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Packers film room: What happened to the run defense? Clues from the Jets game

The run has struggled all season. The Jets game provides some answers for why.

NFL: OCT 16 Jets at Packers Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Packers surrendered 24 points in a loss to the New York Jets on Sunday. Only 17 of those points were given up by the defense but they gave up 179 yards on the ground in the running game to rookie running back Breece Hall, backup Michael Carter, and receiver Braxton Berrios. Defensively, they are surrendering 0.083 EPA/per rush attempt, the 30th rate in the NFL, and are sitting at 19th overall in defensive EPA per play at 0.029.

They are giving up 4.9 yards per rush attempt (25th in the NFL) and this is the one area of the defense they need to correct going forward. The recent games against the Jets and Giants exposed some schematic issues as well as some personnel issues that were largely already present this season, but have been magnified by a stagnant offense.

For the most part, the Packers defense was stout overall versus the Jets, only allowing Zach Wilson to complete 10 passes in 18 attempts for 110 yards, no touchdowns, and his pass yard totals inflated by one 41-yard reception given up by Eric Stokes late in the game. The phase of the game seemed to correct its issues from the previous week in London against the Giants. But the run game continues to struggle.

Personnel issues

All-Pro linebacker DeVondre Campbell has regressed so far this season and finds himself out of position quite a bit in the run game. Overall, the second-level defenders and secondary players have generally been slow to react and it has allowed their opponents to rip off big runs.

First play, 1st quarter, 1st-and-10 @ NYJ 24, 10:12 remaining

The Jets are running an outside zone toss here that the Shanahan tree calls “Zorro” (Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur spent several seasons with Kyle Shanahan) where the motioning receiver helps block the defender inside the tight end and kicks him out.

The play is designed to be run against teams that set hard edges to prevent wide zone teams from getting lateral.

The Packers to that side are playing a technique that is called “box the fit” where the defensive end sets the hard edge and takes on the blocker with outside leverage to force the run inside. If the run bounces outside, that defender has leverage to make the play. If the run goes back inside, the defense is there to hammer the interior blockers and force the ball carrier to the rallying defenders.

That does not happen here. As the running back gets wide on this track, Campbell races to the edge outside the box/edge defender who already has out-leveraged the offense to that side. Campbell should fit in up on the right tackle, which would either force the ball carrier back inside where he would not have a lane, or would force him to bounce to the edge defender. The key coaching point on a box fit is to never give up the vertical running lane and Campbell did that here by not hammering the outside shoulder of the tackle.

It happened again later in the game, but he got caught too far inside this time.

Second play, 4th quarter, 1st-and-10 @ GB 34, 15:00 remaining

On Breece Hall’s 34-yard touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter, Campbell was not out of position but he failed to make a downfield tackle that looked like it lacked some effort.

The Jets are running a dart run from a wing/H-back receiver position where the tackle pulls and lead blocks for the wing back.

The Packers are in their base 3-4 defense here with safety Darnell Savage walked down to the line of scrimmage, not ideal.

At the snap, the Jets have a lot of eye candy in this play with an orbit receiver into the backfield, half the offensive line going to the right, half going to the left, and Wilson faking the toss to the right. Rookie Quay Walker (No. 7) recognizes the inside run and falls back to the open space but overruns the point of attack by widening with the pulling linemen. He needed to come downhill sooner than he did.

Hall was able to get into the running lane and go untouched until the very end of the run when Campbell had a shot at bringing him down at least inside the 10 to give his team a fighting chance at limiting the touchdown so early in the fourth. But he failed to do so.

Third play, 3rd quarter, 1st-and-10 @ GB 20, 8:19 remaining

On the Berrios play, the defense found itself out leveraged to the end around side of the play call. This is a staple running play for receivers in the Shanahan offense and it is one that the 49ers ran with great efficiency to Deebo Samuel, including against the Packers.

Mike LaFleur obviously thought he could still take advantage of the Packers hard edges and tendency to chase down the line of scrimmage even under a new defensive coordinator. It is still an issue with the Packers defense that has not changed.

The play starts out looking like “16 counter,” a gap scheme base running play in the Shanahan offense. Tight end CJ Uzomah (No. 87) and left guard Laken Tomlinson (No. 79) both move in the direction of the counter to sell the motion to the right side of the formation as the defense crashes toward what appears to them to be the point of attack. Quay Walker (No. 7) falls back to the middle of the defense because the Jets sold it so well.

As soon as Braxton Berrios (No. 10) gets the ball, Uzomah reverses course back to the left as Duane Brown (No. 71) and center Connor McGovern (No. 60) get out on the left edge and lead block for Berrios. The duo get out on the edge where they meet little resistance only really have to contend with the safety and corner. Berrios navigates the traffic and sprints 20 yards to his first career touchdown.

Up front, the Packers defense got caught looking inside and lost backside contain on the reverse by defensive end Kingsley Enegbare. No defender to that side was able to get off the leverage and get over the top. Great run design by the Jets but chalk this up also to a defense that is finding itself out of position against opposing run games.

Schematic weaknesses

The defense stayed in their 2-4-5 nickel defense and a 3-3-5 penny front defense when the Jets were up 24-10 and grinding the clock with the running game late. The defense had two defensive linemen, four linebackers, and five defensive backs on the field as the Jets gained yards of 12, 12, and 25, and got into scoring position for a field goal late in the fourth quarter. They gave up another eight-yard run on this drive in their 3-4 base personnel.

Putting five defensive backs in on obvious running downs with that score is inexcusable from a defensive coordinator whose defense has already struggled to stop the run this season. The problem is, their other nickel front that is designed to stop the run has also been inefficient at times, and the Jets gave up 25 yards on the toss play. Their penny front has been gashed in the run game, a front that is designed to stop the run and allow a defense to gain numbers versus the pass.

The other issue is personnel usage in these situations. Tedarrell Slaton played 20 snaps but only two on that final drive and was out-snapped by Dean Lowry by 12 snaps. Devonte Wyatt played just seven snaps all game and none on that final drive. Yet when the line-up includes both Slaton and Wyatt inside, the run defense does not give up more than three yards per carry, per the NFL’s Game Statistics and Information website. That is a problem with an obvious solution.


It might be time to scrap the multi-varied fronts the Packers play and lean heavily into just their base 3-4 and 2-4-5 nickel defenses. It seems to be creating a lot of confusion and blown responsibilities on certain fronts that they have not shown they can excel at yet under Joe Barry. Barry would also do well to play his heavier defensive line personnel in those nickel fronts that can truly clog the gaps up front.

With a “get-right” game versus Washington Commanders this weekend, how much of this will actually be fixed is anyone’s guess. They have the personnel, they just are not being used right and it starts with Barry.