The Green Bay Packers won a close one late in overtime on the road against a good Cincinnati Bengals team last Sunday. The game was closer than it probably should have been and it definitely should have ended sooner than it did, with Mason Crosby missing an extra point and three field goals prior to kicking the game winner. But nonetheless the Packers got out of Cincinnati in the win column. There was a lot to like and dislike, but the main takeaway is the Packers are building on each week and getting elite performances from key players.
Offensively, Davante Adams led the way with 11 catches for 206 yards and one touchdown. Aaron Rodgers was 27/39 with two touchdowns, and one interception. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for 185 total yards in the passing and running games (Jones 103 rushing yards, five receiving yards, Dillon 30 rushing yards and 49 receiving yards).
Rodgers to Adams connection
Rodgers’ first pass target to Adams turned into an interception when Rodgers went off script and tried to hit Adams down the right sideline as he scrambled down to his right. Bengals corner Chidobe Awuzie stayed stride for stride with Adams, pressed him to the sideline, and stayed inside of Adams as Rodgers threw the pass.
From here it seemed like the passing game might be out of sync as Rodgers missed deep on his next two passes on the next drive. Later, Matt LaFleur, Rodgers, and Adams settled down the offense and would score their first points of the game after Rodgers hit a 34 yard pass on 3rd-and-12, a similar pass to the first one on the game winning drive against San Francisco.
Rodgers starts in a shotgun 3x1 and motions Dillon over to the trips creating a four strong 4x1. The play call opens up the middle of the field for Adams as the routes distribute from three to one as a deep crosser, deep corner, and Adams on a deep in-breaking route. The backside safety is occupied by the deep crosser and the boundary safety runs with the corner, leaving Adams open over the middle. Cheap and easy yards on 3rd-and-12.
Rodgers connected with Adams on the same drive for the Packers second touchdown of the game. The play was likely a run-pass option due to the movement forward by the offensive line and in the pre-snap Rodgers saw the match-up with Adams 1-on-1 with the corner.
The pass is perfectly placed on Adams’ back shoulder away from the defender. Adams secures it and comes down in-bounds with two feet. Possession was gained before the ball came out of his hands.
Rodgers and Adams did most of their damage on play action though with the pair connecting on gains of 24, 22, and 59 yards. The first pass was a play action keeper that had Rodgers booting out to his right as Adams crossed left to right on an intermediate crosser on a concept called “Wanda keep right”.
The play simulates the outside zone to the left and the line sells the run that way through their steps and blocking action. It looks like a run initially to the defense and at that point, the receivers are running to the right. The play creates an explosive pass for a 24 yard gain.
Later in the second quarter on a pass play that set up their touchdown, Rodgers connected for another explosive pass play to Adams for 22 yards on a play action concept called “drift” (Shanahan) or “strike” (McVay). The drift route can also sometimes be called the bang-8 post or a bang dig.
This is a straight play action drop back pass after an inside zone run fake. Usually the play fake is tied to outside zone blocking movement but here they simulate inside zone. The drift call is usually run against single high, with the quarterback issuing a “CAN!” call to the offense to run the ball if the defense shows 2-high coverage, while “drift” is thrown against a single-high coverage shell.
Rodgers stays with the call and the Bengals rotate to 2-high at the last second. This is a difficult throw against 2-high coverage but Adams makes a nice adjustment to bend more up the hash instead of across. Typically, a drift route is run behind the linebackers and replaces them but that’s not an option here. Rodgers sees the adjustment and places the pass perfectly inside to Adams.
On the third explosive play action pass, Rodgers hit Adams down field for a gain of 59 yards. The play call is a variant of “Heat” which is a deep curl/sit route on one side and a deep post by Adams from the right side. The play creates a high-low on the deep over the sit route and can leave the deep post 1-on-1.
The Bengals are playing cover-6 (quarters to the boundary, cover-2 to the field). Adams beats the coverage with his speed and gets behind the quarters corner and safety as well as the field safety in cover-2. This coverage is specifically designed to contain Adams with a deep corner and deep safety.
The pass is perfect and the trajectory is a moon ball as it comes down into Adams hands. The moon ball advantage allows the pass to come down over the defender and prevents them from attempting a pass break-up. A lower trajectory pass might be broken up.
Defense forces Burrow and the Bengals into mistakes
The Bengals are an offense that lives in the short area of the field. Through five weeks now, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has only attempted 40 passes beyond 10 yards in 145 pass attempts. Those numbers reduce even further at deeper downfield levels.
