When injuries struck the Green Bay Packers at the most important position last season, head coach Mike McCarthy was either unwilling or unable to effectively manipulate his offense for Brett Hundley. Part of that failing must fall on Hundley himself, which is its own indictment of McCarthy’s coaching and evaluation of his backup quarterback. Hundley wasn’t ready for a job McCarthy said he was ready for and it cost the Packers.
Now, with Randall Cobb dealing with a hamstring injury and Geronimo Allison in concussion protocol, McCarthy must acquit himself better in dealing with these key injuries.
Aaron Rodgers doesn’t trust J’Mon Moore or Equanimeous St. Brown yet to contribute and rightfully so. Marquez Valdes-Scantling earned enough respect from QB1 to earn a couple targets in his first career start against Buffalo, including a beautiful 38-yard go route in the second half.
But if neither Cobb nor Allison can go this week in Detroit, that basically leaves Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham as the only guys Rodgers has faith in to be where they’re supposed to be, and even the latter may not be on as solid a footing as initially believed in training camp. In short, the reporting of their instant connection may have been overstated as Rodgers has missed Graham open on a number of occasions early this season.
The solution isn’t “sign Dez Bryant” no matter what Packers Twitter tells you.
Moving Ty Montgomery back to receiver would present a major short-term headache and not actually solve any long-term problems for the Packers. That said, Montgomery’s versatility as a pass catcher could be exactly what this team needs with two of its top playmakers hurt.
A beautiful concept, perhaps
stolen borrowed from Washington turned into a huge play for Montgomery on a curl-wheel combination route. Jay Gruden dialed up a very similar scheme on the long Vernon Davis play at the end of the first half in Week 3. Montgomery has shown the ability to be a focal point of this offense, both on the ground and in the passing game. Now a running back officially, his presence doesn’t have to come at the expense of the other elite playmaker in the backfield, Aaron Jones.
All it would take is borrowing a little from concepts the Packers have already used before under Mike McCarthy (so keep the “McCarthy would never do this” stuff to yourself. He’s literally already done it).
Back in 2014, the last time the Packers truly threatened for a Super Bowl, McCarthy loved to play Cobb in the backfield as the solo back next to Rodgers in shotgun. It worked to varying degrees of success in 2013 and he brought it back with a wrinkle for the ‘14 season.
Here’s the look from the Patriots game, inarguably McCarthy’s finest game as a playcaller and designer of offense.
That’s Jarrett Boykin (!) behind Rodgers with Randall Cobb offset. The Packers used this same formation often that season, only with Lacy in the backfield and Andrew Quarless as the H-back.
Played traditionally with the running back and tight end, defenses stay in base with linebackers on the field instead of defensive backs. Here, the Patriots have to go to a sub-package defense with light-tackling players like Darrelle Revis in the box. That should be advantage Packers.
The success or failure of the play isn’t really the point. Make the defense work, make them think, and give them looks to have in their minds. On the other hand, imagine this same formation with Jones in the backfield behind Rodgers with Montgomery offset. If this give goes to Ty, he’s a much more physical presence than Cobb and has better instincts as a running back. The offensive line didn’t do a great job of creating space for the back, but that’s a flaw in execution, not design.
Notice too, the safety Patrick Chung flies away from the play, concerned about Boykin on a pass fake after the handoff. That’s one less defender in an already light box. Give Donta’ Hightower credit for having this play all the way, but not all linebackers would sniff it out with ease.
As noted above, the success or failure of this play is secondary to how it creates for the sister play. Here’s that same look later in the game.
The Patriots defend it similarly, with sub-package defensive backs. This is a rare four receiver, one tight end set. Most teams wouldn’t cover the tight end with a linebacker as New England does, but this was Jamie Collins at his versatile peak. For most teams this same formation would likely only have one true off-ball linebacker on the field.
Instead of giving the ball, the Packers run the swing to Boykin, which works well enough.
Remember how we didn’t care about the success of the first play? It’s not about the handful of yards Cobb got running it. That was to set this up. With a more explosive player making this catch, the Packers might really have something. Look how the linebackers react to the initial run fake: they fly to Cobb, leaving the sideline wide open.
Boykin only manages six yards, but the plays is designed to get the two blocks on the edge with the receiver 1-on-1 with a safety if he’s not fooled by the run fake. Imagine if that is Aaron Jones rather than Boykin.
And that’s where this formation creates so many advantages for the Packers. If a defense chooses to play Green Bay out of traditional defensive personnel, Jones is now on the edge 1-on-1 with a linebacker, assuming he can even get over the sideline to be in position to make a play. If they play a lighter personnel grouping, the Packers have a clear advantage running the ball.
This same set of concepts might actually work even better with two running backs, because teams are likely to keep their linebackers on the field, robbing them of speed to the edge. One of the reasons the Patriots defended this so well was the extra DB on the field. Cobb and Boykin are two true receivers. Jones and Monty are true running backs.
Green Bay wouldn’t have to run this specific play with its two best backs, but this is an example of how dynamic such a pairing could be. They don’t have to just go run the same offense with rookies at receiver. McCarthy already has the institutional talent, both scheme and personnel, to makeup for any losses at receiver.