Insights Gained from a Full Packers Season of Film Sessions

Another Green Bay Packers season has come and gone. I’ve not missed a season since I started watching the team in 1985. Over the years, some seasons ended in triumph, while others ended in agony and defeat.

This season obviously didn’t end the way we wanted. That’s still a tough pill to swallow.

I’ve watched hundreds of Packers games over the decades, but what makes this year different for me was Jersey Al asked me to write about X’s and O’s this year for him. As such, this was the first season that I re-watched every game (some multiple times) using the all-22 coaches tape. That was a real treat to see all the plays like that.

Since this is my end of season film session wrap up, I thought I’d share my observations I learned from watching the coaches tape all season. These are some of my gut feelings (I didn’t chart every play) from watching 22 games (preseason, regular season, and playoffs) from the all-22. They aren’t all inclusive, so don’t take my lack of mentioning something to mean I haven’t thought about it. Post some of your thoughts in the comments section, and we can continue a conversation there.

Game plans for home games were different than road games. We know all about how the Packers were much better at home (9-0 including playoffs) than on the road (4-5 including playoffs). Sure, it’s tough to win on the road. It’s even tougher when your game plans are more conservative when away from home. The Packers’ offense was much more aggressive when in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field and they used the “let it rip” mentality and took many more deep shots through the air. On the road, however, the plans were scaled back for reasons we’ll never know, but I can only assume it was to reduce mistakes and turnovers. That’s playing scared. You have to let it rip more on the road. Even the second time against the Seahawks the passing game was a shell of itself. Maybe it was due to Aaron Rodgers’ calf, but it was scaled back compared to the Cowboys game played in Lambeau.

Mike McCarthy’s offense has evolved considerably. I’ve read numerous posts all over the internet about how his offense is stale and predictable. I beg to differ and claim just the opposite. It’s as modern of an offense as you’ll see in the NFL. He incorporates packaged plays, an equal balance of zone and man blocking schemes in the running game, and his passing combinations are as diverse as the “west coast” offense currently is around the league. The way of the 2-back offense is dying in the NFL, but the Packers have one of the best implementations of this fading trend. Kuhn as a true fullback opened holes better than the now de facto tight end playing H-back. Also, McCarthy frequently utilized many “run and shoot” concepts to develop his vertical passing game, which was very wide open, provided they were actually playing aggressively.

Dom Capers isn’t the Dom of old. He made his name for himself while coming up the NFL ranks with his aggressive zone blitz scheme. He’s backed off the zone blitz considerably over the years, but he did use some during the 2010 Super Bowl run. That B.J. Raji interception for a touchdown in the NFC Championship game against the Bears? A zone blitz. In 2014, I don’t seem to recall him using it for more than a few plays, if even at all (in the sense of dropping a true fatty into coverage; he dropped Peppers plenty). He now utilizes more basic coverage schemes, which makes for no coincidence that the pass defense was better this year compared to the last few seasons. He’s still an innovative fellow, which is evident in his creative packages, such as NASCAR.

Special Teams was an unmitigated disaster. There’s no way to sugar coat that. The Packers had the worst special team units in the NFL based on statistics, but also with the eye ball test. There’s little lane discipline, horrible angles, and costly over-aggression. They need to just execute the system as a team instead of trying to be individual heroes. The system is also suspect, and I’m surprise Shawn Slocum still has a job in Green Bay.

Eddie Lacy has hit his ceiling. Sure, he’s a good back. He grinds out yards. But, what we saw this year is what we’ll see for the next few years. He’ll be that guy who gains 800-1000 yards every season, but he won’t ever get above 1100 too often, if at all ever again. He’s not fast and elusive. His vision isn’t great and he frequently misses reads and holes. Because of those, he left a lot of yards on the field. You can’t coach vision and instinct. In 2014, he added many valuable yards in the passing game, so his development as a player was nice to see and hasn’t ended yet. But, he’s not going to develop into the next DeMarco Murray or Le’Veon Bell in the next season or two. I think he played a little heavy and would benefit from losing 10 or more pounds. The lighter back we saw at Alabama isn’t the same back we see in a Packers uniform. The shelf life of NFL running backs is short, so the clock is ticking on Eddie and we’ve seen his best work. That’s not a complaint; I’m simply tempering your expectations for the future.

Randall Cobb is worth every dollar some team will pay him. His versatility in the slot and outside the numbers is a rare combination. He has sure hands, always seems to get open, he runs great routes, and he rarely drops the ball.

Bryan Bulaga had a bounce back year when he needed it most. He was able to stay healthy and he probably played his best season as a Packers yet. He’s due for some money, and like Cobb, he’s worth every penny someone will offer him.

