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Why it Worked, Week 13: How the Packers slowed down DeAndre Hopkins

DeAndre Hopkins had an interesting game in week 13. Let’s see how the Packers had a hand in shaping his afternoon.

NFL: Houston Texans at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

There’s something special about football being played in the snow. Whether it’s the unsteady footing, the change in scenery, or just being able to make a snowman while playing a professional sport, football in the snow is just flat out fun. Last winter I even managed to play an impromptu game of two-hand touch with a lime for a football. Honestly, snow games are a part of the reason why I’m a Packers fan.

But snow games aren’t fun for everyone. Take my cat, for example. I would have a better chance of him drawing a warm bubble bath and scrubbing himself with a loofa before I ever get him to walk outside in the snow on his own. Snow is just cold wetness, and cats hate both of those things. I’m not sure if DeAndre Hopkins is a cat guy - he just might be - but either way, he wasn’t afforded the chance to have fun in the snow thanks in large part to the Green Bay defensive secondary.

As Houston’s preeminent offensive weapon, DeAndre Hopkins is an imposing threat. In 2015, Hopkins managed to put up 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns on 111 receptions playing in an offense that had Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett(!), T.J. Yates(!!) and Brandon Weeden(!!!!!!!!) as starting quarterbacks. That lineup almost makes you miss Matt Schaub. Almost.

Without overwhelming size or speed, Hopkins makes up for it with tremendous body control and huge, vice-grip hands that seem to make the hard catches look easy (and the easy ones look hard), along with underrated route running ability. Even in a down season like 2016, the guy affectionately termed “Nuk” is a legit threat. Going against a much-maligned Packers secondary, Hopkins seemingly had a good opportunity to get his season back on track, but was held mostly (*cough* Micah Hyde *cough*) in check, finishing with 58 yards and 1 touchdown on 3 catches and 9 targets.

Since there’s varying levels of success among those targets, I’ll give a verdict on the Packers’ coverage - and coverage alone - on each one. As I am not an NFL guru, the verdicts will range from “a solemn, sad head shake” to “Great coverage!” Let’s get started!

Target 1: First Quarter, 13:09, Incomplete

Don’t worry about Jake Ryan coming in untouched (nice work by Peppers to occupy his blocker and hide Ryan looping around) and completely missing a 6’7” target. That’s not the focus here. Pay attention to the coverage, applied here by Damarious Randall. It’s not great! Then again, it’s also not horrible, which is an improvement from prior weeks. Randall is playing an off-man coverage here, and has an inside look, meaning his waist, feet and eyes are pointed inside toward the quarterback. As Hopkins makes his break outside, Randall’s body position doesn’t allow him to make the same break and actually has to turn himself completely around to find Hopkins again.

The only reason this isn’t completed is because Brock Osweiler is awful, and cannot throw accurately on the run. Or really at all, for that matter. Verdict: Eh, glad Osweiler stinks.

Target 2: First Quarter, 6:09, Incomplete

This time ‘Nuk is lined up in the slot, right next to the Texans’ left tackle. The Packers are playing a press coverage across the formation, with Clinton-Dix the lone high safety.

Hopkins is highlighted

This is the type of coverage I would have preferred to see most of the day. Playing in poor weather against a poor quarterback, I would challenge Osweiler to beat the defense over the top on all of the receivers except Will Fuller, who has great speed, and Packer fans know that our cornerbacks do not. In addition, this single-high man coverage has 6 defenders in the box with only 5 linemen and no tight ends, leaving the Packers with an advantage in the run game.

The press coverage by Quinten Rollins on Hopkins isn’t jam coverage; instead of initiating contact right at the LOS, Rollins instead gets his hands on Hopkins at around 4 yards back. From first glance, this looks like a great breakup by Quinten Rollins, as he dove to the outside and got a hand on the ball. On the second look, however...

DeAndre actually gets separation after the contact with Rollins, but the ball is a worm-burner. Verdict: Eh, glad Osweiler stinks. Sensing a trend yet?

Target 3: First Quarter, 2:39, Incomplete

Similar to the first play, the coverage is an off-man with an inside look, except now it’s Rollins covering Hopkins at the top of the screen. Instead of backpedaling, Rollins is shuffling his feet, expecting a shorter route. By shuffling instead of backpedaling, Rollins has a better chance to get his feet underneath him to break on a short route. He does so here, reading the out-breaking route and making a great play on the ball.

Verdict: Great coverage!

Target 4: Second Quarter, 4:03, Incomplete

It’s LaDarius Gunter’s time in the spotlight. Again playing press-man coverage, Gunter doesn’t jam at the line, instead allowing Hopkins a fairly clean release. Gunter does well here to keep his body weight low and over his feet; if he were to stand straight up, it would be nearly impossible to come back to the ball in time. As it was, though, Gunter managed to get a hand in the play and break up the pass just as it got to Hopkins’ hands. Verdict: Great coverage!

