Green Bay Packers film review: What’s wrong with the pass defense?
The Green Bay Packers‘ 34-27 victory over the Detroit Lions put many cheesehead souls at ease. Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson were in 2014 form during the first half, connecting for two of Rodgers’ four total touchdowns. Eddie Lacy picked up 103 yards at an average of 6.1 yards per carry. And the league-leading run defense continued to suffocate rushing attempts, allowing Detroit just 50 yards on the ground.
The one cause of concern, however, was the pass coverage. Despite consistent pressure from Nick Perry and others, Matt Stafford moved the ball at ease in the second half, piling up 368 total passing yards.
Though top secondary players Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett were sidelined due to injury, this performance is still unacceptable from what was supposed to be one of the team’s strongest units.
Is this Dom Capers’ fault? The corners? The safeties?
I looked at the All-22 footage on a few of the Lions’ biggest passing plays to see what happened.
Let’s take you along for what we found …
Theo Riddick almost busts a big one
The first play I want to draw attention to is one that didn’t end up going for big yardage, though it easily may have. With 7:09 left in the first quarter, the Lions faced third and 2.
The Packers match up their starting nickel corner Quinten Rollins on Theo Riddick, the Lions’ all-purpose threat. Riddick fakes to the outside before cutting in, and he makes Rollins look silly.
As you can see, the Packers are in a two-deep, man to man coverage. While this protects Randall and Gunter on the outside, it leaves the middle of the field wide open. Rollins fails to stay on Riddick, and he’s lucky that Riddick trips shortly after catching the pass. Otherwise, it could go for 6. The fault here lies solely with Rollins.
Marvin Jones Burns Randall, First Edition
This next play went for 38 yards to Marvin Jones down the right sideline in the second quarter. It shows that since his excellent Week 1 game in Jacksonville, Damarious Randall has continued to rely too much on athleticism, leaving himself open to getting burned deep.
From this frame, you can see that Dom Capers has changed his coverage. The safeties are not playing deep, but rather providing zone coverage in the middle of the field. This leaves Randall and Ladarius Gunter alone on the outside.
At the top of the screen, Marvin Jones performs a subtle double move, slowing his feet down and faking to the inside before taking off again deep. Randall overreacts, turning his body towards the sideline. Notice on the bottom of the screen, in contrast, how Ladarius Gunter is in lockstep with his receiver.
As soon as Stafford sees Randall bite, he begins his throwing motion.
Here, you can see what Randall’s error cost him. Jones is an explosive receiver, and he’s able to gain a few previous yards of separation. The ball is in the air at this point, and Randall is forced to play catchup with Jones rather than search for the ball.
Finally, the pass. Stafford slightly underthrows the ball, and Randall is actually able to catch up to Jones by the time the pass arrives. But the separation cost him, because he’s forced to play the receiver instead of the ball. Jones catches the pass for 38 yards.
Just in these two plays, we see the challenges that Dom Capers faces. When he plays the safeties deep, he isolates Rollins and the linebackers against threats like Riddick and Eric Ebron. When he shuts down the middle of the field, he leaves Randall exposed to being torched deep. Until Sam Shields returns, that’s a balance he’ll have to weigh.
Hawkins gets exposed before the half
In this play, Capers plays the same coverage he did on Jones’ 38-yard reception on Randall. The difference is that Randall had left the game due to illness, leaving undrafted rookie Josh Hawkins on an island. The results weren’t pretty.
Compare this to the previous play I analyzed. Notice how similar they are? The coverage appears identical, and the offensive play also looks very similar.
But while Hawkins gives up a similar completion, he makes a rookie mistake in not pursuing the play fully and making the tackle. Marvin Jones stiff arms Hawkins and secures a 73-yard touchdown.
On this play, I think it’s fair to blame Capers. When you’re down to your #5 corner, an undrafted rookie, it’s unfair to leave him in single coverage against the opposition’s best receiver. Hawkins certainly should have made the tackle, but Capers was tempting fate with this coverage.
Rollins struggles again
This touchdown to Anquan Boldin happens on 4th-and-goal at the 2-yard line, about halfway through the third quarter. Once again, Rollins gets burned.
This time, though, it’s to the aged Anquan Boldin rather than the explosive Riddick.
This is just bad technique from Rollins. He plays press coverage, but look at where he’s facing. Rollins’ focus is on Stafford, not Boldin. Maybe he had designs on helping in run support. Regardless, the savvy Boldin uses this error to dip to the outside and get open for the easy touchdown.
This type of error is one that you hope will be corrected as the season wears on. It’s simply inexperienced play against an experienced receiver.
Capers tries Cover 2
After watching his corners struggle so much in man coverage in the first half, it’s no wonder that Capers turned to Cover 2 in the second half. Unfortunately, Stafford was too good at finding the holes.
On this fourth quarter play, Capers disguises the coverage. Micah Hyde starts the play near the linebackers, meaning he has to sprint back into his deep zone when the ball was snapped. Stafford sees no safety on Jones’ side, and so he obviously looks toward the right sideline immediately.
In Cover 2, there’s an unavoidable hole on the sideline between the corner and the safety. Stafford found that whole repeatedly on Sunday. Notice how Randall is more concerned about the out-breaking route in front of him than Jones running by him. It results an easy catch for 19 yards.
There’s several other plays I could analyze here, including Jones’ 4th quarter touchdown where Randall again shows poor technique in overcommitting to a route, resulting in him falling to the ground while Jones catches the touchdown unimpeded.
My takeaway from this film study is that it’s hard to blame Capers for the defense’s struggles. He tried man-to-man, he tried zone, and he tried a combination of both. But Stafford and the Lions did an excellent job of finding the mismatches and exploiting them.
While I would blame Capers for leaving Hawkins on an island before the half, that’s the only major play for which responsibility lies squarely on the coordinator’s shoulders.
Before they face the Giants in Week 5, the Packers need one or both of two things to happen: Sam Shields to return, or the young corners to improve their play. Ladarius Gunter played very well on Sunday on the outside. But Randall and Rollins continued to struggle with technique, leading to big plays for Stafford and the Lions.
These problems can be corrected. Hopefully, Joe Whitt Jr. will use the bye week to do just that. Otherwise, Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. could be looking at a big game in a few weeks.