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Packers Film Room: Breaking down the run defense in the loss to Atlanta

It’s never a good sign when defenders are trying to go high while tackling a big, shifty running back in space.

Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

In Week 2, the Packers surrendered 211 rushing yards in a 25-24 loss in Atlanta. The Packers were unable to stop Falcons running back Bijan Robinson, who accounted for 124 of those rushing yards at 6.5 yards per carry. Early on, the Packers were able to contain the Falcons offense even while giving up some chunk yardage and at one point led 24-13 at the start of the 4th quarter.

But slowly, the Falcons were able to chip away the Packers and pick up field goals and a couple of touchdowns along the way until they eventually took a 25-24 lead late in the fourth. They were able to do this through the Packers playing unsound defense in three key areas: 1) tackling, 2) light nickel defensive fronts, and 3) the zone read.

Poor tackling

Poor tackling was another key feature of the Packers' secondary, aside from their coverage issues. In total, the defense had eight missed tackles.

It’s never a good sign when defenders are trying to go high while tackling a big, shifty running back in space. Oftentimes, defenders were crashing into each other and taking each other out of the play while attempting to tackle Falcons running backs, and other times, they were getting out-gapped and relying on safeties to make tackles they couldn’t make.

The infamous clip making the rounds, a 19-yard gain by Robinson late in the 2nd quarter, saw at least two defenders at the point of attack make tackle attempts that they completely missed on. At least one other defender overran an attempt downfield. This doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence heading into Week 3.

Light nickel defensive fronts

The defense played just 42% of their snaps in nickel per Sports Info Solutions and 55% of their snaps in 2-high coverage shells. In those 2-high coverage shells, they played 19 snaps versus the run. That is a recipe for disaster for a team with tackling and alignment issues. They had a 50% success rate against the run, where one run every two snaps in their 2-4-5 defensive front gained at least 60% of the required yards for a first down.

The Falcons overall had a 46.2% rushing success rate and the seventh-ranked overall rushing EPA per play for week two. Every time the Packers got into the 2-down linemen fronts, the Falcons were more than ready to gouge them in the running game.

Zone read

In what was perhaps the biggest lapse on defense versus the run in Week 2, Rashan Gary lost containment on the edge and allowed quarterback Desmond Ridder to walk into the end zone nearly untouched except for an attempt by Rasul Douglas to correct the mistake Gary made.

The Packers are in their 6-1 front, as is common for them to do in the red zone. 6-1 fronts are great for stopping the run up the middle or to the edges because it allows the defense to prevent double-team or combo blocks by the offensive line. Against the zone read, the Falcons leave the backside defensive end, Gary, as an unblocked read defender.

In a 6-1 front, there is no one to gap or scrape exchange with Gary so he has to slow play the run and have the awareness to force the give to the running back and not crash too far down the line of scrimmage but that’s exactly what happens. He gets trapped too far inside and Ridder pulls the ball out of Robinson’s grasp and sprints out to the edge where he scores.


The run defense didn’t fare any better than the pass defense and combined, the effort was a total collapse in both phases on that side of the ball. Some of these issues are still lingering from last season too and it will be something to monitor as the weeks progress.