The Green Bay Packers led comfortably at halftime 20-10 in their week five game in London versus the New York Giants and looked dominant on offense for the most part. Then in the second half, the Packers' offense failed to score any points as the Giants rallied to score 17 in the second half. The Packers' only second-half points came on an intentional safety the Giants took as they were running out the clock on a punt so Aaron Rodgers had as little time as possible to attempt one final drive.
The Packers owned the time of possession battle in the first half at nearly 18 minutes but the Giants managed to sustain long drives and keep the Packers off the field for much of the second half with a time of possession at 10:18 in the third quarter and 9:17 in the fourth quarter. This translated into just three meaningful offensive drives for the Packers, who did not start their first second-half drive until 7:50 remaining in the third quarter.
First half play calling
In the first half, the Packers relied on the quick passing game and running game to march down the field and score 20 first-half points. The combination of this passing and running attack slowed down the Giants' pass rush, enabling them to take advantage of some play action and quick run-pass options to move the ball.
First touchdown drive
On their first touchdown drive, Rodgers found Romeo Doubs (No. 87) wide open over the middle on a play action dagger concept. Dagger or a deep dig/in-breaking route is a staple in the Packers' offense and has explosive pass play capability for Rodgers. No play action dagger has been very effective for the Packers under LaFleur in recent seasons and it remained a reliable tool to help get the offense on the board late in the first quarter on Sunday.
It is a two progression read for the quarterback with the deep over route being the first read and the deep dig route behind it as the second read.
Rodgers executed the play action run fake and immediately turned and located Randall Cobb (No. 18) on the deep over route but the corner to the closed side of the Giants 3-deep/3-under fire zone is sinking underneath the crosser as well as the middle hook defender so Rodgers comes off of the route to Doubs on the dagger route behind Cobb and finds him wide open.
On the touchdown, Rodgers found Lazard on a bubble screen RPO to give them the 10-0 lead late in the first quarter on the same drive.
The read becomes the leverage of the overhang defender splitting the difference between the end of the line of scrimmage and the slot receiver.
If he crashes or hesitates, Rodgers can throw to the bubble. If he widens at the snap, Rodgers will hand off up the middle.
The defender covering Lazard is playing off-man coverage in the low red zone, not ideal for defending receivers in the red zone right given what the Packers offense likes to do down here. Rodgers takes the snap and at the mesh point, reads the overhang defender stay home to chase the run so Rodgers quickly pulls the pass and throws it out to Lazard who catches and secures the pass before sprinting into the end zone.
Second touchdown drive
On the second touchdown drive, the Packers methodically moved the ball down in gains of four to fives yards at time, mostly through their use of the RPO game. Every play had a built-in pass read to go with the inside zone running game that Rodgers has the freedom to throw depending on the leverage.
On the running plays, Rodgers is simply reading the leverage of the defenders and the box count. If the defenders are in press or closer to the line of scrimmage or have a numbers advantage on the perimeter, then Rodger will hand the ball to the running back.
On the pass reads, Rodgers sees either off coverage or an unfavorable box to run against (extra defenders the offense has to block). The quick passes allow the receivers to get in space and allow the offense to rely on yards after the catch.
The result of this drive was a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mercedes Lewis when he leaked out away from the fake jet sweep by Christian Watson. The defense was preoccupied with the fake end around by Watson that no one covered Lewis wide-open in the end zone.
Second half adjustments
In the second half, the Packers did not start their first drive until 7:50 left in the third quarter. The Giants made some halftime adjustments that led to the Packers taking more downfield chances and LaFleur confirmed after the game that they started seeing more single high safety coverages that led to this series of play-calling and nearly abandoning what worked in the first half.
They were giving us a lot of run-pass cans and they played a lot of single high and manned us up and it’s you know do you want to run into a loaded box or do you want to try to get it through the air and unfortunately that didn’t work for us so like I said give credit, you know Wink’s [Martindale] a guy I totally got a lot of respect for and he out-coached in the second half.
It would not have been an issue had Rodgers connected on a few of these deep shots by hitting the open receivers instead of forcing the ball into double coverage or leaving the passes in bad spots.
