The Packers went on the road and won their third straight division title and earned their third straight playoff berth with a 31-30 win over the Ravens in Baltimore. The Ravens’ defense threw everything at the Packers’ offense to slow them down but in the end, the Packers showed once again that they just have too many offensive weapons they can hurt their opponent with when Davante Adams is limited by double coverage.
Matt LaFleur was able to scheme around the set of challenges that the Ravens presented with their coverages on Adams while also juggling a patchwork offensive line that is missing David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, and Billy Turner.
In the passing game, the Packers relied, as they do so often, on the quick passing game and run-pass option concepts they love so much. The Packers’ offensive line only surrendered five total pressures (two sacks and three hurries). The sacks were coverage sacks where Rodgers could not find anyone open.
In the end, Aaron Rodgers was 23-for-31, 268 yards, and three touchdowns. Marquez Valdes-Scantling led all Packers receivers with five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. No other receiver topped 45 receiving yards. Adams and Aaron Jones added the other receiving touchdowns.
The offensive line helped the running backs gain 85 yards and one touchdown with their best work coming in the red zone. The Packers’ offensive line has not really suffered from using backups for a good chunk of the season and it helped that the Ravens were without Calais Campbell but his presence might not have made much of a difference as he only has five total pressures in his last three games for the Ravens.
The Ravens did most of their damage on offense (more on that in a later article). For now, let take a look at how the Packers’ offense was able to generate scoring drives without Davante Adams in the context of the offensive line.
Packers offensive line depth picking up the slack
Yosh Nijman has been playing quite well when he has come in the game at left tackle. Against the Ravens on Sunday, he had two nice blocks that led to two touchdowns: one when he sealed the B-gap on A.J. Dillon’s 3-yard touchdown run and another when he helped spring Rodgers free on a play where Rodgers extended and found Aaron Jones in the end zone for a touchdown.
On Dillon’s touchdown run, the Packers are running “duo”, a man blocking scheme that creates double teams at the point of attack. Unlike the inside zone, the two double team blocks up front do not disengage from their defender to the second level and instead give the running back a read on the middle linebacker for his path. If the middle linebacker fits downhill in the A-gap, then the running back will bounce outside the tight end. If the middle linebacker fits over the top away from the gap, then the running back will hit the A or B-gap hard.
Here, Dillon hits the B-gap that opens up late thanks to the block by Nijman (No. 73). Nijman first works to secure his double team block on the defensive tackle and ends up blocking Patrick Queen (No. 6), whom the offensive line identifies as the middle linebacker. Queen works to get over the top so Nijman seals off the B-gap from the middle linebacker with a second block, allowing Dillon to fit into the B-gap for the touchdown.
Nijman also had a few more solid reps in the run game that directly led to big gains. His ability to stay engaged with defenders and quickly move from his initial block at the snap to the next level block on their inside zone concepts is as good as any right now and helps spring Jones for significant gains in the clips below.
In pass protection, he helped secure the edge by pushing the pass rush arc around Rodgers and opening a lane for Rodgers to work off-script and find Jones for a touchdown.
The play gets clogged up from the start as the receivers releasing into routes downfield create a little more traffic than they anticipate and no one is able to get open initially. Tyus Bowser (No. 54) is rushing outside versus Nijman and is unable to generate pressure on Rodgers.
Nijman’s angled drop set in his pass protection angles out a 45-degree angle, stays with a wide base and does not allow Bowser to get him off balance with his punches. Nijman just runs him around the arc and allows Rodgers to escape and find Jones in the end zone for the touchdown.
In an article earlier this week, Casey Sully detailed the strengths and weaknesses of right tackle Dennis Kelly, who is also playing decently well filling in on the offensive line.
Protecting the offensive line with the quick passing game and play-action passing
The Packers’ offense with Rodgers and LaFleur thrives on the quick passing game. It always has but it’s still just as effective now as it has always been. The quick passing game allows the offensive line to block for shorter periods of time due to Rodgers getting the ball out in less than two seconds. Play action slows down the pass rush due to the defensive line reading their run cues when they see the run fake, thus buying time for the offensive line to set their blocks and hold on a deeper drop back by the quarterback.
