Down the stretch in 2016, the Packers’ offense was one of the most dynamic in the league. The fail in Atlanta signaled the need for better defense as much as anything else. The offense faltered also, and pass protection won’t come easy against the Falcons this year either. With the Seahawks week one and the Falcons week two, there is a need for an upgrade in pass protection and emphasize the short pass to get Aaron Rodgers going early. If the Packers get off to a fast start they can surely be one of the best teams in the NFC once again, but to do that they will have to tighten up protection on a Seahawks defense that has Michael Bennett and has prided itself on defense for years. The Falcons, for their part, added Takk McKinley to a pass rush that already included the likes of Vic Beasley, who led the league with 15.5 sacks. While the Packers’ front five are as good as anyone at pass protecting for Aaron Rodgers, the loss of TJ Lang means that there will be times when help is needed. Here is a breakdown of a single play from last year’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts that illustrates how this year’s team might have two specific improvements from last year. Let’s break it down:
The comparison play
Last year’s week 9, 26-31 loss to the Colts was disappointing to say the least. The offense settled for too many field goals early and the defense, well…the defense was missing Clay Matthews and Damarious Randall…let’s just leave it at that. The Packers gave up a touchdown on the opening kickoff and Rodgers and company trotted out onto the field to try to square things up. The offense started well on a 24 yard run by Ty Montgomery but then ended up in a 3rd and 8 situation that Richard Rodgers bailed the team out of with a clutch catch. Another catch by Rodgers and the Packers were rolling, ending up in the red zone on the 9 yard line. Sounds like a score to me, but on second down the Packers still needed to punch it in the end-zone and the last thing they needed. Well a sack is what they got but there are lessons to be learned and I think the future is bright. Here is how the play went down.
With Rodgers lined up on the left end, and TJ Lang pulling to the left, the Packers sell the play action to Ty Montgomery.
Lang pulls and Ty sells the fake but as you can clearly see…Rodgers gets stood up and gives up leverage almost immediately.
This is a mismatch to begin with with Lavar Edwards facing Richard Rodgers. Rodgers is not known for his blocking prowess but with Lang pulling and the play action bringing Ty Montgomery into the area, there are literally three hats on Lavar. What could possibly go wrong?
Rodgers gets ripped and falls to his knees right in between Edwards and Lang. Lang collides with Rodgers and Ty Montgomery’s play fake carries him too far outside to redirect Edwards. The Packers effectively have three players on Edwards and Edwards ends up with a free run at Aaron Rodgers.
Downfield, no one is open and even the elusive Aaron Rodgers cannot escape Edwards when three potential protectors are out of the play. Rodgers goes down for a ten yard loss and the Packers end the series with a Mason Crosby field goal.
Two changes for 2017
There are a couple things that will be different about this play in 2017. Hopefully, overall the play is executed better. But one major change in sets like this, whether they are play action or true run plays is that the tight end will be Martellus Bennett or Lance Kendricks. Each of those tight ends is better at blocking whether for run or pass than either Rodgers or Cook. This will bode well for plays like this when the play-action requires protection of the team’s greatest asset, Aaron Rodgers.
Secondly, Ty Montgomery will have a better eye toward a broken protection in this play. Montgomery was likely slated as a receiver in this case and had the combination of Lang and Rodgers been successful, Ty would have had nothing but green grass in front of him as the perimeter was singled up and Jordy Nelson had drawn that coverage all the way to the endzone. But had Ty picked up Edwards, Rodgers would have been able to run the ball. This play was a nice way to free up Montgomery as the defense lost him in the rotation and the overload ended up right where it began but the Packers had two extra guys. Bad execution of a brilliant play still fails. Truly it is the players who play the game.
Expect to see this play succeed in 2017. With Bennett covering Bakhtiari and Evans taking Lang’s spot, there will be no free runner on this play. The
It is worthwhile to check out even some of the failures of last year when the Packers have solutions in place. The addition of Bennett and Kendricks is paramount as Rodgers has consistently been a liability in both pass and run blocking. Add to that the growth of Ty Montgomery into a position that he excelled in as it was last year, and the Packers’ offense is in good hands.