The Green Bay Packers put together another complete game late Sunday afternoon at home versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in what was the first matchup between Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger since the 2010 Super Bowl. The Packers won easily 27-17 but for much of three quarters after the first quarter, it felt a lot more insurmountable than that. The Packers did nearly everything right and the Steelers had to contend with an aging quarterback who does not look right.
The running game racked up 129 yards between Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon and Rodgers threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns, both to Randall Cobb. Cobb’s last touchdown pass from Rodgers was on December 9, 2018 at home against the Falcons. 41 of Rodgers touchdown passes have been caught by Cobb. It was like old times again.
Running game continues to dominate
Both AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones combined for 30 total carries, each having 15. Dillon had 81 yards to Jones’ 48 (Jones added an additional 51 receiving yards) and it helped the Packers to stay balanced on offense. The offense stayed in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) most of the game and forced the Steelers to stay in their base 3-4 offense.
Often times the Packers offense would then spread the formation out, getting Jones, Tonyan, and Mercedes Lewis lined up out wide and attacking the middle of the field with Adams.
Aaron Jones’ best run of the day however, came against the Steelers nickel personnel versus the Packers 11 personnel. Jones’s quick cut ability and his ability to set up blockers to overcommit enabled him to turn a potentially short gain into a 15 yard gain on a scoring drive at the end of the second half.
The play call is a simple wide zone strong into the boundary. If you had never seen the play until now, you can see pre-snap where Jones is going to go with the ball. The alignment of the Steelers defensive front leaves the edge vulnerable. Jones is going to read from the outside in on wide zone and see that he has a path to the edge because the edge defender jumps inside the tight end.
If the edge defender were to jump outside, Jones would cut off the inside hip of the tight end. As he gets to the edge, he chops down about two steps as the defensive backs overcommit and he turns up field away from the pile up and turns a potential four yard gain into a 15 yard gain.
Jones’s quick efficiency has been on display the last few games since week one. Pay particular attention to how he sets up the defender before he cuts.
In the wide zone scheme, running backs must also possess the vision to see their running lane and know that by their third step which way they are going to go, either bounce outside to the edge, bang up the alley between the edge defender and first defensive tackle, or bend it back up the middle if the first two down linemen are too far outside.
AJ Dillon showed his quick processing and vision on his long 25 yard run that set up the Packers third touchdown of the day. By the time Dillon gets to his third step, he sees he has no path to the edge and immediately bends up the middle of the field as the defense over commits. He shows no wasted steps and instead, he plants his outside foot on the third step, and maneuvers up field.
The vision combined with the ability to press the line of scrimmage and be patient gives the Packers a nice complimentary piece to pair with Aaron Jones.
Randall Cobb returns to action
Randall Cobb saw significantly more action against the Steelers than he did combined in the previous weeks. In week four, he caught five passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns, exceeding both his total catches and total yards through the first three games.
Cobb had several big catches, but his biggest gain came over the middle on a post route where he split the safeties and Rodgers placed it on him perfectly. The Steelers are in cover-5 (cover-2 man) with the overhang defender in man coverage on Cobb. Cobb beats him up the seam and bends across on the post route.
Cobb is barely out of his break by the time Rodgers throws and splits the safeties. The pass beat the diving defender’s hand similar to how Rodgers beat Fred Warner on the final drive in week three.
Earlier in the game, Rodgers found Cobb for a 23-yard touchdown a few plays after a Roethlisberger fumble in his own territory. Most of his catches came from in the slot and on his touchdown catch, he came across from the right to left on a dig route, got open, and Rodgers hit him in stride.
On two other catches early in the game, Cobb got open on a route called a “lookie slant.” In the Kyle Shanahan tree, the play call is called “Lookie Squirrel” or “Choice Jaguar” (Sean Mcvay). Whatever LaFleur calls it, it was a nice compliment to passing attack that had answers for soft coverage.
The Packers called it twice on the same drive and Cobb racked up 20 yards on the plays. The “lookie slant” is often called “slant til you can’t” where the coaching point is to cross the defender’s face if possible or cut outside if the receiver can’t cross. Cobb was able to slant across the middle on both plays against defender leverage being off and outside.
Defensive up arrows: Kenny Clark, Rashan Gary, De’Vondre Campbell
The Packers defense is rounding into form with Joe Barry at the helm as he and the players get more comfortable with the defensive installs. Acme Packing Company’s Justis Mosqueda broke down the nickel personnel groupings that is structurally very sound the last two weeks and it gives the Packers defense the flexibility to play the pass with a nickel defender in the slot, the inside run with essentially a bear front interior, and the outside run game with linebackers walked up to the edges. Now that the Packers can dedicate specific players to certain assignments, the results have been extremely positive.
Kenny Clark had a huge game against the 49ers in week three and in week four, while not generating quite as many pressures, was still a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive front getting penetration and drawing double teams that allowed others to get one-on-one matchups. He also had a fumble recovery (made possible by Rashan Gary) that led to a scoring drive.
Rashan Gary had three total pressures versus the Steelers (one sack, one hit, one hurry) in addition to three tackles and three tackle assists.
Gary had one mistake that essentially gave the Steelers a free shot down field but after that forced some nice pressures and stops in the run game for minimal gain. I’ve included the sack fumble that Kingsley Keke actually gets the credit for because it’s a textbook speed rush rep where Gary shoots his hands inside the chest plate of the tackle and pushes him back into the quarterback. Keke swats the ball out of the quarterback’s hand nearly simultaneously as Gary yanks him down.
De’Vondre Campbell was instrumental in several 4th quarter stops, including a two play sequence where he had a pass break-up on third down and then a tackle before the sticks on fourth down.
Perhaps his best play though, came just on sheer hustle and high effort when he raced from the opposite hash to make a tackle along the Packers sideline on a third down play at the start of the fourth quarter. The Packers are running a four man pressure package with corner off the edge. The defense rotates into cover-2 behind it with linebackers Campbell (No. 59) and Oren Burks (no. 42) bailing at the snap into hook zones over the top of the rush.
Diontae Johnson (No. 18) catches the pass and tries to turn upfield, breaks a tackle, cuts back to the outside where Campbell is in pursuit and tackles him for no gain.
On the two-play sequence on the Steelers next drive, Campbell showed why the Packers took a chance on him and it paid off.
On the first play, guarding JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot, widened to gain outside leverage and as Smith-Schuster cut inside on the slant, Campbell lunged and knocked the pass away. On the next play in the video above, fourth down after his pass break up, Campbell is guarding the opposite slot away from Smith-Schuster. It looks like man coverage pre-snap and the Steelers have a man coverage beater, mesh crossers, called to get the first down.
Except it isn’t man coverage. Campbell passes off the crosser away from him as Smith-Schuster crosses over. He drops off with Smith-Schuster and makes the tackle, preventing the receiver from gaining any yardage on fourth down.
The Packers will look to keep this train rolling versus the Bengals on the road on Sunday. Cincinnati has not had a real test yet this season yet still rank 5th in defensive DVOA (with opponent adjustments not yet in place) and 10th overall per Football Outsiders. They’re coming off an extended rest period after their recent Thursday night game. The Packers come in having remedied their week one deficiencies with key players on both sides of the ball contributing in big ways and will need to keep building off successive victories.