Every game comes down to four or five plays and the team who makes the most of them, or the biggest of them inevitably wins. In a new weekly series, we take a second look at the plays that defined the game in the Packers 31-17 loss to Washington.
Alex Smith to Vernon Davis on third down
The entire game looks different if the Packers just get off the field on third down for Washington’s very first drive. Instead, Alex Smith finds Vernon Davis for 20 yards on third-and-1 and we know who what happened after that.
Initially, it seems HaHa Clinton-Dix is woefully out of position, and while that’s true, it’s by design from Washington. Jay Gruden designed a beautiful play, guessing the Packers would be in man coverage, and his offense executed it to perfection.
The two receivers stacked to the right side of the formation run their own combination route, but they’re really just there to create a mass of bodies for the safety covering Davis to navigate. Clinton-Dix predictably struggles and even without that trash to sift through, probably wouldn’t have been fast enough to stick with Davis.
This is just a great design from the Washington offense. They practice too.
Alex Smith hits Paul Richardson for 46-yard touchdown
Immediately after the above, Jay Gruden dials up a shot play at midfield, a common call on first down from that position. It’s also the perfect one. Posts against Cover-4 are difficult to cover and Richardson runs a beautiful route to push rookie Jaire Alexander wide to create more space to the middle for Alex Smith to find him.
Here’s the problem: Kentrell Brice sees this all the way. He recognizes early in the play what Richardson is doing, runs with him down the middle of the field and simply loses track of both the ball and his man.
If, when Brice turns his head, he’s able to find the ball, this could have easily been an interception because the ball is short and too far to the middle of the field where help is. He can thank an excellent rush from Mike Daniels for that. But not only did he lose the ball, he lost his man who had slid in behind him to find the ball.
This is another perfect call against the coverage they thought they’d get, but Brice is there to make the play. He has to make it.
Cobb’s drop on third down
Washington scores, and now the Packers have a chance to answer. They already got a nice run from Jamaal Williams and have a little bit working, but now face a third-and-9. McCarthy leaves Jimmy Graham in to block and release, a move that seems curious, but actually works ideally for the play as it draws the linebacker to the right side, vacating the space Cobb occupied.
Rodgers puts the ball right on his hands and Cobb drops it. It would have been first-and-10 at the Packers 48. Green Bay could have stuck with the run game that actually worked all afternoon. Much like Davante Adams’ drop early in the Vikings game, this set a bad tone for the game.
Rodgers misses Adams on third down
It may seem like the Packers were down 28-0 before anyone had a chance to look up, but that’s just not true. After the first Washington touchdown drive, the Packers defense got a stop on the ensuing possession, turning the ball back to Aaron Rodgers down just 7-0. Any kind of points on this drive changes the complexion of the game.
Facing third-and-3 from their own 30, the Packers spread the field and run two well-designed combination routes. At the bottom is a classic slant-arrow with Adams and Ty Montgomery. At the top, with Jimmy Graham in the slot, it’s a duckout play the Packers love to run with the outside receivers running slants to clear space (not dissimilar from the design of the Vernon Davis play).
Rodgers has his pick of matchups here and decides (rightly) to look for Adams. He may be expecting Adams to sit down a little bit more and Adams will tell you he should have caught this, but if Rodgers puts this out front, he’s one linebacker missed tackle away from being off to the races.
Packers punt and before they get the ball back it’s 14-0.
Holding penalty negates Aaron Rodgers’ first down run
The first good drive of the game for the Packers bogged down in the red zone. With Green Bay facing third-and-10 from the 17-yard line, Rodgers stepped up on a gimpy knee and sprinted toward the first down marker. He picks it up, giving the Packers a first down inside the five.
Except it didn’t count. Bryan Bulaga gets called for a hold, a soft call, but not an awful one. Packers have to replay the down with 3rd-and-20. It goes predictably wrong and the Packers have to settle for 14-3 instead of 14-7.
Alex Smith converts 3rd-and-7 with his legs
This was perhaps the most underrated play of the entire game. If Mike Pettine’s group can get a stop on 3rd-and-7, they can keep it a one-score contest. Great coverage forces Alex Smith to buy time and get outside the pocket and Jermaine Whitehead closes down that space in a hurry.
He’s in a good spot to make this only a two-yard gain.
A terrible angle and even worse effort results in a first down for Washington. They score on the very next play and it’s 21-3 instead of 17-3. This missed tackle on what should be a routine play cost the Packers four points.
Geronimo Allison 64-yard touchdown
Geronimo Allison is a bonafide NFL playmaker and we’re seeing it so far this season. This play was one of the few well-executed plays from start to finish offensively.
Green Bay gets the coverage it wants with Josh Norman playing zone on the boundary expecting help to the middle of the field. An Aaron Rodgers pump fake on the slant gets the safety to react, leaving the middle wide open.
That is how you run a slant-and-go concept. And just like that, it’s a two-score game again. All the Packers needed to do was get a stop with the offense set to get the ball back coming out of halftime.
Vernon Davis 50-yard wheel route
But then this happened.
Jay Gruden called a magnificent game against the Packers and it’s worth wondering if the defense is already showing some tendencies by down and distance. Gruden read Pettine’s mail the entire first half, predicting what kind of coverage he’d be in and picking the perfect play.
In this case, emphasis on “picking.”
Mike McCarthy chalked this up to alignment issues, but it also looks like Davon House doesn’t see the pick developing. His man, Paul Richardson comes inside and doesn’t even have a route. This is just a pick.
Richardson sells, “I swear I’m not touching him or trying to pick him,” and Jackson has no shot from there. It doesn’t help that Vernon Davis runs 4.5 and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix plays this about as poorly as a safety can, but this is terrific design from Washington and they executed it.
Cobb’s drop on 4th and-2
For all the issues the Packers had, if they make just this play, they have a chance to win. Rodgers and Adams connected on a chunk play to put the Packers in position to go for it on fourth down. They have a solid play called and Cobb gets open underneath. He’s one of the most efficient, sure-handed receivers in football.
If he hangs on, its 1st-and-10 at the Washington 43, down 28-17. Just run it twice and they’re in field goal range. One-score game. Everything could go differently. Instead, it’s a drop and the Packers last best chance to make it a game goes begging.
Lane Kendricks back-breaking drop on 3rd-and-10
Even with everything that’s gone wrong to this point, all the drops and penalties and issues, this third down, set up by a penalty on a previous 3rd-and-14 conversion by Ty Montgomery, still could have put the Packers in position to win.
On a 3rd-and-10 from the 16-yard line, Rodgers buys time and finds his backup tight end Lance Kendricks streaking down the right sideline. It’s a second-reaction play and Kendricks, due to his athleticism, runs right by the linebacker.
This is what Green Bay brought him here to do. And he dropped it.
A catch gives them a first down in Washington territory, once again just a few precious yards from Mason Crosby range with a touchdown possible. Instead, the Packers don’t even have a chance to go for it even if they wanted to with such a long fourth down play.
The Randall Cobb fumble put this game to bed, but failing to make this play felt like the dagger for the Packers.