Category Archives: Offensive Players

7

April

Xs and Os: Packers Running Game from Substitution Packages

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Packers running back Johnathan Franklin had a career day against the Cincinnati Bengals while running out of substitution packages.

The key to the Green Bay Packers’ offensive success is having the ability to run or pass out of any personnel grouping and formation, especially with multiple wide receivers on the field.

This means, in order to achieve offensive balance, the Packers must be able to run out of passing formations with substitution packages.

A substitution package is when the offense deploys different personnel than their base 21 group (2 running backs, 1 tight end, and 2 wide receivers. The Packers like running the 11 (1 running back, 1 tight end, and 3 wide receivers) and the 10 personnel groupings (1 running back, 0 tight ends, 4 wide receivers) on any down and distance.

Obviously, not having an extra running back (the fullback) or tight end (or H-back) on the field could pose a schematic disadvantage in the running game by having fewer bigger bodies on the field.

However, with the use of well-designed blocking packages and willing blocks by the wide receivers, the Packers had good success with running the ball from substitution groups.

Under the tutelage of wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett, who was a former running back, the Packers receiving corps has developed into a solid group of blockers who contribute immensely to the running game. This is one of the most underrated aspects of the Packers’ offensive success.

Let’s take a look at some of the staples of this deployment.

Disclaimer 1: You know the drill by now. #YKTDBN. I have never seen Mike McCarthy’s playbook. #IHNSMMP.

Disclaimer 2: #YKTDBN. This is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes. #TIAOFIP. Different formations and defensive fronts will change the blocking rules.

11 Outside Toss Strong: This play is frequently run from shotgun 11 personnel with an offset running back to the strong side of the formation. The key to the play is to get the ball outside and away from the defensive end and Sam linebacker.

Slide1

The outside wide receiver blocks down on the slot cornerback ($) and the slot receiver kicks out and sets the leverage on the strong side cornerback. Notice that the slot is further off the line of scrimmage to allow the outside receiver more time to block down.

5

April

Cory’s Corner: Solidify backup QB job and sign Matt Flynn

Last year proved just how important a backup quarterback is not for just the Packers but for any football team.

Having a bona fide star quarterback is an advantage that coach Mike McCarthy may have gotten a little too comfortable with. He got used to the 50-yard rollout passes on a dime and being able to whistle a fastball into tight windows.

Matt Flynn finished with a 2-2 starting record for the Packers last year. He is an unrestricted free agent after earning a prorated veteran minimum $715,000 by the Packers.

Matt Flynn finished with a 2-2 starting record for the Packers last year. He is an unrestricted free agent after earning a prorated veteran minimum of $715,000 by the Packers.

They say you never really know what you have until it’s gone. Well, that couldn’t have been truer for the Packers last year. With Aaron Rodgers shelved for seven games, the Packers nomadically spun their wheels until Matt Flynn was able to play good enough to fix the leaks and right the ship.

Now I realize Flynn doesn’t exactly strike anything resembling fear into opposing defenses. But he is a six-year NFL veteran and more importantly, he’s a 4½-year vet of the Packers.

Which is exactly why I am surprised that the Packers haven’t signed the unrestricted free agent yet. His 3-4 career starting record may not be anything to brag about but his ability to win over a huddle and lead a team — especially when your No. 1 option goes down — are things you want in a substitute.

Flynn turns 29 this summer and even he must realize that his days of being a starting quarterback are over. After having dreams of leading the Seattle Seahawks, he was upstaged by Russell Wilson. To make matters worse, he was upstaged by Terrelle Pryor in Oakland and the Bills barely kicked the tires before sending him on his way after just 21 days.

The opportunity to become a starting quarterback in the NFL is ever-shrinking, especially with all the dynamic college quarterbacks that are now bursting on to the scene.

The only sticky point could be money. Flynn was paid a pro-rated veteran minimum salary of $715,000 last year for Green Bay. With that money, he salvaged a 16-point deficit against Minnesota, which ended in a tie. And he orchestrated comeback wins vs. Atlanta and the thriller at Dallas.

3

April

Packers Re-Sign Kuhn

John Kuhn

The Packers return John Kuhn on a one-year deal

Fullback and Green Bay Packers cult hero John Kuhn is returning to the team in 2014.  Kuhn has agreed to a one-year deal worth just over $1 million with incentives included.

Kuhn has been with the Packers since 2007 and has become one of the stable veterans on a perpetually young roster.  While Kuhn reportedly had some conversations with other teams, Green Bay seems to be the best fit for him over anywhere else.

Similar to quarterback Matt Flynn, Kuhn flourishes in the Packers offense where he is needed and seems to max out his value potential.

