Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 9 versus Arizona Cardinals All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Packers win over the Arizona Cardinals was that they run the ball effectively.  I’m pretty sure Packers fans were as surprised by me, but the Packers really ran the ball well and actually committed to giving their backs enough reps to feel comfortable with the offense.  The final stat line: Alex Green (11 rushes for 53 yards, 4.8YPC), James Starks (17 rushes for 61 yards, 3.6YPC), is a stark contrast from last weeks game against the Jacksonville Jaguars where Alex Green gained one more yard, but took him double the amount of carries to get there (22 caries for 54 yards, 2.5 YPC).  So the question becomes, why were the Packers so terrible at running the ball against the Jaguars, who have one of the worst defenses in the league at the moment but so dominant against the Arizona Cardinals, whose defense might be the only reason why they’ve even won four games?

The situation: The score is tied at 7 a piece in the beginning of the 2nd quarter.  After a costly fumble/interception by Randall Cobb, one long pass to Andre Roberts and one failed goal line stance (though the defense read the play right), means that the Packers offense wants to respond quickly to the turnover and quick touchdown, and in this instance the Packers elect to slow the pace down and wear the Cardinals defense a little bit, which means pound the rock. The very first play is a designed run by Randall Cobb and this is the second play in the drive.

The formation: The Packers are aligned in a 3-1-1 formation (3WR-1TE-1RB), with WR James Jones (80) at the top of the screen out wide, WR Randall Cobb (18)  in the slot at the bottom of the screen and WR Donald Driver (80) out wide at the bottom of the screen.  In this instance TE DJ Williams is operating as a fullback because regular FB John Juhn is out of the game with an injury.  Finally, 7 yards behind QB Aaron Rodgers (12) is RB James Starks (44).  Overall this is not an exotic package by any means, defenses know that the Packers (and most teams at this point) use multiple receiver looks all the time and even go with running plays out of these looks.

On defense the Cardinals respond with their nickel package (2DL-4LB-5DB), for all intents and purposes defensive backs don’t typically play a part in run defense so for this analysis will be ignored.  In the trenches, the only two players with their hands in the dirt are NT Darnell Dockett (3x Pro Bowl and All-Pro) and DE Calais Campbell (one of the most physically dominating run stuffing 3-4 DE in the league).  In the linebacking core, the outside linebacker positions are manned by OLB Sam Achoo and OLB Quentin Groves while the inside linebackers are ILB Paris Lenon (a former Packer) and Daryl Washington (who is one of the up and coming inside linebackers in the league).  Needless to say, this isn’t a front 6 to be sneered at when it comes to run defense.  However in playing in the nickel, the Cardinals are forced to leave out a defensive linemen which should mean that the Packers have an advantage in the run game.

Pre-Snap: The Packers motion TE Williams from the fullback position to the left slot, leaving RB Starks in a single back formation, which now makes 4 “receivers” so chances are good that the play is a pass.  Secondly, no one on the defense has mirrored out in response to TE Williams motion, which could mean either Williams coincidentally motioned to the side of the defender that was covering him or it’s a zone defense.

Handoff: Initially LT Marshall Newhouse (74) blocks Sam Achoo by himself while LG TJ Lang (70) blocks DE Campbell, with help from C Jeff Saturday (63).  On the right side of the line, RT Bryan Bulaga (75) first goes to help out RG Josh Sitton (71) on NT Dockett but when OLB Groves comes down on the rush, he switches responsibility to him instead.  At this point the offensive line is in a stalemate, they haven’t moved the defensive line off the ball, and no one has disengaged from their blockers to head to the second level.  At this point you can also see RG Sitton start to lose leverage against NT Dockett.  Overall, I would say that this blocking is average; while they aren’t blowing anyone on defense away, they have manage to keep the pocket fairly clean and RB Starks has a couple of options; he could either cut back to his left and hope that LT Newhouse manages to keep OLB Achoo away for long enough for him to turn the corner, or he could take the straight ahead route and go right between the center and guard.

The run: RB Starks elects to go straight ahead.  The offensive line has managed to generate a little push, most notably in regards to C Saturday and LG Lang,  but with Sitton losing control of Dockett, Starks goes down.

