23

November

Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 11 at Detroit Lions

Happy Thanksgiving recovery day/Black Friday to you all.  In this weeks installment of Hobbjective Analysis, I will be looking at Jermichael Finley’s 31-yard screen play and going in depth on why the Packers executed the play so well.

The Situation: The Packers are trailing by 6 with only 3:43 left in the 4th quarter.  While the Packers haven’t exactly been playing stellar football, the Detriot Lions have been all over the place, Matthew Stafford is consistently overthrowing his targets while getting chased around by a Packers defensive front seven that is missing Clay Matthews.  The Packers know that they have to score on this drive in order to win the game, going 4 and out or committing a turnover essentially seals the game for the Lions.

The formation: The Packers are in a 3-1-1 (3WR-1TE-1RB) set with WR James Jones (89) split wide left, WR Jordy Nelson (87) split wide right and WR Randall Cobb (18) in the right slot.  TE Jermichael Finley is inline of the right tackle. In the backfield RB James Starks (44) is aligned to the right of QB Aaron Rodgers, who lines up in the shotgun.  On the offensive line, there has been a lot of shuffling going on; after starting RT Bryan Bulaga landed on IR, LG TJ Lang has shifted over to RT while Evan Dietrich-Smith (62) has taken LG Lang’s spot.  The three other starting linemen (LT Marshall Newhouse (74), C Jeff Saturday (63), RG Josh Sitton (71)) remain in their original positions.

In response, the Lions play the standard 4-3, Tampa-2 scheme with 4 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers, 2 corners and finally 2 safeties each aligned about 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage.  Overall, the Lions had been playing the majority of the game (and their season) under this formation.  The Lions have heavily invested in their front 4 in order to generate pass rush without having to send extra players and they need to cover up for a tattered defensive secondary who has back-up and back-up of the back-up safeties in play.

The Snap: RB Starks leaks out of the backfield immediately while Rodgers drops back to a clean pocket.  On the perimeter, the Lions are playing man-cover with their corners covering WR Jones and WR Nelson on the outside while OLB Justin Durant (52) covers WR Cobb in the slot.  This leaves the safety to cover TE Finley while presumably the other safety drops back into zone coverage making it a cover-1 man defense.

10

June

Packers Offense: Why Tricky Does Not Mean Complex

In a recent article on NBC, Football Outsiders senior writer Mike Tanier wrote a piece on how the lockout might have a detrimental affect NFL offenses.  (Picture taken from National Football Post, props to anyone who can figure out what play this diagram is showing)  The reasoning is pretty simple, with less time to prepare and train players due to the lockout, playbooks and offensive philosophies that are considered “tricky” are going to be harder to execute than “simple” offenses and therefore put “tricky” offenses at a disadvantage.

I respect Tanier’s work and I think Football outsiders is one of the best football websites out there, but this article had me scratching my head a little.  The implicit suggestion of this article is that if a team utilizes a “tricky” offense they should consider dumbing it down to account for the lockout.

To me this seems a little bit ridiculous, teams spend years building an identity and to throw it out the window for one year sounds like a decidedly bad idea.  Should the Packers take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers hands and start calling more running plays?  That’s not who the Packers are and it definitely wouldn’t work for them.  That’s like asking the Tennessee Titans (who Tanier uses for comparison for the Packers), to take the ball away from Chris Johnson and give it to (insert quarterback here).

To me the inherent flaw in this piece is that ”tricky” plays are inherently complex and that complexity is handled the same for each team.

  1. Personnel factor heavily on the play selection: All teams try to maximize the strength of their players while mitigating their weaknesses.  For the Titans, this means running the ball and for the Packers this means throwing the ball.  You can bet that if the Titans had Aaron Rodgers they would throw it more or if the Packers had Chris Johnson they would run it more.  Simply put, the Packers are built to run a more “tricky” offense, but that also means that they are better suited to run “tricky” plays.
    • Above all, the quarterback determines the limit of “trickiness”: The quality of a quarterback can mitigate many positional deficiencies on the offense, but the quality of a quarterback also determines how “tricky” an offense can get.  The Titans are a mess at quarterback at the moment, they’ve announced that former starter Vince Young will no longer be on the team and Kerry Collins is not lock to make it back either.  The team also drafted Jake Locker in the 1st round, who is considered talented but raw at this moment (and is a rookie quarterback to top it off).  It’s pretty obvious that the Titans are going to try to limit the damage of an inexperienced/ineffective quarterback by relying on its running game and defense.  On the other hand, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, who might be the best quarterback in the NFL at the moment, and actually taking away “tricky” plays would likely hurt Rodgers’ production.