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Why it Worked, Packers-Lions Week 17: Run, Rip, Run!

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Aaron Ripkowski received his highest number of rushing attempts in week 17. Let’s look at a few clips.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

There have been quite a few prolific Green Bay fullbacks over the years. There’s Jim Taylor, Clarke Hinkle, Edgar Bennett, William Henderson, and of course, the latest Lambeau-leaping messiah, John Kuhn. As the sport continues its march towards a 7-on-7 two-hand touch league, however, the fullback position has become nearly extinct. After years and years of skill position specialization - running backs ran, wide receivers caught, tight ends were useless - the league has caught on to utilizing different players in different positions. Running backs are now expected to be excellent pass catchers, wide receivers are getting more carries, and tight ends have become their very own sort of weapon. Fullbacks, however, have largely been ignored.

Mike McCarthy has tried his very best to slow down the decline in fullback usage, especially in 2016. In week 17, Aaron Ripkowski, the team’s primary fullback and possible male model, received 36 snaps on offense, and ended up leading the Packers in rushing. Rip’s runs came from a few different formations and styles (who saw a FB draw coming?) and all found moderate to good success. Every one of of his runs managed positive yardage, and Rip ended with 6.8 ypc.

Let’s take a closer look at his two longest runs of the afternoon.

Play 1: First Quarter, 12:36, 10 yard rush

Can it still be considered power football if your play-side edge blocker is a 31 year-old wide receiver who missed last season due to a torn ACL? I say so.

Let’s start with the footwork, and in particular, the splits on the offensive line; see how far wide the OT’s are? Richard Rodgers is able to fit his shoulder pads in the tackle/guard gap. By splitting out so wide, it pushes the defensive ends even further outside, creating a natural running lane between the guard and tackle.

What follows next is an excellent example of how David Bakhtiari has improved over the years as a run blocker. Since the lions have their ends in a wide 9 technique, Jordy Nelson takes his lead steps to the inside and gets in the way of the DE, Ziggy Ansah. Bakh and Lane Taylor then quickly combo block on A’Shawn Robinson who is in a 2i technique, while Richard Rodgers follows, leading for Ripkowski. As Robinson begins the play inside of Taylor, it’s an easy down block, and Taylor uses the DT’s momentum to carry him to the right. As Taylor washes his man down, Bakhtiari slides off the top to pickup Tahir Whitehead. Whitehead sees that Bakh is taking an inside angle towards him and steps outside to fill the hole between Nelson and Bakhtiari.

Tahir Whitehead’s Vision of Ripkowski’s Path

As Whitehead steps to his right (our left), Bakhtiari sets his back foot and pivots to his left, changing the running lane from his outside shoulder, between him and Nelson, to his inside shoulder, between him and Taylor. Bakh’s base has become strong enough over the years that he can now hold the pile without having to anchor his feet; that, folks, is impressive run blocking.

Richard Rodgers, who is there to provide support to Taylor or Bakhtiari, stumbles as Bakh makes his pivot. Rodgers is expecting to lower his shoulder into a 300 lb. body but nobody is there.

Nelson does just enough against Ansah that Ripkowski can run through his diving arm tackle, follows Rodgers through the hole, and picks up ten yards.

Play 2: First Quarter, 7:40, 15 yard rush

Does anyone recognize this formation? Anyone?

Is it an old-school “pro” set? Maybe, but typically the RB’s lineup at the same depth. Is it a modified wing-T formation? Perhaps, but Richard Rodgers is definitely not lined up between Kerridge and Ripkowski. Is it a funky new wrinkle that McCarthy pulled out of his playbook? Yes, yes, a million times yes! And I love every bit of it!

OK. Let’s start with the footwork again. And again, we see some really wide splits by the guys on the end of the LOS, Bakhtiari and Jared Cook, which pushes the DE’s to the outside. Do you think the coaches noticed something while gameplanning for the Lions?

This formation - let’s call it McCrazy in honor of our maligned head coach - has 8 blockers for 8 defenders. It’s an inside zone run, but the rules for the linemen are more simple. The key blocks here are Bakhtiari hinging on the left side, a combo block by Lane Taylor and Corey Linsley, and the lead block by Joe Kerridge.

The first big block, by Kerridge, is obvious to see. He meets Antwione Williams in the hole and hit him hard enough that Williams is still recovering by the time Ripkowski runs by. The combo block, by Taylor and Linsley, actually remains a double team; Tahir Whitehead sees Ripkowski following Richard Rodgers, and takes a step inside. This is a big mistake. Taylor and Linsley get such a good push off the line, they end up pushing Khyri Thornton (whoa I forgot he existed) back into the linebackers, clogging up the middle.

This congestion stops Whitehead and Brandon Copeland from being able to scrape down the line, meaning Ripkowski has green grass in front of him. He shakes an A’Shawn Robinson diving tackle, and rumbles for a fifteen yard pickup.

I’m not saying that Aaron Ripkowski is a long-term solution to the Green Bay running-game’s woes; but, like fellow SBNation writer and NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz wrote; don’t forget about the Green Bay running game. And please, Mike McCarthy, if you’re reading this? Don’t be afraid to reach deep in your mystery bag of unique formations and call the occasional curveball. Sometimes they end up in touchdowns.


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