The off-season is a great time to analyze what worked and what didn’t for the 2016 Packers team. Today I want to talk about one formation that was deployed from time to time last year and did not meet with as much success as expected. The Packers rolled out this formation against the Dallas Cowboys in week six last year and, frankly, it didn’t work. Let’s look into what didn’t work and then talk about whether there is opportunity to to continue using it in 2017 with the personnel that we now have.
Week six against the Dallas Cowboys was an ending and a beginning. It was the end of the Packers bragging rights about their run defense as Ezekiel Elliot ran for over 150 yards, and it was basically the beginning of the long slide that led to Aaron Rodgers’ “Run the table” comment. The defense saw Sam Shields replaced by Ledarius Gunter to disastrous effect as he was consistently turned around, at times on the ground, and gave up two touchdowns including one with 27 seconds to go before the half, which was one of back to back plays he got burned on.
On the offensive side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers was just off. He ended the game with close to 300 yards but had an uncharacteristic interception and a costly fumble that badly hurt the Packers’ chances. With only one touchdown, the Packers really didn’t have a chance…but how did it get to that point?
The Packers started the game against the Cowboys intent on one thing…running the ball. Eddie Lacy was hurt but was still there and with Starks out, Ty Montgomery had stepped up to throw his hat in the running back ring. Along with Ty, Aaron Ripkowski was beginning to come on though he didn’t have much production in the game. One particular, heavily run-oriented set that the Packers have used in the past and attempted in the Cowboys game was the inverted wishbone. This time, However, the Packers added a twist to what would be considered the 22 personnel group (though I’m sure it has it’s own name). They brought an additional lineman on the strong side in Jason Spriggs. With Aaron under center, the inverted wishbone included Richard Rodgers on the right, Aaron Ripkowski on the left and Eddie Lacy as tailback. This offensive set accomplishes several mismatches that the Packers wanted to exploit.
With Jason Spriggs on the strong side, the Cowboys are forced to bring up Claiborne, and end up with 9 in the box. But the presence of Trevor Davis on the perimeter means that the Cowboys, with man coverage on the outside, have to also commit a single high safety in deference to Davis’ speed. This safety is certainly clued in on the idea that the Packers are running the ball but is effectively taken out of the play.
At this point, the stage is set for a successful run play. Green Bay ends up with 9 hats on 9 hats with the difference being the Packers have an extra lineman and a couple of big boys in Rip and Rodgers to run in front of the big back Eddie Lacy. This kind of mismatch should be a recipe for success.
The play itself then, is off the strong side, with Lacy running to the side of the field vacated by the WR. Effectively this does even more for the Packers’ chances, taking Claiborne out of the play as he is too far wide to make any difference on the play side. Both Rodgers and Ripkowski block the play side, but Rodgers fails to cut anyone off and ends up pushing the defender straight into the seam that Lacy was to run behind. At the same time, Taylor is unable to get a good seal and create a seam and Lacy ends up trying to step behind Rodgers to find a cutback lane. Here is the lane that was supposed to be created along with a shot of Lacy crashing into Richard Rodgers’ back. At this point, again, the Packers have rendered Claiborne useless and therefore have 9 hats on 8, which should be a win.
So how does that inform the 2017 Packers? Maybe they should avoid the formation? Maybe they should continue to rely on Aaron Rodgers’ arm to win games. While the latter is likely to be true, the Packers got the right play in and created the mismatches they wanted. The one-on-one matchups told the tale and Rodgers and Taylor did not accomplish the goal.
Enter, the 2017 Packers. With this same formation, the Packers could have Martellus Bennett on the field along with Spriggs and while they won’t have Eddie Lacy, they will have Ty Montgomery who is quicker though he is not so big. Monty could get to that seam before it closes and Bennett will inevitably block better than Rodgers did and this play could gain more than two yards on 2nd and 9. Add to that the fact that there are multiple possible variations within this set, ones that could create cutback lanes if blocked up better, and the Packers need to stay with this formation. I would love to see this play run to the other side and see what Jahri Evans can do.
All in all, the Packers wanted to establish the run and were able to scheme to get the mismatches they needed…credit Mike McCarthy. But the players play the game and the Packers just couldn’t get it done on this occasion. But the 2017 Packers offense is different in important ways. The addition of Bennett and Kendricks upgrades the tight end position especially in terms of run-blocking. And Evans has been a stud in run blocking in the past. If he can return to pre-2015 form, it bodes well for the power run game of the Packers.
All in all…I think the Packers need to stick with this formation and remain unafraid to deploy it in short yardage situations. In this case, they ran it to bring up a third and short, but we should be able to have success with this formation from time to time and as needed. There are several creative variants to this formation that I’m sure are not lost on Mike McCarthy and hopefully he sees that with the right guys…this will yield big yards.