Target 5: Third Quarter, 9:54, 11 yard completion

After running three out-breaking routes and one 5 yard hitch, Hopkins finally runs an in-breaking route. Playing a coverage similarly to Randall on the first target (off-man inside look), Rollins is in a good starting position to defend the inside routes. Unfortunately, what Rollins doesn’t do here is keep his body weight underneath his feet. At the exact time ‘Nuk makes his break, Rollins is in an upright position and therefore slow to get to the ball.

The result is Hopkins finding a hole behind the linebackers and in front of the secondary, catching a rare well-thrown ball from Osweiler. Luckily Brock didn’t see Will Fuller streaking down the left side of the field, wide open for a touchdown, throwing his hands up in disgust.

Verdict: At least it wasn’t a touchdown!

Target 6: Third Quarter, 3:20, Incomplete

Oh no. Poor DeAndre. That’s no way to follow up your first reception of the day!

Here’s more press-man coverage, this time with a jam - the contact is initiated a yard off the line of scrimmage. See Randall’s feet and hips here.

Randall stays square to the line of scrimmage, sinking his butt low to maintain balance and power to jam the receiver, and he doesn’t backpedal, instead expecting a short route. In terms of positioning, and technique, he’s got a decent start. The big advantage for Hopkins here is that he managed to get his left hand on Randall’s pads, pulling Randall through with that hand, and then quickly ‘got skinny’ to finish the swim move.

As a team, the Packers have 10 defenders in the screen (Clinton-Dix the lone deep safety again), 8 of them on the line of scrimmage.

Randall and Hopkins Highlighted

The first few steps were covered pretty nicely, but if you watch the video closely, you’ll see that Randall doesn’t stick to his initial body positioning, instead backing off a bit on the short route. Give Hopkins credit here; his head stays looking downfield during the majority of his swim move, giving the impression that he wants to release downfield instead of cutting inside.

It’s all for naught, however, as he ends up dropping the ball anyway. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Verdict: Got away with one.

Target Seven: Third Quarter, 3:15, Incomplete

I feel like I’d be giving Osweiler too much credit if I said he meant to throw that one out of reach of everybody, including the three Green Bay defenders covering Hopkins. As it stands, not much to say here. More press-man coverage with Clinton-Dix as the deep safety, except this time instead of two defenders in the linebacker spots, Micah Hyde is double covering DeAndre Hopkins along with Quinten Rollins. Rollins stays underneath Hopkins, while Hyde stays on top. Clinton-Dix, reading Brock’s eyes the whole way, roamed over for additional support. The rest of the coverage was actually quite good as well, not leaving an open receiver anywhere.

Verdict: Great coverage!

Target Eight: Fourth Quarter, 2:00, 44 yard completion, TOUCHDOWN

The guys in the booth did a good job describing what happened; you’ll see with the animations in the clip, Damarious Randall was playing the outside coverage in a cover-two zone defense. Micah Hyde, not Morgan Burnett - who was covering the tight end inside - had the deep zone to Hopkins’ side. The streak route is a good route to run against cover two, and Hopkins knew it; as soon as he gets behind Randall, he slows down a bit and looks for the ball. If he continued to sprint up the field, he would have ran himself into Hyde’s coverage.

There’s really no nice way to explain the second half of this play, however. You simply have to make a tackle in this scenario. Hyde’s poor pursuit angle takes him so far out of the play that he doesn’t even slow Hopkins down for Randall to make the tackle. Yikes.

If you pay close enough attention, you can even see a part of Damarious Randall’s soul leaving as he’s wondering how the hell you miss him so badly:

Did you catch it towards the end? Here it is again:

Verdict: A solemn, sad head shake.

Target 9: Fourth Quarter, :04, Reception leading to mayhem

If you want your day to end on a high note, what a better way than to do this:

Verdict: Hey Texans - sad trombone sound.

With the glaring exception of one play, DeAndre Hopkins had a pretty meager outing. Numerous reasons have led to his declining numbers this season, and during week 13 of 2016, the Green Bay Packers defense added itself to that list with better-than-expected play from its secondary.

The Final Verdict Tally:

Great Coverage! - 3

Eh, glad Osweiler stinks. - 2

Hey Texans - sad trombone sound. - 1

At least it wasn’t a touchdown! - 1

Got away with one. - 1

A solemn, sad head shake. - 1

If there are other plays, players or schemes you would like to see covered by Bob in his film breakdowns, leave a comment below!