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The Red Zone Issue

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The Red Zone Issue

Tom Pelissero, as usual, does a great job of breaking down the tape and hits upon one of the biggest things McCarthy needs to work on over the next month - his red zone offense. Pelissero:

The black mark on the Packers’ improving offense remains in the red zone, where coach Mike McCarthy keeps spreading the field with mixed results.

Touchdown passes to TE Donald Lee and WR Donald Driver both came with at least three players split out. But for the second straight game, the Packers failed to seize control when two red-zone drives stalled in the first half — and the sequences again were heavy on throwing formations.

The Packers had three receivers on the field on first-and-goal from the 8 when QB Aaron Rodgers threw the backside one-step option on a designed run to WR James Jones, whom CB Phillip Buchanon dumped for no gain. Rodgers missed low on a quick in for wide-open WR Donald Driver — one of four players split out — on second down, and then a quick swing for Driver behind the line from a three-wide shotgun only picked up 5 on third.

The next possession featured first-and-goal at the 9. TE Jermichael Finley lined up as a third receiver in the right slot as Rodgers came up short on an out for tightly covered WR Greg Jennings. The Packers ran out of three wides on second, and RB Brandon Jackson didn’t get much as DT Joe Cohen appeared to get away with holding LG Daryn Colledge. That left third down from the 7, a four-split shotgun and a stop route from the right slot for Finley, who might have had it if SS Marvin White didn’t deflect the ball from behind.

Perhaps it’s time to mix in some power football in that area — or at least present the threat of it.

I understand McCarthy's reluctance  to use a true power game in the red zone, if only because of the inconsistency in that area as we discussed below, but Tom is completely correct that the formations and personnel groups that McCarthy is using when he gets inside the 20 are frustratingly static. More often than not he will run out three or four wide, possibly splitting out Finley, and then drop Rodgers back and let him go to work. It's great when the receivers win the one on ones or when the opposition blitzes. But when teams play coverage, Rodgers struggles to find people and  when he does, he is famously reluctant to pull the trigger, not wanting to throw the dreaded interception.

What's interesting is that during the preseason, McCarthy ran quite a bit inside the 10, especially to the outside. Grant got two or three TDs on sweeps that have gone strangely missing during the year. Perhaps the constant fluctuation of personnel used on the offensive line and tight end has cause McCarthy to shy away from it, but he would be well served to take another look at not only the wide sweeps we saw in preseason, but some of the offtackle stuff as well. Yes, it's always an adventure with this crew, as fans will remember from the multiple attempts it took Grant to crack the goalline against Cleveland back in October, but McCarthy has to do something to break the stagnation his squad has fallen prey to inside the 20, especially early in games.

If McCarthy is dead set on passing in the red zone, he would do well to move the pocket as well. How many times have we seen Rodgers drop back, survey the scene, duck an opposing lineman and start running for his life? McCarthy would be doing Rodgers a favor if he moved the pocket on occasion and didn't make it so easy for the defense to know where the launch point was going to be every time the team gets down inside the 20.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (10) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

D.D. Driver's picture

Against the Lions Rodgers looked pretty bad in the red zone (and specifically in goal to go situations) often missing open receivers badly.
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I'm not sure what the problem is this year. The playcalling doesn't seem to me to be dramatically different this year than it was last year, when the Packers were one of the best red zone offenses in the NFL.

Anderson's picture

How about some misdirection-style runs? (A recurring suggestion by TMQ.) Like the fullback dives by Kuhn? The basic idea is that running is a good idea by the goalline, as picks, sacks, and Qb fumbles are generally more costly in the red zone. But with everyone packed close to the line of scrimmage, runs are easier to defend close to the goalline. Thus, the need for some misdirection-- Qb draws, fullback dives, counters, etc. Heck, just give it to Kuhn on a dive or fake it to him and give it to Grant. If that can't get you five yards in three plays...

D.D. Driver's picture

Anderson: the fullback dive is always a good idea.
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I also like the shotgun pitch-sweep. Its a nifty little play that McCarthy has dialed up only twice (I think) this season and both time it was successful. I've never been comfortable with the amount of shotgun that McCarthy calls, but if he is going to call shotgun, he has got to figure out how to run the ball out of the shotgun formation.
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More fullback dive. More shotgun pitch-sweep (or less shotgun).

fish's picture

The receiver and the ball delivery need to be instantly synced after the snap. Otherwise there's a endzone filled with chickens with there heads cut off trying to find an opening, and playmakers like Woodson ready to jump in front of the ball for a pick. Three receivers could instantly get open, but Rodgers needs to quickly identify his best option and make the quick pass. Speed it up, Throw in front of the runing receiver, and make the defense say, "WTF just happened??"

Dilligaff's picture

All the points above are valid if the Pack had a good and consistant O-line. Bottom line is our O-line. Ryan Grant, A-rod, and MM are constantly adjusting their play to what our O-line can do. All 3 are not playing the game the way they want too, but the way they have to as the O-line dictates. Thats why we are up and down. I believe we WILL GO AS FAR AS COLLEDGE WILL TAKE US. When his play is up we look good, when he is down we look bad.

fish's picture

Rodgers Reads: 4th Qtr, 9:22 on the clock in our own endzone. 8 lions bunched up and we hand off to grant when Jennings is standing all by himself with only one or two lions to beat for a 98 yard TD. What's that about???

PACKERS's picture

It amazes me that the Pack can drive down the field in a matter of minutes, but they choke in the redzone. If they absolutley must use running plays, they should probably think of something a little more creative than running up the middle. Also, play action passes might not be a bad idea, as it would confuse the defense, especially as the pack do not run play action very often, especially in the red zone.

ppabich's picture

I agree that running isn't necessary but the threat of it is. I like the short passes to FBs coming out of the backfield, as well as the shotgun sweep. Running the ball in the redzone also opens up rollouts and PA which is lacking.

Oppy's picture

Right on. Anyone who hasn't completely blocked me out by now (lol) has heard me gripe about the formations that McCarthy chooses to trot onto the field in goal line, 3rd/4th and short scenarios. Dude, if you want to pass the ball, go ahead and pass the ball. But do it out of a formation in those situations that has a RB (and perhaps use Grant instead of tell-tale Jackson) and maybe even a FB (Or a TE lined up at FB just for some spice and added confusion) in the back field so the defense can't just act (Empty backfield = pin your ears back) and make the defense REACT (Is it run or pass?). That split second of indecision as the defense reads the play can make all the difference.
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Glorious80s's picture

FBs, yes, they've got three!

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