Category Archives: Running Backs

28

July

Packers Xs and Os: What We Might See From McCarthy’s Up-Tempo Offense (Part 2)

Will Aaron Rodgers be leading an up-tempo or no huddle offense in 2014? (Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today).

Will Aaron Rodgers be leading an up-tempo or no huddle offense in 2014? (Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today).

Last week, we started to discuss some offensive concepts we might see rolled out this year if Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is true to his word about going up-tempo with three-down personnel.

This week, we’ll look at some basic passing route combinations I expect to see the Packers to use in an up-tempo, and possibly no huddle, game plan.

Of course, there is a huge combination of formations and routes an NFL offense can roll out to attack complex defenses. So, for this article, I’m making some very basic assumptions and this carries my standard disclaimer that this is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes only. Also, we’ll only look at some of the most common route combinations found in the west coast offense playbook.

Assumptions

  • The offense is in the 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers).
  • The offense is in a 2×2 alignment.
  • Even if a play is called in the huddle, sight adjustments at the line of scrimmage during the pre-snap read trump the huddle. The quarterback and receivers will adjust their routes to attack the coverage the defense is showing. This may be from a quarterback audible or automatic sight adjustments.
  • The defenses discussed here will only include man-to-man, man-to-man/blitz, cover 2, and cover 3.
  • Most of the route combinations will spread and attack the defense using the high/low principle to stress the cornerbacks.

Attack Keys

The quarterback and receivers must see the same thing in terms of how the defense is covering the field. Of utmost importance is reading the backpedal of the safeties. For simplicity sake, I’m assuming here that the quarterback and receivers have properly read that. Therefore, the keys of the routes will be reading and stressing the cornerbacks.

The route combinations described below are designed to attack the cornerbacks and make them make a decision and force them into a bad angle or coverage.

All-Purpose Route Combinations

It’s important that the offense has route packages that can attack any coverage the defense rolls out. Not only is the defense really good at disguising their coverage pre-snap, but sometimes the offense also wants to run a play before the defense can even align and get into a coverage. So, it’s good strategy to have route concepts that can attack either man-to-man coverage or zone coverage equally as effective.

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16

July

Packers Speed Does Not Mean Packers Efficiency

One of these guys is going to lower the Packers offensive snap count.

One of these guys is going to lower the Packers offensive snap count.

Recently, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy stated in an interview with Rob Demovsky that he plans for the Packers to run 75 offensive plays on average per game.  While this might seem like a great idea consider the Packers have one of the most high flying and potentially dangerous offenses in the NFL, one only needs to take a step back to realize how trying to shoot for 75 offensive plays per game on average doesn’t necessarily mean you are winning nor does it mean that your offense will get better.

First off context is important when considering how many plays the offense gets to make on average.  On one hand, obviously converting 3rd downs and extending drives will increase the total number of plays on offense and picking up the tempo of the offense with no huddle and hurry up offenses are things the Packers have done regularly with Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers will also likely increase how many offensive plays the Packers get.

However it’s also important to realize that snap count can also be inversely proportional to Packers offensive efficiency; for instance if the Packers are comfortably in the lead and are grinding out the clock by running the ball 3 times and punting (I like how fans complain when the Packers run the ball 3 times and punt but also complain when the Packers throw the ball when killing the clock as well) their total number of offensive plays will naturally decrease simply because they are waiting until the last second to snap the ball.

Furthermore, teams that are behind tend to play faster because they know they have get more done in a faster amount of time.  While the Denver Broncos, who had the best offense in the NFL last season, did have the highest number of offensive plays per game at 72, teams that also had higher average offensive plays per game were Buffalo (70), Washington (69), Houston (68) and Cleveland (67).  I don’t think anyone would argue that any of these teams fielded a top flight offense last year and it’s likely that playing from behind increases your offensive plays as opposing defenses are also playing more “prevent”/soft defenses in order to kill the clock further.

4

July

Where To Overload The Green Bay Packers Roster

Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis

With a strong preseason, Abbrederis and Janis could force the Packer to carry six wide receivers

I want to start off by wishing everyone a happy 4th of July!  I was supposed to be born on the bicentennial and decided to arrive early so I’m forever reminded of my need for patience on this glorious day in American history!

Heading into training camp in just under a month, the Green Bay Packers and their coaching staff are likely already discussing possible scenarios that the team can emerge with when they head into the 2014 regular season.  However, it’s way too early to make any hard and fast decisions on who will and won’t be on the final 53-man roster, save for the obvious guys.

