On the road in Arizona on a short week, the Green Bay Packers held on to win their seventh straight game 24-21 and they did it without receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard and defensive coordinator Joe Barry. All three were in COVID-19 protocol, but it didn’t matter. The Cardinals were without J.J. Watt and had no answers for the Packers running game or quick passing game.
In the end it took a nearly-literal last second play for the Packers to seal it when cornerback Rasul Douglas intercepted Kyler Murray in the end zone. The Cardinals averaged 6.1 yards per play to the Packers 4.7. But in the end, the Packers intercepted Murray twice and recovered a fumble as well. The Packers committed no turnovers.
The ground game got back on track this week, with the combination of Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, and Amari Rodgers rushing for a total of 148 yards on 32 carries, good enough for 4.6 yards per carry. Aaron Rodgers completed 22 of 37 for only 184 yards but threw two touchdowns. The strength of the offensive passing game was in the quick game plays Rodgers executed so well.
Quick passing game relies on old Green Bay staple
The Packers had answers for their top receivers being out and it was heavy usage of quick game concepts to keep the offense moving and grind down a Cardinals defense missing J.J. Watt.
In weeks one through seven, the offense was hitting throws at all levels of the field.
In week eight, the play calling adjusted to account for less experienced receivers outside of Cobb and was more clustered to throws within five yards of the line of scrimmage. And it kept the Packers on schedule and led to long touchdown drives.
One play they repeatedly came back to, by my count six times over the course of the game, was a quick game concept known as “Lambeau” (Andy Reid nomenclature with the Chiefs, perhaps conjured up in his time with Green Bay). But it’s been a Packers staple play for a long time and Thursday night it was used to great effect.
The play is just a simple arrow to the flat by, in this case, the number four receiver in the 4x1. Usually it’s run out of a 3x1 but the Packers used it to get Aaron Jones in space instead of a receiver. The receivers in front of him shield the pass catcher from defenders as he catches the pass in the flat. The play lets Rodgers get the ball out quick and into the hands of his playmakers.
These plays set up the touchdown pass to Randall Cobb later in the game.
On the touchdown pass to Cobb, the Packers called a changeup to the 4x1 and ran this out of a Z motion to 3x1.
The other changeup here is Rodgers pump faking the flat route, which influences the safety to bite and clears the middle of the field for the short bluff slant. The bluff slants and pump fake are meant to sell the flat throw with blocking receivers and open the middle of the field. Rodgers quickly comes back to Cobb for the touchdown.
Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon run game dominance
Aaron Jones’ biggest run of the day went for 16 yards after Dillon had carried the bulk of the load in the run game up to that point. The play call was a nicely designed zone run with Lambeau quick flat RPO where Rodgers reads the defender over the number three receiver during the mesh.
The blocking scheme is a wide zone run blocking concept called “Support”. Rodgers reads the man coverage and sees no throw the flat so he gives to Jones. Jones scoots through the hole and makes the safety miss with a nice jump cut to earn more yards.
Jones had several other nice runs including one touchdown.
A.J. Dillon was the ground game workhorse on this evening though, carrying the ball 16 times to Jones 15, but with 20 more yards and a full yard per carry more than Jones. His longest run was on a nice split zone run for a gain of 12.
Split zone is used to seal off an aggressive backside edge defender and open crease backside. The combination of split zone sift blocking on the back side edge defender and the keeper action by Rodgers after the handoff are the main reasons why so many of these runs work.
The linebackers look for play action when they see the sift blocker coming across on a potential slide route. This keeps them from aggressively pursuing up field into the backfield and opens a crease for Dillon.
Dillon had several noteworthy runs of eight or more yards. Here are the other four runs above.
Defensive pressures keep Kyler Murray on the run
Per Pro Football Focus, the Packers recorded 17 total pressures on 37 dropbacks, a pressure rate of 46%. Although they only recorded two sacks, the amount of pressures was enough to keep Murray off schedule and held the Cardinals offense to just 4-for-10 on 3rd down conversions with two of those coming on one drive, leaving the offense 2-for-8 the rest of the game.
Whitney Mercilus recorded three pressures including one quarterback hit and one pass rush rep where he used a nice spin move to get into the backfield and force Murray from the pocket.
Dean Lowry also recorded three pressures including one sack where he bull-rushed right guard Josh Jones into the backfield into Murray’s field of vision, knocking him over. Lowry gets credited for the sack even though he did not actually take him down but it’s still a high effort play nonetheless.
Defense up arrows - De’Vondre Campbell
De’Vondre Campbell is having an All-Pro type season, or at the very least is playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level. In this game he had seven combined tackles that included two tackles for losses and one sack.
On his non-sack tackle for loss, he showed his quick trigger on a sweep play to his right. He read his keys quickly, in this case the pulling linemen. That immediately tells him his responsibility is fast flow and he must get out of the box to chase down the ball carrier.
The Cardinals some eye candy and fake a toss to the defense’s left but Campbell isn’t fooled by the reverse action, stays patient, and plays fast through the blocker, getting to the edge and forcing the ball carrier out for a one yard loss.
On his sack, Campbell added to the rush late as a quarterback spy and once Murray looked to escape the pocket, Campbell was in the backfield applying pressure before he sacked him, again showing patience but reacting quickly to the problem in front of him.
The Packers have a week nine game versus a struggling Chiefs team this weekend. As long as this team continues to get production from other spots on the roster, especially when regular starters are out, then they will cement themselves at the top of the NFC. And there’s reason to believe they will only get better as players return from injury. The one major concern is how to replace Robert Tonyan due to an unfortunate season ending ACL injury.
Regardless, they should get healthy in other areas, including at left tackle with David Bakhtiari, though head coach Matt LaFleur would not say what Bakhtiari’s status for this Sunday would be. He’ll be a welcome addition back to the offensive line especially down the stretch with games against teams like the Seahawks, Rams, and Ravens coming up in later weeks.