Category Archives: Team Units

7

April

Xs and Os: Packers Running Game from Substitution Packages

hi-res-181577657-johnathan-franklin-of-the-green-bay-packers-scores-a_crop_650x440

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.

4

April

Packers Cannot Gamble At Safety

Micah Hyde

The Packers need to finally find a solution at the safety position.  Micah Hyde is one of a few options

The Green Bay Packers have already made some moves in free agency to help bolster their roster and chances in 2014.  The addition of defensive lineman Julius Peppers made big headlines a few weeks back and indicated a shift in the team’s approach to improving on the past few seasons.

With the  addition of Peppers, the Packers Super Bowl odds dropped from 16-1 to 10-1, according to sites like FootballBettingCenter.com.

But will the addition of Peppers really have that much of an impact on this Packers team? With just one playoff victory since winning Super Bowl XLV in 2011, the Packers have lacked that spark and edge that got them over the hump during that incredible run over three years ago.

With Aaron Rodgers and quarterback and a solid stable of receivers, Green Bay has been able to maintain its production on the offensive side of the ball.  The addition of Eddie Lacy last season (NFL Rookie of the year) rounded off the offense and took it a step closer to being more complete.

The defense has been the point of emphasis in looking at the most glaring needs that the Packers have had and continue to have.  In 2011, defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins departed in free agency and the Packers struggled to get consistent production from the defensive line.  Jenkins was replaced by Jarius Wynn, and I use the term “replaced” very loosely there.

The Packers D-line has seen flashes of production since, but not consistently.  The addition of Peppers will hopefully help that unit make more of an impact on Sundays.

Prior to the start of the 2012 season, the Packers lost inside linebacker Desmond Bishop to a season-ending injury and the team released him prior to the start of the 2013 season.  Bishop’s spot has since been replaced by a combination of DJ Smith, who is no longer with the team and was released last offseason, and Brad Jones.

Jones has spurred debates about whether he is the future at inside linebacker, was worth the contract that he received last offseason (three years, $11.75 million), and most importantly,  whether he still has room to turn into the player the Packers need him to be.  That remains to be seen but there have been many rumblings that inside linebacker should be addressed relatively early in this upcoming draft by Green Bay.

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.

26

March

Why Haven’t The Packers Resigned Matt Flynn?

Matt Flynn

In case anyone forgot, the 2013 Packers will always be remembered as the “oh shit, Aaron Rodgers got hurt” season.  After Rodgers broke his clavicle against the Bears, it became quite apparent that the Packers front office had been unusually caught with its collective pants off by having no viable backup to keep the team afloat.  This all started in training camp and the preseason as the Packers cut incumbent backup quarterbacks Graham Harrell and BJ Coleman, leaving former 1st round pick and overall bust Vince Young as the presumed backup, only to release him at the 53 man cut deadline.  After all that, the Packers front office signed Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien to actually backup the season.  Obviously the football gods didn’t look favorably to all this as Seneca Wallace got hurt almost immediately into his first start for the Packers and left an unproven and inexperienced Scott Tolzien to start for the Packers against the Giants and part of the Vikings game.  It was only when the Packers got to “plan F” did they get really desperate and call back old buddy Matt Flynn, who took over halfway into the Vikings game, managed to scrape a couple of tight wins against the Falcons and the Cowboys and managed to do just enough to keep the team afloat until Rodgers came back to play the Bears in the season finale with playoff hopes on the line.

This story is something that the Packers can ill afford to repeat; in all honestly the Packers did not get into the playoffs last year, the Bears and Lions were just even less deserving of a playoff berth.  So the question really becomes, why are the Packers repeating 2013 by not resigned Matt Flynn and what reason could they possibly have?

Matt Flynn would not be an expensive backup, after bombing out in Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, its pretty apparent that the only team that has any value for Flynn is the Packers, and thus his asking price would be low due to no competition for his services.  There has been no news of Matt Flynn taking any visits with any other teams and no rumors that any other team is even interested.  Furthermore, Flynn missed out on the free agent signing rush, where some backup quarterbacks commanded as much as a $5 million average over 2-3 years.  As such, the best Flynn will likely see is a 1 year veteran minimum, which for a player with 6 years of experience means $730,000.

