This weekend is wild card weekend and with the Packers being the lone team with a bye week in the NFC, today we’ll take a brief look at the offenses of their four potential opponents. They’ll play the lowest-seeded winner of the wild card weekend, which could either be the Rams, Cardinals, 49ers, or Eagles.
They have already played the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals, going 3-0 versus those teams. They have a chance to play the Eagles should they upset the Buccaneers but that seems highly unlikely. Nonetheless, they are a potential opponent so we’ll cover them briefly.
The Packers have some familiarity with the Cardinals as they played in Week 8 at the end of October already with the Packers winning 24-21 on a game-sealing interception by former Cardinals practice squad cornerback Rasul Douglas. They handed Arizona their first loss of the season while improving to 7-1 on their end. And in that game they did it without Davante Adams and Allen Lazard. In that game, Robert Tonyan was also lost for the season.
The Cardinals have the 15th ranked offense by Football Outsiders “defense adjusted value over average” or DVOA, which measures offensive efficiency on a per play basis. They struggled in the second half of the season finishing 4-5 after starting 7-1.
The Cardinals finished off the season with losses to the Rams, Lions, and Colts, and then in Week 18 lost any chance at a division title when they lost to Seattle at home. Seattle finished 4th in the NFC West. It was not a pleasant ending to a promising season that had many analysts pegging them as a Super Bowl favorite.
Nonetheless, the Cardinals have an explosive offense and like to create space for the receivers using a variety of concepts. Two of their staple concepts are the air raid offense staple “95 Y Cross” and “double posts” and the Cardinals called them regularly this season with success.
In the first clip above, the Cardinals are running 95 Y cross out of 10 personnel on a 3rd-and-6 versus the Titans in Week 1. The play is run out of a 3x2 formation with the trips side running the deep crosser by Christian Kirk the #3 receiver, a spot route by the #2 receiver, and a dig route by the #1 receiver furthest to the outside. The Titans are in a cover-1 lurk defense with the lurk safety already down in the hook/curl zone.
The routes on the two-receiver side occupy the boundary defenders and this gives Kirk space to run the deep over route in front of the deep safety. Quarterback Kyler Murray hits the tight window throw over the defender for an explosive pass.
In the second clip, the Cardinals are running the same play versus the Rams in Week 4 but Kyler identified a 1-on-1 match-up with his alert route to the two-receiver side. Just like the first clip, the receivers on the two-receiver side switch release with receiver A.J. Green on the out and up route against the corner. Murray could have thrown the deep crosser but he liked the match-up with Green on the Rams corner and throws a strike for a touchdown.
The Cardinals can also lift the top of defenses with the dual posts concept. The two posts patterns open space underneath for the deep crosser. Murray can throw both.
Los Angeles Rams
The Packers’ other potential opponent from this match-up is the Los Angeles Rams, whom the Packers handled easily at home in Week 12 by a score of 36-28. The Packers point total in that game reflects three touchdowns on offense, one pick-six of Matthew Stafford on defense, and three field goals, a complete game effort by the Packers.
The Rams simultaneously and unceremoniously lost their Week 18 game to the 49ers (six straight wins for the 49ers over the Rams dating back to 2019) and won the division when the Cardinals lost.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, whom the Packers are intimately familiar with, threw six pick-sixes this season, 17 total interceptions, but also threw 41 touchdowns. The Rams offense early in the season looked unstoppable.
Though the Rams went 5-0 after losing to Green Bay and losing in Week 18, the Rams’ offense never felt quite the same, especially since losing Robert Woods earlier in mid-season to an ACL injury. They acquired Odell Beckham Jr., but it took some time for Stafford and Beckham to build a rapport with another.
The engine of the Rams offense, however, was Robert Woods and is now Cooper Kupp. And the staple concept the Rams like to throw several times a game with Woods and Kupp is either a dagger concept or a backside dig.
No quarterback was better at finding his third progression on the backside dig than Stafford. And the Rams love to hi-low curl flat defenders with routes that vertically stretch this area of the field. They’ll usually pair the dig with a clear out route to the front side or hi-low the backside with a dig and a spot route underneath.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers came on strong after starting the season 3-5. The season looked bleak after starting 2-0 and dropping four straight after that with a chorus call for benching Jimmy Garoppolo and starting Trey Lance.