Corey Linsley was the steal of the draft and the Packers definitely have something in him. He was supposed to hold down the fort while J.C. Tretter healed, but he never abdicated his position. I lost count of how many blocks Linsley ended in a dominant position or as a pancake.

Clay Matthews is a play maker. After having some down seasons, which some people debate, he had a nice bounce back year as well. Remarkably, he maintained his health all season (or didn’t miss much time due to nagging injuries) and his switch to middle linebacker rejuvenated his career. He was also more effective on the outside, as if he was playing with a renewed purpose and passion. He’s not the solution to the Packers’ inside linebacker problem, but he’s a stud and will have an integral role in 2015.

Julius Peppers was a nice addition to the locker room and on the field. No one can ever question that. But, he’s clearly on the downward slide of his career. He was only a shadow of the player he was only three short seasons ago.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has a bright future. He made typical rookie mistakes, such as lowering his head on tackles and taking poor angles. But his nose for the ball and play making abilities cannot be understated. He’s natural in coverage (except for the 2-pt conversion non-sense, which we won’t talk about) and has extremely flexible hips. His ability gives Dom Capers a new toy to use next year. Expect to see him patrolling the deep end of the field and then even dropping down into coverage to play over the slot. He’s that talented.

That’s all I’ll say about this for now. I don’t want to steal any thunder from upcoming articles and reviews that Jersey Al has planned.

It’s been a fun ride and I enjoyed the film sessions.

Go Pack Go!

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Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WISports.com.

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.

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  • Chad Toporski

    Love the overview! Especially this:

    “Mike McCarthy’s offense has evolved considerably.”

    I think when some people claim “predictability,” they can’t see beyond run vs. pass.

    • Jay

      Thanks, Chad!

  • Since ’61

    Nice job Jay! I was able to do more film study in the past than I have in recent seasons which is why I usually argue that execution is more important than the play calling. In any case I usually get to re-watch every game at least once. I think that MMs game plans are more conservative on the road because as the offense has evolved as you mentioned it has become more dependent on Rodgers calling or changing the play at the LOS. The Packers go to silent counts on the road and this limits the amount of plays Rodgers can call at the LOS and thus limits the offensive options. As you correctly point out it is to overcome crowd noise and limit mistakes and missed assignments. Slocum needs to go, no argument there. As for Lacy, I have noted the same concerns as you, he leaves a lot of yards on the field and in many of the run plays MM is criticized for calling Lacy should have gained positive yards but he often misses the lane or hesitates when he could be running for positive yards. As for his best years he may have 1 or 2 left if the OL plays as it did over the second half of this season and if he loses about 10 pounds as you mentioned. Your comments about Linsley are spot on, he is a gem. Dix has solidified the Safety position and if he remains healthy he could involve into an All-Pro safety in this league. Thanks, Since ’61

    • Jay

      Thanks, 61. I think Clinton-Dix has Pro Bowl written all over him. Linsley, too. I expect even bigger things from them next year.

    • Tundraboy

      I agree Lacy could stand to get in better shape. Rodgers too,btw. Some more muscle perhaps, At RB looking forward to seeing what Neal looks like next year,

  • aaron

    Spot on assessment of Lacy, Matthews, Linsley, and Cobb.

    McCarthy’s conservative plan on the road was perfect. Why risk turnovers and inefficiency on the road. Road games were predicated on getting Rodgers into a rhythm.

    I want to say the move to ILB helped Clay stay healthy. Think about it every single hamstring injury occurred during a pass rush. Reducing Clays pass rushes attributed to him playing his 1st full season in years. Clay needs to except his body can’t withstand a full season at OLB.

    For almost a decade Ted has used bargain talent at ILB and Safety. I believe his philosophy changed after seeing San Francisco and Seattle dominate because of those positions. Don’t be surprised to see major draft moves at linebacker.

    • Jay

      I think Thompson goes MLB at 30, but don’t be surprised to see him trade down if his MLB guy isn’t there at 30.

    • “McCarthy’s conservative plan on the road was perfect. Why risk turnovers and inefficiency on the road.”

      Have to disagree, and so did the author. GB scored a lot less on the road, and its 4-5 record on the road was not great. Since ’61’s comment that the game plan got more conservative in part because Rodgers was not able to change as many plays at the LOS due to silent counts is interesting.

