The 9-2 New England Patriots travel to Green Bay to take on the 8-3 Packers on Sunday in a matchup between two of the hottest teams in the NFL. Throughout this season we have illustrated how Josh McDaniels utilizes the “high-low opposite” concept to attack opposing secondaries and Packers passing preview looks at how the Green Bay defense is likely to take it away.
When facing similar schemes this season, the Green Bay defense has performed quite well. We highlight two examples of how the Packers defense has handled this concept: one that illustrates defensive discipline; and the other that demonstrates the raw instinct and talent of their rookie free safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Midway through the first quarter in the Packers Sunday night romp over the Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler went deep on 1st and 10.The quarterback is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, using offensive tackle Charles Leno (#72) as an eligible receiver on the end of the line. The Packers line up with their nickel defense, and the secondary shows Cover 2 before the snap:
Split to the left is wide receiver Josh Morgan, running a deep post, and in the slot to the right is Brandon Marshall, running an intermediate crossing route. These two players execute the “high-low opposite.” Cutler reads the deep safety or safeties, and hopes they commit to either Marshall or Morgan, freeing up one receiver:
Morgan runs his post route and cornerback Sam Shields stays with him, with the CB soon getting help from Clinton-Dix from the deep middle. Underneath, Marshall is bracketed by both Clay Matthews and Burnett. Cutler goes deep, but both the CB and FS are in position and prevent the completion. (A flag is thrown late but is picked up):
The discipline of all four players allows Green Bay to bracket both Morgan and Marshall, forcing the incompletion.
Beware the Rookie
Miami tried a similar play against Green Bay using Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline and it was broken up due to the explosiveness and recognition from Clinton-Dix. On first down, the Dolphins have Ryan Tannehill under center with 12 personnel on the field while the Packers counter with a 3-3-5 nickel and show Cover 1 in the secondary:
At the bottom of the screen Hartline will run a deep route to the inside, while Wallace will run an intermediate crossing route, executing the high-low opposite scheme:
The use of play-action buys room for Wallace underneath and the WR flashes open for Tannehill. But just as Wallace comes open, the rookie safety closes down swiftly from his deep middle alignment to break up the play:
From the end zone angle you can see the play fake opens up room in the middle for Wallace. Seconds later Clinton-Dix bursts into view to break up the pass:
Two different offenses ran the same scheme at Green Bay. On both plays the Packers use a different coverage, but force the same result. Against Chicago the defense prevented a big play by deftly rolling their coverage in unison, with each defender showing discipline in their zone responsibilities. In the Miami game, the Dolphins seemed poised for a completion but were stymied by great recognition and athleticism from a rookie safety. On Sunday watch for this pattern from New England, and key on Clinton-Dix. If the free safety turns in performances similar to these against the Patriots, Tom Brady and the offense might need a Blount.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.