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Packers 2017 Running Game, Part 1: How Green Bay used power run concepts

An injury to Aaron Rodgers dictated a change in the game plan last year, and a competent running game emerged.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

In this three-part series, APC’s Bob Fitch looks back at the film to understand how the Green Bay Packers utilized the running game in 2017 with three different running backs and Aaron Rodgers unavailable. Part one examines power run concepts.

The Green Bay Packers, with Aaron Rodgers under center, have never been a run-oriented team. And for good reason! With the best quarterback in the league under center, why would you want the ball to be in someone else’s hands? However, then Brett Hundley had to fill in for an injured Rodgers, head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff realized the need to diversify their run offense to compensate for a weakened passing game.

Early in the season before Rodgers’ injury, runs often consisted of inside/outside zone runs in 21 personnel under center, or an inside zone/draw in 11 personnel out of the shotgun. You saw plays like this a lot.

It was very vanilla, with most runs coming as two, three, or four-yard gains. Below is a table of the longest runs of each game for the first 6 weeks:

Longest Run, Weeks 1-6

Week Yards Runner
Week Yards Runner
1 13 Rodgers
2 10 Cobb
3 13 Rodgers
4 11 Jones/Montgomery
5 22 Jones
6 9 Jones

Yeesh. Not good. But it didn’t really matter; with Rodgers, the Packers had a great passing offense, points were getting scored, and the team had a 4-1 record going into week 6. Then one hit by Anthony Barr and the offense changed.

Without the threat of a passing game, opposing teams loaded up against the run; no longer was a running game of singleback dives and zone running with indecisive running backs (cough Montgomery cough) going to cut the mustard. Something had to change.

And it did! The offense began adding pulling guards while using misdirection and the option run, things that weren’t used with Rodgers at the helm. The new scheming combined with an influx of new life into the backfield (thanks to rookies Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams) made the running game take off.

Today we’re going to take a look at the use of the power run, which was much more frequently used after week 6.

The Power Run

I’ve always liked power running football; Lombardi’s power sweep, anyone? Let’s see how the power run play is typically designed in today’s NFL.

We see downblocks with the playside linemen, with the backside OT checking inside before hinge blocking. That check inside is important; one easy way to disrupt a power run is to have the DL over the pulling guard penetrate and follow that guard right into the running back. The backside guard pulls tighly around; this isn’t a sweep pull where he gets depth and looks to run an alley, but instead stays tight to the LOS and ‘rubs shoulders’ with his playside tackle, picking up the flowing linebacker. The running back gets in behind the pulling guard and runs the lane.

The TE kicks out the DE, and the wideout (Jordy Nelson, in this case) blocks whoever he can nearest the hole. David Bakhtiari’s block is also pivotal; if he gets blown backwards, Jahri Evans (the pulling guard) won’t get there to make his block, and the play is likely stuffed for a loss.

The beauty of this play is in its simplicity; you could easily change the hole and run it just as well.

Or even change the direction of the run entirely.

The way the Packers ran it this time, Williams had to slide to his right to take the handoff; this added step moved the linebackers to his right, allowing an extra second for the blocks to set up. If Nelson had gotten a better block (he knows he missed it here too) then Williams could have had a big gain. As it stood, Williams was able to find a lane against the Bears and pick up a decent gain. Not a spectacular run here, but good enough.

Take this next play with a grain of salt; the Buccaneers’ run defense was pretty atrocious. But it again gives you an idea as to the mechanics of the power run; watch Lane Taylor come around from his LG spot to lead the way, while the rest of the OL plus Richard Rodgers downblocks the Tampa defense.

Without Taylor pulling through, this would have been a 2 yard gain. But by adding that pulling guard and getting easier blocking angles for the rest of the line - downblocks use the defender’s momentum against them - it’s a gain of 9.

In the next clip, the Steelers are expecting pass, so their linebackers are a bit farther back and slower to react than normal. Evans is the pull man, with Bakhtiari and Taylor combo-blocking the DT before Bakh slides off to get the MLB. TJ Watt gets handled by Richard Rodgers, Nelson takes care of his CB, and it’s an easy pickup.

In this case, running lanes were opened over the A gap largely due to the combo block; Green Bay’s linemen aren’t big maulers, as their forte is pass protection. By starting the play with a double team block, this negates any possible slant by the DT and instantly creates a run lane. Good blocking on the outside by Rodgers means there’s a lane the size of two gaps, both A and B, with room to run. If Evans picks up the flowing linebacker in one gap, there’s still a gap to run through, and that’s exactly what Williams does.

If the outside defender crashes in on the line and closes the inside gaps, it’s up to the running back to bounce the play outside; this is an area where Aaron Jones has showcased his talents a few times this season. This is pretty good defense by the Cowboys initially in order to change the attack point of the run, but Jones made them pay anyway.

Watch the clip again, and this time, pay attention to the inside setup by Jones. As he watches the hole collapse, he takes an ever so subtle jab step inside, which freezes the linebackers and especially Jeff Heath, the safety in the box. They think he’s going to stick his head down and plow forward for a minimal gain, but instead Jones uses his burst and cuts outside, picking up 8 yards.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of the 2017 run game film review later this week!