Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 17 at Minnesota Vikings

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So Packers vs. Vikings part II with a definite part III coming up.  Again, if there is any play in particular you would like to see my analyze, please leave comments below.  As for this week I’ve decided to take a look at one of the times where quarterback Christian Ponder was able to beat the Packers defense through the air.  My belief is that the Packers at best can only slow down Adrian Peterson, so it becomes paramount to stop Christian Ponder and the passing since the Packers have already proven that Adrian Peterson can destroy the Packers run defense and still lose the game.

The situation: The score is tied at 27 all with the Packers surging in the 2nd half with 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter.  The Vikings know they have to make a big move soon or be on the losing end of a scoring race to the finish line.  To their advantage is that Adrian Peterson has maintained his regular season form and is playing lights out, which makes the Packers very susceptible to play-action as every Packers defender is fixated on Peterson.

The formation: The Vikings come out in a 1-2-2 formation (1WR-2TE-2RB) with WR Jarius Wright being the lone Vikings outside the core of the formation split out wide left.  The Packers respond with their base 3-4 defense.  The defensive line consists of DE Ryan Pickett (79), NT BJ Raji (90) and DE CJ Wilson (98), all three appear to be tasked with taking up blockers so for all intents and purposes do not factor into the play (unless of course they were playing “jet” and attempting to rush the passer, which they all failed to do) The linebackers are composed of LOLB Erik Walden (93), ILB AJ Hawk (50), ILB Brad Jones (59) and ROLB Clay Matthews (52).  Finally in the secondary the two cornerbacks are CB Tramon Williams (38) and CB Sam Shields (37) while the safeties are FS Morgan Burnett (42) and SS Jeron McMillian (22).

 

Pre-Snap: The Vikings motion TE John Carlson (89) from the inline to the right tackle to slightly behind left tackle in a two point stance.  In response, FS Burnett rotates from centerfield to heads up with Carlson while SS McMillian rotates off the line of scrimmage and out into centerfield, in essence TE Carlson rotating causes FS Burnett and SS McMillian to switch positions and assignments.  The move also causes OLB Matthews to wide his pass rush as TE Carlson is now over his side and could either chip or double team him with the left tackle.

Snap: QB Christian Ponder drops back almost 1o yards and sets up for a pass.  ROLB Matthews, who was already aligned out wide to account for Carlson is ridden out of the play by LT Matt Khalil.  LOLB Walden appears to have either the edge or the fullback and doesn’t attempt to rush the passer.  That added by the fact that I believe none of the defensive linemen were attempting to rush the passer leads to a very clean pocket and a lot of time for Ponder to make a decision.

McMillian’s Decision: At this point it becomes appearant that the Packers are playing some form of zone defense with both ILB Hawk and Jones dropping into coverage while FS Burnett looks to be covering the right flat.  Unfortunately, TE Carlson has released into a route and has slipped by both ILBs.  SS McMillian also knows that CB Shields is left on an island with WR Wright and has a decision to make.  If SS McMillian chooses to cheat towards TE Carlson, then he’s leaving CB Shields by himself and a potential big play, but if he cheats towards CB Shields and WR Wright, if TE Carlson gets the ball, neither ILB is likely to be able to make a play and Carlson might go for a long gain as well.  SS McMillian ultimately looks to pick staying with TE Carlson, leaving CB Shields by himself.

Shields’ Mistake: WR Wright performs a double move, which not only eats up CB Shields cushion but also turns him around, at which point Wright passes him .  SS McMillian tries to change course and help out CB Shields but at that point the ball is already in the air.

Wright’s Catch: At this point Shields is no longer in a position to make a play on the ball, the only hope he has is that either WR Wright doesn’t come up with the ball or Shields manages to catch him and tackle him.  Unluckily for CB Shields the ball is thrown well and WR Wright catches the ball, luckily CB Shields is so fast that he manages to recover and save a touchdown.

Conclusion: So the first off, motioning Carlson is a pretty smart move as it forces the safeties to swap roles, while Burnett is passable in run support, it’s McMillian’s forte and McMillian is still learning nuances of pass defense.  The second issue to address is McMillian’s decision, should he have been helping out Shields or was he correct in leaving Shields to himself.  Personally, I think McMillian played this one according to the plan, and my reasoning is based on Shields location pre-snap.  Notice that Shields is about 7 yards away from Wright at the snap, this typically means that it’s Shields responsibility to not let Wright get behind him.  If McMillian was really supposed to be over top Wright helping out Shields, my assumption would be that Shields would have move up to the line and attempted to reroute Wright.  Instead with Carlson motion, Shields actually moves further back probably indicating that he knew he was all alone.  Of course, the main reason that McMillian and Shields are put under pressure is that #1 both ILBs are in a terrible location to do anything about Carlson and #2 as far as I can tell Clay Matthews is the only pass rusher in the play.  Again, it doesn’t appear as if any of the defensive linemen are attempting to rush the passer; neither Ryan Pickett or CJ Wilson are really all that good as pass rushers so presumably they aren’t rushing, this only leaves BJ Raji; I can’t tell what his assignment truly is but either way he doesn’t get any penetration.

Overall, it’s the same problem as last year, no pass rush equals pressure on the secondary, who can’t hold on for that long.  Luckily the Packers looked to have solved this problem this season and this might just be an isolated incident where the Vikings just happened to have the right play called at the right time.  It will be interesting to see if the Vikings can repeat plays like this during the Wildcard; if they can it’s debatable if the Packers will win the game.

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Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • Elo

    Nice job Thomas. Seems like someone, Im guessing Hawk, needs to communicate better here. Not sure why 4 guys are stuck evenly in the middle of the field to cover the tight end. These kind of pays seem to let the offense dictate te action, and the Pack just waits for the play to develop. I’d like to see more aggressive play calling and better communication.

  • steve cheez

    Great analysis, as always, Thomas. Can’t wait for a better play for you to look at next week!

  • Wild Bill

    Great analysis. can you detail the lone touchdown the Pack gave up Saturday? They were really playing a solid defense, then it seemed like everyone feel asleep at the same time.