Quick game concepts - Dragon
Quick game concepts the Packers liked in this game to take the pressure off their offensive line are plays like stick/flat and slant/flat (Dragon) and Rodgers throws them as god as any.
Slant/flat, known as “Dragon,” gives the quarterback a quick read by changing the progression from routes to defenders. Pre-snap alignments will dictate the side the pass is thrown to, and the post-snap read of the flat defender tells the quarterback where to throw.
If the curl/flat defender flies out to the flat, the quarterback throws the slant. Here, the flat defender sits in the slant window so Rodgers quickly gets it to the flat receiver out of the backfield. Virtually zero pass rush.
Quick game concepts - stick/flat RPO
One way the Packers like to slow down the pass rush is through using the run-pass option. The run action slows down the rush to play the run. The box numbers dictate whether or not Rodgers will pull and throw or handoff.
When there’s no need to take a deep drop and try to gain chunk yards, the Packers like to call a multitude of RPOs to get the ball in space to their playmakers or let their running backs barrel forward for yards. One they like to call that they haven’t called a ton this season is the stick/flat RPO.
On the stick/flat RPO, the quarterback is reading the backside linebacker to see if he fits the run. Here, the linebacker tries to fit the run on the backside so Rodgers pulls to throw. The read then becomes the flat defender. If he flies out to the flat, throw the stick. If he stays over the top of the stick, throw the flat. Here, the defender stays over the top of the stick route.
The pass rush becomes almost nil at the sight of the run action as Rodgers pulls and throws to the flat based on this read.
Play action - drift
I’ve written about the Packers running drift before, but not in the context of helping the pass rush. Play action causes defenders to cross the line of scrimmage slower at the snap because they are keying on the run and getting too far up-field can cause big running lanes to open. As a result, they are kind of in no-man land as the quarterback executes the play fake.
While this is happening, Rodgers is dropping back and Davante Adams is getting open behind the linebackers in the void created by them pursuing the run action. This is a staple play-action concept in the Shanahan system that LaFleur calls strategically against single-high coverage and it’s a simple and cheap yet effective way to gain yards for the offense. Adams is wide open in the hole and gains 17 yards.
Davante Adams limited but still effective
The Ravens did everything they could to erase Adams from the game as Acme Packing Company’s Tyler Brooke details.
Good look at how the Ravens defended Davante on Sunday.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 21, 2021
Look at how Baltimore reacts when he goes in motion. pic.twitter.com/JlZLkpqJvU
A cursory glance at the stat sheet shows a receiver who had six catches for just 44 yards and one touchdown. But as always, box score stats can be misleading and definitely lack context.
All five first downs and the touchdown Adams converted came on all four touchdown drives. Two of the conversions came on one scoring drive. The Ravens made no secret about what they wanted to do. They installed a package called “17 Bulldog” according to Adams himself after the game where they double-covered him everywhere downfield.
The Ravens had a defensive package called "17 Bulldog" for @tae15adams.— NFL (@NFL) December 21, 2021
"That's like the biggest respect you could possibly imagine." -@AaronRodgers12
(via @NFLFilms, @InsideTheNFL) pic.twitter.com/x5PLHT9suV
LaFleur still found ways to scheme him open through play-action, their RPO game, and running him through traffic created by mesh crossers. The plan the Packers worked and got him open for those big catches to keep drives going and score points.
The Packers are rounding into form down the stretch. If there’s a chance they could get Bakhtiari back as well as Alexander and Za’Darius Smith, it would be a huge boost to a team that’s already playing at a high level without those guys. The remaining schedule is favorable too with the Browns, Vikings, and Lions and should theoretically ensure the Packers secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as they look to clean up the defensive lapses that are, in my own opinion, nothing to really worry about. But they cannot let off the gas.