The Green Bay Packers travel to the desert to clash with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional Round this weekend. Mark Schofield says ‘Packers Beware’ of the Cardinals defense.
The game is a rematch of their regular season meeting in late December, a contest won by the Cardinals in convincing fashion, 38-8. The Packers struggled to get their offense going in that game, but a review of the film illustrates two areas that, with better execution, the visitors might be able to sustain their offense on Sunday.
Play Action on First Down
Green Bay enjoyed a bit of success in the passing game when they took to the air on first down, working off play action. Following an Arizona touchdown, the Packers take over on their own 20-yard line and put Aaron Rodgers (#12) under center with 11 personnel. Randall Cobb (#18) and Devante Adams (#17) are in an inverted slot formation right, with Cobb aligned inside of Adams. James Jones (#89) is the single receiver split to the left, and he stands outside the bottom of the numbers. Eddie Lacy (#27) is the deep back behind Rodgers, while tight end Richard Rodgers (#82) sets as an upback in the left B gap.
Arizona puts their 4-2-5 nickel package in the game, with safety Deone Bucannon (#20) positioned as a linebacker, shaded to the slot side of the field, and fellow safety D.J. Swearinger (#36) in the box as well, just outside the left edge of the offense. The secondary shows Cover 1, with both cornerbacks and the nickelback in press alignment.
Green Bay uses play action to the right, while the tight end and running back block to the left edge. (There appears to be some miscommunication in the backfield, as Rodgers opens to his right to execute the fake while Lacy immediately aims left, leaving the QB faking to no one). From the slot side, Cobb runs a dig route while Adams runs a post-corner, and Jones runs an out pattern on the backside:
Lacy immediately aiming left might be a concern over the blitz Arizona uses:
Swearinger blitzes off the edge, but between the offensive line and the two players in the backfield, the Packers keep a clean pocket for their QB. Rodgers checks to the slot side of the field first, but seeing tight coverage on Adams, he works to the weakside and hits Jones with a well-timed and placed throw that picks up a first down:
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From the end zone angle, you can see how the fake ‒ even to air ‒ holds linebacker Kevin Minter (#51), preventing the LB from releasing to the flat and getting underneath the out route from Jones:
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One example of a missed opportunity was this play action call on first down. On their own 20-yard line the Packers align with Rodgers under center and 02 offensive personnel on the field. Tight ends Rodgers and Andrew Quarless (#81) set in a wing formation to each side, with Quarless next to left tackle Don Barclay (#67). Green Bay has three receivers on the field, setting Jones to the right and Jared Abbrederis (#84) to the left. The third WR, Cobb, aligns in the backfield behind the QB:
Arizona has their nickel package on the field with Minter and Buchanon in the LB spots. They show Cover 1 with the outside CBs in press alignment. Safety Tony Jefferson (#22) and nickelback Jerraud Powers (#25) are in the box over the tight ends.
The Packers fake an outside zone run to Cobb, using a split zone blocking scheme with Quarless cutting to the opposite edge. When Rodgers drops to throw, he has a two-receiver over concept attacking the Cardinals’ secondary, with Abbrederis running the deep over route and Adams running a post:
Arizona uses a press Cover 3 scheme on the play:
The underneath defenders drop into zones, while the outside cornerbacks stay in man coverage, matching the vertical releases from Abbrederis and Adams. But watch as the run fake sucks in the underneath defenders, creating a big throwing window for Abbrederis on the deep over route:
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Rodgers comes out of the fake and uses a half-roll, and delivers a well-placed throw, but the WR cannot complete the catch:
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This goes into the books as an incompletion, but it is an example of a play design that, with better execution, could lead to a big play for the Packers this weekend.
Beware The Fire Zone
One aspect of the Arizona defense that Green Bay needs to prepare for is the fire zone concept. This play is a great example of a defense using a blitz and employing a zone concept behind it to take away a hot read the quarterback off structure.
The Packers face 2nd and 2 near midfield, late in the second quarter. They deploy 11 personnel, with Rodgers in the shotgun and Lacy to his right. Green Bay has pro alignment on the right, and an inverted slot formation to the left. The Cardinals have their nickel package on the field. The secondary shows a Cover 2 look with both safeties deep, and both cornerbacks in off man alignment:
Powers, the nickelback, is in the slot over Cobb, in a press alignment. But just prior to the snap, he cheats toward the football, showing blitz. Rodgers is keenly aware of this, and points out the DB’s movement before the play:
Cobb is now uncovered, and at the snap he will release slowly off the line of scrimmage as the hot read, providing an outlet for the football. Rodgers takes the snap and immediately looks at the uncovered slot WR. But this is exactly what the Cardinals are expecting, and behind the blitz they have a plan in place:
This fire zone scheme is designed to show a quarterback an open receiver or hot read, and then rotate players toward that receiver and take away the quick throw, thereby disrupting the timing of the offensive design and getting the QB off structure.
Here, the safety drops down into a robber technique, while a linebacker and even a defensive tackle slide over to/underneath Cobb. Rodgers looks to throw the hot route, but now has three defenders in his line of sight, when he expected none:
Rodgers is forced to pull the football down and try and make something happen. He does a good job of buying time with his feet, but the blitz and the zone rotation behind it force him to scramble, and the eventual late throw falls incomplete:
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The Packers missed some opportunities in their previous meeting against Arizona. Some were failures in execution, while others were a result of great design by the Cardinals’ defense. With a little refinement and film study, Green Bay can improve on their previous outing, and perhaps steal a win in the desert.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.