The Green Bay Packers defense surrendered 10 conversions on 18 third down attempts to the Vikings in a 24-10 home loss in week eight. Typically, the defense has been a little more consistent and kept the team in some close games and it’s the offense that hasn’t held up its end of the bargain. The offense still didn’t do enough, but the Packers defense had several bad moments with coverage busts that allowed the Vikings to get chunk plays on scoring drives.
In the first half, the Vikings offense converted 5-for-8 on third down as quarterback Kirk Cousins picked them apart seemingly at will. They did all of this without Justin Jefferson, too. The Vikings averaged just two yards per carry in the run game as well, even less if you remove Cousins’ nine yards worth of scrambles.
Giving up third downs happens but the most frustrating issue is the way these plays in particular happened, with two coverage busts and at least two where their zone rules just got picked apart, all on drives where the Vikings scored.
Third down coverage busts
The Packers are in single high cover-1 coverage here pre-snap versus the Vikings’ empty 3x2 formation. The play’s end result is a 23 yard gain down the left side to tight end T.J. Hockenson.
The post-snap shows the Packers dropping NINE PLAYERS into coverage in the low underneath zones to discourage the easy underneath throws. If the goal was to discourage that and get pressure on Cousins, then it’s not clear how rushing two was going to accomplish this.
The offense is running a sort of pick play that gets Hockenson free down the left side on an out and up route while the coverage over the trips bunch cannot get sorted out.
The Packers coverage over the trips either blew their assignment, or Joe Barry put them in a bad situation. Typically, versus a bunch with a point man like this, a defense will play “stab-and-combo” where the point defender plays “man-everywhere-he-goes” coverage (MEG) and the outside defender takes first outside while the inside defender takes first inside.
But the Packers don’t switch up their assignments here. Jonathan Owens (No. 34) stays over Hockenson on the point, Keisean Nixon (No. 25) is inside the bunch, and Rasul Douglas (No. 25) is the outside corner.
It’s more than likely just a good adjustment by the Vikings to catch the Packers in this coverage over the trips. Douglas runs with the outside receiver while Nixon has to run through traffic. Owens gets picked by the #2 receiver in the middle. The result is Hockenson running wide open for an explosive pass play.
The next coverage bust came in the third quarter facing a 3rd-and-9 with the score sitting at 10-3. This arguably ended up being the back-breaking play for the defense and for the Packers in the game. The Vikings would convert two more third downs on this drive, including one for a touchdown to go up 17-3.
The Vikings are running a double post concept with a deep crosser from the other side underneath the two vertical routes.
The defense appears to be playing some type of cover-1 “lurk” or “rat” coverage with a “drop-kick” coverage call where the corner passes off the underneath crosser to the middle hole defender to run with. Usually the receiver would be passed off to a safety while the corner takes the crosser or post coming his way.
What’s unclear here is who busted this coverage. The safety flies down to the flat to cover the running back with linebacker Quay Walker (No. 7) sitting in the middle of the field as the “rat at the sticks” defender. You can see Douglas communicate to the defense to pick up K.J. Osborn running the crossing route but Walker never picks him up. Again, it’s not clear if Walker should, but that’s who it most likely is supposed to be given Walker’s reaction after the play.
One of Barry’s preferred coverages is inverted Tampa-2/cover-2 robber/cover-2 invert. Usually the coverage is run with 2-deep safeties already with the nickel defender rotating to the deep half and the strong safety as the middle runner or “robber” from depth.
Keisean Nixon becomes the deep half safety over the trips here with Owens, the pre-snap strong safety, rotating down as the robber.
The Vikings are running a 3-level vertical stretch concept from trips with a backside dig route from Osborn.
Owens is looking for anything across from the trips and runs with the corner route. He likely should have let it go since he’s the middle runner and the corner was in a position to sink with the corner route if Cousins threw it. This left the middle of the field wide open for Osborn on the backside dig route. Cousins moves Campbell out of the throwing window and hits Osborn in the second window where Owens should be.
A few plays later, the Vikings put stress on the flat corner in cover-2 again with curl route and a flat route on 3rd-and-1.
The Packers are in regular Tampa-2 this time with Campbell as the middle runner.
The offense is running a hank concept to the right with Osborn, a curl/flat.
The curl/flat concept puts Jaire Alexander in conflict. The down and distance doesn’t help either because if Alexander squeezes the curl route, the flat to the running back would easily pick up the yardage for a first down. If he squeezes the flat, the curl is wide open for a first down too. Alexander takes a step toward the flat and Cousins picks up the easy completion to Osborn.
It wasn’t a great performance by any means, but the defense was still able to get the offense the ball a few more times at the end of the game when Kirk Cousins left with an injury. The offense just couldn’t capitalize. The defense will now be with Rasul Douglas, was traded before the deadline to the Buffalo Bills. It will be interesting to see how they respond this week to a down Rams team.