One part of that discussion that has already started some buzz is which positions the Packers may consider carrying an extra player.  There is no real requirement for how many players a team has to carry at a certain position, but there are some historical averages that most teams operate under.  Below are the usual number of players seen on a roster that employs a base 3-4 defense.  Again, these are averages and many teams have used different combinations in the past, based on need and talent level.

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Quarterback (2)

Running Back/Fullback (4)

Wide Receiver (5)

Tight End (4)

Offensive Line (9)

Defensive Line (8)

Linebacker (8)

Cornerback (6)

Safety (4)

Kicker (1)

Punter (1)

Long snapper (1)

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Keep in mind that while teams carry 53 men on their roster, only 45 are dressed on game day.  Teams need to be sure that they’re giving themselves enough depth at each position based on who is most likely to suit up on a regular basis.

One example of why is last season when the Packers were faced with the harsh reality that they didn’t have what they needed at the quarterback position behind Aaron Rodgers.  Heading into the regular season, they carried only one backup, Seneca Wallace, and had Scott Tolzien on the practice squad.  By the time Rodgers returned in week 17, Wallace was on injured reserve, Tolzien was promoted to the active roster and Matt Flynn was signed mid-season.  The Packers ended the season with three quarterbacks on the active roster and I fully expect the same this season.

25

June

What is fair value for Eddie Lacy?

Eddie Lacy Pro Bowl

How much would you pay this guy?

Packers fans have been quipping that the running back is the most fungible position in the NFL; I’ve said it, my colleagues here on the blog have said it and tons of you have said it in your comments (yes we do read your comments).  In truth, it’s an easy thing for Packers fans to say simply because the Packers aren’t the type of team that revolves around running the ball; with Mike McCarthy at the helm, Aaron Rodgers behind center and Ted Thompson on top of the front office, the Packer’s have been a pass-first, pass-second, run as an afterthought type of franchise.

On the flip side, ask any Minnesota Vikings fans what they think about the running game and I’m sure you’ll get a completely different response.  Outside of a miraculous 2009 season, there hasn’t been much for Vikings fans to hang their hat on; sure the defense has been occasionally good but their football identity is running the ball with Adrian Peterson.  However Peterson is a once in a generation type of player and the simple fact is that running backs are not very valuable in the NFL; they’re production has plateaued lower than their receiving counterparts, the massive toll playing the position takes on their body and future production and the shift from the workhorse back to the running back by committee approach means you don’t need to find a running back that can do it all.  As a result, less and less running backs are being drafted, especially in the first round.

Packer’s fans might just have to start rethinking about the value of the running back position as the Packers might have a real star on their roster with Eddie Lacy in green and gold.  While Lacy was a godsend for the Packers last year and was essentially the offense while Aaron Rodgers recovered from his broken clavicle, Lacy was paid a mere $405,000 for perhaps the best season a running back has had since Ahman Green in his heyday. Keep in mind this is after winning rookie of the year honors; when Charles Woodson won defensive player of the year honors in 2010, the Packers responded by giving him a huge increase in pay even though he still had plenty of years left on his contract.

24

June

Cory’s Corner: A healthy DuJuan Harris is a perfect No. 2

DuJuan Harris rushed for 157 yards in four games in 2012. He missed all of last season with a knee injury.

DuJuan Harris rushed for 157 yards in four games in 2012. He missed all of last season with a knee injury.

The news about Johnathan Franklin was stunning and devastating.

Even without Franklin, the Packers’ running back position still appears to have plenty of promise. There is a Rookie of the Year returning in Eddie Lacy and a guy that tore up the postseason en route to a Super Bowl title in James Starks.

But with Franklin’s career-ending injury, DuJuan Harris is a guy that the Packers really need to produce.

Harris injured his knee last August on a screen pass against the Seahawks and was subsequently placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Harris and Starks are easily comparable. Both are compact and hard-charging runners. Both have decent speed and both don’t shy away from getting or laying a hit.

But the difference is that Harris has plenty of tread left on his tires. He only has 43 carries entering his fourth season as opposed to Starks who’s got 322 carries entering his fifth season.

Starks has been riddled with injury problems his entire football playing career. Whether it’s the knee, turf toe, both shoulders, hamstring, or an ankle, he has seen his fair share of pain.

