In our first article this week, we broke down the situational defense in the Green Bay Packers' recent games versus the New York Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which were primarily coach/game plan-driven. Bad play calling in high-leverage situations on third down resulted in the last two opponents winning games after converting those third downs on scoring drives.
But that wasn’t the only issue. In the Tampa Bay game, execution on defense also plagued the team and on multiple occasions, the defense was caught out of position due to a coverage bust or just a general lack of awareness and lack of ability to make a routine basic stop. The results were catastrophic as they led, in some cases, directly to touchdowns or explosive plays.
In the second quarter, the game started to unravel for the young defense after a series of errors on the Buccaneers' first touchdown drive.
This is a coverage combination that the Packers have been burned on in the past and the Buccaneers saw a way to exploit it again for an explosive pass play.
The play call is just a simple intermediate crossing route with a corner route on the opposite side off of play action.
The defense is sitting in cover-1 off a 5-man rush with what appears to be a “drop kick” coverage call where the corner would let the crossing route go, communicate to pick it up and that corner would stay and run deep with a post route down the middle.
That’s not what happens here. It looks like Eric Stokes lets the crosser go and looks for a deeper crossing route but nothing was communicated to the opposite side corner, Carrington Valentine, who stayed in man coverage on Mike Evans. Typically the corner would fall off and let the safety and backside corner pick Evans up but Evans put the brakes on and cut to the sideline.
It’s tough to say exactly who is responsible for this bust but obviously Stokes thought he was responsible for letting the crosser go. He just didn’t communicate and no one was there to jump the route. It’s also a good call by the Buccaneers to recognize how Green Bay plays some of their single-high man coverage and break the rules with a route concept that puts them in conflict.
Later on the same drive, Mayfield would find Evans for a touchdown up the seam in what ends up being more of bad execution than a full-blown coverage bust.
Evans, the #2 in the trips to the left, is running a bang-8 post between the corner and safety and keeping his route away from the hash.
The defense is in cover-9 (cover-3 weak safety rotation away from the nickel defender). Stokes has responsibility on the vertical threat from Evans with the #1 outside receiver running under. Quay Walker would have the deep crosser from #3 and the safety, Rudy Ford, has middle third responsibility but should squeeze the most dangerous man.
First, Walker never runs with the #3 receiver up and across. Ford ends up shading over because for the distribution, the most dangerous man is the vertical from #3 pushing to him between him and Walker underneath. This leaves Stokes alone with outside leverage between him and safety but Evans stays far enough outside the hash for a pass that the safety can’t influence and Stokes being unable to cover Evans.
In the 3rd quarter, the Packers gave up another explosive pass and touchdown up the seam when their defenders were put in conflict.
The play is a 4x1 all-go halfback seam concept.
The defense is playing one of its tendencies on 2nd and medium to 2nd and long (per Sports Info Solutions), a 3-deep/3-under zone fire zone pressure. In this pressure package, the seam/flat players are responsible for the seams or flats depending on the route distribution. They’ll carry the seam or match the flat.
This concept puts that coverage rule into conflict. Kiesean Nixon is the seam/flat player here and Tampa Bay puts him into conflict by sending both a flat runner and seam runner at him. Seam rules in this coverage dictate that Nixon should be playing deep to flat but he gets caught with eyes in the backfield as the running back bursts up the seam and is unable to recover
Late in the game, the Buccaneers managed to turn a 5-yard stick route into a 54-yard touchdown to ice the game.
The Bucs motion to a 3x1 with the stick route coming from the #3 receiver in trips.
It looks like the defense is playing cover-4 with a “trix/poach” check away from the trips. In “trix” the backside safety will look to rob anything across from the #3 receiver. Campbell is the final 3 defender with re-route responsibility and the quarter flat defender, Nixon, widening to the flat.
Mayfield somehow completed the pass to the inside stick route between the defenders but they both missed the tackle. Any chance the Packers might have had to mount a comeback after that point was a lost cause.
For a team with playoff aspirations just two weeks ago, it’s looking like their chances are all but dead and the reasons why are mostly self-inflicted. They held the tiebreaker over the Rams, Saints, Falcons, and Seahawks at 6-6 and 6-7. But all those teams have won at least one game recently and overtaken them and now that both Atlanta and Green Bay are 6-8, the standings revert back to Atlanta having the tiebreaker over the Packers.
Right now the Packers have an 18% chance of making the playoffs. If they win in week 16, that goes to 25%. If they lose, that drops to 5%. They can technically still make it but they need the Rams to fall flat as well and that doesn’t appear likely with a win on Thursday night. There’s still a chance though, and they must win the next three no matter what.