When I think about Week 8, I think of the Packers rolling into Arizona without Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Allen Lazard and walking out victorious over the undefeated Cardinals.
The main play that sticks out is the Packers final defensive play: a walk-off interception by Rasul Douglas in the end zone. It was an incredible moment – one of the most memorable moments of the season – but there’s more to a game than just one play. The further we get from the game the more I forget, which is why we’re going through this little exercise. Today we’re looking at a few small plays that set up a big one.
As I mentioned, the Packers were without their top 3 wide receivers, and that certainly shows up in the box score. The top receivers in the game were Aaron Jones (51 yards) and Robert Tonyan (49 yards before tearing his ACL late in the 3rd quarter). The top wide receiver was Juwann Winfree, who turned in a cool 30 yards on 6 targets. Randall Cobb only had 15 yards (on 5 targets), but he was also the recipient of 2 touchdowns (the only touchdowns Aaron Rodgers threw on the day).
In looking at those numbers the gameplan seems pretty clear: just move the chains by whatever means necessary. Nowhere is that approach more evident than looking at the passing concept the Packers leaned on the most in this game: the WR screen. And they had good luck with it: they dialed it up 6 times and picked up 43 yards (7.2 YPA).
They looked pretty similar, too. They would line up in a spread, 4X1 (“Quads”) set, with a lone TE away from the quads side. If the defense doesn’t roll coverage to the quads side, you’ve got numbers on the screen. Get the ball out quickly, pick up what you can and line up for the next down. If the defense rolls coverage to the quads side, you have a favorable match-up with your nub TE.
For the most part, the Cardinals did not roll coverage, so the Packers just took the screen.
Like taking candy from a bunch of large, sweaty babies.
That approach was doing just enough, and the defense was doing the rest. The Packers led 17-7 midway through the 3rd quarter, but a James Connor TD with 6:27 remaining cut the score to 3.
From there, the Packers rattled off 11 plays for 85 yards. They lined up for the 12th play of the drive to start the 4th quarter, staring at 3rd & 5 from the Cardinals 6 yard line. A touchdown here would give the Packers a nice, 10 point buffer. A failure to pick up the 1st down would likely mean a field goal and a much more tenuous 6 point lead.
So what did they do? Why, they showed WR screen, of course.
It looks a little different from the clips in the video above, but it’s similar enough to force a reaction. In this area, you just need to force a reaction – a false step – to open up a little bit of space. They come out in a 2X2 look, with Aaron Jones set to the left of Rodgers in shotgun. Equanimeous St. Brown goes in motion to the left before the snap, giving the Packers an overloaded, 4X1 set (but with a different look, as Jones is in the backfield). st. Brown is shadowed across the field by Robert Alford, which signals man coverage. So the Packers are looking at man coverage and Budda Baker as the single-high safety shaded to the screen side.
At the snap, Juwann Winfree (outside WR1) and Randall Cobb (slot WR2) release vertically and set up to block, while St. Brown releases to the flat underneath. Rodgers turns and pumps to the flat, which triggers two key defensive movements.
The first movement is the slot CB over Cobb. I don’t know if he leans, but he definitely freezes and shades the outside shoulder of Cobb. This is a play the Cardinals saw a lot in this game, so he’s thinking about avoiding the block from Cobb and getting to the flat.
The second movement is the Budda Baker. I mentioned that Alford is chasing St. Brown across the formation, but he’s trailing and there are also a lot of bodies flying around in this part of the field, so he could easily get bumped off his path. At the pump fake, Baker screams over Winfree and Cobb. If the throw goes to the flat – and it looks like that’s where it’s going – it’s his job to make sure St. Brown doesn’t have a free run to the end zone around the edge. The Packers have a body-on-a-body with Cobb and Winfree. If they do their jobs, the edge is clear.
But Winfree and Cobb are not blocking. At the moment they would normally engage, they cut on slant routes.
It’s just a few steps, but it’s enough. The slot defender freezing allows Cobb a free inside release, and the movement by the safety leaves the middle of the field wide open.
Rodgers sets his feet and sells the throw to the flat, then comes back and finds Cobb in the middle of the field.
It’s a beautiful bit of sequencing by Matt LaFleur, and tremendous execution in a big moment. Perfect timing to sell the fake and manipulate the defense into moving and creating some space to operate.
The Rasul Douglas moment gets all the hype, but this sequence right here deserves just as much love.