Which is why Harris needs to assert himself in training camp and make a case to be the No. 2 running back. Fans fell in love with Harris’ story in 2012. Before he was signed in October he was just an ordinary car salesman.

And the Packers could use a solid complement to Lacy, who cannot be expected to maintain his workload from a year ago. While Lacy does have a nice spin move, he is a straight-up runner and is a big target for defenders.

But it’s all up to Harris’ knee and his psyche. If his knee feels well, but he has reservations about getting hit or potentially injuring it again, then he will never unseat Starks.

However, if he runs confidently like he did in 2012 when he averaged 4.6 yards a carry on 34 rushing attempts, he will be spelling Lacy soon.

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Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn

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19

June

RB Franklin Not Returning to Packers

Johnathan Franklin

It was announced that Franklin will not be back with the Packers due to a neck injury sustained last season

The Green Bay Packers find themselves in a situation that is unfortunately all-too familiar to them.  It was announced today by head coach Mike McCarthy that running back Johnathan Franklin will not return to the team in 2014 due to a neck injury he suffered late during his rookie season.  Mike Vandermause from the Green Bay Press-Gazette shared the news after today’s mini camp practice.

Franklin was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft and had a very productive day in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, rushing for over 100 yards and a score.  He had just six carries the rest of the season after some issues with ball security.

The Packers drafted both Franklin and Eddie Lacy last season to boost the running back position.  Franklin sat behind Lacy, who was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year, and veteran James Starks.  Franklin was expected to be in the mix this season and had even taken some reps as a kick returner, which he also did during the 2013 season.

Franklin’s departure leaves the team with Lacy, Starks, DuJuan Harris, John Kuhn, Michael Hill, Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins at the running back position.

Franklin tweeted out a thanks to his supporters from his Twitter account today.

This is just another in what is becoming a long string of neck injuries in Green Bay.  In 1994, wide receiver Sterling Sharpe was forced to retire after his injury.  The Packers have also lost receiver Terrence Murphy and safety Nick Collins to neck injuries over the past decade.

Both Jermichael Finley and Johnny Jolly are currently recovering from neck injuries suffered last season while with the Packers.  Both are still free agents.

To get into a discussion about the rash of neck injuries that have hit the Packers over the past three years is another topic by itself but it’s noteworthy that the team has dealt with more than their fair share during that time.

No official roster move has been made yet and no speculation on who will take Franklin’s spot yet.

Here is Vandermause’s tweet announcing the news on Franklin:

 

22

May

Will the Packers leave Eddie Lacy in the Toy Box?

image

Is Eddie Lacy the odd man out on offense in 2014?

After the 2014 NFL Draft and the subsequent signing of undrafted free agents, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers must be salivating at the new toys given to them.

Like wide eyed children at Christmas, they most likely cannot wait to play with the shiny new Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis and Colt Lyerla.

On paper at least, the Green Bay passing attack looks as strong and as potent as ever. With all these new pass catchers at his disposal, McCarthy couldn’t forget last year’s “hot toy” running back Eddie Lacy could he?

Last season, even before the Packers drafted Lacy, McCarthy said the running game would be better and that the present media could write that in “big letters.”  McCarthy delivered on that promise, thanks to the outstanding play of Lacy, the 2013 offensive rookie of the year.

Since the team didn’t have Rodgers for basically half the season, the Packers really had no choice but to ride the legs of Lacy. Lacy ran for over 1,100 yards and was key in keeping the team in the NFC North race until Rodgers returned.

All offseason fans have been drooling at the prospect of a fully healthy Rodgers and Lacy in the backfield. But will McCarthy remember that? Under McCarthy,  albeit with less talented running backs than Lacy, the Packers have not been afraid to abandon the run at the first sign of trouble. With a porous defense,  Green Bay has often had to keep throwing due to a close game or when they have been behind.

The defense appears much improved (on paper anyway), but the fact remains the Packers remain a pass first team even with Lacy in the backfield.  While McCarthy has always preached balance on offense until last season, thanks to the absence of Rodgers, the team never really made a concrete commitment to the rushing game.

Green Bay still lives and dies on Rodgers’ right arm but they showed last year they can stay afloat with Lacy carrying the team, a remarkable feat for a rookie.

This offense will shatter records with both of them healthy and on the field at the same time. Stack the box against Lacy? Rodgers kills you with playaction. Planning on dime to stop the receivers? Watch Lacy take the ball into the secondary.