1

March

Take a Moment and Enjoy Packers DT Ryan Pickett Blowing Up Offensive Linemen

Ryan Pickett

Packers DT Ryan Pickett getting after it.

If you’re an NFL fan who subscribes to Game Rewind and likes to re-watch games in order to see what happens away from the ball, Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett is your type of player.

The 330-pound 33 year old doesn’t make many plays that garner immediate attention on the game broadcast. To appreciate what Pickett does, you have to watch the film. That’s when you’ll nod your head at the veteran’s quickness off the ball. You’ll pump your fist when he shoves two blockers backward and frees up a linebacker to make a tackle. You’ll notice that Pickett is often the reason why a mess of players pile up at the line and the ballcarrier fails to pick up a short-yardage first down.

After 12 seasons, Pickett should be slowing down. Instead, he looks as strong and nimble as ever. It’s not a rarity to see space-eating defensive linemen play effectively as they creep into their mid-30s and beyond — Casey Hampton, Ted Washington and Pat Williams come to mind as older, run-stuffing linemen who excelled as they aged.

I planned to do an in-depth study of stats and numbers to tell you just how great Pickett has been the last few years, but I said the hell with it. Pickett’s worth goes beyond *numbers.* Let’s watch some film instead.

Here’s Pickett wrecking the Houston Texans offensive line:

 

I know Pickett is in there to stuff the run, but I love when he does get after the quarterback.

Wasn’t that awesome? I told you watching Pickett on film is fun.

After watching Pickett, I sometimes wonder why B.J. Raji can’t consistently play with the same energy and passion as his veteran linemate.

Some of it probably has to do with playing time. Raji played 124 more snaps than Pickett in 2012. Part of it probably has to do with assignments and responsibility. Raji is asked to do a little more than Pickett.

Can Pickett’s success continue this season? He’ll be a free agent. In addition to wanting to prove that he still is an upper-end defensive lineman, I’m sure he’ll be playing for one last multi-year contract.

I know I can’t wait to fire up the film and watch me another season Ryan Pickett making offensive lineman 10 years his junior look silly.

2

January

Packers Drive Rewind: Rodgers Owns the Vikings’ Secondary

Jordy Nelson

Jordy Nelson’s TD catch tied Sunday’s game against the Vikings at 34 in the fourth quarter.

Let’s keep it positive for this week’s Packers Drive Rewind and focus on Green Bay’s game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter.

The Situation
Down 34-27, the Packers get the ball at their own 22-yard line with 7:54 to play.

The result
Aaron Rodgers overcomes a sack and a penalty, and leads the Packers on an 11-play touchdown drive that ties the game at 34. Green Bay’s defense was so impressed with Rodgers’ effort that it decided to let the Vikings march right back down the field and win the game on their ensuing possession.

Play 1: Rodgers to James Jones for 12 yards

This is what happens when Rodgers can just stand in the pocket, find a favorable matchup, and exploit it. It looks so easy. Jones is one-on-one with A..J. Jefferson and it looks like Jefferson doesn’t want anything to do with him. Jones takes advantage of the loose coverage and runs a nice hitch route for the easy catch. If the Packers offensive line can pass block like this consistently throughout the playoffs, Green Bay will win the Super Bowl.

Play 2: Rodgers sacked for an eight-yard loss by Everson Griffen

Remember the last play where the Packers’ offensive line blocked so well? The opposite happened here. Griffen beats Don Barclay on his outside shoulder and Rodgers is a smidge late in recognizing it and stepping up in the pocket before being thrown down by Griffen. There’s no doubt that Barclay has boosted the Packers’ running game, but he’s a liability in pass protection. He’s going to need some help in Saturday’s rematch.

After a two-yard pass to Jermichael Finley, Barclay is flagged for a false start, leaving the Packers with a third and 21 at their own 23.

Play 4: Rodgers to Finley for 20 yards

John Kuhn gives Barclay a little bit of help, which leaves Barclay’s side open for Rodgers to scramble. Rodgers has to scamper around because Jared Allen gets upfield on Marshall Newhouse and Kevin Williams ends up in the backfield after a crazy-looking spin move. It kind of looks like Williams ends up back there almost by accident. From there, it’s all Aaron Rodgers. Not many other quarterbacks can make this play. Finley does a nice job of recognizing where Rodgers is heading, then floating to an open space in the zone. Rodgers lofts a perfect pass over Jefferson, who came up just a little too far and put too much space between him and Finley. Finley does a nice job to catch the ball and get both feet down.

19

December

Packers Film Study: B.J. Raji peaking late in the season

Packers DL B.J. Raji

Packers DL B.J. Raji

When looking at the box score of a given football game, it can be easy to overlook some of the unsung heroes.

Sometimes it’s the offensive line paving the way for a 100-yard rusher and going largely unnoticed. Other times it’s a cornerback shutting down an opposing receiver, only to be ignored because he never got his hands on the ball.

