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One drive holds the keys to Packers fans' hopes for Brett Hundley

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A conservative plan undercut the Packers quarterback, but one drive in particular showed off his skills.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

When the game was over and the scoreboard said the Packers lost to the Saints 26-17, I went to check the box score and found myself shocked at Brett Hundley’s final line.

12-25, 87 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT

But the Packers were so good on the ground and drew a handful of useful penalties that the offense appeared to operate more smoothly.

After watching the game back and then again with the benefit of All-22, Hundley looked tentative, unsure of where to go with the ball.

He didn’t, as Yogi Roth put it to me before the game, "know where his answers were".

The blame falls on Hundley but also on Mike McCarthy who drew up a preposterously conservative gameplan in the second half, one with obvious run/pass formation tells such as going to heavy personnel with two tight ends and a fullback and trying to run on eight man boxes.

It was clear the head coach wanted to try not to lose the game rather than go win it.

With Green Bay so effective running the football, it’s hard to believe the passing game was so inept, particularly when receivers consistently broke free from coverage. Hundley either couldn’t find the right guy, or in the second half, pressure got to him before he could pull the trigger.

But if you want some hope, something to point to and say “Look, this is what the offense should look like with Brett Hundley, this is what he can do,” that exists in the form of a brilliant scoring drive in the second quarter.

Drew Brees had just led the Saints down the field to tie the game and Green Bay’s offense was coming off consecutive three-and-outs after an opening-drive touchdown.

This was the moment Mike McCarthy finally opened up the offense, something he rarely did again in the second half.

Before we get to the drive itself, it’s important to note “opening up” the offense doesn’t just mean calling downfield shots or fancy, elaborate play design. It’s about letting Brett Hundley see the field, make a read, and sink or swim on his own.

Along the way, build in some easy throws and designed plays, and mix the run game to keep the offense on schedule.

All of that was on display here.

The opening play of the drive is traditional 11 personnel for the Packers with three receivers, and tight end, and a running back.

But when the Packers run it with an empty backfield, the defense has to declare its coverage and likely doesn’t have enough quality cover guys to effectively stop whatever Green Bay calls. This becomes especially true with Ty Montgomery, he of a lifetime as a receiver, split out wide.

There’s nothing particularly fancy about the play design. Hitches on the outside. Curls in the slot. New Orleans plays off and it’s an easy pitch-and-catch for Hundley, who also had Davante Adams open to the bottom of the formation.

Now, the Packers have second-and-short, they’re ahead of schedule, and have the entire playbook at their disposal.

For that, they go to what’s called 21 personnel with two receivers, a tight end, and two backs. It’s an obvious run formation, but the Packers have gone to play-action off of it, so the defense can’t be 100% sure.

That said, the Saints have 10 men within three yards of the line of scrimmage. They aren’t fooled, but Aaron Jones makes something out of nothing here for a first down.

A solid chunk on first down means even if this run doesn’t work, and Jones is tackled in the backfield for example, it’s still third-and-manageable.

Instead, it’s a first down and the Packers set up this next play.

The successful run lets the Packers get to play-action. Whether the Saints just had the perfect coverage call here, or rookie Marshon Lattimore — a star in the making — just reads it brilliantly, we can’t know for sure.

A throw slightly more up the hashes mitigates the help from Lattimore, but this is a ball that is just slightly underthrown. Jordy Nelson had inside leverage and if Lattimore isn’t coming over to help, he makes this catch easily for a huge gain.

Even the miss has value. The Saints have to account for this, especially given how early in the game they tried to make this work.

And on first down, the Packers can afford to take a shot, especially with as effective as the run game had been to this point.

I can’t remember ever liking a Packers play design more than this one.

This is 11 personnel with jet sweep motion from Randall Cobb to hold the linebackers for a split second.

With Martellus Bennett running up the seam, he’s holding the linebacker which does two things: keeps the flat defender from getting to the sideline where Hundley can just slip it to Cobb with green grass in front.

But watch Ty Mongtomery on this play. If Hundley waits a split second longer, the safety who runs with Bennett doesn’t see Montgomery leaking out and the inside linebacker drops to the middle with Bennett, providing a bracket, but leaving Ty running free down the seam.

That Green Bay didn’t go back to this play at any point is baffling to me because it might have been a touchdown if Hundley sees No. 88 and pulls the trigger.

This is yet another formation from the Packers who are mixing them well on this drive, keeping the Saints off guard. This is brilliant play design and a perfect call in the situation.

And speaking of formations, I’m not sure the Packers have used this one all season. It’s three receivers and two tight ends out of empty. It’s a look they used in 2013 at times because they literally didn’t have enough receivers to go empty.

New Orleans brings a blitz and Hundley recognizes it, throwing to the space vacated by the blitzing linebacker. That’s textbook quarterback play, and just another reason Green Bay ought to be playing more out of spread and empty formations.

It’s much easier to see what the defense is doing, which is why it’s such a big part of so many NFL offenses.

From a unique spread formation with the Saints on their heels, McCarthy dials up another, different personnel grouping and formation. This is 11 personnel from a trips look with motion from Bennett to help ID the coverage.

Not that it matters because it’s a run play, but the pre-snap design is solid.

Bennett comes across the field to get a great backside seal block, the Packers take care of the front side, and it’s seven yards from Aaron Jones on first down. Again, ahead of schedule, open playbook.

The precise situation we discussed earlier ends up coming to fruition on the next play as Jones loses a yard, setting up third-and-four. That’s a manageable chunk for the Packers.

Offsetting penalties gave the Packers a second crack at third down which led to this.

This play is designed to get Jordy Nelson free to the corner, which it does but when Hundley looks off the left, he sees Davante Adams with three Saints defenders around him and knows he has a convoy on the left for the first down.

His superior athleticism takes over and he turns it into a touchdown run.

Nelson comes free not only on the original play, but on the second-reaction. If Hundley stays on this a split second longer, he has a touchdown pass, but he makes a play and Mike McCarthy should want Hundley to feel comfortable to use his feet and escape.

Now the shoulder lowering? Maybe don’t.

The problem for this offense was that we didn’t see enough drives like this. McCarthy went ultra-conservative in the second half, and some penalties killed drives which kept the offense out of manageable third downs.

McCarthy doesn’t need to pare down the playbook for Hundley, he just needs to do a better job of mixing formations and effectively calling plays they already have.

This could have been how the Packers offense looked the entire game against the Saints, and it’s how Green Bay could look moving forward.

The run game should continue to excel with Jones while Montgomery, as he gets healthy, adds a dynamic element to the passing game. A healthier offensive line should boost the protection, and if Hundley can learn from his mistakes against the Saints, trust his eyes, and play freely, this offense can be good.

Not Aaron Rodgers good, but good enough.