The first day of divisional round match-ups is over and the Falcons await the winner of the Packers versus the Cowboys while the Patriots are once again at Foxboro to take on the winner of the Steelers versus the Chiefs. There was one offensive approach that was a big difference in the success of both the Falcons’ and the Patriots’ offenses yesterday. The Packers should take a lesson, it could be the difference between winning and losing. First, what did both offenses do effectively that led to their overall success, why the Packers should factor in the same philosophy, and what Packers offensive player should rise to the top in this game against the Cowboys.
1. The offensive common denominator
The Seahawks are known for their defense though they really never found a way to get to Matt Ryan and his bevy of offensive weapons yesterday. And the Patriots, after the late game last night, felt like they had lost even though they won by eighteen points…the Texans defense was relentless and really rattled Tom Brady in this game. But the Patriots scored 34 points. What was the common denominator in these two offensive units from completely different Conferences.
The common denominator is the use of running backs out of the backfield to create mis-matches against zone coverage.
The Falcons are well known for their duo of excellent backs and yesterday’s game was no exception. Everyone knows that Julio Jones is a beast, every defensive coordinator schemes to try to limit the damage Jones et al cause to their chances of winning. But the Falcons’ use of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman created mismatches that stretched the Seahawks to the breaking point and also helped pave the way for Julio Jones’ 6 catch, 67 yard day with an average of 11.2 per catch even though the yardage was not that high. The combination of Coleman and Freeman was devastating in this game, the two combined for 102 yards on just seven catches between them, with Coleman adding a touchdown in the passing game while Freeman scored on on the ground. The result was a game that simply got away from the Seattle Seahawks.
The Patriots, for their part, had all they could do to handle the Texans excellent pass rush. But the same principle that helped the Falcons open up the game against the Seahawks, helped the Patriots turn the tide as well. Mismatches against pass-catching running backs cause all kinds of headaches, especially versus zone coverage and if the quarterback can put the ball in the right place (as Tom Brady certainly can and did), the mis-match is almost unbeatable. If the Texans’ Brock Osweiler wasn’t so terrible in the face of pressure, the Texans would have had a shot in this game, but for the Patriots’ part, James White’s 19 yard over the shoulder touchdown pass was exactly the kind of mis-match the Patriots were trying to exploit, and exactly the kind of mis-match that the Packers should look to create.
2. The Packers’ multiple backfield
As the Packers look to send the Cowboys into the off-season and move on in a difficult environment, they do so without Eddie Lacy or James Starks. The loss of Lacy and Starks at the same time forced coach McCarthy and Ted Thompson to look far and wide for a running back. When the dust cleared, the running back situation became more multiple and able to attack a defense from different parts of the field in different ways. And the only “stereotypical” running back on the team now, Christine Michael, is the one who has found it most difficult to get on the field. Aaron Ripkowski has added a power running game and is also dangerous out of the backfield. But the emergence of Ty Montgomery has been a pleasant surprise though Monty has not been as much of an impact player since the Bears game.
3. This is Ty Montgomery’s day.
Ty Montgomery, a converted wide receiver, can bring exactly the kind of mis-matches that the Packers will need in this game against the Cowboys. If the Cowboys play zone, Montgomery will have a field day. But in the initial meeting, the Cowboys had success with a consistent collapse of the pocket that doesn’t get behind Aaron Rodgers (a tactic that we know has worked against the Packers offense) and were able to man up on the outside and use Sean Lee/Justin Durant in a spy role that at the same time took away Rodgers’ hot reads. But even in that situation, Ty Montgomery’s quickness and athleticism makes that match-up intriguing. If Monty can catch some short in-routes (perhaps out of the slot) and/or force Dallas to respect him out of the backfield on the bubble screen, making a few early catches and keeping down and distance manageable, he could be a key factor in this game.
Early in the week, I had Christine Michael as my dark horse in this game. But as I look closer at the way the Cowboys attacked Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense in week six, I think Ty Montgomery may play a vital role in this game.
However they get it done, the Packers are going to have to put up points while moving the ball and taking time off the clock if they want to be successful in this game. The Cowboys have a lot of weapons and their defense is as healthy as it has been all year long. It will be a tall order, the Packers will need all hands on deck to get it done without Jordy Nelson.