Conclusion: The Packers only gain 3 yards, but what I think is more important is that they ran the ball soundly.  As head coach Mike McCarthy has said, it’s not really the quality of the runs (up to a certain point, McCarthy did mention that the rushing attacks against St Louis and Jacksonville were unacceptable) but the quantity of runs that is most important in order to keep defensed balanced in their play calling.  Obviously a decent running game not only takes some of the pressure off the quarterback but also makes the play action game easier as defenders are more likely going to take a false step when they actually have to account for the running game.

The Packers are never going to be a team that can run the ball effectively when there are 8 men in the box; their offensive linemen just aren’t great run blockers nor are the running backs on the roster probably talented enough to win against a loaded box regularly.  However, when the defense presents a favorably match up for a running play, the Packers have to take advantage of that while they can.  Against Jacksonville and St Louis, it didn’t seem to matter how few defensive players there were in the box, as neither defense had to devote much effort or resources to stopping the run.  The big difference in the Cardinals game is that the Packers made the Cardinals earn every run defense with solid, technically sound blocking and running.


Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s


9 thoughts on “Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 9 versus Arizona Cardinals

  1. I tend to subscribe to the theory that the better teams in the league can be ’embarrassed’ into playing harder after a poor showing.

    In this case, the Packers were just poor running the ball against Jax. Even when playing a Jax D with only 6 in the box, we were still poor. Jax really sold out against the pass and despite that they never got burned by the run game.

    After that showing, a few choice words by coaches in the film room may have motivated the O line into a greater effort in Arizona. That can be enough to really make a difference in this ‘parity league’.

    So, did they just play harder against Arizona ?

  2. That’s an interesting concept, but shouldn’t the better teams play at a higher level anyways?

  3. Good teams should play better but can and often do lay an egg.

    For examples, the Steelers surprisingly lost to the Titans to put them at 2-3 for the season. then they ripped off three wins (Bengals, Redskins, Giants). The Pats were 1-2 after two losses to the Cards and the Ravens. They followed that with a monster 52 point beatdown of the Bills. The Packers themselves followed a poor showing against the lowly Colts to put away the Oilers 42-24 (their only loss this regular season).

    This is a rather subjective view, but I’ve seen enough strong performances from embarrassed teams to feel there is something in it. An embarrassed team can be a dangerous one.

    On this basis I’d pick the Giants to beat the Bengals very comfortably this week, after having just lost to the Steelers. I’d have picked the Cowboys and Eagles to win too, except they play each other and both want a win badly.

    1. You do also have to account for the development of a team over the course of a season. Lots of factors are constantly changing, which is why it’s hard to really predict the ultimate success of a team until much later in the season.

  4. Correction to the above. the Bengals have lost their last three games. They are not an especially good team but they may be desperate enough to play the Giants (who are a good team) close. It looks like this week does not feature any games that could really illustrate my point.

    1. Well under your idea the Giants should crush just about any team considering the egg that they laid against the Steelers. There was some argument that I had seen where Mike McCarthy constantly running the ball on first down was meant to embarrass the interior line, notably Sitton and Lang who had been complaining about not running the ball enough. Not sure if that’s true but it was something that was floated around.

      1. McCarthy allows players to find their motivation from within. This means they must fail and sometimes even lose games. This has far-reaching effects and is something many people don’t grasp all that well. A lot of people think that a coach’s responsibility is to provide an external framework, prodding and manipulating his team to perform well. To me its very clear that this is not McCarthy’s understanding of things. I think it is exactly true that McCarthy said (metaphorically) “Ok boys, you wanna run? Lets see if you’re ready and you can do that.” He may have even coaxed the OL into making those comments following a previous game. To me its obvious that Capers does the same thing in the way he limits the creativity level of the D, i.e. stressing this young talented secondary into playing to a higher level. A lot of the critiques that I read on fan websites, on McCarthy and especially on Capers, occur because criticizers/bloggers don’t have a clue as to how McCarthy makes things happen, even though he’s showed us repeatedly.

  5. I really like this feature. I only wish you had shown the play previous. I can’t get enough of R. Cobb.

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