Trailing the Dolphins by four points with just over 2:00 remaining in the contest, the Green Bay Packers took over on their own 40-yard line with no time outs remaining. 60 yards later, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense were celebrating a short touchdown pass with mere seconds lingering on the clock. Was the drive a flawless offensive display, a string of defensive breakdowns by Miami, or perhaps a bit of both? We reviewed the film from the final drive to determine just how the Packers and Rodgers pulled out the victory.
1st and 10 – 2:04 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Green Bay 40
With only four seconds before the two-minute warning, the Packers were in a position to run the football given the free stoppage of the clock. If Rodgers had any doubts about handing the ball off on this play, Miami’s defensive posture removed them:
Green Bay has their quarterback in the shotgun and 11 personnel on the field. With the tight end on the line the Packers have six players up front. The Dolphins have their nickel grouping in the game and show Cover 1. The three cornerbacks are in press coverage on the outside while the safeties are 10 and 16 yards removed from the line of scrimmage. With only six defenders in the box, this is a perfect situation for a running play:
Rodgers hands the ball to James Starks and the running back rips off a 12-yard gain, getting Green Bay into Miami territory. The clock stops so the NFL can make some money.
1st and 10 – 1:57 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Miami 48
The teams keep their same personnel groups on the field for the next play. Rodgers is again in the shotgun with Starks in the backfield. The Dolphins show something a little different, walking both linebackers over the A gaps in blitz posture:
Off the snap the linebackers drop into coverage, Miami only rushing four defenders. The Dolphins drop into Cover 4 in the secondary:
Miami’s coverage is sound, and Rodgers has few options available while he is in the pocket:
As the pocket begins to break down, the quarterback is forced out to his right. This leaves him only one throwing option, Starks on a check-down route:
The running back makes the catch for a gain of only one yard. More importantly, linebacker Philip Wheeler cannot prevent him from getting out of bounds and stopping the clock:
2nd and 9 – 1:49 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Miami 47
2nd down provides the first of many opportunities for the Dolphins to salt away the game, but they fail to capitalize. Miami shows blitz before the snap, but drops into a Cover 2 shell. The defense also drops a lineman off the snap who spies Rodgers in the pocket:
Green Bay’s three vertical receivers are covered well, with safety help over the top:
Here is a glimpse of just how close Miami was to a huge play:
The pass falls harmlessly to the turf, and the Packers live for another down.
3rd and 9 – 1:44 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Miami 47
This is the Dolphins’ second chance to secure victory, but again they fail to accomplish the job. As Rodgers takes the shotgun snap, Miami plays coverage, dropping into a two-deep shell. However, the pocket again breaks down on the edges and the quarterback steps forward:
But the Packers manage to fall on the loose ball. Football. It’s the two inches in front of your face.
4th and 9 – 1:07 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Miami 47
The clock is running and Green Bay faces a do-or-die situation. On the two previous plays Miami dropped seven or eight players into coverage and still generated great pressure on the quarterback with minimal rushers. Here, with the game on the line, the Dolphins could again play it safe and look to cover instead of pressure:
Instead, they walk the middle safety up to the line right before the snap and the defense blitzes Rodgers. This leaves Cover 1 in the secondary and Jordy Nelson, to the right of the formation, is in a one-on-one matchup:
Bold move, Miami. Let’s see if it pays off:
1st and 10 – 1:00 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Miami 30
With a fresh set of downs Green Bay is now in very good position with 60 seconds left on the clock. They keep Rodgers in the shotgun and their 11 personnel remains on the field. The Dolphins counter again with their nickel defense, showing a blitz on the edge. They choose not to blitz, sending only four rushers after the quarterback:
Again, the defense nearly gets to Rodgers with a quartet of pass rushers. The quarterback is flushed to his right and tries a throw downfield that falls incomplete.
2nd and 10 – 0:53 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Miami 30
On this snap Miami drops into Cover 2 and Nelson finds a soft spot in front of the two deep safeties over the middle. He and his quarterback fail to connect:
The Packers miss a chance at the big play. Once more, the Dolphins are able to move Rodgers out of the pocket without blitzing, and keep him from stepping into the throw.
3rd and 10 – 0:48 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Miami 30
Miami decides that playing coverage is boring, even when consistently generating pressure with four rushers, so they decide to blitz Rodgers on 3rd down. The defense sends a defensive back late through the A gap:
The area vacated by the blitzer is now wide open for the quarterback to find his running back:
Starks secures the reception and rumbles for a 10-yard gain and a fresh set of downs:
To Miami’s credit, they do keep him in the field of play and the clock continues to move.
1st and 10 – 0:30 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Miami 20
Green Bay now has to get to the line of scrimmage and run a play. They align themselves quickly and run a basic play: Out routes from each outside receiver and a vertical combination from the two inside receivers. Rodgers can look first to the two vertical routes and see if he can make a play deep, then come back to one of the out routes:
Miami plays this very well. They cover the vertical routes sufficiently off the snap, forcing the quarterback to his secondary reads. Rodgers finds Randall Cobb on the outside but the throw does not lead him to the sideline. The Dolphins converge quickly and keep Cobb from getting out-of-bounds. The clock is still running and that poses a huge problem for the Packers.
2nd and 6 – 0:07 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Miami 16
With the clock running, Rodgers and the offense sprint to the line of scrimmage and the quarterback lines up under center for the first time of the drive, an indication he will clock the ball:
Rodgers also shows the spike motion with his right arm, another signal that he intends to stop the clock. But looks can be deceiving:
The Dolphins were not completely fooled by the chicanery; none of the secondary defenders are caught flat-footed. And If Cortland Finnegan is able to make a tackle the game likely ends on this play. But he cannot wrap up, allowing Davante Adams to get inside the 5-yard line and out of bounds.
Miami’s win probability cratered from 41.1% before this play to 0.1% after.
1st and Goal – 0:06 Remaining – Packers Ball at the Miami 4
With the caveat that we do not understand how only one second elapsed on the previous play, the Packers complete the game-winning drive with a Quarles touchdown reception:
The defense plays this as well as you can until the end. They utilize Cover 0 and double-cover each slot receiver. This forces Rodgers to make the harder throw to one of the outside receivers. But for Aaron Rodgers, there are no impossible throws. He finds Quarles on the back shoulder throw and completes the comeback.
Fans and pundits will point to the fake spike play as the most important of the drive. While that one pass moved the needle the most in terms of win probability, Green Bay never should have been in that position to begin with. The Dolphins had multiple chances to put the Packers away, but failed to capitalize. From the two near strip-sacks to the untimely blitzes, Miami squandered numerous opportunities to seal the victory. Rodgers simply took advantage of second, third, and fourth chances to steal the win.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.