On Sunday, defensive tackle B.J. Raji may have been the best player on the field for the Packers.

From his pick-six that sent the Packers to Super Bowl XLV in 2010 to his dominant performance on Sunday, it sure seems like Raji enjoys playing in the Windy City. Raji played what was likely his best game of the season with the NFC North championship on the line.

Pro Football Focus credited Raji with a +4.4 grade against the Bears–his best PFF grade since the NFC Championship during the 2010 season.

The box score only gives Raji credit for one solo tackle. No sacks, no forced fumbles. Just one tackle.

But looking beyond the numbers and watching the tape, it’s impossible to ignore Raji’s impact on Sunday’s win over the Bears.

Let’s take a look at four plays this past Sunday in which Raji made his presence felt.

1) Situation: 2nd and 9, 5:09 remaining – Q1

Breakdown: Raji lines up at right defensive end alongside Clay Matthews. Left guard James Brown is supposed to chip on Raji and block inside linebacker Brad Jones, but Raji blows the play up before even got started. Left tackle J’Marcus Webb is a split-second late getting to Raji.

Raji’s penetration single-handedly made this play, although Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett were credited for the tackle in the box score. This was a drive-killer for the Bears, as they were ultimately forced to punt.

2) Situation: 2nd and 10, 1:05 remaining – Q1

Breakdown: Raji is lined up across from Bears right guard Gabe Carimi. As soon as the ball is snapped, Raji is in the backfield and the play is doomed.

Carimi is forced to lunge at Raji and is called for a 10-yard holding penalty. This play set up a 2nd-and-long situation for the Bears, and they didn’t score on the drive. Again, this is another play that won’t show up on the stat sheet, but it will certainly catch the eye of the coaching staff.

12

December

Packers Drive Rewind: 7 Straight Runs Give Packers the Lead

Evan Dietrich-Smith

Evan Dietrich-Smith

Packers Drive Rewind is a new weekly post I hope to do for the rest of the season. That’s the goal, anyway. With the holidays coming up, I might not have time, or I just might forget. You never know.

Anyway, I want to take one key drive from each game and break it down with some film and my own thoughts. I’m not doing this to lecture everyone or prove how much I know about X’s and O’s. I just want to talk football. I did something similar last week.

If you think my observations are off the mark, or you have additional insight to add, please do so in the comments section. We have a lot of very knowledgeable readers on this site and I always enjoy their perspective on some of the more nuanced aspects of the game.

(Note: It’s hard to see numbers on some of the Lions players. My apologies if I mix up a few players.)

Here we go:

The Situation
Fourth quarter. Packers 17, Lions 17. Packers ball on their own 41 with 14:49 to play.

The Result
The Packers run the ball seven consecutive times, capped by a 14-yard touchdown from DuJuan Harris. The powerful drive appeared to demoralize the Lions and the Packers won 27-20. Packers fans tear off their shirts and start posing like Hulk Hogan.

Play 1: Alex Green runs left for 6 yards

Alex Green says, “Give me the ball and let’s get this party started.” Kyle Vanden Bosch slants in, but gets taken out by his own momentum and Marshall Newhouse pushing him down the line. Nice job by Green to recognize this and burst through the hole after John Kuhn got in DeAndre Levy’s way. We’ve seen Green fall over himself or not see similar cuts this season. Watching him burst through a hole is a good sign of progress. Jeff Saturday and Evan Dietrich-Smith manhandle Nick Fairley. I wonder if Saturday was supposed to get off the block and try to pick up Stephen Tulloch (who eventually made the tackle)?

Play 2: Green runs right for 2 yards

17

November

Packers Film Study. Dom Capers Unleashed the Hounds

Unleash the Hounds!

Despite their current undefeated status, much has been made of the Green Bay Packers’ pass rush, or lack of it, this season – all with good reason. Without consistent pressure, opposing quarterbacks have had the time to rack up some gawdy yardage numbers and complete a plethora of big plays on the Packers’ secondary.

We have all been in a quandry – wringing our hands and nervously rocking back and forth while mumbling to ourselves, “where’s the pass rush… where’s the pass rush…”

The main focus of course was on Clay Matthews. We kept reading about how Matthews is grading out so highly per the coaches’ evaluation, but where were the sacks and big plays? After seeing Matthews over and over engage with a blocker and then just pull up, without going any further, it became apparent to me CMIII just did not have the green light to go hog-wild after the QB.

At the other outside OLB, the common refrain was that  “Walden hasn’t done anything” (which I fully disagree with). Walden has also graded out well on the coaches’ charts for handling his primary responsibilities. So were the Packers’ pass-rushers under performing this season as many thought, or just doing what they were told?

