The Packers' defense played well enough for the team to win but costly mistakes in some third-down situations led to two touchdowns on third down and points on other drives. In the end, there continue to still be coverage lapses over basic assignments, allowing 23 points, too much for the offense to overcome late in the game.
For a unit that ranks third in opponent third down conversion percentage at a low 30%, this was not their best outing. And the mistakes they made cannot continue to happen. Despite all of this, they are still one of the more reliable units on the team. But not in this game. Three third and long conversions led to 13 total points (one touchdown, two field goals) and a fourth conversion allowed the Commanders to kill the clock even further at the end of the game before the Packers got the ball back.
First play, 2nd quarter, 3rd-and-8 @ GB 9, 7:26 remaining
The Packers are in red zone cover-6, what the Vic Fangio tree calls “red stuff.” They have a red zone cover-2 to the two receiver side and red quarters to the trips side versus the Commanders’ 3x2 formation.
The play call to the 2-receiver side is scissors and Commanders mess with the coverage responsibilities by lining up a running and tight end to that side to run the scissors.
Antonio Gibson and the tight end release on the same track, one behind the other, upfield into the coverage. They split to the post and the corner and no one runs with the post route by Gibson. The vertical curl defender under the post, Quay Walker, should have carried the post underneath but Eric Stokes also should have stayed over the top as well.
The route combination confused the coverage defenders to that side as both Amos and Stokes bracketed the corner route and let Gibson run free into the post. The safety, technically Stokes here, should let the corner route go and widen into the post area so he can bracket the post route over the top. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke lofts the pass over the head of Walker into the back of the end zone to Gibson for the wide-open touchdown.
Second play, 3rd quarter, 3rd-and-2 @ WAS 23, 7:47 remaining
This was a 16-play drive by the Commanders where they converted two third downs passes but one, in particular, had an egregious blown coverage assignment on the Commanders’ mesh concept.
The Packers are in man coverage, cover-2 man across with two deep safeties. In the video below, you can see Campbell alerting the defense to a pre-snap check, most likely to watch out for the crossers and to pass them off, which is most likely what an offense is going to run from a condensed formation.
The Commanders are running mesh with two crossers underneath a sit route and a wheel route down the sideline.
The defense recognizes the crossers and attempts to pass them off but only Campbell becomes the rat-in-the-hole defender on the shallow crosser to his right. Stokes continues to run with his man which has ripple effects causing Walker to chase the crosser from the left side.
The middle of the field is left open for the sit route over the middle, which Walker should have robbed underneath. But the defense did not do a good job of sorting out these route concepts.
Third play, 3rd quarter, 3rd-and-11 @ WAS 39, 5:43 remaining
Later on the same drive, the defense gave up another conversion on third and long. This time it is third-and-11 and the defense is cover-2 man again but this play is just more of a great play by the offense than anything. Curtis Samuel is running a “Miami” route with Rasul Douglas in coverage. Samuel is able to get enough separation and give Heinicke a window for a completion.
Fourth play. 4th quarter, 3rd-and-8 @ WAS 39, 10:10 remaining
On 3rd-and-8 on the Washington side of the field, the defense gave up a 26-yard catch and run to Curtis Samuel and had an additional 15-yard penalty tacked onto the end of it.
The defense is playing “1-rat,” a man-match coverage where the safety and “rat” defender are responsible for the #2 receiver. If the #2 receiver is vertical, the safety carries him. If the #2 receiver is under/across shallow, the defenders make a “rat” call and the linebacker should carry him across and pick p the crosser.
Adrian Amos (No. 31) sees Samuel cross the field and makes a call right away to Campbell to pick him up but Campbell never does. Samuel is wide open and gets upfield for 26 yards before Stokes bumps him after the play is dead.
Fifth play, 4th quarter, 3rd-and-9 @ WAS 44, 2:13 remaining
This 3rd down conversion allowed the Commanders to kill even more clock, just enough to not allow Rodgers to attempt any last-second heroics. The Packers got the ball back with 23 seconds left after this drive.
The defense is in cover-1 rat with Campbell the low hole player in the middle of the defense and a safety-aligned deep. The rest of the defense is locked tight in man-to-man coverage.
Washington is running a comeback route to the two receiver side of this 3x2 formation with a sail concept to the trips side. This puts Terry McLaurin in coverage 1-on-1 with Jaire Alexander with no safety help over the top.
At the snap, Kenny Clark (No. 97) beats his blocker with a quick swim move inside and gets a free run at Heinicke. Heinicke lets go of the pass as soon as he gets hit by Clark and the pass floats to McLaurin on the sideline. McLaurin makes a nice adjustment to step in front of Alexander to catch the pass despite sticky coverage.
The commanders killed the clock all the way down to 29 seconds before punting.
The defense played well in spots and even returned a pick-6 for a touchdown and nearly had another touchdown on a scoop and score strip sack caused by Rashan Gary. That play was eventually called back for an illegal contact penalty by Eric Stokes during the play. But that should not overshadow a unit that gave up some pretty big conversions because they are still having trouble sorting out coverage assignments in Year 2 of this defensive scheme.