The Green Bay Packers lost their fourth straight game to the Bills on Sunday night 27-17 on the road in Buffalo. The offense struggled to move the ball through the air and found some success later in the game but before Rodgers connected with Samori Toure, he was 11-for-16 with 74 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Rodgers finished with a respectable 203 passing yards and two touchdowns but if the Packers are going to find any success and turn this season around, it will not come through the passing game, where the Packers’ young receiving corps is having a hard time finding chemistry with Rodgers.
The team is also dealing with several injuries to Allen Lazard, who sat out Sunday night, Randall Cobb, who has been out with an ankle injury since the Jets loss and will not be back for at least two more weeks, and Christian Watson, who left Sunday’s game with a concussion.
As a result, Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon shouldered the bulk of the offensive load for most of the game, combining for 197 rushing yards on 30 carries, an average of 6.5 yards per carry. They did this primarily through the use of gap scheme (counter) and man-blocking scheme runs (duo) as well as some split-flow zone running plays they have had success with this season.
Let’s take a look at some of the run game concepts versus the Bills
Duo and inside zone
Duo is a downhill vertical running game concept that looks like inside zone but is considered a gap scheme run because it creates new gaps along the front by displacing defenders with the double team blocks. On “duo,” the offensive line blocks the defensive front with a series of double team blocks, making the running back’s read the middle linebacker in the second level.
Just like on the outside zone, in the running back’s first three steps, he reads the run fit of the middle linebacker to determine if he is going to stay on an inside track or bounce to the edge away from the defender. The play requires the patience to let the blocks develop and the ability to set up the MIKE linebacker for failure.
The Packers also relied on the inside zone, which looks like a duo run but the blocking is different and the running back’s aim point and read is different. The easiest way to distinguish between the two runs is to watch the path of both the running back and center. If they both go in the same direction, the run is an inside zone. If the center goes one way and the running back path goes the opposite way, the run is a duo run.
Whereas the running back on duo reads the fit of the middle linebacker, on inside zone, the running back’s aim point on the inside zone is the strong side A-gap or inside hip of the guard and he reads the blocks of the center on the defensive tackle in the backside A-gap and the play-side guard on the 3-technique defensive tackle as the play develops.
On Sunday night, the Packers relied on both runs under center and out of the shotgun in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) and 21 “pony” personnel (two running backs instead of one running back and one fullback) due to the Bills defense setting a hard edge under two deep safety coverage shell, leaving only two linebackers in the middle of the field. On the inside zone runs, the Packers primarily ran it with split flow action.
In the gun, they typically would line up three wide receivers, forcing the Bills’ overhang defender to shade to the slot receiver. Jones’s quick decision-making and cut ability allowed the Packers to get at least five or more yards per carry on this run design.
Counter runs are an easy way to kill the run pursuit of an aggressive defense like the Bills that so often get penetration into the backfield. It is an old-school gap scheme run that all teams run from traditional under-center and mostly two-back 21 personnel formations.
Counter involves two lead blockers, usually the backside offensive guard and a fullback or tight end (GY counter) or in some cases the backside tackle (GT counter). The backside guard usually trap blocks or kicks out the defensive end or first up field defender while the rest of the line down blocks away from the point of attack. The use of a fullback adds an extra blocker to lead up through the hole, the down blocks, and the trapping guard.
Out of 21 pony personnel here, the Packers line up in the shotgun. Rodgers sends Dillon on a “tear” motion that pulls a defender out of the box making the blocking 6-on-6 instead of a 7-on-6 situation that would have favored the defense.
Zach Tom (No. 50) is the first puller and kicks out Von Miller on the edge while Josiah Deguara (No. 81) leads Jones into the hole blocking linebacker Matt Milano. Yosh Nijman gets the critical block here upfield that springs Jones for 32 yards by cutting off and blocking Tremaine Edmunds (No. 49).
Pin and pull
One play the Packers have used recently this season with success is the pin and pull sweep. It is a type of outside zone running play and uses a lot of the same principles as outside with reach blocking by the offensive line. The main differences are that uncovered linemen will pull to the play side and covered linemen will down block or “pin” the defender inside. The running back’s aim point is the furthest outside gap.
For the offensive line, the blocking on a pin-and-pull sweep is determined by the alignment of the defensive front. The remaining uncovered offensive lineman “pull” technique block around the edge to give the running back a convoy. This is a tough play for defenders on the edge to defend because usually the offense gets bigger-bodied players involved in blocking corners and safeties.
One advantage a defense has now is players can no longer cut block at the point of attack on the edge outside the tackle box. On the backside of the play, the offensive linemen will typically reach block the nearest defender to their inside, similar to the blocking action on an outside zone.
Here, Zach Tom is the uncovered lineman on the play side so he automatically becomes the puller to the edge. The Packers added a wrinkle here with the tight end Deguara lined up in the backfield like a traditional fullback who also lead blocks on the edge for Jones. The Bills have five defenders outside of the ball to the left of the offense’s left so getting out to the perimeter is difficult. However, Jones follows his convoy more up the gut with Deguara and center Josh Myers in the second level trying to reach the linebacker.
The Packers have the offense to salvage the season but they need to lean more into these concepts early on in games as the receivers get on the same page with Rodgers every week. They are running out of time though and did not make a move at the trade deadline, which may be signaling that they are throwing in the towel on the season.
For the Packers though, the NFC is still wide open outside of the Eagles, with several teams sitting around that 4-4 and 3-5 mark. The other top teams are not as good offensively, including the division-leading Minnesota Vikings, who are just sort of sneaking by teams but are middle of the pack in EPA per play on offense and in the bottom half of the league in EPA per play on defense.