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Packers-Broncos Snap Counts: Green Bay used 11 personnel almost exclusively

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The stubbornly stuck with their Zebra personnel on Sunday, even though their offense wasn't moving the ball effectively.

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Since Mike McCarthy discussed it early on last season, the Green Bay Packers' use of their "Zebra" personnel package on offense has been a point of discussion. That grouping, which features one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers, is the team's preferred alignment as it offers some flexibility in formations while keeping the same players on the field and in theory allowing the team to run a faster-paced, no-huddle offense.

Critical to the execution of this is the versatility of individual players. Wide receiver Randall Cobb can align in the backfield as a running back. Tight end Richard Rodgers can play tight on the line, can split out wide, or can set up as a blocker in the backfield as well. That allows for a variety of formations with the same players on the field and is clearly a large part of the Packers' game plan this season as well.

However, there seems to be a reluctance by the coaching staff to deviate from that alignment, even when the offense is not functioning well. Sunday's loss to the Broncos showed that tendency clearly, as the Packers had little to no success moving the ball but stuck with the same personnel group throughout almost the entire game. Here's a look at the snap counts from Sunday Night to illustrate this point (snap counts taken from the NFL's Game Stats and Information Service).

Offense (53 plays)

OT Bryan Bulaga - 53
OT David Bakhtiari - 53
C Corey Linsley - 53
G T.J. Lang - 51
G Josh Sitton - 51

QB Aaron Rodgers - 51
WR Davante Adams - 51
WR Randall Cobb - 51
WR James Jones - 47
TE Richard Rodgers - 51

RB Eddie Lacy - 25
RB James Starks - 22

TE Justin Perillo - 6
FB Aaron Ripkowski - 4

This makes one thing clear: the Packers remained in their typical 11 personnel grouping for almost the entire game on offense. On only a few occasions did Green Bay swap out James Jones for a fullback or another player. Yes, the versatility of Randall Cobb lining up in the backfield or Richard Rodgers playing on the line, split wide, or in the backfield as a fullback, help to give the Packers multiple looks offensively, but the personnel remained almost identical throughout the game. Really, the only change was the rotation at running back between Lacy and Starks.

That old cliche about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing and expecting different results is indeed both old and a cliche, but in this case it seems accurate. I can barely believe I'm writing this, but the second half of game seemed the perfect time to stick Jeff Janis out on the field for the hell of it and tell him to go run fast, in the hopes of finding a spark. Instead, McCarthy and Clements stuck with their core personnel throughout the game.

Further adding to the frustration is the fact that Justin Perillo got four snap on offense with Rodgers under center, including at least one where he was split out wide as a receiver. Meanwhile, neither Janis nor Abbrederis got a single one. It seems that the Packers' coaches have a mortal fear of the two young wideouts seeing meaningful playing time at this point.

Note: I did not include the full list of players who played just two snaps at the end of the game, when the Packers ran out the clock. Janis and Abbrederis were both on the field for those two plays.

One other popular point we are heating is that the Broncos stuck with their base 3-4 defense rather than defending the Packers' Zebra package with their nickel. The Broncos' defensive snap counts tell a different story. The Broncos had five defensive backs who played over 60% of the snaps in the game - four of them, Chris Harris, Bradley Roby, T.J. Ward, and Aqib Talib, were over 90% of the defensive snaps, while safety Darian Stewart was over 60%. Then there's a sixth DB, safety David Bruton, who played another 50% of the snaps. All told, the Broncos gave their defensive backs 262 total snaps, which works out to an average of 4.94 defensive backs on the field per play

It is admittedly impossible to tell from the box score how the Broncos' snaps were broken down by game situation or by base vs. nickel vs. time. It is possible that Denver stuck to their base early on and moved to more exclusively nickel or dime as they took the lead. However, it's worth keeping in mind that the Broncos did indeed use extra defensive backs extensively, in at least some situations.

Defense (67)

DB Micah Hyde - 67
FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix - 67
SS Morgan Burnett - 67
CB Casey Hayward - 66
CB Damarious Randall - 55

LB Clay Matthews - 63
ILB Nate Palmer - 53
OLB Mike Neal - 51
OLB Julius Peppers - 51

DT Mike Daniels - 40
NT B.J. Raji - 29
DT Letroy Guion - 23

DE Datone Jones - 18
OLB Jayrone Elliott - 17
DT Mike Pennel - 17
OLB Nick Perry - 15
ILB Joe Thomas - 13
CB Demetri Goodson - 12
CB Sam Shields - 11
ILB Jake Ryan - 2

With all the talk about Casey Hayward being a capable defender on the outside this offseason, his play has not backed it up yet, and he was burned repeatedly by Demaryius Thomas on the boundary. However, with Morgan Burnett's return, the Packers elected to use Micah Hyde in the slot on every play, meaning that Hayward was forced to play on the outside regularly.

Based on their play so far, one might have been tempted to take Hayward off the field in favor of Damarious Randall on the perimeter, but Sam Shields' injury put that idea to rest and forced Demetri Goodson into having a role on defense. It would have been fascinating to see if Hayward would have been pulled had Shields avoided injuring his shoulder.

As for the formation, it should come as no surprise that the Packers lined up with their 2-4-5 nickel as a base defense, and used it on nearly every play. Defensive linemen were credited with a total of 127 snaps, and dividing that by the 67 plays total gives an average of 1.9 defensive linemen on the field per snap, suggesting that the Packers were in the dime package with one DL and six DBs on something like 10% of their defensive snaps.