One week after being unable to run the ball against the Eagles, and more importantly finish drives, the Packers committed to their ground game against the Cowboys. The result was multiple big plays on the ground, 4 rushing touchdowns (all by Aaron Jones), and an important road victory against a very good Cowboys team.
With their best wide receiver sidelined due to injury, the Packers had to have success on the ground. They did so by attacking with their staple zone runs and by utilizing motion and misdirection to keep the Cowboys Defense off balance.
On this first play, an 18-yard touchdown run, the Packers used an RPO to open up running lanes. You can see below that they had a trips bunch to the right, which took 3 defenders with it to the outside at the snap. The X-receiver on the backside also ran his man off.
The Packers were left with a light box of just 6 defenders, which they attacked with an inside zone run.
By leaving the backside end man on the line of scrimmage unblocked, they were able to get a clean 5-on-5 matchup. Aaron Jones did the rest.
On their next drive, the Packers were able to gain 15 yards on another inside zone run to the left.
There are a few things to watch on this play. First, focus on center Corey Linsley. He was quick out of the box, beating the nose tackle to his gap and then swinging his hips and feet underneath him to seal off the inside.
This enabled rookie left guard Elgton Jenkins to quickly get to his responsibility at the second level and seal off the outside, creating a spacious alley for Aaron Jones to run through.
One more element to note on this play is how Aaron Jones drew linebacker Jaylon Smith towards the line of scrimmage by attacking downhill quickly. He then was able to burst through the gap to Smith’s right.
That’s a great job by Jones of setting up his run.
This next play looked like the same inside zone action up front. Look at the flow of the offensive line to the left. Aaron Jones read the front, felt the flow, and cut it back off the edge.
This is one of the great elements about zone runs. The ability to get the defense flowing fast in one direction and the opportunities for cutbacks can create some big plays.
The Cowboys have one of the fastest defenses in the NFL, and they normally defend the run well. When they’ve struggled, it’s been because teams use their speed against them with zone schemes that create flow, over-pursuit by defenders, and big cutback lanes.
We also saw the Packers use motion to successfully influence defenders, similar to what the Rams did in the playoffs last year. The below outside zone run is a good example. The play side was to the right. But watch how the motion to the left along with the tight end releasing left, removed linebacker Leighton Vander Esch from the play. This left a large cutback lane for Jones.
Aaron Jones showed great vision and feel all game. He was also decisive with his cuts, which is what you want in a zone scheme.
Additionally, he made several plays out of nothing. There were two “direct snaps” to Jones on Sunday that actually were not intended to be direct. They were bad snaps that Jones was able to quickly react to and snag. Not only did he prevent disaster, he gained 18 yards total between the two plays.
Jones also did a great job catching the ball out of the backfield. On the below screen pass, for instance, watch how he made Leighton Vander Esch miss (a common theme from Sunday) before delivering a brutal stiff arm on Jaylon Smith.
Speaking of making something out of nothing, Green Bay’s passing game wouldn’t have pissed a drop in the first half if not for Aaron Rodgers. His receivers had a difficult time creating much separation, and Rodgers did not have a ton of time. Still, he fit some tight passes into tiny windows, and made things happen with his movement skills.
On this first throw, Rodgers had time, but had to thread the needle. That’s not much separation by his intended receiver, Marquez Valdes-Scantling (top of the screen). 18 yards nonetheless.
On this next play, Rodgers had no one open. He was forced to flee the pocket due to pressure, and the threat of his legs created an opening for tight end Jimmy Graham.
Rodgers pulled a rabbit out of his hat a few plays later. Once again, his receivers created no separation. Once again, he was under pressure. Once again, he made something happen.
It’s amazing that Aaron Rodgers has been somewhat forgotten in discussions about the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He still might be #1.
The further the Packers get into the season, the more multi-dimensional they will become on offense. After years of relying on just one player to carry the offense (and team at times), the Packers finally seem to have multiple elements on this side of the ball. This group will only become more dangerous as they gain experience in Matt LaFleur’s system.
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