Much has been made of how much more Capers is blitzing this season than in years past. However, when Capers has blitzed out of the Okie (2-4-5), it’s been a straight linebacker dog or a defensive back off the edge. The DL rush patterns have been simply straight ahead – very vanilla stuff. Watching other teams generate pressure on Aaron Rodgers with a variety of DL and LB stunts, I continually would wonder why we weren’t seeing similar tactics from the Packers.

After many of these hand-wringing and chair-rocking sessions of my own, I became convinced the Packers players were just doing what the coaches wanted; play more of style where containment is the primary responsibility, the infamous bend, but don’t break mantra.

Well after the Packers did plenty of bending AND breaking against the Chargers, something had to change.

Charles Woodson was the first to sound the alarm, publicly wondering if the Packers should be doing more creative things to put their playmakers in a position to make plays. For his part, Dom Capers pointed to how much the Packers were blitzing this season to show that they were, indeed, trying to create more of a pass rush.

3

November

Packers Film Study: How Green Bay’s Offense Can Attack the San Diego Chargers

In anticipation of the Packers’ Week 9 matchup with the San Diego Chargers, I sat down with some tape of the Chargers in 2011 to decide how the Packers might go about attacking their defense. This is what I found:


Manipulating the safety in the red zone

Here we see Tom Brady and the Patriots offense in a 1st-and-10 look from the Chargers 14-yard-line. It’s a two-tight end, one-back set, with Rob Gronkowski to the top of screen and Wes Welker in the slot to the left of the formation. Aaron Hernandez lines up in the right slot with Deion Branch out wide. The Chargers combat this look with three down lineman, four linebackers and four defensive backs—their standard 3-4 personnel. They show man coverage and keep Eric Weddle as the single safety high. Bob Sanders, the other safety, lines up in the face of Hernandez. Brady motions Gronkowski back into the line to help in protection, but the motion also confirms to Brady the man coverage look as Donald Butler follows. At this point, Brady knows exactly where he wants to go with the football in his pre-snap read.

In the coaches tape, you can clearly see the man coverage. Brady initially locks on to the left to Welker, who is running an 8-yard square out. That forces Weddle to take two or three steps to his right to honor that look, which keeps him in no-mans-land for all three receivers. At this point, it’s up to Brady which receiver scores the touchdown. Welker has his man beat to the left, but Hernandez has a clear size mismatch on safety Bob Sanders. With Sanders’ back turned to the throw and no help in the area, Brady gives Hernandez a chance to make a play on the ball in the air. The Patriots tight end makes a rather routine catch in the end zone for a touchdown. If the Chargers give Aaron Rodgers and the Packers this look in the red zone, it’s going to be similarly easy score. The way Rodgers uses his eyes to manipulate safeties, like Brady does here, makes this play grand larceny.


Use of playaction

Let’s go back to the coaches tape for a 1st-and-1o play from the Patriots own 18-yard-line. New England again lines up in a two-tight end, one-back set with Welker out wide to the right of the formation and Chad Ochocinco to the left. The Chargers counter with their base 3-4 look. The offensive set and down suggests a run.

27

October

Packers Film Study: Desmond Bishop Wants It More Than You

Desmond Bishop is a tackling machine. I think anyone who has watched the Packers the last two years knows that and his stats prove that. Desmond Bishop loves to make the big hit and blow up running backs – again, no big surprise. But there is one thing about Bishop that perhaps goes overlooked – If you’re an opponent carrying the football, he will track you down from wherever he is on the field. Simply put, he wants to get to you more than you want to get to the end zone.

Remember the Eagles playoff game last season? 1:45 left in the game, Packers up by 5, Eagles marching down the field… Without this play, the Packers’ playoffs could have been over after one game. In case you’ve forgotten, here it is:

Simply amazing. He’s in man coverage on a tight end on one side of the field and comes all the way across to catch up with DeSean Jackson and probably save the game. Most inside linebackers probably would not have even tried.

I was reminded of this play as I watched the Packers Vikings game this past Sunday. We all saw Adrian Peterson rattle off three very big runs against the Packers. On two of those plays, Desmond Bishop comes a long way with incredible effort to track Peterson down and make the tackle.

On this first play, Hawk reads the play, avoids the OL coming out to block him, takes a good angle and comes all the way from the LILB spot to track down Peterson. Not a spectacular play, but it does show his enthusiastic pursuit and athleticism, as he whizzes by A.J. Hawk, the RILB on the play who gives a half-hearted jog towards Peterson.

Fairly impressive, but you say you want spectacular? Coming right up. Watch Bishop closely on this play:

The first time you watched this, did it seem like Bishop just appeared out of thin air? It did to me. I had to watch it a few times before I was able to follow Bishop the whole way.

Bishop had absolutely no right to make this play. He had no right to even think he could make it out of that pack of players at the line of scrimmage and catch Peterson 50 yards down the field. And yet he did.