Photo credit: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports
On Sunday, not much went right for the Green Bay Packers in their loss to the Buffalo Bills. You could classify the game as one of those late season letdowns where the film should be burned.
However, there was one lone bright spot on the offensive side of the ball: Eddie Lacy. He had an outstanding game against one of the better defenses in the NFL. In fact, he rushed 15 times for 97 yards and a 6.5 yards per carry average.
With the passing game off rhythm and stagnant, it’s perplexing that the Packers didn’t use Lacy more. Running the ball in the winter months is extremely important, especially when the weather turns bad and the winds gust, which is exactly what happened in Buffalo.
The Packers should have fed Eddie more. Moving forward, if they want to play better December football in hopes of continuing through February, they’ll have to feed him more.
We’ll use the Bills game film to discuss some of the runs that worked particularly well against a stout defense. While the game was disappointing, the running game is a source of optimism moving forward.
Against the Bills, I saw the Packers use Lacy in only two different running concepts: the inside zone and the fold block. This goes to show that offenses don’t need super thick playbooks; they only need a subset of plays that they execute at a high level to ensure to success.
The Packers used these two play concepts to attack the Bills, particularly in a manner to deal with the linebacker stack they like to run; the stack they like is to play their middle linebacker directly over a defensive tackle to make the offensive linemen’s job of blocking him even more difficult.
The Inside Zone
We’ve discussed the inside zone run several times this season because it’s the Packers’ bread and butter play, particularly if Lacy is on the field. We’ll look at it in a little more detail now.
The inside zone uses zone blocking, which calls for the entire offensive line to slant in one direction as one cohesive unit. The rules of who blocks whom are quite straightforward. Usually, the lineman blocks the man directly over him or the man directly in the gap he will be blocking towards. If the lineman is uncovered, he will advance to the next level and block a linebacker or defensive back flowing to the gap. The inside zone is effective against linebacker stacks.
In the play below, which is inside zone right, we’ll look at the blocking assignments from left to right. The left tackle (69) is initially uncovered, so his primary responsibility is to block the outside linebacker/nickel defensive back (23). He first sets the edge as a decoy to invite the linebacker/defensive end (55) upfield. The left guard (71) has a man directly over him (96), so he slants to the right while sealing the middle. Because the middle linebacker (53) is stacked directly above the defensive tackle (96), he is the blocking assignment of the fullback (30). The fullback has to race the gap inside the left guard to cut him off. The center (63) has a man (97) in his right gap, which is the playside gap, so he must block him to the right. The right guard (70), since he is uncovered, is responsible for the linebacker (52) off of the line of scrimmage. The right tackle (75) is responsible for the defensive end (94) in his right gap.
Zone blocking doesn’t create one specific hole for the running back. Rather, it creates multiple lanes, or creases, that the running back should see and attack. The idea is the running back will choose the best one.
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The Packers put new wrinkle in their run blocking schemes that I haven’t seen them use too often. Against the Bills, they unveiled the center/guard fold block.
The center/guard fold block involves the center and guard exchanging assignments in the hole the ball carrier is supposed to run through in a man-to-man blocking scheme. It’s a useful strategy to help contain very strong and aggressive front sevens, which the Bills certainly have.
Man-to-man blocking, unlike zone blocking, does call for a specific hole that the running back is supposed to run through.
The basic rules of the fold block call for the uncovered offensive lineman to block down to form the inside wall. The covered lineman rotates around his counterpart and enters the hole, blocking the linebacker who is entering the gap, forming the outside wall.
This is a variation of cross blocking. It is not a trap, power, or pin and pull.
In the play below, the left guard (71) was uncovered because the nosetackle (99) was slanting towards the center (63). The run was called to go in between the left tackle (69) and left guard (71). The left guard blocked down to 99 and the center folded around to block 53. The H-back (81) led Lacy into the seals created by 63 on the left and 71 on the right. I perfectly executed lead play in a fold block.
The Packers came back the fold block again later in the game, also with good success. The center (63) and left guard (71) again switch blocking assignments and create an alley for Lacy to run through. The variation in the play below is the fullback (30) does not lead Lacy through the hole. The middle linebacker (52) was stacked above the defensive tackle and came on a stunt with the defensive tackle, which actually took him out of the running lane. However, if the fullback didn’t block the linebacker, he would have stuffed Lacy in the backfield.
If you look closely at the formations, you can see a little hint that the fold block is coming. When the fold is called, the two linemen doing it need to tighten their splits a little bit to speed up the exchange. So, the center and guard are closer together when executing the fold than they are when running the zone. You can see 63 cheating towards 71 for the folds, but 63 is equally spaced between 71 and 70 for the zone.
It will be a mystery why the Packers didn’t run Eddie Lacy more in this game, especially considering it was working and they Packers put in a new wrinkle specifically to attack Buffalo’s excellent front seven and their tendency to stack their middle linebacker.
Here’s to hoping the Packers feed Eddie more in the future.
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