  • croatpackfan

    One thing is for sure. I’m so sad this X’s and O’s has to go on the shelf for some time. It was so instructive and so helpful for me I can’t tell you how much. I started to watch football with more understanding and that brings me more pleasure.
    Regarding your overview with special notes to some parts of the team coaches and players, I may say I tend to agree with you. You know that I was constantly defend A. J. Hawk, but, I’m sure he is not coming back. I do not know what it is, but he become very slow in reaction as well as in execution, so I think, maybe he can start some position trainer job, just to put away so many disappointing moments from this year. I would like to mention Brian Bulaga to add to your list of players who worths every cent spent on them. Julius should stay another season, but with limited level of snaps. I think we have to find another RB who will take main load of running from Eddie if we want Eddie to be our puncher in the mouth for several additional years.
    Once again, thank you for your efforts!

    • Jay

      Thanks, Croat! I appreciate you reading and commenting regularly.

  • Savage57

    Nice work, Jay. One of the elements of the Packers offense that I THINK I’ve seen change over the years are the number of routes or route options that seem to be static, where a receiver sits in a soft spot as opposed to the route flow that we used to see in the days of Driver and Jennings where YAC were more available if for no other reason than catches being made in motion. I also realize that Jordy’s had his stretch plays where he’s added tons of YAC on a handful of plays that went deep and that a lot of Cobb’s ‘squat’ routes’ are scramble drills.

    Jay, has what you watched this year shown that or am I imagining things?

    • Jay

      Great question, and I’m not sure I have a definitive answer. I didn’t watch film from previous years to compare, so I’m only going by my gut feeling.

      I think you’re right. A lot of the Packers’ underneath passing game is running routes to a specific spot. Sometimes, Rodgers hits them in stride to the spot, but they do a have a specific geometry to them. The Packers do take long shots, and those are more of the timing routes.

      Also, a lot of the routes they run are also dictated whether they are facing zone or man coverage. If zone, the receivers option to a weak spot or a seam. If man, they, they work to get open and are often hit in stride.

  • Razer

    Thanks for turning the last game hangover into a view of something better. I liked your insights throughout the season and I trust your observations going forward. I look forward to learning more about the game and another great Packers season.

    • Jay

      I have hope for next season. Even coaches can learn from their mistakes.

  • Great stuff Jay. You have a talent for bringing the knowledge to the masses. It’s nice to have a breakdown that I can understand without having to get a PhD in football.

    • Jay

      Thanks! Glad you like reading my columns.

  • Taryn Miller

    Before I begin with my comment….I’m already ducking the rocks being thrown via those of stat sheet adorers.

    I know many love the spin and at times big gains/runs of Lacy and can easily be blinded by such,but I don’t think we have gotten from Lacy the consistent level of expectation of him and while eliminating the wonder that a stat sheet ‘average’ can imply either way,Lacy has failed the team more than helped it over all.

    Matthews is a talented guy no doubt but he has dropped at the OLB level needed and has now offered a hope for a low spot at ILB with some decent-good showings,but lets remember it wouldn’t take much to improve such dire.

    Peppers has given what was hoped for on the field though it may not be so easily repeated regardless of limitations of next seasons snaps if even with the team…$12 mill says no but a restructure to $7mill for one more says yes.The other part for his signing was to,IMO,heighten the level of play of those who have been mediocre…Perry,Neal,D Jones…..this was a hit and miss throughout the season but certainly closer to a miss over all in regards to the three in question.

    Cobb is a must sign and hopefully it becomes a reality asap.

    Bulaga would be a nice keep for the teams OL but over paying shouldn’t be a part of the plan.

    All we can hope for with Ha Ha and Linsley is no 2nd year drop off.

    I think the draft this season can be very beneficial for the Packers.

    • Jay

      No rocks from me. I agree with a lot of what you say. The film never lies.

      • Taryn Miller

        I appreciate the nod of agreement. 🙂

        • I disagree about Lacy. He’s been one of the top 10 backs in the league each of his first two seasons. He’s better than anyone the Lions have and considering his age, I’d rather have him than Forte. AP? Well, there’s only one of him isn’t there.

          And I wouldn’t touch DeMarco with a 10 foot pole. Boy Wonder Cowboys Coach obviously used him up this year in an attempt to make the playoffs so he could keep his job. 400 carries is WAY WAY too many in one year. DeMarco might have 1 more good year left in him.

          All in all, Lacy has been a fantastic add for GB. Remember 2011? How bad that running attack was? 2010? 2008-2009 for cripes sakes.

          I’d rather have Bell, Shady, AP, CJ Anderson, Lynch (although not at his contract level) over Lacy right now. That’s not very many.

          Yes, Lacy can improve. He’s not all-world and probably never will be. But he is a good player.