Case in point is last season’s week 17 season finale against the Chicago Bears, when it was Kuhn’s block on defensive end Julius Peppers that allowed Aaron Rodgers to escape the pocket and find receiver Randall Cobb downfield for the go-ahead and game-winning score.  That win helped the Packers secure their third straight NFC North division title.  Now that Peppers is with the Packers, the two can likely share a laugh or two over that monumental play.

The fullback position has changed quite a bit in the NFL overall.  Gone are the days of the I-formation and the need for a bruising fullback to pave the way for the tail back.  With running backs becoming bigger and more versatile and athletic, the traditional fullback is a dying breed.  Green Bay’s offense is no exception.  With the addition of Eddie Lacy in last year’s draft, Kuhn had just 10 rushing attempts in 2013.  In 2010, Kuhn had his career high in carries with 84, mostly due to injuries to other running backs at the time.

Still, keeping Kuhn is valuable for depth purposes and also insurance that there is a wily veteran that can come in on passing downs and help keep Rodgers on his feet.  Kuhn is said to be a great presence in the team’s locker room and will surely assist in bringing the young running backs along as they mature in their early careers.

Of the current Packers backs other than Kuhn, James Starks is the most senior member with four seasons under his belt.  DuJuan Harris, Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and Michael Hill all have just one season to their credit.  Harris was with the team last year but did not play after being placed on season-ending injured reserve during training camp.

3

April

Character Still Matters for the Green Bay Packers

NFL, Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers, Packer People, Packers players, Johnny Jolly, Packers character, Packers off the field

Johnny Jolly is proof that Green Bay is a very special place to play.

Another week, another story about an NFL player (allegedly) engaging in shady off-field activities.

This time it’s former Philadelphia Eagles and now-current Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson and his supposed affiliation with a gang. Jackson denies such activity, but the fact the accusation has even been made stains his reputation.

This is just the most recent in a string of stories over the past several seasons involving NFL players and criminal activities. Aaron Hernandez, currently awaiting trial on miser charges, is probably the most severe but there have been so many other instances this entire article would just be a list if all were to be mentioned.

Drunk driving, drugs, domestic violence, assault and the aforementioned murder are just some of the charges levied against NFL players the past several seasons. The league has an image problem and commissioner Roger Goodell has his hands full trying to fix it.

This is why NFL fans, regardless of what team colors they wear on Sundays, should be thankful for a team like the Green Bay Packers.

Since general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy arrived in 2005 and 2006, respectively, the Packers have been able to avoid the off field issues so many other teams have had to deal with over and over again.

The one potential exception to this for the Packers, the past drug arrests of defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, was turned into a positive this past year when Jolly was reinstated by the NFL and was named the team’s Ed Block Courage Award recipient for how he has turned his life around and became a locker room leader (per Aaron Rodgers himself) in the process.

How has Green Bay been fortunate to avoid the distractions a good chunk of the rest of the league often encounters?

Well, for one, character sometimes has to trump talent in the eyes of Thompson and McCarthy and it should. This is why the Packers have passed on players such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens in the past, despite lobbying by fans and a certain former MVP quarterback.

They might be uber-talented on the football field, but if they cause distractions off the field or disharmony in the locker room, what’s the point? McCarthy and Thompson value a united locker room above all else and they won’t introduce any element that risks upsetting this.

2

April

What Do Packers Injuries and Winning Have In Common? Packing the Stats…

Packing the StatsA lot has been made about the Packers misfortune when it comes to injuries; injuries was the major hurdle that the Packers overcame to get to the playoffs and ultimately win the Super Bowl in 2010 and injuries again were the major obstacle in 2013 with Aaron Rodgers, Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews and Bryan Bulaga all missing significant time due to their respective injuries.

I have always argued that the nature of injuries is in large part random; football is a vicious sport and there are so many different ways to get injured that are largely out of the control of the player, the coaching staff or the front office.  Not many would argue that the tackle that Nick Collins ended his career was unusual nor was the hit that Jermichael Finley took against Cleveland anything out of the norm.  Rodgers breaking his clavicle and Matthews breaking his thumb all occurred on mundane plays that both players have been involved in countless times before in their careers.

In 2013 alone, I would argue that the only two injuries likely could have been avoided were Brandon Merriweather spearing Eddie Lacy and maybe Randall Cobb breaking his leg against Baltimore (but in the defense of Matt Elam, going low is now encouraged to defenders with so many fines being levied to helmet to helmet contact).