This is true for all quarterbacks, but Burrow’s main limitation is below average arm strength so the Bengals have done a pretty decent job scheming to his strengths the first four weeks.
One of the things Burrow does very well is identifying matchups in his pre-snap process.
Here, he notices the single high safety shell pre-snap and based on the alignments of the corner, correctly interprets that the coverage is cover-1. By realizing that the corner has inside leverage in cover-1, Burrow ends up placing the pass on the receiver’s outside shoulder even though he got a release inside with the corner still inside.
The Packers came out and showed 2-deep cover-2 in their pre-snap and rotated to cover-1 or cover-3 coverage and were content to give up the middle force passes to the edge because they knew Burrow would not challenge the middle of the field past about seven yards down field.
This play highlights Burrow’s limitations. The Packers were content to give up the middle of the field past fives yards because they knew Burrow wasn’t going to beat them throw over the middle past a certain depth.
Now, the wide receiver should have caught this, but this is a difficult throw with the easier throw to his left against overhang nickel to his left running the deeper dig route from the slot.
On the next play, the Packers rotated to 2-high versus the Bengals 3x1 motion to empty, creating a 4x1 strong for the offense. The Packers have a called blitz on and rotate to single high so the capping safety funnels down to the buzz zone area.
Burrow sees the blitz at the snap and immediately goes to his alert go-route down the sideline. The only problem with this is not the process but the lack of arm talent. A stronger-armed quarterback probably completes this pass or at least gives his receiver a chance. In this case, Burrow should’ve recognized his limitations as a thrower and thrown to his crossing route underneath, which is the designated hot route in this offense.
The defense’s job never got any more difficult after this as the Packers were just content to give up the middle of the field because Burrow was never going to challenge them there. When he tried, he was sacked because he picked the wrong side pre-snap when he should’ve recognized his route combinations had leverage versus off coverage.
The play call is double slants with a flat route by the trips side and a whip route on the two receiver side. Pre-snap the Packers are showing quarters coverage across the board and no one covering the middle of the field. Burrow drops back looking to the right but the safety plays top down over the whip route with the outside linebacker playing with outside leverage.
Burrow holds the ball after seeing this and takes a sack split by Tedarrell Slaton and Dean Lowry. He should’ve decided pre-snap to work the slant flat, he might’ve picked up a first down and moved the chains because his flat route was open.
Kenny Clark is a disruptive interior defensive lineman. Forces Burrow into an errant throw. pic.twitter.com/rc2xfXHi1F— Rich (@richjmadrid) October 15, 2021
Burrow threw two interceptions in the second half but the Bengals were lucky to have only given up three points off those two turnovers. On Burrow’s first sack, he booted to the right and was instantly chased by Kenny Clark to the sideline where he severely under threw a pass intended for Auden Tate but intercepted by Adrian Amos.
On De’Vondre Campbell’s interception, the Packers defense sat back in a single high coverage shell with man coverage underneath and the corner’s playing off man. The Bengals play call is “HOSS Juke” (Smack Gator in Shanahan’s offense, Thunder option in McVay’s offense) where HOSS stands for “hitches outside slot seams” and the “juke” being an option route.
The Packers once again gave up the middle of the field in the short area and gave up the hitch route to the boundary. Burrow decided pre-snap to go with the hitch route to the boundary although he had the seam route up top open because the safety was playing the boundary hash and would not be able to get over the top of the trip’s seam route.
Burrow decided not to throw the hitch and came back to the option route. Not a good decision. He would’ve been fine with any of the three throws had he hit the top of his drop and pulled the trigger. He came back to Tyler Boyd’s option route and as Boyd sat in the zone, Burrow threw the ball right at Campbell instead of anticipating Boyd sitting between the defenders.
The Packers’ sound defensive game plan forced Burrow into missed throws and bad reads from the start and they did not really even need to throw exotic looks and coverage calls at the Bengals offense. They were able to keep the offense off schedule and out of rhythm by taking away what the Bengals do best.
Combined with the offensive onslaught provided by Rodgers and Adams, they were finally able to put the game away in the final minutes of overtime. Once in a while they’ll need their star players to carry the team and on Sunday they came through.
The Packers head into Chicago for week six and their first match-up with their divisional rival and will be tested by Justin Fields and his big throw capability. And the Bears defense is pretty good too as they’ll have to contend with Khalil Mack in what will be a pretty good test for both sides of the ball.