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Live By The Big Play, Die Without It

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Live By The Big Play, Die Without It

If you want a recipe on how to beat the Green Bay Packers, the Kansas City Chiefs came up with it.  What they did shouldn't be a surprise.  The fact it took so long for a team to figure it out and execute it is.

The Green Bay Packers have thrived on the Big Play for as long as I can remember during the McCarthy Era, and the Super Bowl/Undefeated Packers are no different than those formative years for Aaron Rodgers back in 2008. While skyrocketing to a 13-0 record, the Packers have thrived on the prolific arm of Aaron Rodgers on offense, eschewing the methodical boredom of a running game.  It's paid off for the most part:  Rodgers has gone downfield on 23% of his throws this year, and leads the league in adjusted yards per attempt.  Its a major reason why Packer opponents have found themselves trailing in games early.

And, on the other side of the ball, a struggling defense has been propped up by the Big Play, easily leading the entire NFL in interceptions (as well as touchdowns from those interceptions).  In many ways, the Big Plays on both sides of the ball have baited other teams into a losing strategy.

If there's one thing that the Packers do well, they are opportunistic and make you pay for a mistake.  So, you send some extra guys at Aaron Rodgers on the pass rush?  Boom.  He throws a ball to Jordy Nelson on the sideline where no one else can make the catch.  Soon, points are on the board and the other team finds themselves feeling foolish for taking a chance.

So, what do they do to dig themselves out of the hole?  You guessed it.  They throw the ball into coverage while trying to make up the difference on the scoreboard, and no one will make you pay more often than the Packers.  And it has been incredibly effective, going all the way back to last year and that incredible six-game run to the Super Bowl...a run that came down to the wire time and time again, requiring a Big Play from the defense to seal the deal.

But it was okay, because the Packers kept winning.

Until yesterday, when the Chiefs cracked the code.  You see, the Packers lived by the Big Play, but they never died by it.  Teams that tried to match them with risky, aggressive play paid for it.  You can't beat the Packers at their own game.  You really think you're going to get an interception against Aaron Rodgers?  You think that you can keep throwing the ball downfield and not end up eventually getting it picked off by Charles, Tramon, and Co.?

So what happened?

Well, the Packers came in and didn't play well, for one.  But that wasn't the first time the Packers didn't play well, and still won games.  But the Chiefs went into the game and, essentially, played it safe.  They never gave the Packers an opportunity to make the Big Play against them.

Offensively, the Chiefs looked downfield and only attempted long passes when the receiver was wide open.   You didn't see any forced passes by Kyle Orton all day.  He had time in the pocket, and made the Packers pay by finding wide open receivers, instead of trying to make something happen.  It was boring.  We laughed at first, congratulating our Packers for holding them to a field goal.  But then they did it again.  And again.  We kept waiting for that key interception, the pick-six that would turn the momentum of the game completely around.

It never came.

Defensively, the Chiefs dug deep and, thanks to a depleted offensive line, managed to keep pressure on Rodgers without investing heavy blitzing packages.  It had to be tempting, especially as Bryan Bulaga and Derrick Sherrod left the field, to start overloading the box and send seven guys.  But they didn't.  They stuck to their guns and, thanks to around ten dropped passes, held the vaunted Packer offense in check.

At times, Ryan Grant was more productive on the ground, but that isn't the McCarthy Way.  The McCarthy Way looks for the big play, but the Packers were unable to come up with more than a couple.  When the finally got their act together on their final drive, it was too late.

The morale of the story is that, once the Packers were stripped of their big play ability, the weaknesses underneath were exposed and vulnerable.  The defense gave up major yards because they couldn't get pressure on the quarterback.  The offense couldn't sustain a drive without being able to get a huge chunk of it through the air.

The Chiefs didn't beat the Packers with Big Plays.  They simply prevented the Packers from making their own.  And yesterday, that was all they needed.