          • Jay

            I think Lacy is good. He’s a very productive runner who brings a toughness we’ve not seen in a while. But, he does leave a lot of yards on the field. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan, just like I was when he was in college at Alabama. I’m just trying to be objective and not let my fanboyism get in the way of my analysis.

            • Agreed. He’s not Emmet Smith, nor AP. But he might just be Jerome Bettis by the time it’s all said and done. I’d take that in a heartbeat.

          • Nick Perry

            I had read that Lacy wanted to lose a few pounds entering TC next year, like 10 or 15 Lbs. While I agree with Jay he seemed to lack vision missing the lane many times this past season. I’ll say this, if McCarthy would eliminate that pitchout from the shotgun the running game would improve greatly. I’m with Bearmeat, he’s a good player, not great but good, and a hell of a lot better than anyone they had for the last several seasons.

  • Tundraboy

    2B set is OK but then there is no TE passing threat which to me is the biggest problem on O and predictability. Kuhn opening holes for Lacy is fine but it telegraphs run and it just sugarcoats our need at TE since Finley left. If R Rodgers becomes a better blocker great but why wait.

    • Jay

      Kuhn on the field doesn’t necessarily telegraph run. The passing game out of the 2-back set is pretty diverse. Plus, Kuhn is great in pass protection as well.

      • Tundraboy

        No but there are situations where it does. Maybe I am just seeing a pattern,or its frustration of not seeing that diversity in the playoffs.

  • Greg Maus

    Fairly spot-on, though I think the Lacy take was a little harsh. Comparing to Murray in the conversation is apples and oranges. The Dallas OL is a better run-blocking line than GB (though GB is the best pass-blocking line) and makes holes you could drive an 18-wheeler through. They fed Murray 392 carries. I think alot of RB’s would throw up big numbers in those circumstances. Lacy’s just not asked to be the focal point of the offense.

    • Jay

      It probably was a little harsh in the eyes of fans, and make no mistake, I’m a huge fan as well. But, I also firmly believe that the film never lies. Lacy did leave lots of yards on the field.

  • I agree with Croatpackfan. Your articles are some of the best I read anywhere. Now to nitpicking.

    I agree on Lacy. He leaves yards on the field when he breaks into space due to a lack of elusiveness and speed (but we knew that when he was drafted), and due to lack of vision when attacking the LOS. But his receiving is much better, and his pass pro is very good. When Starks is picking up a rusher, Rodgers’ eyes don’t stay downfield but are looking to see if he is going to get killed. Rodgers often continues to look downfield when Lacy or Kuhn is picking up the rusher.

    Surprised by your comment on Cobb. I view him as a slot only receiver. Stats I quote are his 14.1 yd. average per catch drops to 8.0 yards when he is a boundary receiver and he was in the slot 86% of the time. Stats though can have explanations. This matters: if the tape indicates he can be a boundary receiver, his FA value skyrockets.

    I agree with you on CMIII in that I think he was very effective OLBer but I do think he can be the answer at ILB or as a Hybrid. Many are assuming that we draft an ILB and he magically becomes a plug and play starter as a rookie. It can and has been done, but it is a tall order for any GM with the 30th pick.

    I agree with your comments on Peppers, but your mention that he is on the downside of his career and is only a shadow of the player he was begs the question of what should be done with him contractually and on the field next year. $12 million cap his should be for elite players, and $5 million dead money is a lot. Father time can hit at any time, but assuming that his physical gifts will be about the same next year as they were this year, what do you think? 1) did Peppers get better technically (for eg., in coverage) at OLB as he got more comfortable and got more reps and will he continue to progress next year? 2) do you think his stats will be about the same, better or worse if he played only 35 snaps per game? 3) Can he still play DE?

    I am mostly curious about Cobb and Peppers.

    • Jay

      Thank you! I appreciate that.

      I should elaborate a little on Cobb. I tried to save space to prevent the article from being super long. Cobb was primarily used in the slot, and in the absence of an elite tight end running the seam routes consistently, McCarthy used Cobb in that sort of seam/option receiver. That’s Cobb’s role, and he’s very good at it.

      But, he also has the talent to play outside the numbers. He’s done it several times, and he looks right at home when doing it. That’s why I think he’s super talented. So, while his outside numbers don’t pop out on the stats sheet, he passes the eye ball test. He has the ability to be an outside receiver, which is something that Wes Welker, for example, really struggles with. It’s more of a gut feeling than an elaborate stats breakdown.

  • marpag

    Nothing more to say except thanks for all the articles, Jay. Great stuff every time. (Or maybe I’m just glad I’m not the only one who thinks MM can certainly hold his own in managing the offense.)

    See you next season, everyone. You too, Big T.

    • Jay

      Thanks, Marpag.