that with the drive ending in the first TD to Jones, and the defense did that with a stand that confused Cutler into throwing an INT. I liked that the special teams wanted to do the same with the kickoff return just after Grant fumbled, and I want the players to have the confidence to try something like that when there is an opportunity.

          I understand that high-risk plays backfire sometimes, and cautious play callers (along with fans concerned about their heart rate) don’t like that. I screamed at Cobb and Ross along with everyone else in the room when it happened. But after the Bears first snap was there every really any doubt that the defense would hold? That the offense would respond with a decent drive after getting the ball back at last?

          I am way more concerned that the score was just 21-10 because Crosby missed two kicks than I am about the Packers trying some razzle dazzle that failed.

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    • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

      I think after looking at the tape, the play was actually pretty good, and I don’t think many people are saying the play design is flawed. Really, its about the situation, and like I said the only thing that comes to mind is that they saw something on tape that lead them to believe they could pull it off, even in such an odd time.

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  2. Sven says:

    I think it was a well designed play, that almost worked. It will likely make teams keep a wider coverage in the future, which could give Cobb the extra space he needs to make a play. All these aggresive special teams calls will certainly keep everybody on their toes. Also, now the are a bit more prepared should they need this play in the future.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • ScottS says:

      I agree. It might help Cobb in the future by spreading the defenders a little.

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    • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

      I do wonder how much time teams really practice defending trick plays. On one hand, some teams definitely seem to defend them better, but at other times it seems like good reaction and decision making of the players rather than a concerted effort by the squad.

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  3. Corporate cheesehead says:

    Yep. Well designed play … That should have been used during a game when scoring a td mattered … Ie the playoffs. If Ross catches the ball, Its an easy touchdown. All in all, I’d rather have the special teams play more aggressively like this than the last ten years of vanilla play calls.

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    • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

      I definitely want to see the play sometime again, maybe if the Packers are behind at some point.

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  4. Nathan says:

    As much as this has been harped on, and it was mentioned that the Bears were unable to move the ball pretty much all game, maybe that makes it a good time to attempt a play like that. Let’s say we try that play in the playoffs against a much higher caliber team, and the result were the same, that team quite possibly would make us pay dearly for that mistake. Is that really a time when we want to have that mistake? So, maybe against a team that is struggling mightily and we have a decent lead is the time to try a play like that.

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    • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

      Sure, but based on where the Bears are punting, you know that if the trick play fails, the bears are going to get the ball somewhere in the redzone. All teams have a high success rate of scoring points in the red zone, even the bears.

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