Green Bay’s passing game looked great on Thursday night, as if the switch to this offense had been turned on between Weeks 3 and 4. Unsurprisingly, much of it had to do with Aaron Rodgers, who made some tremendous throws, reminding us all that he might still be the best quarterback in the NFL.
It started on Green Bay’s first drive. Facing a 2nd-and-1, the Eagles lined up in man-free coverage. Rodgers saw the matchup of Davante Adams against cornerback Rasul Douglas (bottom of the screen) and went after it. He dropped an absolute perfect pass into Adams’ lap against fairly tight coverage.
The result was a 58-yard completion, setting up the Packers’ first touchdown.
Just before the end of the half, the Packers were in the red zone and threatening. The Eagles were playing Tampa-2 coverage. The Packers attacked with a 3×1 set and called for three vertical routes. Keep an eye on Rodney McLeod, the deep safety to the right side of the screen. He moved outside, following Rodgers’ eyes, which left an opening for wide receiver Geronimo Allison around the numbers. Rodgers quickly turned his attention to Allison and fired a dime.
Rodgers’ 3rd quarter touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham was quite ridiculous. The Eagles were bringing a 0-blitz. They even got a rusher in free on Rodgers. But Rodgers moved right to buy time and make an extremely accurate pass despite all of his weight moving away from the throw.
It seems like much of what Aaron Rodgers does goes underappreciated these days, doesn’t it? He finished the night with 422 yards passing and 46 yards rushing. He was the entire offense.
While the Packers had little trouble moving the ball at will through the air, they struggled to produce much on the ground. Take away Rodgers, and Green Bay rushed for just 31 yards on 15 carries, with the longest run going for 7 yards.
Jim Schwartz’ Eagles Defense loves to employ the wide-9 defensive end. This helps to pretty much take away the outside zone run, a staple of Matt LaFleur’s offense. The Packers were forced to try and run it inside where they were at a distinct disadvantage against the Eagles’ defensive line of Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Hassan Ridgeway, and Josh Sweat. This likely factored into both LaFleur and Rodgers’ decisions to only run the ball once in their 6 fourth-quarter goal-to-go attempts that decided the game.
On their first goal-to-go attempt from the 2-yard line, Rodgers liked his matchup of tight end Jimmy Graham on the edge against Rodney McLeod. With a height advantage of about 8 to 9 inches, this decision was a no-brainer.
McCleod just made a great play, not letting Graham get his hands up in time to high-point the ball.
On 2nd down, the Packers attempted a play-action boot pass. Keep your eyes on defensive end Brandon Graham. He did a great job of not chasing the outside zone run action to the other side of the field. He stayed at home and attacked Rodgers, disrupting the play almost immediately.
On 3rd down, Green Bay had an RPO called. It appeared that this just came down to a pure numbers game for Rodgers. The Eagles had 7 defenders in the box against the Packers’ 5 blockers, not to mention they had been dominating Green Bay in the trenches against the run. Rodgers saw the two receivers to his left in 1-on-1 matchups and preferred that option.
Something weird happened here, though, because it did not look like Jimmy Graham (top of the screen) ran a route on this play. It also looked like Rodgers pulled the ball and initially thought about running it.
Something just wasn’t right about that play from the start.
On 4th down, the Packers aligned with a tight trips bunch formation to the left side.
When you see that as a defense, you have to worry about pick plays, and the creation of traffic to lead to wide open receivers. The Eagles were ready, and they did a tremendous job across the board of playing the releases of Green Bay’s receivers.
Great team defense there to keep the Packers off the board.
On their final drive of the game, the Packers ran the ball on 1st and goal from the 7, gaining 4 yards. This was the only time they ran it in the decisive 4th quarter goal line situations.
On the very next play, Green Bay was hoping to hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a quick in-breaking route underneath the slot receiver, Darrius Shepherd, whose stem would help create traffic.
Cornerback Avonte Maddox, who the Packers had targeted all game, had just left due to injury. Rodgers went after his replacement, Craig James.
James made a great play here. Instead of falling off and playing the release of the slot receiver running to the corner, he read Valdes-Scantling through to the quarterback, saw that Rodgers had started his throwing motion, and attacked. His play may have saved the game for the Eagles.
It’s easy to question the Packers’ decision not to run it there. After all, they had attempted 4 passes in the previous goal line situation and were stopped each time. Green Bay had also just gained 4 yards on their previous run, still had two timeouts remaining (meaning the clock wasn’t a factor), and their best receiver, Davante Adams, wasn’t even in the game.
On the other hand, it’s tough to argue with putting the ball in your best player’s hands instead of relying on a unit that, quite frankly, got handled all evening. Still, the decision-making of LaFleur and Rodgers deserves at least a little bit of scrutiny.
Play-calling sometimes gets too much of the attention. When it was all said and done, the Eagles Defense executed extremely well in these pivotal moments of the game. They won the game more than the Packers lost it.