So special teams is one of those things that no fan knows about but we all love to gripe about. For instance, other than the kicker, punter, long snapper and gunner, do you know the name of any other position? I sure don’t but I will yell at the screen when the guy misses a block. This is essentially what happened during the “punt, pass and puke” play as quoted by Drew Olsen on Green and Gold Today. We all know it was a terrible play, and head coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coach Shawn Slocum both got plenty of heat for the call. But why call the play in the first place?
The Situation: The score is Green Bay 21, Chicago 10 with 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter. The Packers are sitting pretty well at the moment, the Bears offense hasn’t been able to move the ball (i.e. failing to convert a single 3rd down) while the Packers have had success both on the ground as well as in the air and look to burn some time with a two score lead.
Snap: The Packers come out with two players matching each gunner. This is typically done to give the punt returner some more space on the edges but they give up any real chance of blocking the punt as well as being overmatched in the middle
The Kick: This picture was taking immediately after the kick, as you can see the Packers didn’t get anywhere close to blocking P Adam Podlesh’s punt (the closest Packers is 5 yards away and has already turned for pursuit). I’ve circled WR Jeremy Ross (10) so keep an eye out for him as the play progresses.
Fielding The Punt: You can now see PR Randall Cobb (18) relative to WR Ross, also notice at this point, Ross still appears to be blocking the gunner.
Beginning of Trick Play: At this point WR Ross begins to peel away from the action and get ready for the lateral. Also notice at this point no Bear has noticed that WR Ross is doing something other than blocking the gunner
The Lateral: This is just before PR Cobb makes the lateral pass. Notice the vast majority of Bears players are still heading towards PR Cobb.
The Catch: The Bears react to the lateral pass but essentially it’s t0o late, WR Ross doesn’t have anyone within 5 yards of him and he has 5 blockers (two who are downfield) to only two Bears defenders. Also notice he basically has no one infront of him as P Podlesh on the left hash due to PR Cobb. Unfortunately for the Packers, it appears as if PR Cobb’s pass floats on him a little and WR Ross has trouble fielding the ball, gets tackled by WR Eric Weems and the Bears recover in great field position
Conclusion: So not one of the most “intelligent” plays ever called by the Packers but my assumption is that Mike McCarthy and Shawn Slocum aren’t idiots, so the question becomes what’s the rationale behind calling the play?
- Hypothesis – The Packers special teams hates the Bears special teams and wanted to rub it in their face. This seems to be the general consensus among the media (Green and Gold Today and the Waddle and Silvy Show), who postulate that the Bears have always dominanted the Packers special teams and therefore the Packers wanted to run a trick play to snub the Bears. Bears fans especially seem to use it as proof that the Packers were being disrespectful. My contention is that the Packers were being disrespectful with their own intelligence with the play but I doubt either McCarthy nor Slocum would really risk calling such a dangerous play just to disrespect the Bears. The Packers can clinch a playoff spot with a win against the Bears and are already ahead two scores in the 4th quarter. Especially considering McCarthy’s M.O. of playing conservative (i.e. running the ball) when they have the lead late in the game seems to point that revenge wasn’t the main rationale.
- Hypothesis – Mike McCarthy and Shawn Slocum didn’t actually call the play, it was a “automatic”: Lots of special teams plays go on reads. For instance, during week 2 against the Bears, the Packers kicking unit noticed the Bears were overloading the left side of the formation so they lateraled the ball to TE Tom Crabtree on 4th and 26th for the touchdown. These types of plays aren’t specifically called, but players are given the option of calling them should the occasion present itself. Keep in mind no one on special teams has a helmet with a radio (usually), so coaches can’t change the play on the line. Furthermore, they probably wouldn’t call a trick play before seeing how the other team aligns. This initially was my explanation for the play, but a couple things probably make this hypothesis false as well. For one, there’s no way Randall Cobb has a chance of seeing the alignment of the Bears from 40 yards away to make the call to throw a lateral (unless it is somehow being relayed to him from the side line before the start of the play, which seems unlikely). Second, it appears as if the rest of the punt unit is aware of the lateral, since there are so many blockers ready for Ross.
- Hypothesis – Aaron Rodgers ankle injury resulted in a trick play: This was Mike McCarthy’s explanation during his post-game press conference and frankly this seems to be the least likely of all the explainations. For one, Aaron Rodgers was trying to walk it off on the sideline, so presumably he was still capable of handing off passes to a running back, and running three times and punting would definitely fit McCarthy’s M.O. when he’s ahead late in a game in the sense that it’s a conservative call that unlikely to back-fire in his face. Secondly, Rodgers has played hurt before and I don’t seem to recall McCarthy trying trick plays a result. Realistically, if Rodgers was hurt and needed a drive off, Graham Harrell or even Randall Cobb could play quarterback for a drive while Rodgers stretches the strain out.
- Hypothesis – The Packers saw something in punt returns that lead them to believe they could pull off a trick play: This is the hypothesis that I’m sticking to at the moment. The Packers must have seen the Bears play punts a certain way in previous games or during the game that lead them to believe a lateral would work. And really, the play is actually a pretty good one. If Ross (one of the best returners at Cal) manages to field the ball cleanly and allude one player (and Jarrett Bush doesn’t get called for a hold), chances are good Ross scores a touchdown. In fact the Packers must have been so confident that the play would work that they were even willing to call it when they were ahead by two touchdowns late in the 4th quarter. Perhaps McCarthy and Slocum figured the Bears couldn’t move the ball on offense, so even if the play backfires the defense can bail them out. While this is indeed what eventually happened, I’m not entirely sure I would have predicted that, especially if Alshon Jefferies doesn’t get his 3 offensive pass interference calls (which are very rare in the NFL).
So that’s what I’m sticking with at the moment, but I would like you to comment below on why McCarthy, who isn’t a stupid football ball coach would try such a dangerous and potentially stupid play.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.