OK, OK, maybe these plays weren’t exactly the “galvanizing moments” that Aaron Rodgers was referring to in his post-game interview after the loss to the Seahawks, but in last Sunday’s lopsided win against the Atlanta Falcons there were a handful of plays that stood out as game changers for the Packers. If Green Bay has any chance at making the playoffs this season, these four plays could be looked at as momentum builders.
Atlanta and Green Bay’s seasons are a bit similar in the sense that they are both somewhat talented teams, especially offensively, but haven’t performed up to expectations. The general expectation was for the game to be on the higher scoring side; Odds Shark had the game at 50.5 o/u, the fourth highest game total of the week. It makes perfect sense, then, that the first momentous play came on defense.
On 3rd & 8 on Green Bay’s 19 yard line, Atlanta runs Julio Jones in motion to Matt Ryan’s right, ending up in a three wide formation with Julio in the slot. Green Bay shows 5 man pressure with Josh Jones walking up to the outside of Reggie Gilbert on the line, but only four rush. Jones blitzes and comes in free as the LT picks up Gilbert and Tevin Coleman releases right where Jones came in from. Matt Ryan sees the blitz and gets his arm ready to dump it off to Coleman. Like I’ve said before, that’s usually the correct read at that point; throw it where the blitz came from. Ryan is ready to pull the trigger to an open man:
Even though Jaire Alexander is breaking on the ball, this should be an easy completion to Coleman at the least. Instead, Ryan inexplicably tries to rein it in at the last second, and the result is disastrous.
An experienced quarterback like Ryan would have no problem dumping it off and taking the hit by Jones; even in this case, when Jones tried to pull up and deflect the pass once he sees Coleman releasing out behind him, Ryan could have easily flipped it over his head for the completion. Either way, Ryan made the wrong choice and it backfired immensely.
Ryan really made the wrong read to begin with; why wouldn’t you throw to your all-world wide receiver who was motioned away from the defense’s #1 cornerback?
Even though Coleman recovered the fumble, it pushed the Falcons back considerably and Matt Bryant ended up missing the long field goal try on the next play.
The next big moment for Green Bay was another defensive play; not only did this one stop a potential Falcons scoring drive, it earned the Packers six points of their own. Atlanta was facing a 3rd & 4 near their own end zone. Green Bay must have seen something on film when they scouted Atlanta, because the defense look like they knew the routes that were going to be run. Green Bay ran a zone defense with both Breshaud Breeland and Tramon Williams covering the sticks. Breeland read both the receiver and the quarterback beautifully, exploded out of his backpedal to pick off the pass.
This is the best possible outcome of what this type of defense is supposed to do; Atlanta is just trying to get 4 yards, not 20, so the defenders start out with their heels on the first down line and don’t need to move much off that spot. Playing zone coverage allows their eyes to be on the quarterback to time the throw, and Breeland makes the read perfectly. I could watch this on loop all day.
He doesn’t extend his feet too far on the backpedal and remains in an upright, leveraged position which allows him to explode forward quickly, and he runs through the hands of the receiver and not the back, avoiding a penalty. Good stuff.
The Breeland score put Green Bay up 17-7, and Green Bay seemed to be in a good position going into halftime as they got the ball back with 2:45 to go in the second quarter. That’s when all hell broke loose.
Let’s talk about the scramble first. Rodgers is always so good at stepping through traffic in the pocket; this ability lends itself to scrambling, as he’s not sidestepping but running forward through the pocket. Earlier this season while dealing with the knee injury this type of play wasn’t possible.
Once he escapes the pocket, Rodgers does two things in a split second; he first recognizes the deep coverage allowing him room to run, but he also realizes he needs to hold the linebackers as long as possible. Picking his arm up like he’s going to throw it and staring down a receiver gets the defense to hold, and at that point he’s about to cross the line of scrimmage.
No longer dealing with the knee injury, Rodgers picks up 21 yards on the run before he gets hit hard by Brandon Poole while entering his keep-the-faces-of-our-sport-safe-slide.
This is where things get crazy. Before Rodgers even has time to pop up and go after Poole, Lucas Patrick enters the fray on his behalf. He and Poole start the jawing, Corey Linsley enters, Davante Adams is there, and the scrum is on like Donkey Kong. People start jumping on each other, there’s jersey grabbing, and I’m sure some words were said that would make even Lewis Black blush.
I’m sure a lot of you have seen it going around twitter already, but rewatch the clip and keep an eye on Randall Cobb toward the end. Word of advice - if you see Cobb on the streets of Green Bay, don’t ever interrupt his conversation unless you want to end up like the Lonely Island’s cell phone.
Speaking of Randall Cobb, he is the subject of what I consider the nail in the coffin for Atlanta in this game. On Green Bay’s opening drive of the second half, Aaron Rodgers delivers an absolute beauty to Cobb in the endzone.
This angle shows the play developing but doesn’t do the throw, nor the catch, nearly enough justice; here’s a much better one.
We’ve seen this a lot in the years watching Aaron Rodgers play quarterback; if he sees the back of a defender’s helmet with 1 on 1 coverage, the ball is going that way. Heck, he even did it earlier in the game to Davante Adams for a chunk gain! It’s a pretty easy throw to defend, but you have to know the ball is coming to defend it. Cobb makes a good catch, and the score puts Green Bay in cruise control for the remainder of the game.
I think this is part of why Rodgers has a hard time trusting rookie receivers. College quarterbacks don’t make these types of throws, so receivers don’t know to expect them. As soon as Cobb turned upfield, both he and Rodgers knew the ball was going his way. There was single coverage on an out-manned safety, and Cobb had half a step on him. You can see Cobb expecting the ball throughout his route; with inexperienced players, if someone is in their vicinity they have a tendency to give up on the play as they think they’re covered. Well, not with #12 behind center.
The win in Atlanta was convincing on the scoreboard, but it’s clear Green Bay still has issues. The offense was inconsistent and left easy yards on the field, while the defense can simultaneously look great and outmatched on the same drive. What’s done is done, though, and if Green Bay manages to overcome the odds - immense, crushing odds - and sneak into the playoffs, these few plays against Atlanta may just be the catalyst behind it all.