The Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers under center definitely have issues with defenses running conservative cover-2 shells. This is even more true when that team employs a good coverage linebacker and solid tackling corners. It has burned them against the 49ers in the playoffs, it has burned them against the Bucs in the playoffs, and it burned them again on Sunday against the Vikings. Rodgers has taken heat for his lack of risk-taking in the past, but nowhere does it show up more than against those few teams that actively invite it.
Rodgers is perfectly willing to take deep shots, and is in fact excellent when doing so, but he can also be a bit of a robot about hitting the open shallow man. Sometimes defenses actively work to essentially trick him into doing this. It doesn’t help when his rookie receivers drop balls and run the wrong routes, but if his trust in Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs is shaken, perhaps it should be even more so in Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb.
For all his trust in Cobb, the veteran slot receiver caught just 2 of 3 targets for 14 yards in Minnesota, and he was the target on a truly foolish interception that seemed calculated to prove a point about the rookies. Watkins was, if anything, worse, gaining 18 yards on 2 catches and showing no explosiveness at all. The fact of the matter is you need explosive plays to score, and checking down isn’t going to generate enough of them with Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith cleaning up everything in front of them.
On the Packers’ lone TD drive they got a 29-yard run from Aaron Jones as well as 20 yards receiving from the finally-out-of-the-doghouse Romeo Doubs. On the earlier drive where AJ Dillon was stopped on fourth down at the Minnesota 1-yard line, Rodgers hit a 23-yard catch and run to Robert Tonyan and a 22-yard catch from Jones. If not for these plays, which were far more scheme-and-YAC than Rodgers’ brilliance, Rodgers’ day would have looked far worse. The constant check downs, combined with a breakdown in the interior line due to a historically bad game from Jake Hanson, meant that the Packers were also incapable of overcoming negative plays like sacks. When you have a big negative, you often need to answer with a big positive.
The Vikings were without speedy rookie safety Lewis Cine and spent most of the game without rookie corner Andrew Booth. That meant that Cameron Dantzler and Chandon Sullivan were forced into coverage repeatedly. Both are vulnerable against speed receivers, and the matchup issue could not have been more obvious. Instead we got a passing chart that looked like this.
Or if you prefer, this:
These charts show 10 of 34 attempts at or behind the line of scrimmage, while 19 of 34 attempts were within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Worst of all though, Rodgers only attempted two passes all game that traveled over 20 yards. The first was the shot play that Watson dropped on their first offensive play of the game. The second was the forced interception to Randall Cobb. That’s it. That’s the list.
You can’t do this against the Vikings. They love hitting what is in front of them. They’re good at it! Cameron Dantzler has a PFF run support grade of 90 last year! But his pass coverage grade was 67!
He’s also very very slow!
Don’t throw passes that lean into that 90, challenge the 67! Chandon Sullivan was barely, if ever targeted. Everything the Packers did on offense played into Minnesota’s hands.
If they were spooked by the 75-yard drop, they need to get over it. The offense and defense both suffered from some poor execution, but they also wound up playing what can only be described as ridiculous game plans. This is the target chart of prime Alex Smith.
Someone should go tell Aaron. After all, he loves being compared to Alex Smith.