Kyle Shanahan stayed committed to Garoppolo and it paid off. With a favorable schedule in the back of the season, the 49ers rattled off a 7-2 record and beat the Rams at home to clinch the 6th seed in the NFC with a 10-7 record. Against playoff teams, the 49ers are 4-4 this season. The Packers narrowly beat them in Week 3 when Aaron Rodgers put the dagger in them with just 34 seconds left in the game.
Offensively, the 49ers are perhaps one of the more dangerous teams in the NFC with a strong running game and an efficient passing game. There’s a caveat to that, however. The 49ers go as Jimmy Garoppolo goes and more often than not, they have to rely on him to put together a touchdown drive at the end of the game to overcome his previous mistakes.
Jimmy Garoppolo is 9-6 as the starting QB this season— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 13, 2022
In the 9 wins, Garoppolo has only turned the ball over 4 times
In the 6 losses, Garoppolo has turned the ball over 11 times
That didn’t work versus the Titans, where he threw two interceptions (one in the end zone) and missed another wide open receiver that would have walked in with a touchdown. It worked against the Rams, however, where after two interceptions, he led a game-tying touchdown drive and then the game-winning field goal drive in overtime.
Their passing attack lives in the middle of the field.
The 49ers love to throw in-breaking routes and crossing patterns over the middle because Garoppolo’s strength lay in the quick game concepts and intermediate passing concepts between the numbers. Shanahan has had to get creative to get his offense some yards and points as a result. Here against the Rams in Week 18, the 49ers have a dagger concept called that is normally a vertical stretch concept.
Shanahan adds a horizontal stretch element to it with Deebo on the jet motion to the flat. The motion pulls two defenders to the numbers and the clear out route occupies the safety. Receiver Jauan Jennings is wide open for the touchdown.
In the run game, the 49ers love to utilize Deebo Samuel, who was also their first 1000 yard receiver since Anquan Boldin in 2014. With injuries to the running back room all season, the 49ers turned to Deebo’s versatility as a running back, as well, and will utilize him as a runner just as they would a traditional running back.
They’ll use him in the regular run game as well as create space for him as the running back with tagged run-pass options on the backside. The results have been overwhelming.
The Packers did a great job of holding the 49ers to just 67 yards last time they played in Week 3. These two teams have quietly renewed their 1990s rivalry over the last decade, especially in the playoffs, where the 49ers have won the last three playoff meetings. No sense in rehashing those games, the Packers and their fans have not forgotten.
The only team of the four potential opponents the Packers haven’t played this season are the Eagles. They finished second in their division behind the Cowboys and finished seventh in the conference. They go on the road this weekend to Tampa Bay, making an upset of this proportion highly unlikely. Still, the Eagles have the 3rd most efficient rushing attack per Football Outsiders DVOA due to Jalen Hurts ability to run the ball on designed carries.
The threat of the run from the quarterback could give Tampa Bay fits and it certainly gave the Packers fits when they played Justin Fields and Tyler Huntley late in the season. But Jalen Hurts is prone to the same mistakes as any other middle to bottom-tier starting quarterback and the Packers, should they end up with the Eagles as an opponent, likely won’t struggle against him.
The Eagles will use Hurts as a runner on zone read concepts that Packers will need to be prepared for with gap exchange defense and spying the quarterback. The Eagles would look to use Hurts’ legs in high leverage situations where he can use his athleticism as a runner though a lingering ankle injury could limit his run game usage.
The Eagles also use a variety of play action passing concepts designed to get Hurts some easy completions and he’s progressed nicely as a passer this season. If the ankle injury is still a problem, and it’s not clear it is because he’s been a full participant at practice this week, the Eagles will need to rely on his arm and that’s less than ideal for a quarterback who’s struggled as a straight dropback passer. The Eagles still present multiple challenges the Packers should not take lightly.
Next week, I’ll have more comprehensive breakdowns of their first opponent.