This is part 2 of a two part look at the Packers’ third down defense against the Vikings. Part 1 is here.
On to the second half we go. So far we’ve seen the Vikings go 4 for 7 on third down, converting at a 57% clip. Pettine dialed up one blitz and it got beat, but otherwise he has called some college level defense, with plain cover 2 man and zone and very little disguising or pressure schemes. Vanilla pudding stuff. I love pudding, don’t get me wrong, but vanilla is the worst flavor. @ me. Let’s move on.
Play #8 - third quarter, 3rd & 7
Packers play cover 2 here, but give it a cover 1 look with the outside CB’s playing near the LOS and Ibraheim Campbell about 10 yards deep while Kentrell Brice is 15+ yards off in the middle of the field and Josh Jones playing as a linebacker. The Vikings run their outside receivers on posts, which are run short as soon as they recognize the zone coverage; both Thielen and Diggs sit down in the open areas underneath the safeties and behind the linebackers. They are open, and...
Cousins didn’t pull the trigger and scrambles for a gain of one. Rodgers has received a lot of flak for not finding the open receivers this year, and Cousins falls victim to the same mistake here. This looks like a pretty decent window to me, as Diggs sits:
And it doesn’t appear that he drops his eye level until his third or fourth step up in the pocket. Oh well, his loss and our success.
Play #9 - third quarter, 3rd & 7
A classic Pettine move here - show your two interior LB’s as blitzing, then drop them out in coverage. The secondary plays a cover 3, and everyone passes off their receiver excellently. Cousins’ first read is to his right but the two receivers are smothered and he is forced to come back to his left. Josh Jackson shows us a bit of the future with excellent deep zone coverage (hello future safety), so Cousins comes to his checkdown. By the time his eyes get there Martinez is breaking on him.
Kenny Clark works his way off the initial double team to sack Cousins, and Green Bay holds Minnesota to a field goal. This is the definition of a coverage sack, and a very solid play all levels of the defense including the DC. Success.
Play #10 - fourth quarter, 3rd & 6
Finally, another blitz on third down. Pettine sends both Williams and Martinez from the defense’s right side, which is also the side that the Vikings have a receiver bunch. Green Bay goes with cover three again, and the Vikings run a flood play to the bunch side:
If you’re as smart as I think you are, you probably noticed a problem with the above photo. Both Alexander and Morrison cover the short route, leaving Thielen wide open to run in behind them and pick up a big gain.
The blitz didn’t quite get there, and Cousins delivers a strike to a wide open receiver. This is what the flood play is designed to do against zone coverage; make the cornerback choose to cover the flat or carry back, and the quarterback chooses whichever he doesn’t cover. Fail.
Play #11 - fourth quarter, 3rd & 1
Well rub a dub dub, there’s not one but two rub routes by the Vikings here. Out of the I formation, Minnesota go play action and release the FB to the flat while Thielen runs a crossing route the opposite way; rub 1. On the other side, Rudolph runs a crosser to his left, and meets Thielen in the middle; rub 2. Green Bay appeared to have a miscommunication in their secondary; everybody was playing zone except for Williams, who followed Thielen on the drag. Alexander carried with Diggs who was running a deep corner, and this left the flat - where the fullback was headed - wide open. Morrison, who is about as fast as congress (politics, am I right?) tries to chase him down, but he’s too late and it’s an easy first down conversion.
Morrison was visibly amped up after the play; I don’t think he was celebrating allowing a fullback to get 13 yards on 3rd & 1, but that’s just my guess. Fail.
Play #12 - fourth quarter, 3rd & 5
Another simple cover three call with a four man rush; the wide receivers were covered reasonably well and Cousins’ only real option was a checkdown to Kyle Rudolph; fortunately for Green Bay, Dean Lowry said no way.
Honestly not entirely sure what that move by the OL is called; I’ve seen it only a few times this year and its always worked better than that. The general idea is that the DL will be leaning into the blocker, so the OL turns his torso, pulls the DL’s inside arm through while clubbing them in the back so they’ll fall over - like pulling the rug out from underneath someone. Success.
Play #13 - fourth quarter, 3rd & 13
If I told you that Antonio Morrison was asked to cover Kyle Rudolph one on one in the red zone, you’d probably cringe a bit right? Well that’s exactly what he was asked to do on this play. Green Bay goes with cover 1, manning up the receivers while Campbell plays the robber zone in the middle and Josh Jones has the deep middle. Cousins’ first two reads are to Rudolph running a corner route then to Thielen who comes underneath him on the cross. Morrison, knowing he had help to the middle, plays Rudolph to the outside perfectly which forces Cousins to look down to Thielen. Campbell sees the route coming and makes a great break on Thielen; if Cousins let go of the football when he wanted to, Thielen would have gotten lit up like a Christmas tree.
Instead, Cousins pump fakes and is forced to scramble up in the pocket to make something out of nothing. This ended up as a huge play, as it came after the muffed punt. Minnesota ended up going for it on 4th & 2 and failing, giving Green Bay the ball back down 10 with nearly 5 minutes left. Success.
Play #14 - fourth quarter, 3rd & 6
This one hurt. Coming out of the two minute warning, Green Bay had no timeouts left. What do you call offensively when you’re trying to bleed the clock out but have 3rd & medium? Too long for a run play, too short for a deep shot...you call slants. A safe throw to the middle of the field, and if it’s not there, a quick two step drop means you aren’t too deep in the pocket to either scramble forward for a yard or two, or at least mitigate yards lost on a sack. Even more obvious, it’s in a 2x2 set - TE & WR on one side, and two WR’s on the other. This allows for even spacing between the WR’s while also giving room for rubs on the routes. Everyone on the field saw it coming; everyone except for Tony Brown. Not a good sign when you end up doing this in coverage:
Diggs is already cutting inside while Brown is turning to go deep. We all know what happened next; Brown and Campbell ran into each other and Cousins hit Diggs (on another throw behind him) for the first down.
The second half saw a bit of improvement, with the Vikings’ offense only converting on 3 of 7 of their attempts, a 43% rate. Pettine called another cornerback blitz and while Williams was close, it blew up in their faces again. The defense held strong after the muffed punt but faced with a do or die situation with 2:00 to go, they flopped in the worst way imaginable. The thing that stood out the most, though, was the lack in coverage disguising and only sending a single blitzing CB on two of 14 attempts. The Packers are third in the league in sacks, but those sacks come from a wide arrange of players because Pettine has success in sending different guys. Injuries have forced inexperienced players to see significant playing time, but hopefully people can return from injury and everyone else can learn the blitz packages in the meantime because traditional, standard coverages didn’t work well.