A talking point of many analysts right now is how the Packers will rebound with the Randall Cobb injury. A major point that many analysts are keying on is the running game that the Packers may have finally found. They’ve had a 100 yard rusher in 3 of their last 4 games, all 3 games are a different running back accumulating the 100 yards. So I decided to take a look at Eddie Lacy.
First of all the narrative of “three 100 yard rushers in last 4” is misleading as Eddie Lacy had 99 yards against the Lions so instead of sitting on an arbitrary three digit number we’ll say the Packers have rushed the ball 136 times this season for a 5.2 average with Eddie Lacy leading the Packers with 61 carries for 270 yards getting a respectable 4.4 yards per carry. So I put on one game, the Lions vs Packers. The reason I selected this game and keyed in on it as the Lions front 4 is better than any of the other teams the Packers have faced and yet are the worst in the league in yards per attempt. So the game piqued my interest. Lions basically begged the Packers to run on them as they ran only 2 different coverages against Lacy. I watched every single run of his and of the 23 hand offs 21 were in cover 2:
And 2 snaps in cover 1:
Lacy seemed to find most of his success in the draw game as the blocking scheme is easier to read and he hit the holes more confidently. The problem was when the Packers ran some traps that Lacy became a robot and did not take advantage of how well his team was blocking. We’ll look at a 3rd quarter play where the Packers are seeing a cover 2 look on 1st and 10.
Let’s diagnose the defense. I accidentally cropped a man to man situation on the near side so lets pretend that’s going on as well, that is the same coverage we are seeing out of our other matchups. On the outside we see press man coverage and the 2 slot we see an off man coverage. This is a 6 man box against the 3-1-1(3 WR, 1 TE, 1 Back) set. Safeties are at 12 and 14 yard depths.
Here is the end zone look. OL splits are standard, 2-2.5 feet while our TE takes his very typical 3.5 foot split. I’m trying this color coded system so let me know how easy this is to read. We’ll go left to right. The LT(blue) is just dropping back and doing a cutoff block. How he wants to achieve this is up to him, drive block, cut, pass block, whatever, just don’t let that DE cross your face. Our LG(red) is pulling and sealing into the LB. Our center(green) with the back block here. He is basically filling the spot of the guard and is just trying to down block the 2i tackle and put his(the center’s) ass towards the hole and make the DT go the long way around. Let’s skip over for one second to the TE(umm is that beige? sure, beige) is also doing an out block like our backside LT but he has to be more aggressive as he is playside and has to make sure this player doesn’t cross his face. Ok onto our Yellow box. I know, what is going on here? They are a tandem block, 2 for 2. We have the initial double team at the point of attack(the 3 technique tackle who is almost specifically playing gap here). The RT is going to attack the outside shoulder while the RG is attacking the inside, now how the play is designed we actually have a very simple block here as opposed to if that LG wasn’t pulling. Our frontside duo has to work to that backside LB. Initially(and how this particular play will work out) the LG is the one that looks responsible for the backside LB(this can change depending on how the play works out, overall it’s those two players for those 2 defenders, it doesn’t matter who blocks who just that they block the 2 guys). So you want to get that initial drive off the ball, which is vastly important due to the pulling linemen, and make sure that the RT has a good position on the DT so the RG can get up to the LB. Overall this is a typical Strong Right Seal play.
OK, here is a step or two into the play. LT is cutting of, Center back blocking and TE cutting off. LG is pulling and we have the double team started. The DT intelligently is only engaging one man. At this point the DT should either split the double team or drop and cause a pile there allowing for the LB’s to scrape freely and make the tackle. The 2 linemen have to be strong here and get a good initial push off the ball so that this can’t happen and get up to that backside LB.
Here we are just a couple steps more. The DT has not played the double team well, I’ll say this, its maybe the hardest play for a DT to make is the double team as it goes against a lot of what you are taught about not going to the ground. Our frontside linemen are in perfect position. The DT has been driven back and our RT(!!) is now blocking the LB(see how that worked? despite pre snap looking like the RG had the best shot at the LB how the block worked the RT is the one peeling off and going up, this is two linemen very much in sync. You’ll see this play done where the linemen BOTH leave the DT to get to the LB due to miscommunication and bad instincts). Our LG is now prime and ready to seal this frontside LB. A note on the play is our navy(?) blue square. A safety has entered the picture. As an OC seeing a safety this aggressive at step #4/5 of a play screams play action pass to me. All Lacy has to do is follow his blocks and beat that safety.
Look what ends up happening though. Despite everything being blocked perfectly Lacy’s vision and technique hold back the play as he runs headstrong into a blocked linebacker. This may very well be experience at the NFL level and maybe not quite reading his blocks or the play pre-snap as well as he should have. This will hopefully come over time with Lacy but a miss like this is a big one and hopefully not one that will be repeated. And the reason it is such a big one is notice where the safety is now, he has taken himself completely out of the play. Had Lacy just ducked under that RT blocking the LB this play would have been a huge gain if not a touchdown depending on how the other defenders were reacting. Based off of watching just the Lions game and looking at the yard per attempt as well as Green Bay’s commitment to the run I’d say there is definitely a chance the Packers can survive a period of time without James Jones and Randall Cobb. My issue is I do not want to see the Packers turn into 50-50 split of run to pass if its just to run the ball and not dictated to how the game is being played. I don’t have the utmost faith in Mike McCarthy to not do this. Like I noted at the top of this post that the Packers saw most of their success in the draw game. This is because the linebackers are bailing out to their pass coverage and Rodgers is able to stuff the ball into the running backs chest and he can take off running. This is due to defenses respecting Rodgers. Rodgers should still find success with the pass as he is still a top 3 or 4 quarterback in the NFL.