Does things give other teams, particularly in the playoffs, a blueprint to follow on how to beat the Packers?  Not really, as much of it comes down to execution.  The Packers didn't execute, and the Chiefs did.  But if the Packers struggle in future games, don't look for opposing teams to go for the jugular anymore.  Look for them to methodically take the Packers out of the game, denying them opportunities to capitalize on mistakes.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (18) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bearmeat's picture

Yes, you're right: But with the exception of the last 6 games of 2008, MM's team's best quality has been bouncing back from adversity. I expect GB to come back angry and make the rest of the league pay.

A few thoughts from yesterday:

1. Obviously - execution. It was poor all day. We should have won.

2. MM/AR should be ashamed for not running the ball at least 25 times yesterday. He needs to fix that.

3. Getting healthy needs to now be the #1 priority.

Paul Ott Carruth's picture

This is an accurate assessment. I said it last year and I still hold on to my viewpoint. Coach McCarthy needs to call a more West Coast centric type of game. Outside of the play action bootlegs and Fox and Hound playactions, rarely do we see the Packers run route concepts that stretch the defense vertically. Flanker drives, shallow crosses and Hank routes by the TE (hooking up over the center at 8 yds) are few and far between. The backs are rarely used to control underneath coverage on designed scat protections. If you go back and watch the New England game from last year you would see a more WC centric game plan that nearly won them the game. They had to go this route. As much as Flynn is a capable back-up he’s not as gifted pushing the ball downfield on horizontal stretches (verticals, skinny posts, comeback routes, deep in routes). KC played a lot of coverage. Checkdowns were there. Rodgers and McCarthy insisted on pushing the ball down field. Yes, execution played a role. However, coach and QB did not adjust. It’s nice to put the pedal to the floor when you have a straight shot but when you see that curve up ahead you need to lay-off and take your time navigating. This didn’t happen on Sunday. Considering the injuries I would hope the offensive staff re-evaluates its approach moving forward. McCarty and Rodgers like to “crease” defenses (pushing the ball vertical by stretching the defense horizontally). When defenses start to zip up those creases and seams by expanding, the offense needs to contract by taking the open space opened up underneath and shallow. It’s the constant ebb and flow necessary to keep a defense guessing and moving width wise and length wise, back and forth on the field. Unfortunately it didn’t happen on Sunday. Poor execution by the receivers? Yes. Poor decision making by Rodgers? Yes. Poor adjustments by McCarthy? Yes. Here’s hoping McCarthy uses the entire width and length of the field in future attacks.

packeraaron's picture

<em>If you go back and watch the New England game from last year you would see a more WC centric game plan that nearly won them the game. </em>

Damn you. Been working on a post on this very thing.

PackersRS's picture

It's much more on Rodgers than on McCarthy IMO. Coach himself said he gave all leeway to Rodgers to tailor the offense as he wished, and that's what he did. He's calling to his strenghts, that are the downfield and the backshoulder throws, Rodgers is much more precise vertically than horizontally (as opposed to Tom Brady), and, like you said, all the calls are for at least 1 deep route and for the backs to be used to extend the play rather than to checkdowns.

The thing I noted in this Chiefs game was the big number of plays with maxprotect 3 man routes. Seemed more than usual.

Regarding the big play, I kept thinking to myself that if we could not force a turnover defensively, we were going to lose the game. We did stop them on 4th down, but was not enough.

One thing, it took a number of odd events for this loss to happen, not just the big plays. The injuries on the OL and DL, the drops, the subpar game by Rodgers, the refs messing up the game, a loud, hostile and windy stadium, and a perfect game by the Chiefs' D.

Doug In Sandpoint's picture

Wow POC, that's what I was going to say (except for the part about the Hank routes by the TE and the other football-related stuff).

Nerd&#039;s Laptop's picture

For whatever reason, this team can't run screens to save its life. Having Saine back will be huge, but 9 times out of 10, they look disorganized when they run them anyway.

Chazman's picture

Nice article CD, great comments as well. Hopefully the Packers will learn from this and get healthy.
I can understand why the NFL scheduled the final games of the season to be divisional. All I want is for the Packers to rest up for the playoffs but don't think I could stomach the Bears and Lions beating us at Lambeau. These next two are going to be very physical games and we need to win one for homefield advantage.

Cole's picture

Perhaps they failed to adjust as well because they figures, 'Hey, it's the chiefs, we're going to win.' They assumed because they faced an ailing opponent that they could force a square peg into a round hole.

