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Why it Worked, Wild Card Round: How the Packers contained Odell Beckham, Jr.

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Dom Capers’ defense employed a few different strategies against the Giants’ passing attack. Let’s review.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-New York Giants at Green Bay Packers The Post-Crescent-USA TODAY Sports

Most of America is aware of the week that Odell Beckham Jr. just had. The New York media has had an absolute field day discussing an off-day boat trip, with opinions on his actions ranging all over the spectrum from ‘who cares’ to ‘time to grow up’. And that was just a Monday.

The following Sunday in the Wild Card game against the Green Bay Packers, Beckham managed to catch 4 of his 11 targets for just 28 yards with a pair of crucial drops, including one in the endzone. Taking his frustrations out on a locker room wall, then, since denied, an airplane, has increased the scrutiny on Beckham’s poor performance. While OBJ has said that the boat trip had no effect on his performance (and I agree), the media is all too eager to make the connection.

What goes unseen in all of this commotion is his final stat line; last Sunday marked the second-lowest single-game receiving yardage of his career, in addition to the second lowest completion percentage (4 of 11, 36%) between him and Eli Manning of his career.

Extra Nugget: The lowest completion percentage of his career came last year against the Patriots (4 of 12, 33%).

Facing a poor Packers pass defense, managing only 28 yards is certainly a disappointing performance. Some want to include the statistics for his dropped catches, leading conversations of “if”’s and “but”’s; to them I say, if if’s and but’s were candies and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas. Don’t even think about trying to determine how the remainder of the game would have changed if Beckham had come down with those receptions; there is absolutely no way for anyone to tell, and you’re a fool if you think otherwise. With that in mind, let’s watch the game film to see a few different strategies employed by the Packers in order to contain a supreme receiving talent.

First drive strategy: Try it all, see what works

For most of the first drive, Capers employed a conservative strategy with basic cover 2 man and cover 2 zone looks. OBJ was targeted twice and had one reception, coming on a drag route against a cover 2 zone defense. The only changeup came on the last play of the drive, when the defense showed a cover 1 look with double a-gap pressure, but had Morgan Burnett bail on his a-gap blitz and take the under coverage against Odell. Beckham actually ran a good whip route against the double coverage; as Burnett had began the play from a linebacker spot on the inside, his positioning was designed to take away any inside-breaking route, while Ha ha Clinton-Dix had the over coverage.

Beckham got himself open, but ended up dropping a very catchable pass from Manning.

Middle first quarter strategy: Cover 1

After the Giants and Packers swapped punts, Green Bay, began to load the box with Mr. Do-It-All, Morgan Burnett. This left the Giants receivers with one-on-one coverage to the outside and the lone safety, Ha ha Clinton-Dix, in the middle of the field. The Green Bay defense had been bottling up the run well so far; the Giants first drive had 3 rushes for 4 yards, which led Ben McAdoo to throw the ball 7 straight times on the second drive. Defending the pass with 8 men in the box is a riskier strategy; removing the safety help over the top typically means an added rusher, but in turn puts a lot of pressure on your cornerbacks to win their one-on-one matchups. Unfortunately for Green Bay, the second-ranked Giants’ offensive line (according to Football Oustiders’ adjusted sack rate as of 1/2/2017) held up well and gave Eli Manning plenty of time to throw to his alarmingly open receivers. When a defense plays cover 1 and doesn’t apply pressure to the quarterback, they are playing with fire. Playing cover 1 against a receiver of OBJ’s talent is akin to bathing in gasoline and walking into the sun. You’re going to get burned. Watch the bottom of the video here.

Although Eli decided to throw to Sterling Shepard here, he also had Beckham running open down the left sideline. The very next play, Manning reads cover 1 again, and delivers a floater to Beckham in the end zone.

The problem for the defense is compounded here by a nickelback blitz; Micah Hyde comes in from Manning’s left, and Clinton-Dix steps up to cover his receiver. Morgan Burnett, who starts the play lined up on the top of the screen to disguise the coverage, has absolutely no chance to help out Ladarius Gunter on Beckham, who are paired up at the bottom of the screen.

The Giants offense had a perfect play called at the perfect time; fortunately for Green Bay, the sure-touchdown was dropped.

Late first quarter through third quarter strategy: Bracket coverage

Seeing the early successes of Beckham against single coverage, Green Bay began to bracket him. This is what I expected to see from the beginning; OBJ is New York’s engine on offense, and their already mediocre offense relies heavily upon him. Using the strong yet slower Gunter in the underneath coverage with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the over coverage, Manning was forced to look away from his star receiver and find his second and third reads. Beckham is at the bottom of the screen.

You’ll see that Eli reads Clinton-Dix’s coverage, and once Manning identifies the bracket coverage, he goes to his second option underneath. Eventually, Manning decided to not even look Beckham’s way as he had been receiving extra attention on nearly every pass play.

The Giants offense did attempt to get OBJ going again on their first drive of the third quarter; four passes to Beckham led to a pair of catches for 15 yards. Capers, expecting McAdoo to think he would call more bracket coverage, mixed up the playcalling after halftime, with Beckham’s catches coming against a cover 2 zone and a cover 1 defense. The only other target Beckham would receive in the quarter would be against another bracket coverage, and the pass fell incomplete.

Fourth quarter strategy: Cover 2 man & zone

Having nullified OBJ for much of the game, the Green Bay staff had noticed that Beckham was not getting much attention from the New York Giants offense. That, combined with the 11-point lead the Packers had built, saw Dom Capers resort to a more conservative cover strategy for the remainder of the game. Instead of having a safety’s coverage focus solely on Beckham, each safety went back to playing a traditional deep zone, focusing on covering the deepest receiver in their area.

Up to this point, the Giants star receiver’s route tree had been fairly limited throughout the game; drag routes, go routes, quick outs and the occasional corner route. On the first play of the fourth quarter, however, Beckham ran a slant-go route; something we had not seen all game.

Against a cover 2 zone, the Giants run a ‘divide’ play, trying to get Beckham open in the deep middle. Initially, it looks as if OBJ is running a slant, while Will Tye runs a corner route at the bottom of your screen, Tavarres King runs a drag, and Sterling Shepard runs a go route at the top of your screen.

This draws the safeties to the outside to cover the deepest route runner, in turn leaving space in the deep middle. This play type ‘divides’ the defense, and a route runner will run against that divide. Instead of continuing the slant route, Beckham turns upfield and finds the seam in the safeties’ zones. Jake Ryan, smartly recognizing this, follows - as best as a middle linebacker can - with Beckham upfield.

There’s one problem here for the Giants; the play depends on the safeties biting to the outside, and Shepard doesn’t sell it well enough. Instead of committing to the play for its entirety, he pulls up early and cuts off his route. Clinton-Dix, the safety to his side of the field, due to his great starting positioning, sees this happening. At the same time, Ha Ha sees Beckham turning his route upfield and slides back over the middle to help breakup the pass.

Beckham’s last target of the game, another incompletion, would come on the very next play with 14:52 remaining in the fourth quarter, putting an end to a forgettable afternoon for the superstar wide receiver. Having a better knowledge of the strategies employed, it’ll be interesting to see how Dom Capers decides to treat Dez Bryant next week against the Dallas Cowboys.

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