Packers Xs and Os Film Session: Sam Barrington Arrives

Photo credit: Mark Hoffman/JSOnline

Last Sunday, the Green Bay Packers won a very competitive showdown against the New England Patriots in a game that many labeled as a Super Bowl preview by a score of 26-21.

The score was on the lower side of things, compared to recent scoring trends, which shows that defenses still do exist in the modern aerial circus era of the NFL.

Coming into the game, many pundits predicted that the potent New England offense would shred the suspect Packers defense, especially on the ground through the running game.

Who could blame the pundits? Before this game, the Packers have been ranked at the bottom of the NFL in rushing defense having consistently yielded over 130+ yards per game.

However, the game on Sunday did not go to plan for the Patriots or the media. The Patriots were relatively unsuccessful running the ball and gained only 84 yards.

What was the difference in this game when compared to previous games?

For starters, we can declare the Clay Matthews at middle linebacker experiment is working. His play has helped solidify the middle defense, which has undoubtedly improved the run defense.

Yet, this is more to this than just Matthews.

On Sunday, Sam Barrington started in place of A.J. Hawk in the substitution package. Hawk still played during the base 3-4 alignment, but whenever the Packers deployed another alignment, which was the majority of snaps, Matthews and Barrington were the middle linebackers.

Barrington made his presence known. He was an instant upgrade over Hawk in both the running and passing games.

Why did it take this long to make the switch from Hawk to Barrington? Perhaps it was stubbornness. Perhaps Barrington wasn’t ready. Maybe the coaching staff didn’t trust anyone other than Hawk to make the defensive calls on the field.

In any case, Barrington was an upgrade, and we’ll look at a few of his key plays. He still has a lot to prove, but early indications suggest it’s been a positive transition.

In the play below, the Patriots are attempting to run the inside zone. The offensive line is blocking to the left in a slide motion, attempting to create an inside lane for the running back (34) to pursue. The Packers are in a substitution package, with Matthews (52) and Barrington (58) as the middle linebackers. Watch as Barrington comes free and stuffs 34 in the hole for a minimal 2-yard gain. He doesn’t close his hips at all, but instead slides to the hole with open hips, and the drives downhill to the ball carrier. When in a run-stopping position, it’s extremely important that the defender’s hips be parallel to the line of scrimmage to square up and slide to the ball carrier. Barrington did just that.

Note: the GIF below, as well as all GIFs on the page, has been slowed down to show player movement. Your computer and internet connection are working fine.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

The next play below shows the Packers in a pass rush blitz, which is a variation of Dom Capers’ most favorite blitz, the crossfire. Barrington and Matthews are again the middle linebackers. Watch as Barrington first communicates the defense with Julius Peppers (56) and then goes on a stunt with Mike Daniels (76). Daniels twists to the left, while Barrington rotates to take his place to the right. Behind him is Clay Matthews, who is attempting to get to the left of Barrington, creating the crossfire. The blitz didn’t sack Tom Brady, but Barrington did get home and got a good shot on him. Those types of hits add up over the course of the game. Barrington was successful at getting off his block and applying pressure, which hasn’t happened too often up to this point.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

The next play is another pass attempt by the Patriots, and the Packers counter with a cover 3 zone defense. In the cover 3, the free safety (21) and two cornerbacks (38 and 31) divide the deep half of the field into thirds. The four underneath defenders are responsible for the the flats, hooks, and curls. The key to all zone defense is backpedaling for proper depth.

Pre-snap, watch how Barrington aligns the entire defense and moves Matthews into the correct position. As the play unfolds, the Patriots show play action, and the ball fake to the running back initially draws Barrington in. A play action is a perfect call against zone defenses because it can influence defenders towards the line of scrimmage, preventing them from achieving proper depth. However, he was quick to recover, showing good make up speed, and was able to deflect the ball for an incompletion. The first GIF is the all-22 and the second is the endzone cam.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

We are still too early into the Sam Barrington experiment to have a conclusive decision, but early indications are it has been a productive switch. He is able to come clean off blocks, slide to the proper gap, and crash downhill. He also shows great awareness and make up speed.

We’ll have to watch him closely during the next few games as the Packers try to win the division and march to the playoffs.

