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Packers-Vikings Film Room: Third down defense, part 1

Green Bay couldn’t stop Minnesota on third down last week, but overall they have been pretty good. This is a look at the first half’s third down defense.

Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

That awful smell you’re smelling right now actually isn’t the Green Bay Packers’ offense. You either forgot to put on deodorant or don’t use the stuff because, contrary to popular opinion, the offense doesn’t actually stink that badly. Sure, it stinks by comparison to the high levels we’ve seen it perform in the past, but it doesn’t smell nearly as badly as you think it does. Think of the offense like this; when you come back from vacation and realized you forgot to take out the trash there’s a bit of a smell, but it shouldn’t take long to air it out once you remove the McCarthy garbage and light a candle.

Last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, the Green Bay Packers’ defense stunk on third down. Since they don’t have to worry about trash removal while playing a game, I’m of course talking about their play on the field. The Packers allowed 7/14 conversions — that’s right, 50% you PhD, you — which would put them at 30th in the league over the course of the season. Yikes. Fortunately, their overall season third down percentage is 12th best in the league at 38%, a marked improvement from 2017 where they were 28th at 43% and 2016 where they ranked 24th at 41%. Let’s go over some game film to see what happened against Minnesota, and highlight a few plays that have worked well over the course of the season.

Play #1 - first quarter, 3rd & 1

Antonio Morrison is a thumper. The Vikings come out in the strong I twins formation and motion Adam Thielen in from the slot to play in line, and Green Bay goes with their base package. Morrison anticipates the dive play and helps Tyler Lancaster take on the double team block, while Clay Matthews is left one on one against Thielen.

Matthews does a great job delivering a strike to Theilen’s chest and stopping the fullback dive in its tracks. Success.

Play #2 - first quarter, 3rd & 14

Green Bay goes with a nitro dime package against Minnesota, with Kenny Clark the only traditional lineman on the play. Fackrell, Oren Burks, Clark, Josh Jones, Blake Martinez, and Matthews are all walked up to the line of scrimmage but only Clark, Fackrell and Matthews rush. The coverage appears to be a combo coverage — cover 3 mable— where the backside CB and LB have man coverage on the WR and TE while the 2 WR side has cover 3 zone responsibilities. Kirk Cousins reads the right route to Diggs on the short post as Jaire Alexander is playing off and outside, but Cousins straight up missed him.

The throw was a full two yards behind him. It would have been close if Kirk actually managed to hit the open receiver, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Success.

Play #3 - second quarter, 3rd & 7

This is where a vanilla defense gets beat. Green Bay runs cover two, and the only twist was that Tramon Williams and Josh Jones were lined up 10 yards off the ball outside the hash marks while Ibraheim Campbell was 15 yards back in center field. Williams and Jones dropped to play the two deep, and Campbell buzzed forward to cover underneath.

The Vikings ran a good cover two beater; the outside receivers ran corner routes and the TE’s ran darts to the flat, around 4 yards deep. The corner route forced the cornerbacks to drop deep enough so the wide receiver couldn’t get behind them, which left the flats open. By the time Cousins was deliver the ball, Josh Jackson was still backpedaling at 10 yards deep and couldn’t come up in time to stop Rudolph. Fail.

Play #4 - second quarter, 3rd & 5

Corner blitz that gets read well by Cousins, and he delivers a strike to Stefon Diggs who was on the side where the blitz came from. It’s the old adage - throw towards the blitz - with the reason being that if someone just vacated that space, there’s nobody there to defend it for a second or two.

This play was frustrating though; Diggs cut his route off a few yards short of the sticks and both Williams and Martinez had a shot at making the tackle but they whiffed and Diggs easily picked up the first. Fail.

Play #5 - second quarter, 3rd & 1

Strong I formation, run up the middle; sound familiar? Green Bay put Clark and Lancaster in the A gaps over the center to clog the middle, and again Morrison times the snap count on the blitz and plugs the B gap. Latavius Murray got the handoff this time and cut back to his right but Montravius Adams had slipped his block. He pulled the ole move and turned his hips and shoulder to the weak side to let his bocker slide off him; a dangerous proposition as a lineman because you’re essentially conceding your gap responsibility. Watch how far down the line Adams goes:

If Murray wasn’t so slow hitting the hole, he could have bounced the run back to the right and gone around Adams. As it stood though, Montravius got himself square quickly after the block shed and made the stop short of the sticks. Success.

Play #6 - second quarter, 3rd & 10

Vanilla defense again, as Green Bay goes with cover 2 man from the nickel formation against the Vikings’ 11 personnel. The Vikings call crossers with a divide concept, as Kyle Rudolph and Thielen run opposite field crossing routes while another receiver runs a post behind Rudolph. Cousins actually threw to the more covered receiver, and didn’t lead Thielen as he should have; Antonio Morrison was covering Kyle Rudolph and couldn’t keep pace while fighting through traffic. Who is more open here?

Too bad it didn’t matter.

Cousins underthrew Thielen who had to slow down to make the catch; Alexander kept running at full speed to catch up with him and couldn’t throw on the brakes fast enough to make a tackle and Thielen picks up the first. Fail.

Play #7 - second quarter, 3rd & 7

Cover 3 mable again by Green Bay, with no disguises. This one came during the two minute drill by the Vikings, so the playcall is understandable with so many inexperienced players in the secondary and the Vikings lining up with three receivers on one side. This play came down to nice route running by Rudolph and Thielen; Rudolph runs a post right by Martinez’ ear, who has the middle zone, while Thielen runs an in breaking route right behind him. It’s a play designed to put stress on the MLB, and that’s exactly what it did.

While Martinez read it pretty well, he just wasn’t quick enough. Fail.

57% seemed about right. Cousins missed Diggs on the 3rd & 14 play, but if Green Bay makes a few tackles they make another stop or two. While I liked the corner blitz call, Cousins just made a better play. Williams didn’t want to give anything over the top so he stayed deep but the blitz forces the QB to make a quick read. Overall Pettine played it safe and didn’t use as much pre-snap disguises as we’ve seen him use so far this season, and Minnesota was able to convert too frequently.

Stay tuned for part 2!