Green Bay Packers running back A.J. Dillon finally found the end zone again on Sunday night in what I believe is actually the strength of the Packers offense in the running game. The Packers have favored getting their two running backs more carries recently due to Aaron Rodgers’ limitations due to injury. At the end of the night, the Packers’ running backs finished with 20 carries for 107 yards and one touchdown.
Dillon carried the load in the running game on Sunday night carrying the ball, eight times for 64 yards. He scored from 20 yards out on a staple run concept in the Packers offense: the mid zone. But first, why the mid zone?
In the playoffs last season, the Packers struggled to run the ball versus the 49ers when the 49ers shifted to an over front defense with a 2i-technique defensive tackle to the weak side.
When defenses play a 2i-technique, they have to get creative because they are automatically at a disadvantage with a safety out of the fit. The 2i-technique defensive tackle is the answer to that because it allows the defense to steal back a gap and insert another defender into the fit while still keeping the pass defense intact.
In this video, the 49ers are playing with safeties out of the run fit because of the Packers’ run-pass option game. The nickel here takes the place of a safety in the run fit with his inside alignment over the slot.
The defensive tackles play heavy into their gaps and defensive ends play head up and have the edges, allowing the LBs to fill depending on where the ball goes. The Packers were unable to move the ball versus this 2i-tech for most of the game, allowing linebacker Fred Warner to fill the A-gap to the front side.
This season, the answer to that is to run mid zone to the weak side away from the strong side A-gap and allow the center to work to the second level.
In the mid zone, the run action is the same as the outside zone with the offensive line moving laterally to reach defenders with the main difference being that the play side tackle kicks out the edge defender instead of reach blocking like they do with the Shanahan version of the outside zone.
This changes the running back’s primary read to the B-gap/inside hip of the tackle versus the C-gap/outside hip of the tackle or tight end. The idea is to get the running back to the open space quicker than it does with the outside zone. In the diagram above Sunday night’s game, you can see that Dillon hits the running lane between the defensive tackles.
The fly motion helps move a defender from the box and changes the blocking angles for the offensive linemen because the defenders might shade over and take themselves out of the play by this movement and by watching the fly motion.
The fly motion must be respected by the defense because it’s another potential ball carrier that can gash them if they respond to its movement. Usually, the fly motion gets the defense to bump over one gap to account for the numbers advantage it gives the offense.
The Eagles defense is initially in a two-high nickel over front. The over front puts a defensive tackle in a 3-technique in the B-gap to the tight end side and the other defensive tackle in a 2i-technique in the backside A-gap. The Eagles are also primarily a split safety, two-high coverage defense.
Here, they rotate to single high with the motion but the safety rotation is to the strong side away from the run so the safety cannot adequately fit the run to the weak side. The run away from the strong side leaves the right guard, who is uncovered, free to get up on the second level and block the MIKE linebacker while the center works horizontally to block the 2i with the left guard. The result is a huge running lane for Dillon to rumble 20 yards for the touchdown.
The Packers need to lean a bit more heavily on their run game and take the pressure of the passing game while Rodgers deals with his injuries. They have the tools to do it and should be able to lean more heavily into Jones and Dillon down this last five game stretch, where, with a little luck, they can win out and still have a shot at the playoffs.