When the Green Bay Packers went down 28-14 with 3:47 left in the third quarter last week against the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay’s chances to ruin former head coach Mike McCarthy’s homecoming looked bleak. When down in previous games, head coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers would take a couple of deep shots, go three-and-out, and the opponent would pile on and put the game out of reach. This time, though, the Packers’ response was measured, patient, and leaned on what should have been their identity all season long – a physical running team that can march down the field and takes the occasional deep shot off of run action.
Green Bay responded with a nine-play, 76-yard touchdown that included four runs to running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, a scramble from Rodgers, and four passes with the last one being to rookie wide receiver Christian Watson for the 39-yard score. The drive epitomized the balance that Green Bay has been searching for.
Green Bay has run an increasing amount of gap scheme runs this year. One of their favorites has been pin and pull with players pinning in defensive ends and linebackers and offensive linemen wrapping around outside to pick up smaller second-level defenders. The Packers are getting great yards per carry out of the scheme and it has become one of their bread-and-butter looks. LaFleur dialed up pin and pull on the first play of the drive and then followed that up with a nice gain off of a guard/H-back counter.
The Packers would come back to their pin and pull one more time with AJ Dillon in the backfield and capped things off with some split zone.
In the passing game, the Packers built off of the run game. They used two core play-action plays: Y-Cross and Yankee. “Y” typically designates the tight end, but the Packers have Watson, the #2, work as the cross in Y-Cross. Against one-high safety looks, receivers expect to get the ball between the numbers and the hash if they’re running the cross. Behind that cross is a deep dig. If defenders get underneath the cross, the dig opens up behind it. That’s what happened with the Packers on their first pass call of the drive. The linebacker got just enough depth to scare Rodgers out of throwing the cross, which meant that the dig following behind would be open.
Yankee has gotten the Packers huge chunk plays and is their go-to heavy play-action concept. The concept worked once again and the Packers had both Watson on the dig and receiver Allen Lazard open on the post behind him. Unfortunately, tight end Marcedes Lewis mishandled the end on pass protection and Rodgers wass forced to dump it off instead of taking a shot at the would-be touchdown to Lazard.
After an incompletion on a comeback to Lazard, Green Bay used Watson’s speed to create an explosive and get themselves back into the game. Green Bay aligned in a bunch formation which forced the Cowboys to be in a relatively predictable defense. Almost every team will put a player on the point-man on the line of scrimmage to jam and disrupt the releases of the other players. They then bracket the other two off-ball receivers inside-out. That meant the Packers and Rodgers knew that Watson will be isolated on the inside defender, #26. Watson fought for an inside release to win grass to the field, however, the defender walled off with leverage. Watson countered by stemming vertically to get the defender to chase and turn their hips. He then put his foot in the ground and out-sprinted the defender across the field for the touchdown. It was great route-running nuance, a great call to create separation, and capped a well-executed drive for Green Bay.
If Green Bay can remain patient and balanced, they can compete with the good teams in the NFC. They’ll need to get healthy to really make some noise, but they’ve given themselves a chance to work back into the playoff picture.