On two throws later on the first drive of the second half, Rodgers passed up open receivers to force the ball downfield into coverage. In the first play, Rodgers had Lazard open versus the coverage on a deep crosser but looked to take a shot downfield to Romeo Doubs who was not really open and could not separate that well from the corner.
Lazard, in contrast, had at least two steps on the defender. Rodgers heaved it downfield and fortunately the Giants defender drew a penalty in the process.
In the second clip, Rodgers again forced the pass into Doubs downfield but this time Doubs was bracketed over the top by the deep safety with a corner in trail underneath. The margin for error here was slim and Rodgers left the pass out in front of everyone.
He should have recognized that he had no throw to Doubs once the safety capped the route and he missed seeing Christian Watson (No. 9) wide open. If he chose not to throw to Watson because he does not trust him, then that is a bigger issue.
Later in the fourth quarter, Rodgers left a pass inside and behind for Lazard who was 1-on-1 with the corner and Lazard was unable to come down with it.
This is a throw that Rodgers has made a ton of times in the past and is one he should have given Lazard a better chance to catch by putting the ball on his outside shoulder and letting him make an adjustment to the outside. This could be a timing issue or a chemistry issue with Lazard on these specific routes but whatever the case is, the playcalling was less of an issue than the throws that were made.
The final play sequence
The Packers went back to what worked and chipped their way down to the 8-yard line where all they needed to do was score to tie it. The simplest task for this offense turned out to be an overwhelming assignment. From the 15-yard line, they gained 9 yards on two plays and needed one yard for a first down. The play calling to get there was not sound.
The Packers tried to simulate running a slant/flat concept that turns into a sluggo route by the #1 receiver outside in trips and quick flat route where the #2 receiver in trips bursts back inside. The route combination is meant to cause confusion as defenders cannot sort out who should cover who but the Giants are playing off coverage to the #1 receiver and in tight to the #2 to prevent this from happening.
The play is designed to go to the sluggo route run by Doubs but Rodgers has no window to throw and comes back inside to Cobb on the flat return route over the middle. The pass rush is not getting home so as Rodgers turns to locate Cobb and resets, Kayvon Thibodeaux gets in the passing lane and gets his arm up, tipping the pass.
On 4th-and-1, LaFleur called an RPO with an inside zone. The defenders are playing the two-receiver side similar to the play above with the off coverage over the #1 and the tight coverage over the #2. Rodgers has his window based on the route concepts, a “now” slant with a “pile” route over the top to create a pick or rub on the defenders.
But Rodgers motions out to Lazard by tapping his right shoulder, a signal that alerts the defense to also point that way while they set the front.
This is purely a pre-snap box read and the original play call would’ve either netted a touchdown or the first down whether Rodgers had decided to pass to Doubs on the slant or give to Dillon on the inside zone. Instead, Rodgers takes the snap and fires it out to Lazard singled up on the outside on the single receiver side. The Giants sent a blitz off the edge to this side and Rodgers threw it right into the wall of Giants defenders.
It looks like, based on the post-snap picture, that either Doubs or Dillon would have been the better choice to give to. Either player could have picked up the first down. If Doubs was not in the RPO progression, because it is not common for the passing concept to be on the opposite side of the running back where the quarterback cannot see it post-snap, then the read should have been to hand off with the defensive leverage set to the edge and not in the middle.
Aaron Jones on #Packers passing 3rd & 2, 4th & 2 nearing one minute left at the 6-yard line down a touchdown.— Cody Krupp (@CodyWKrupp) October 9, 2022
"I'd put my money on giving me or AJ Dillon two downs to get two yards, I'd put my money on it." pic.twitter.com/FL1sLZqYzi
Aaron Jones expressed some frustration with the end of the game play-calling in the clip above but rightly would not criticize his coach or his quarterback. But his sentiments are widely felt.
The offense has some issues that need to be corrected and it starts primarily with the quarterback and running the plays called. It also falls on LaFleur to put the receiver group in positions where they can win on their routes and get off-press coverage. The two go hand in hand and if Rodgers hits one or two of those deep shots, maybe they get the defense to back off, which takes the pressure off the RPO packages too.
In either case, the adjustments were correctly made in the second half, the offense just needs to find ways to connect and they can do that by forcing Rodgers to run the offense called in front of him.