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Packers Film Room: Defensive issues continue to show up late in games

A series of baffling decisions by Joe Barry led to a near-disastrous end result.

Green Bay Packers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers won a close game 33-30 on Christmas Eve, a game that they at one point ed 23-10 at halftime and 30-16 just after the start of the fourth quarter. Head coach Matt LaFleur seemed to downplay the final score with comments that suggested that the “offense could’ve done” better, as he seeks to avoid what’s inevitably going to happen at the end of the season.

The offense was fine. No team that scores 30-plus points should ever have to worry about losing a game. Teams that score 30 or more points this season are 98-14. The Packers could have very easily ended up as a statistic in that loss column.

Just like the last two losses previous to this game, both the execution and game plan were the two primary culprits and at some point, LaFleur needs to have a hard conversation about what Joe Barry is asking of the defense but also just that when they are in a position to make a play, they just don’t do it. As far as the game plan portion, we’ll look at those first in this article as there are three plays that highlight the issue.

First play, 3rd quarter, 4th and 1 @ GB 38, 8:40 remaining

On 4th-and-inches here on a drive that the Panthers would end up scoring a touchdown on, they converted with a quarterback sneak.

The play call left the defense’s right side A-gap open with a defender in the opposite A-gap and a defender in the right side B-gap as the closest defenders and only Quay Walker in a “stack A” assignment behind T.J. Slaton. Young easily picked up 2 yards for the first down.

After seeing the end zone view and the down-the-line view from the broadcast here, the defensive play call becomes even more puzzling.

Second play, 3rd quarter, 2nd and goal @ GB 4, 5:14 remaining

One of the weaknesses of the Barry scheme is the reliance on nickel sub-packages in the low red zone where they are prone to getting gashed in the run game. That’s exactly what happened to them on this late 3rd quarter Panthers touchdown.

The Panthers are running duo to the left here with the offensive line blocking down to the right. The running back Chuba Hubbard reads the fit of the middle linebacker, Walker, for his cue to hit the play side A-gap or bounce outside.

The defense is in penny 3-3-5. In the past, their issue has been matching 11 personnel in the low red zone with a 2-4-5 front.

The penny 3-3-5 is a reliable run defense front but only if the defense has a good anchoring nose tackle that can’t be moved. The Packers don’t have that. Their issue in penny is that often the run gets to the second level and they do not have the bodies that can reliably tackle in the open field. Nixon gets stonewalled in his gap and Alexander is nowhere to be found.

They do, however, have the bodies to go to a true four down front but they don’t really run four down-linemen fronts.

Third play, 4th quarter, 3rd and 12 @ GB 40, 7:30 remaining

The Panthers picked up another conversion here but this time on a 3rd and long that led to a touchdown on the play after this.

DJ Chark is running a dig route from the single receiver side and is matched up with Jaire Alexander in man coverage.

The defense is pressuring Young with six leaving five on the back end to cover the receivers. Alexander is playing off-catch man technique, which makes it hard to understand why this is the call against the offense on third down.

Ideally, if there’s pressure, the corners would be in press-man coverage to challenge any throw or at least force an errant throw and throw off the timing of the routes, forcing the quarterback to make a quicker decision. But since Alexander is playing off-man, Young doesn’t have to worry about rushing his process as long as the blockers pick up the pressure. Young hits the top of his drop, plants, and throws to Chark on target for a gain of 16.

Outlook

In the next part of this series on Saturday, we’ll look at the defensive execution issues.