Data 1

However, it’s pretty undeniable that the Packers as a franchise have either had consistent terrible luck or something else is at play.  The Packers have had one of the worst strings of injuries over the last 4 years and it’s 99.9% significant compared to the rest of the league.  Fingers have been pointed at pretty much every remote possibility; plenty have blamed Ted Thompson and the front office for drafting players who are injury prone (i.e. Justin Harrell), some have blamed the coaching staff for not teaching proper form while others have blamed the strength and conditioning coaches (there was some ridiculous rumor that floated around that the 49ers had a secret stretching routine that made them impervious to injuries; keep in mind free agency does happen and more importantly players stretch out on the field for everyone to see).

31

March

Xs and Os: Introduction to the Packers Running Game

Packers running back was a Pro Bowler and Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Packers running back Eddie Lacy was a Pro Bowler and Offensive Rookie of the Year during 2013-2014.

We’ve heard a lot about the Packers’ run blocking schemes for several years. With the emergence of running back Eddie Lacy, we began to become even more obsessed with them.

The oft-maligned zone blocking scheme (ZBS) suddenly became everyone’s favorite while Lacy was running his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year.

However, the Packers are not strictly a ZBS team. They run multiple looks and concepts, but it just so happens that their bread and butter running play is out of a ZBS concept.

So, let’s take a look at a few of the most common running plays we can expect to see from Eddie Lacy and company.

Disclaimer 1: I have never seen Mike McCarthy’s playbook. All of my conclusions are from watching video. I could be wrong on interpreting his keys.

Disclaimer 2: This is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes only. Different defensive fronts and offensive formations will change the keys. Sight adjustments are too complex for one blog post.

Alright, let’s first inspect a few of the ZBS looks.

Basics of ZBS: Offensive linemen move in a slanting direction with the goal of moving the defensive line. Their job is to get in between their blocking assignment and the sideline. They value making lanes for the running back to choose over opening one specific hole.

21 Inside Zone Strong: This is the Packers’ main running play. It is from the 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE) and the running back chooses a cutback lane on the strong side (TE) of the formation.

Slide1

In this play the offensive line slants to the strong side. The center and back side guard double team the nose tackle, and the running back picks his preferred lane.

While most of the blockers slant to a single defender, whether on the line of scrimmage or off, the center and back side guard work in tandem in their combo block, but also key the Mike linebacker who is originally uncovered.

Slide2

At the snap of the ball, the guard blocks the inside hip (belt buckle region) of the nose tackle and the center aims for the outside hip. Once the guard has control, the center advances to the next level and cuts off the Mike linebacker before the running back arrives.

29

March

Cory’s Corner: Packers are undervaluing the center position

Frank Winters was Brett Favre's starting center for 10 seasons and the two shared an inseparable bond.

Frank Winters was Brett Favre’s starting center for 10 seasons and the two shared an inseparable bond.

Just how important is the quarterback-center battery in the NFL?

Apparently, it’s not that overly important to the Packers because Aaron Rodgers is about to embark on his fourth different starting center to begin the season.

Think about that for a second.

Rodgers is the best quarterback on the planet. Amazingly, he has been able to average 31 touchdowns a season with a 58-29 record in six seasons. And he’s done it despite playing with a revolving door at the leadership position of the offensive line.

In 16 years with the Packers, Brett Favre had five different centers start the majority of games. But that counts James Campen for one season in 1992 and the person nobody remembers — Grey Ruegamer in 2004.

Favre’s mainstay was Frank Winters. “Bag of Doughnuts” and Favre were teammates for 11 seasons and were able to grow up together and make each other better.

Rodgers hasn’t had that yet. Right when Rodgers and Scott Wells were beginning to form a cohesive bond, the Packers didn’t bring him back after four years of working as the quarterback-center battery and thus, the process started all over again.

The next person to come on down is JC Tretter. Last year’s fourth round draft pick hasn’t started a game in the NFL but the Packers are handing him a shot to ignite one of the most dynamic offenses in the league with each snap.

Centers aren’t exactly a glory position. No kid gazes into the mirror and dreams of one day making a perfect shotgun snap to his quarterback before quickly reasserting himself as a pass blocker. Heck, Tretter was a quarterback, running back and wideout in high school.

JC Tretter is looking to become the fourth starting center to begin the season for the Packers since 2008.

JC Tretter is looking to become the fourth starting center to begin the season for the Packers since 2008.

But that doesn’t mean the job of a center should be understated. While left tackles get the money for protecting the quarterback’s blind side, it’s the center that makes the coverage adjustments. A center is the quarterback of the offensive line.

So when Rodgers comes back to camp not knowing much about his next center, he needs to spend time getting to know how things will work. If you’re Rodgers, you don’t want to learn in Week 3 that your center has a problem with a quick snap count or a pronounced loud bark in order to draw a defense offsides.