For much of the 2021 season, Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry has used an unusual personnel grouping when deploying five defensive backs on the field. Most teams deemed to run a 3-4 base alignment will drop an interior lineman in favor of a DB, resulting in a 4-2-5 grouping with a pair of interior linemen, two stand-up pass-rushing edge rushers, and two off-ball linebackers.
The Packers, instead, have been running more of a 5-1-5, instead keeping three interior linemen on the field with two EDGes and removing one of the inside linebackers instead. That has come with varying levels of success, but it has often allowed full-time linebacker De’Vondre Campbell to flow to the football and roam sideline to sideline as he makes plays.
But against the Arizona Cardinals, the Packers went back to a more traditional two-linemen approach in their nickel package, generally keeping two men down and two inside linebackers on the field. Although they did allow a pair of rushing touchdowns in this game, the Packers generally still held the Cardinals’ offense in check, with Arizona’s running game accounting for just 74 total yards.
Notably, the Packers accomplished that while having five defensive backs on the field for every single snap of the game in an effort to ensure that Kyler Murray and the Arizona receiving corps would not pick up massive chunks of yardage. Combined with a ball-control approach on offense that led to a 15-minute edge in time of possession, the Packers’ game plan worked marvelously as the shorthanded squad earned a 24-21 victory to move to 7-1.
Here’s how the playing time broke down.
OFFENSE (73 total plays)
Aaron Rodgers 73
It was not an efficient day for Rodgers, who completed less than 60 percent of his passes for just the third time this season. Rodgers also averaged just 4.97 yards per attempt on his 22-for-37, 184-yard day, but he was able to do just enough to combine with the Packers’ running game to form an effective enough offense without most of his favorite targets.
Rodgers did hit Randall Cobb for a pair of touchdowns, however, giving him a passer rating of 90.4 on the day and giving him multiple scores in each game of the Packers’ seven-game winning streak.
Aaron Jones 48, AJ Dillon 29
What more can you say about the running game and the running backs specifically in this game? Dillon picked up 78 yards on 16 carries for a 4.9-yard average, but it seemed that every single carry went for about five yards. Jones carried the ball 15 times for 59 yards and a score, adding seven receptions on 11 targets for 51 more yards to cross the 100-yard threshold for the fourth time this season.
Equanimeous St. Brown 67, Juwann Winfree 54, Randall Cobb 50, Amari Rodgers 16, Malik Taylor 5
The Packers started the game with EQ, Cobb, and Rodgers split wide, but it was Winfree who got most of the action as the Packers’ second outside receiver. He would lead the wideouts in targets with six, catches with four, and receiving yards with 30, though he was the beneficiary of some fortunate fumble luck on a ball that tumbled forwards and out of bounds.
Cobb did most of his work in the red zone, turning three catches into 15 yards and two short touchdowns. Rodgers’ work was largely as a jet motion man once again, but he did have a carry on one of those plays for 11 yards and caught one pass for seven. That came after a rough start, however, as he fumbled (and recovered the ball) on a punt return then dropped a very catchable pass early.
Robert Tonyan 35, Marcedes Lewis 31, Josiah Deguara 16, Dominique Dafney 14
The Packers got Dafney back to help the tight end group, and although he did not see a passing target, his return was certainly welcome in the run game as a blocker. However, the big news out of this group is the loss of Tonyan, who went down late in the third quarter with a knee injury. That was confirmed on Friday to be a torn ACL, which will land him on injured reserve and keep him out for the rest of the season.
Tonyan had one of his better games of the year before that point, with three catches for 49 yards. That includes a season-long 33-yarder on the play when the injury took place.
Elgton Jenkins 73, Jon Runyan, Jr. 73, Lucas Patrick 73, Royce Newman 73, Billy Turner 73
The Packers’ offensive line did a solid job in pass protection in this game against a talented group of Cardinals pass-rushers. Rodgers was sacked just once on a scramble for no gain and Arizona landed just two hits on Rodgers, not including a third that was flagged for roughing the passer on his first touchdown pass.
The line often did a solid job in the run game, though both running backs had to make some of their bigger plays after contact. That includes Jones’ touchdown run, when he barreled through linebacker Isaiah Simmons into the end zone.
DEFENSE (59 total plays)
Kenny Clark 53, Dean Lowry 29, Tyler Lancaster 15, Kingsley Keke 9, T.J. Slaton 6
The Packers played light for much of this game, as you’ll see, running at least five defensive backs on every play and preferring to line up with just two down linemen on most plays instead of using an odd front in their nickel with three interior linemen. Part of that strategy may have been due to Keke leaving the game early, as he suffered a concussion in the first half and did not return.
The Packers’ defenders did not land much in the box score in terms of pass rush, with Lowry recording the only sack from this group, but he and Kenny Clark were near-constant presences in Arizona’s backfield. Pressure numbers will tell the story instead of hits and sacks.
Rashan Gary 36, Preston Smith 34, Whitney Mercilus 29, Jonathan Garvin 25
Although he sat out last week when the Packers played his former team, Preston Smith returned for Thursday’s game. It was encouraging to see him return, and the team rotated their four edge rushers through the game with regularity. Both Smith and Gary were effective rushing off the edge, though neither recorded a hit or sack, while Mercilus landed the group’s only hit.
Mercilus started seeing even more action on standard downs, with the team continuing to expand his role in his second game with Green Bay.
De’Vondre Campbell 59, Krys Barnes 38, Oren Burks 7
It was another stat-filled day for Campbell on Thursday, as he recorded two tackles for losses, including his first sack of the season. It appeared that he was more active in the pass rush than usual in this game, perhaps due to the Packers needing to contain Kyler Murray and perhaps due to different calls as the team went with more of a traditional 2-4-5 nickel than the 3-3-5 they have used much of this season.
With that 2-4-5 alignment, that meant more snaps for Barnes, who was effectively a full-time player. That was because the team elected to deactivate Jaylon Smith for the game as an apparent healthy scratch; Barnes would total four tackles on the day. Burks, meanwhile, had one solo tackle on defense and two more on special teams, plus he recovered Amari Rodgers’ fumble.
Adrian Amos 59, Darnell Savage 59, Henry Black 13
When the Packers went into dime, it was Black getting the call, and he delivered in this game. He recorded his first career interception on a tipped pass, setting the Packers up in tremendous field position to extend their lead from 10-7 to 17-7 early in the third quarter.
Amos and Savage provided their usual steady hands, combining for eight tackles in total.
Rasul Douglas 59, Eric Stokes 59, Chandon Sullivan 59
With the Cardinals effectively living in 11 personnel, the Packers matched that by playing each of their three cornerbacks on every single snap of the game. Douglas earns top billing of course due to his game-winning interception in the end zone, but he also led the team with nine tackles (all solo stops) and had a second pass breakup.
Stokes and Sullivan each made a big mistake, with Stokes giving up a near-touchdown pass (which would have been a score if not for a facemask by DeAndre Hopkins) and Sullivan getting flagged for pass interference. But both players settled in and helped keep Arizona’s passing game in check for most of the game until it started coming alive in the fourth quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS SNAP LEADERS
Black 18, Burks 18, Ty Summers 18, Isaac Yiadom 18, Shemar Jean-Charles 15, Taylor 15, Dafney 12, Isaiah McDuffie 11, Tyler Davis 10