In a Divisional Playoff weekend where defenses led the way, the top-ranked defense in the NFL couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The Rams had no answer for Aaron Rodgers and a Packers Offense that dissected them for nearly 500 total yards. Yes, Aaron Donald wasn’t 100% healthy, but this game was won because Matt LaFleur’s game plan effectively and relentlessly attacked the holes of the Rams Defense.
The Rams are a 2-deep safety defense, with quarters as the predominant coverage of choice. One of the weak spots of quarters is the 2nd level. With 4 deep defenders and 4 defensive linemen, that leaves just 3 players in between. The Packers did a great job of attacking this area by using a healthy amount of motion to 3×1 formations coupled with run-pass options.
Defenses in general have to honor the passing game from the 3-receiver side of a formation. However, the motion by Green Bay created a more severe reaction since the Packers use that motion for quick bubble screens or flat routes meant to outflank defenders to the perimeter. This widened the Rams Defense and reduced the amount of defenders in the box. Then they ran the ball inside, as you can see below.
On several plays, the Rams were left with 5-man boxes like this one because they had to honor the potential pass to the 3-receiver side. When they aligned with 5 defenders on the line of scrimmage, this left L.A.’s safeties responsible for coming up and playing the run inside. Offenses will take safeties over linebackers every day of the week in the run game.
Below is the end zone angle of the above run. 250-pound A.J. Dillon against a safety will almost always lead to a few extra yards after contact.
On the first play of the second half, the Packers again used motion to widen the defense pre-snap. This time, it was wide receiver Davante Adams in motion.
Again, the Rams had to account for the 3-receiver side with their underneath defenders. Since they prefer to play zone, they didn’t have cornerback Jalen Ramsey follow Adams. Instead, they had their middle linebacker cheat to the 3-receiver side and a safety replace him in the middle. Here, Green Bay was able to run it inside against another light box. The result was a 60-yard gain.
The below play is another great example. The Packers had 2 receivers to the right before the motion by Aaron Jones created another wide 3×1 formation. The Rams were left with another 5-man box against the run.
Green Bay finished with 188 rushing yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry against the #3 run defense in the NFL.
The Packers used motion to influence the Rams in the passing game as well. It directly led to their first touchdown. Watch below as Davante Adams initially motioned right to left across the formation, forcing Jalen Ramsey to follow. Then he quickly sprinted back to the right.
Ramsey had to fight through his own defense and never caught up with Adams. The motion was so quick that it was difficult for L.A. to make adjustments on the fly and have a defensive back at the bottom of the screen kick out to take Adams.
Below, you can again see the Packers use motion to stretch the defense horizontally. This time, the motion led to 4 receivers to the left and Davante Adams to the right. The underneath coverage of the Rams had to honor the 4-receiver side, and this left Adams with a ton of room to work with on the backside.
The Packers had a completely balanced approach vs. the Rams – 36 passes and 36 runs. This not only helped protect Rodgers, but it also put Rams defenders in conflict. Rodgers’ game-clinching 58-yard touchdown pass came on a play where the key defenders on the play were influenced by the threat of the run and bit on a play-fake.
It wasn’t just Aaron Rodgers’ run-fake that made the play, though.
Focus on wide receiver Allen Lazard and tight end Marcedes Lewis to the left of the formation. Lewis stayed in to block, and Lazard initially took a few steps inside towards safety Jordan Fuller like he was going to block him. This sold the run and got Fuller and cornerback Troy Hill to bite.
The result was a wide-open Lazard, and the game was broken wide open.
That’s great design and a great play-call by LaFleur.
The Packers showed exactly why they were the number-1 seed in the NFL against the Rams. Not shown here were a few great throws by Rodgers that we all seem to be accustomed to (and even take for granted). Green Bay’s balance and the ability to attack in so many ways will make them a difficult matchup for the Buccaneers Defense in the NFC Championship Game.