NoWayJose's picture

Strong analysis.

And it points directly to the Packers biggest challenge in the playoffs potentially being... the 49ers. They can do what KC did, only better.

I live in the Bay Area, and my wife is Niner fan. I've been forced to watch most of their (usually excrutiating) games. Make no mistake, this is not the Alex Smith of old -- he goes out of his way to avoid turnovers.

If the Pack meets the Niners, with arguably the best D in the league, they are going to have to learn from what happend in KC.

CSS's picture

He's improved, and he's a great athlete, but he's also the primary reason they can't score touchdowns in the red-zone and kick nothing but field goals. He can't play in a compressed field.

Hands-down the best defense I've seen all year. They come to play every game. Justin Smith is the best kept secret (and best defensive player) in the NFL and Aldon Smith would be DROY if it weren't for Von Miller playing like DPOY.

NoWayJose's picture

Totally agree that Alex still can't deal in the red zone. And I think that's what ultimately brings the Niners down - whether against GB or someone else.

It would probably be a low scoring game on both ends - and a very interesting matchup.

bogmon's picture

C.D. Angeli hits the nail head once again.

I think this Packers team is defining a whole paradigm for playing winning football in the modern NFL. It's the "money ball" version of play probability.

Go big on offense. Get quick scores. Eliminate the slow drive/ high percentage offense of the other team. Create some panic.

THE REAL KEY:Bait the other team into a false sense of security by allowing them to gain easy yards in short down and distance...it gives them the mojo to go big play and then BAM! You get the takeaway!

The Chiefs just didn't bite....because our Offense didn't execute..plain and simple.

This won't happen again. The Packers had one bad day...a REALLY bad day. The template will lead to more success in the playoffs for sure. Look out Drew Brees.

SoTxPhil's picture

Good post POC, I too agree with most everything you said. I have been griping about MM's play calling since he arrived in GB. Finally, after losing to the Bucs last yr, just like they did at KC, he seemed to win games easily throwing accurate short passes along with the ocnl running play to consistently move the chains. Thisa strategy works well against any defense, even the better pass rushing teams because the ball is out quickly. After winning pretty easily most games this season with some long pass plays, but with the help of def turnovers. The Giants with their rush almost beat GB and that should have been a sign to MM and AR to dial back the length of the plays against a good KC rush, especially after losing 2 OTs. With 3 mins left in the game they march right down the field for a TD with short yardage plays. The Bears should be ripe for a beating with this style of play in the cold and possibly windy conditions of Lambeau. I hope MM learned something from the KC debacle.

coreyb's picture

Thats the only way to stop us. Probably won't happen again this season or Post

Nerd&#039;s Laptop's picture

I've been saying this for years, but it's not the Chiefs who figured out how to beat us. The Bears have been preventing big plays against us for years. Their offense gives them up, because Cutler sucks, but their defense always plays us tough.
Not to mention we always play them in weather.
That said, we still win that game if the TE and WRs make those catches. If they stuck with Grant a little more it would've helped too.

overkill's picture

Nevermind the dropped passes.

SteveHj's picture

Very good analysis guys. Maybe we simply underestimated what the Chiefs defense could bring to the table and did not have enough patience to slowly close the gap when behind on the scoreboard. Playing the Bears will be a telling tale as to whether or not we learned something from the last game. Although considering how many times we have played the bears and their cover 2 stuff, I think its understood you take the short stuff and move it down the field and hang onto the ball. Looking for a significant beat down of the bears Sunday.

overkill's picture

SteveHj says: "Looking for a significant beat down of the bears Sunday."
Steve, I'd like to expect the same but am curious as to how the offensive line situation plays out, or doesn't.
More concern to me is the psychological effect on team psyche, first loss. It may be negligible to non existent, but then again there may be, as a result of getting whooped by an inferior team, a residue of doubt now. "Winning is a habit". Ask Charlie Sheen.
You can take Jason Wilde's view, which is that it was gonna happen sooner or later, therefore better to get it out of the way presently.
Also wanna see if and how Cobb is further incorporated in Jennings' absence.

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