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.


Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for and

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.


14 thoughts on “Packers Xs and Os Film Session: Sam Barrington Arrives

  1. These X’s & O’s become my favourite articles. I really learn a lot from them. Thank you again, Jay!

    1. I totally agree. Jay, your articles are my favorites out of all the good articles available on Thanks!

  2. Thanks Jay – good topic. I liked the speed and power that Sam brought to the position. I hope that his football instincts are high because he definitely has the other tools. I was concerned when I saw him pre-snap, running across the field to, I assume, his assignment. Still, it was nice to see our MLB leading the play rather than following it.

  3. Jay – nice work as usual. Barrington has a lot of athletic ability and it shows in these plays. During the pass play when he defects the pass he did a great job of getting back to make a play on the ball. As I watch the play I also noticed a great pass rush by Daniels which forced Brady to throw a little behind the receiver. Barrington makes a nice deflection but I think that if Barrington didn’t make the deflection Burnett was in great position for a pick on the play. Take nothing away from Barrington, it’s impossible for him to know who is behind him, but a pick in that spot would have been huge. In any case, it’s great to see Daniels, Barrington and Burnett all making good plays on the ball. Hopefully with his performance Barrington has earned his way into a lot more snaps for the remainder of the season. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

  4. Even if Barrington’s play slips a little, he still should continue to start. He is pretty athletic and strong, if under-sized a bit, and gives us a chance to get better (from our last ranked run-d). He can only get better with reps and is a viable option for the future. Hawk is yesterdays news and should be relegated to special teams.

  5. Jay –

    I read up to just about the part where you introduced Clay Matthews and then I scrolled down to the comments section, solely to see just how many people congratulated you on your fantastic writing style. And I was right – alot of people know and appreciate good writing. Great article; keep up the good work!

  6. Whats most impressive to me is that Barrington does whats needed pre-snap to make sure everyone is on the same page. That’s huge, especially for a young guy to be able to help out vets like Pep and Clay. Communication issues have been huge in the past for this D.

  7. Nice work Jay. I love these as well. It gives people a chance to understand a little more in slower motion the breakdown of a single play and how each person does on that particular play. In Barrington’s case, it’s clear he can be a playmaker which is exactly what we need from that position as Hawk wasn’t getting it done. It was pretty much the last and only weak spot left on the team so seeing this from Barrington gives everyone here hope that we now possibly have a defense that is worthy of playing in a super bowl.

    Prior to seeing this all I heard for years was Hawk pretty much was the only guy capable of calling the plays and lining people up correctly so that’s the main reason he kept starting. I wondered in this game if Hawk isn’t playing if Barrington was capable of calling plays or who was the guy doing it as I didn’t know. Well your videos here showed me Barrington is capable of that so this was very informative.

    I see no reason why Barrington needs to be held back anymore. He finally takes the diapers off and Hawk can be more effective part time and more as a mentor/teacher to Barrington for the rest of the season similar to Raji with Pennel.

  8. Convinced me and I am guessing the coaches watch this and Mr. Barrington will be getting more snaps.

    Read the other comments and I will add my kudos to your weekly analysis. Well done.

  9. Great article, Jay. In your opinion, has the move by CMIII to ILB been the main reason for the improvement in run defense, or has the improved play from Guion (and Boyd lately- if you concur Boyd has improved) also been a significant factor. Kind of a chicken or the egg question. How much 2-gapping are we still doing?

    1. That’s a good question, and the answer isn’t exactly black and white. I think all the pieces coming together have helped the run defense. Guion, Matthews, Clinton-Dix, and Barrington. Also, rushing stats are a little misleading because a couple of big plays can skew them highly even if the defense was stingy the rest of the day.

      Capers will always be a 2-gapper at heart, but defenses can really only 2-gap with odd fronts, such as in the base 3-4. When they go to even fronts, or substitution packages, which the Packers do a lot, that necessitates more 1-gapping. Also, the gap scheme depends a lot on the offensive line they are facing–a lot of offenses run the zone blocking scheme and double team at the point of attack. Any time you have moving gaps and combo blocks, the defensive gap assignments really go out the window and it’s more about getting into a gap and get in between the blocker and the ball carrier.

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