14

March

BJ Raji Signs 1-year, $4 million contract with Packers

B.J. Raji 2012

B.J. Raji

The Packers and Ted Thompson continue to resign their own guys (much to the dismay of Frank Schaub apparently), Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that defensive end/nose tackle BJ Raji has resigned with the team for a 1-year, $4 million contract; specifics of the deal have not been made public but this post will be updated to reflect incoming news.

 

Raji has largely been criticized for his lackluster play since teasing fans with his potential in early in his career and being dissatisfied playing in a 3-4 scheme where defensive linemen rarely get the accolades or attention of the 4-3 brethren.  The icing on the cake for fan scorn was walking away a multi-year deal that was supposed to pay him roughly $8 million yearly, naturally this is all just hearsay and the structure of the deal (i.e. the guaranteed portion) might have been poor but nevertheless, an abysmal season after betting on himself drew the ire of fans and media alike.

Free agency apparently was ice cold for Raji as no reports have surfaced of him visiting any other team and Raji has not been linked or to be of interest to any other team (there were some rumors linking Raji to Oakland and Kansas city, with obvious connections in the front offices).  Last reported news from Raji prior to his signing was that he was “mulling” over a 1-year contract offer from the Packers.  From the looks of things, Raji was forced to take a 1-year “prove it” contract with the Packers as no other suitors came calling.  Without knowing guaranteed money and incentive clauses attached to the deal, this looks like a pretty good signing for the Packers, who get an experienced defensive linemen who will be playing hard for his pay day (although why this didn’t help last season is a mystery) and when at his best can be a disruptive force in the middle.

The Packers have been reported to be looking at Raji only as a nose tackle (where he has had the most success), which likely means Ryan Pickett is now less likely to be resigned (although the Packers might still resign Pickett if the price is right), with Josh Boyd most likely as the backup nose tackle.

14

March

Channeling Fire Joe Morgan about Packers GM Ted Thompson and NFL Free Agency

I decided to go all Fire Joe Morgan on this piece written by Frank Schwab at Yahoo Sports about Packers GM Ted Thompson and NFL free agency. Enjoy.

In 2006, Packers general manager Ted Thompson signed cornerback Charles Woodson in free agency, and it was one of the best moves he ever made.

Ok. A good start to this post. I agree with that statement.

You’d think that experience would give Ted Thompson the warm and fuzzies about free agency and he’d spend his time chasing the next Woodson. Instead, Thompson might be off on vacation this week. Wherever he has been, he hasn’t been signing any players.

Starting to go off the rails a bit now. Thompson didn’t “chase” Woodson. He signed him well after free agency opened. I think part of the reason Thompson doesn’t dive into the opening frenzy of free agency is because it is a “chase.” Chasing to fill this roster hole or plug that weak area. Chasing a big-name veteran who fans are familiar with. Chasing the notion that you have to “DO SOMETHING!!!!” to get better like the other teams around you. Those types of chases are from guaranteed to pay off. Oh, and the “Ted Thompson goes on vacation” thing became an eye-rolling cliche three years ago.

Green Bay didn’t sign one player, outside of retaining his (sic) own free agents, in the first three days of free agency.

Gasp!

It’s not like they don’t have needs. A stud left tackle would have been great, allowing David Bakhtiari to move inside to guard. Any of the top centers would have worked. A pass rusher would be swell. They could have spent on a big-time safety, and it’s not like Antoine Bethea, T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner or guys like that got a ridiculous amount of money.

Sign a stud left tackle and move a promising, young and inexpensive left tackle to guard when you already have one pro bowl guard and another guard coming off his best season (and Bryan Bulaga coming back from injury)? Was there a “stud left tackle” on the free-agent market this year? I didn’t see one. Stud left tackles, like stud QBs, typically don’t make it to free agency. If the Packers re-sign Evan Dietrich-Smith, that’ll meet the “any of the top centers” criteria. Yes, a pass rusher would be swell. Let’s see what the remaining days of free agency bring (yes, free agency lasts more than a couple days). Finally, none of the safeties Schwab lists are “big time.”