A Green Bay Packers Spy Story: WHODUNNIT?

Packers Spy 49ers

Erik Walden and Clay Matthews – Packers Spys?

I spy… a blitz?

The impetus for writing this post was to determine once and for all, how much actual “spying” of Colin Kaepernick did the Green Bay Packers do and who was involved? On twitter after the game, there was a wide disparity of opinions on this topic. Some bemoaned why the Packers didn’t employ a spy, others claimed they were spying most of the game. I knew the truth lied somewhere in-between.

I had spotted two instances myself during the first half, always with a linebacker as the spy. As the second half rolled along, I started looking for the Packers to possibly spy the speedy Kaepernick with a DB, but it never came. I was thinking perhaps a modified version of nickel, where a linebacker (Hawk or Jones) would come out instead of a defensive lineman.

My first thought was to use Woodson in this role, but that would have made things a lot easier for Vernon Davis. So I settled on fan favorite Jarret Bush. As the gunner on punt returns, he is face to face at high speed with a guy trying to run by him with the ball. Bush could have handled the job.

In any case, I just had to find out how hard the Packers tried to contain Kaepernick. So, I went through the coaches’ All-22 film of the game and noted every time Kaepernick either ran the ball or threw a pass.  A complete listing of the plays is found below, along with video of the four plays where the Packers employed a Spy.

But first, lets summarize and discuss what I found:

37    PASSES:  Number of times Kaepernick dropped back to pass.

4       SCRAMBLES:  Number of times Kaepernick scrambled after dropping back to pass.

8       PLANNED RUNS:  Number of times Kaepernick kept the ball on a planned run.

4      SPYS:  Number of times Packers used a spy (all in second quarter)

13     BLITZ:  Number of times Packers rushed five or more players.


So, I pretty much found what I expected with regards to spy plays. They tried it four times, all in the second quarter. They used Walden twice and Clay Matthews twice. Video and a brief discussion of each play is a little further down in this post.



Clay Matthews III Super Bowl Film Study – Tracking the Packers Predator

You may not have known it from casually watching the game or reading the stat sheet, but Clay Matthews III (CM3) was the focal point of the Super Bowl. When Matthews was on the field, both the Steelers’ and the Packers’ strategies revolved directly around Clay Matthews.

As I went back and watched the TV broadcast for the first time (I had only seen the game live previously), I decided to focus in on Matthews. All the post game talk had been about how Matthews was used by the Packers, but I was also curious about what the Steelers did to counteract the potential descriptiveness of Matthews.

I’ll discuss the Steelers’ strategy and then  move on to Dom Capers evil plan for CM3. But first, here’s a tally of what Matthews did on each play.

Matthews Tracking Summary:

16: Running plays AT CM3

4:  Running plays AWAY FROM CM3

23:   Controlled Blitzes: (comes and then pulls up – making sure Roethlisberger didn’t have an escape route to his side)

10: Real Blitzes: (CM3 coming all out after the QB)

6:  Drops in coverage

8:  Plays “I Spy” with Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh Steelers:

The next time someone criticizes Clay Matthews for not having a sack or making any big plays in a game, remember this; one way or another, opposing teams must structure their entire game plan to account for Clay Matthews.

Some teams have taken the approach of double and triple teaming him and running their offense away from his side. The 49ers tried this, and I wrote about it in a previous Matthews Film Study of the San Francisco 49ers game.

Pittsburgh, as might be expected with Mike Tomlin and Dick Lebeau as their coaches, took the opposite approach. They decided to go right at him.  Their plan was to run at him all day with good old fashioned power football. Tight ends, fullbacks, tackles, pulling guards, you name it,  they ran them head on at Matthews all day.

On NFL Network’s Sound FX (around the 2:34 mark), Steelers running back coach Kirby Wilson says to Issac Redman about Matthews, “He doesn’t want to take on the run. He’s a pass-rush specialist… We’re going to keep pounding their ass on this play and make this guy quit eventually.”