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.

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.

15

November

Packers Periscope: Week 11 vs. New York Giants

The Past: The two teams that always seem to cause the Packers trouble in the past couple years are the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants.  Packers fans obviously remember Brett Favre’s last pass as a Packer going to a Corey Webster in the NFC Championship game in 2008; Packers fans will also remember the Giants manhandling the Packers in the 2011 playoffs when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was surprising only average while the defense finally collapsed and lost the game for the team.

However the last meeting between these two teams was perhaps the most lopsided; the Giants won 38-10 in 2012 season again embarrassing the Packers.  Outside of one spectacular 61 yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson, Rodgers was largely ineffective, going 13 for 24 for 158 yards and an interception.  The running game didn’t do the offense many favors either, totaling 82 yards with a 3.7 ypc split between Alex Green, James Starks and John Kuhn.  The defense stuck to their “bend but don’t break” philosophy, but missing both Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews, allowed 3 Eli Manning touchdowns while the Giants running game ground the Packers down with 31 carries for 147 yards from Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown.

With the loss, the Packers fell to 2nd place in the NFC North while the Giants snapped a two game losing streak and got back into the NFC East playoff race.  However a loss to the resurgent Redskins (headed by rookie sensation Robert Griffin III) the next week followed by a loss against Baltimore in week 16 eliminated them the NFC East crown and a loss by the Lions to the Bears at the end of the regular season eliminated them from the playoffs all together.

During the offseason, multiple changes were made including the release of starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw and the notable drafting of right tackle Justin Pugh, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and quarterback Ryan Nassib.  Overall, the 2013 draft class has been disappointing of late, Pugh ranks 56th out of 76 eligible tackles, Hankins has played 74 snaps the entire season while Nassib still hasn’t supplanted Curtis Painter (yes, that Curtis Painter) as the backup quarterback.

21

September

Packers vs. Bengals: Keys to the Game

 

Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard

Bernard is the type of dynamic player that the Packers need to key on

The Green Bay Packers will hit the road again after a compelling win at home last week against the Washington Redskins.  Week three has the Packers in Cincinnati to face the Bengals.

The NFC/AFC matchups are always intriguing because the opponents are not familiar with each other.  It has also produced some of the more exciting games over the past several years.  A few that come to mind:  At Pittsburgh in 2009, at New England in 2010, at San Diego in 2011 and at Indianapolis last season.  I happened to attend the San Diego and the Indianapolis games and I have no idea why I bought a “seat” because I was standing the entire time.

While there is a lot to be encouraged about from last week’s performance by the Packers, let’s keep in mind that the Bengals are not the Redskins.  Cincinnati will be playing at home and has quite a bit more talent than does Washington.  That talent runs on both sides of the ball.

The Packers bring in their own wealth of talent and will look to score a big road win heading into their very early bye week.  Let’s take a look at the keys to this week’s game, from the Packers perspective.

Packers Offensive Line vs. Bengals Defensive Line

Games are won and lost up front and this contest will be a classic example of that.  The quarterback and run game that can establish its rhythm early on will have a marked advantage over the other.  While Aaron Rodgers may be light years ahead of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in terms of his ability and play, he still needs time to display both.  Against a very active pass rush, the Packers will need to not only afford Rodgers the needed time to throw, but they need to keep him off his back.

The Packers offensive line comes into this game after a stellar recovery and performance last week.  According to Pro Football Focus, each lineman graded positively and the two guards, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, both graded out highest.  In fact, Lang was the highest-graded offensive player, ahead of Rodgers.  While they turned in one of their best performances as a group last week, they likely will need to be even better this week.

4

December

Packers Beer Mug Perspective: Should Barclay stay at RT?

Packers Beer MugWhen T.J. Lang went down with an injury, the Packers’ offensive line depth was tested.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was already on the injured reserve with a hip injury, forcing the Packers to turn to undrafted rookie Don Barclay to fill Lang’s shoes. Nicole Richie thinks the Packers are thin on the offensive line.

But fortunately for the Packers, Barclay came in for Lang and filled in admirably at right tackle. Sure, the rookie from West Virginia had his fair share of speed bumps, but overall, he made the most of his opportunity and has earned the respect of his head coach.

Now, Packers coach Mike McCarthy faces a tough decision. Does he think the offensive line is a stronger unit with Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard, or Barclay at right tackle?

Playing Barclay at right tackle would allow Lang to kick over to his natural position of left guard. Lang and right guard Josh Sitton are one of the league’s best young duos on the interior of the offense line. But as a right tackle, Lang is an average player at best. So, the question is:

Will Barclay remain the Packers starting right tackle?

In the format of the Packers Beer Mug Perspective, let’s take a look at the issue from both angles, then determine whether our mug is really “half full” or “half empty.”

THE MUG IS HALF FULL

With Lang’s status still up in the air, McCarthy admitted we may be getting ahead of ourselves in considering Barclay as a starting right tackle. The team will learn more about Lang’s injury on Wednesday.

However, the possibility still remains that Barclay could be inserted into the starting lineup.

The Packers are notorious for playing “musical chairs” on the offensive line. Many people disagree with their philosophy of rotating players around into different positions. But McCarthy has always been adamant on putting the best five linemen on the field, and Barclay is at least being considered as one of the top-five right now.

“I thought (Barclay) did a nice job,” McCarthy said. “It’s pretty much what I thought last night when I left here. He went into the game, we tried to protect him a little bit there in the 2-minute drive. Then really at halftime we made some protection adjustments – not really adjustments – which way we were going to lean on in the second half.”

30

October

Packers Film Study: Expanding the Running Game

Evan Dietrich-SmithWhile reviewing the game book and watching the film of the Green Bay Packers’ 24-15 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, I noticed something strange. Well, it’s not strange from a football standpoint, but it is very much out of the ordinary for Mike McCarthy’s offenses. He added backup C/G Evan Dietrich-Smith as a sixth offensive lineman on four running plays.

Someone will have to let me know if he’s done this before, but I don’t ever remember McCarthy adding an offensive lineman as an eligible receiver for the running attack. He came to this team with the idea of implementing the zone blocking scheme, and it’s been nothing but a point of contention among fans ever since. Our fearless leader, “Jersey” Al, pointed out the fact that he’s been pulling guards lately, making this new development a rather interesting expansion of the running game.

Here are the four plays where Evan Dietrich-Smith (#62) reported as eligible against the Jaguars:

 

This is the only time in the first half where EDS plays as eligible. My guess would be that, before going back to it, McCarthy wanted to get a look at not only the execution, but also how the Jaguars would respond to it.

In this instance, the Packers are lined up in a Unit Wing formation before EDS motions left and puts them into a formation that I’m not sure what to call. He’s playing a wingback role, but lined up inside behind the tackle and guard.

The results of this play is less than desirable, though it’s hard at first to tell where it went wrong without knowing the play call. EDS looks like he might initially take his block inside but continues to go outside the right tackle. Green, meanwhile, looks like he could have gained a little more yardage had he cut to the outside and followed EDS around.

Looking further, though, the culprit might really be Bryan Bulaga. Not only does he provide no help to Crabtree before moving to the next level, but he completely whiffs on the linebacker. Green initially heads towards the inside of the right tackle, leading me to believe this is where the play broke down.