The Packers’ run defense is up to their old tricks. They allowed 219 yards on 25 attempts from Cleveland on Christmas. That’s 8.8 yards per attempt and if the Browns had wanted a 300-yard day, they could have easily had it. Their most recent performance drops them to 31st in the league in rush DVOA. Part of the reason for that is the way the defense is structured. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry likes to run with two-safety shells and light boxes. Not so coincidentally, the only team ranked below Green Bay, is the Los Angeles Chargers. Chargers head coach and defensive coordinator Brandon Staley runs a Fangio-style defense and got his opportunity as a head coach because of his performance with the Rams. Joe Barry coached with Staley in Los Angeles last year.
It has been the philosophy of both Mike Pettine and Joe Barry to allow rushing yards in an effort to keep a lid on explosive plays. As a result, some of the struggles against the run are expected. The Packers were and still are one of the better teams at preventing explosive plays.
Wrong arm technique
Some personnel issues were at play against the Browns as well as some technique problems from the force players outside – namely outside linebackers Rashan Gary and Jonathan Garvin. In the first half, the Packers were having their defensive ends attack the Browns’ pin and pull schemes with a wrong arm technique. Instead of playing as the force player and keeping everything inside, the end man on the line of scrimmage would use their “wrong” arm to spill the play outside and gap exchange with the linebacker inside of them. The idea is to get your secondary and your linebackers to be involved in the run fits and make the tackle outside.
In a perfect world, the wrong arm technique allows the player to not only blow up the pulling lineman, but knife in and make a play on the running back as well. It can be a really effective way to combat power and trap which are designed to hit a little more vertically. However, against a pin and pull scheme it puts the defense in a really bad spot. That’s especially true if you’re trading one-for-one with that technique. If you can disrupt the play and impact both pullers, you’ve got something to work with.
Rashan Gary is using that technique here. The gap exchange is supposed to come between him and linebacker Krys Barnes. Barnes in this situation, is now the force player. However, due to some nice scheming, the Browns have their tight end Austin Hooper in a nasty split to force Gary out wide while also giving Hooper an angle on Barnes. That increases the distance Gary has to travel to interact with the pulling lineman. Gary takes out the first puller, but based on the run scheme, the running back and second puller both know they want to wrap outside; which is exactly what they do. With Hooper climbing up to Krys Barnes who is trying to scrape over, that leaves the Browns with a free lineman out on the perimeter against Green Bay’s defensive backs.
The Browns run the exact same scheme here and this time it’s Jonathan Garvin outside who is using the wrong arm technique. Tight end David Njoku is able to get onto Campbell, the second offensive lineman is up on safety Adrian Amos, and if not for Kenny Clark disengaging and hustling down the line, this would be an even bigger gain outside.
To the Packers’ credit, they did stop wrong arming late in the second quarter. As a comparison, let’s watch outside linebacker Preston Smith play as force. Smith is easily the best force player the Packers have and notably, this is one of the only times the Browns tried to run at him. Cleveland is in the same formation and running the same scheme. Preston attacks the upfield shoulder of the first puller and is able to not only force the ball back inside, but shed and make the tackle himself along with Kenny Clark.
The rest of the issues for the Packers were mostly personnel. Jonathan Garvin and linebacker Tipa Galeai were both bullied at times. Garvin was particularly undisciplined in going upfield and opening up lanes underneath. Garvin is playing as the force player here and needs to stay no more than two yards deep in the backfield with his upfield arm free to make a tackle. That would then force the Browns to cut inside where his help is. Instead, he runs straight upfield and opens up an enormous lane for running back Nick Chubb to the outside.
While the interior line made some nice plays, the Packers’ run defense was inconsistent. The Browns attacked them when Gary and Smith weren’t in and there wasn’t a whole lot the rest of the defense could do about it.
Kenny Clark and TJ Slayton made a couple of impact plays from inside, though. Here, Slayton pops the center and extends his arms so that he can read where the play is going. He continues to drive his feet, sheds violently, and makes a tackle for loss.
It wasn’t all bad, but there is cause for concern. Covid has struck the Packers’ thin outside linebacker group which could be a huge issue against the Vikings who will have running back Dalvin Cook back in the lineup. Time will tell if the run defense again becomes Green Bay’s fatal flat.