Photo credit: @Packers Twitter account
On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers went into hostile Minnesota territory and beat the Vikings 24-21 in a closely contested divisional showdown.
While the score was close, the Packers did one impressive thing that in the past wasn’t a sure thing.
They were able to ground out the clock to protect the victory.
This game was the first time in several weeks that the Packers didn’t have a monster lead that allowed Matt Flynn to come into the game for mop up duty. Against the Vikings on Sunday, the Packers needed their starters all 60 minutes for a 3-point win.
With 3:28 left in the fourth quarter, the Vikings scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to cut the lead to 24-21. This necessitated the Packers to go into clock-killing mode.
When the Packers got the ball back, everyone knew what would happen next. They would hand the ball off to Eddie Lacy as many times as needed to kill the clock. The Packers knew it. The Vikings knew it. Everyone watching on TV knew it. Everyone in the stands knew it.
While examining their ability to ground out the clock, we’ll also look at few of the criticisms the Packers have been hearing all year about their running game:
- The run blocking isn’t as good as last year.
- Eddie Lacy hasn’t found his groove that he had last year.
- Eddie Lacy is having a hard time finding holes and lacks in vision.
Are these true? Let’s take a look.
The first play below is 1st down and 10 yards from their own 20-yard line with 3:23 remaining. The Packers came out in a double tight heavy look (22 personnel: 2 RB, 2 TE), indicating run. The play is the lead inside zone with Kuhn (30) as the lead blocker. The zone play has the offensive linemen slanting in the direction of the ball movement with the idea of creating cutback lanes for the running back.
The offensive line did a good job at the point of attack and Kuhn stuffed the linebacker (52) in the hole. Yet, Lacy only gained 3 yards. I tried to find something wrong with this play, but I really couldn’t. Everyone knew the inside run was coming, so to get 3 yards on it was pretty good. There was no real cutback lane for Lacy to chose from, so he fell forward for 3 yards.
The next 2nd down play does gain 5 yards, but it was far from a perfect play. It was the Lombardi power sweep to the field side out of the 22 double tight heavy look. Both guards pull and Kuhn (30) meets the linebacker (52) in the alley. The right tackle (75) blocks down and the right guard (70) is responsible for the first defender outside the tight end (81). Then, the left guard (71) is responsible for sealing the boundary side of the alley.
The play was blocked very well, and Lacy should have gained much more than 5 yards. He was too impatient and cut back inside too quickly. If he was more patient, and let the alley develop, he may still be running. The alley between 52 and 92 was gigantic because Kuhn and Bulaga (75) sealed it perfectly, but Lacy flat out missed it. Even though it was a 5-yard gain and kept the clock running, it was poor execution by Lacy. It’s possible that he never saw the alley open, which has been one of his most frequent criticisms.
On 3rd down and 3 yards, the Packers come out with the gun from 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). It’s a run or pass look, which you’d expect on third down. Chances are, however, the Packers will run to keep the clock running. The play is the lead inside zone with Quarless (81) as the lead blocker, and Lacy gains 4 yards, making a 1st down. The offensive line does a good job blocking and Lacy hits the correct hole. In this case, the H-back (81) totally whiffs on his block of 98. If Quarless would have made the block, Lacy may have gained a few extra yards. That’s the only glaring error on this play. Can’t fault the line or Lacy on this one.
On the ensuing 1st down, the Packers again go the 22 double tight end heavy look and run the lead inside zone. Everyone knows it’s coming, yet the Packers gain 5 yards on it. The offensive line did a good job blocking, and Kuhn met the linebacker (54) in the hole. A 5-yard gain on 1st down is nice, but once again, it could have been more. Lacy got impatient and cut it back inside. The correct read was to follow Kuhn to the outside, wait for him to engage 54, and then cut to the outside. If he had done that, he could have easily gained 5 more yards before he met the safety (22). Another disappointing read from Lacy.
The next 2nd down play was the dagger and the last meaningful snap before kneel downs. The Packers are again in the 22 double tight heavy and go to the inside zone to the field side. This time, Lacy gains 10 yards, but it’s more a product of the Vikings simply conceding victory at this point. The blocking up front was good, but Lacy carried the pile for about 5 more yards. Game over. However, it’s worth noting that I believe Lacy did make the correct cutback on this play.
So, what does this all mean?
First, it means the Packers can effectively ground out the clock while on the road in their division. That’s a huge positive to take away.
Second, it also means the offensive line is doing a good job up front blocking in the run game. I think we can put that criticism to bed. Lacy did have over 100 yards on the ground during the game, and that is a very welcomed sight.
Both of these aspects were very much in question in the past. This development is very encouraging and will certainly help the Packers down the road, and even more so in the postseason.
However, everything isn’t all rosy. There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement, especially with Eddie Lacy. While these 5 runs are only a small microcosm of an entire game, let alone the whole season, they do highlight two of Eddie’s major flaws.
He doesn’t always make the correct cutback decision, and his vision is lacking at times, which is clear when he appears to miss the cutback lane or just flat out chooses the wrong lane.
Even though Lacy did win the Offensive Rookie of Year award in 2013, his largest pre-draft criticism (other than his famous fused toe) was his lack of vision and inability to create his own space. While his 125 yards against Minnesota was excellent, his flaws are still evident and could be a liability against better defenses. The Vikings are 21st in the NFL against the run.
He’s young and improving, so there’s still plenty of time to correct this. He’ll have to fix it if he hopes to take that next step in becoming an elite back and putting the entire team on his back as they march through the cold weather postseason.
I believe the GIFs embedded above to be fair use under the premise of being short clips of the original broadcast that are transformative for news reporting, commentary, critique, illustration, and teaching purposes.——————