As long as Mike McCarthy is the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, the Packers will be a passing team. Even though Aaron Rodgers did not play in seven whole games, the Packers’ pass to run ratio was still 55:45 in 2013.
However, when considering the talented running back group of Eddie Lacy, James Starks, and DuJuan Harris, one would think that McCarthy’s playcalling will feature the run more in 2014. The running game looked better in 2013 than it has since Mike Sherman was the head coach.
When the Packers run the ball, their most popular running play is probably “Outside Zone,” which is a zone-blocked running play to the outside. There are two running plays in particular that the Packers did not run very much in 2013, but they can be effective. These running plays are called “One-Back Power” and “Split Zone”.
One-Back Power features “man blocking,” which means that the offensive linemen are responsible for blocking certain defensive lineman, and the play is designed to go through a certain hole, or gap. The Packers typically use the zone blocking scheme. In most man-blocked runs, there is a guard or tackle pulling, and this is the case with One-Back Power. When the Packers did run this play, it was usually out of “11 personnel” (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) versus the opposing defense’s nickel package.
Below is the One-Back Power in the 2013 Week 3 game at Cincinnati with James Starks in the backfield. The Packers were in “11 personnel,” and the Bengals were playing their nickel (4-2-5) defense.
Here is how the play works: at the snap, the backside offensive tackle (David Bakhtiari) cuts off the defensive end, the center blocks the one-technique defensive tackle, the playside guard and tackle double the three-technique defensive tackle and try to get up to the second level to block the backside linebacker, the tight end blocks the playside defensive end, and finally, the backside guard (Josh Sitton) pulls around to block the playside linebacker. The result was a three-yard gain for Starks.
The blocking responsibilities for this play are very simplistic, but it still requires perfect execution. The key matchup is probably the tight end versus the defensive end. Even though the (wide) alignment of the defensive end provides a great blocking angle for the tight end, it is still a physical mismatch. The tight end has to rely on technique, and he cannot let the defensive end squeeze the C gap.
Since the Packers usually feature the zone blocking scheme, the One-Back Power is a nice change-up. When the Packers come out in 11 personnel, defensive coordinators are usually thinking pass, so this play gives the Packers some physicality out of their three receiver set.
The One-Back Power play also allows the offense to setup play-action passing. McCarthy could really keep defenses off balance if he incorporates play-action with the offensive line acting as if they were run blocking for the One-Back Power. The linebackers would have to honor the pulling guard, which would open up the intermediate area of the field. Overall, this running play will usually hurt defenses if they play coverages with both safeties back deep (Cover 2). Most defenses will have to add a seventh defender to the box (a safety), which would give the Packers the advantage in the passing game. So, we will see if the Packers feature this play a little more in 2014.
The second running play that this article will focus on is called “Split Zone”.
This is a zone-blocked play, and it is somewhat common at the college and NFL level. The difference between the Outside Zone running play and Split Zone is that with the Split Zone, the backside defensive end/outside linebacker (DE/OLB), who is responsible for the cutback, is blocked by a tight end or fullback. Both the Outside Zone and Split Zone allow the running back to “press the hole” and find a crease, but by blocking the backside DE/OLB, the Split Zone running play puts even more stress on the defense.
Most offenses like to run the Split Zone with a handoff under center, but there are also offenses (especially at the college level) that like to run it from the shotgun with two backs in the backfield.
The Packers, on the other hand, put a wrinkle into the way this play looks. Instead of handing it off, the Packers, in the play below, tossed it back to Eddie Lacy. By tossing it, it gives Lacy even more space and vision to press the hole and cut it back inside of the tight end’s block on the DE/OLB (the cutback defender).
Below is the Split Zone in the 2013 Week 6 game at Baltimore with Eddie Lacy in the backfield. Again, the Packers are in “11 personnel,” and the Ravens were playing their nickel (2-4-5) defense.
To the Ravens’ defensive line and linebackers, it looked like a normal outside zone play. The Packers offensive line, in unison, performed “reach” blocks (zone blocking) to the right side (the defense’s left side). That forced the Ravens’ defensive line and linebackers to move with the flow of the offensive line. Defenders are taught from day one that even though they are responsible for a particular gap prior to each play, their gaps move versus certain running plays.
The Ravens naturally overpursued, and left tackle David Bakhtiari sealed the inside linebacker while Jermichael Finley (circled in red) cut OLB Terrell Suggs. This created a huge lane on the backside, and it resulted in a 37-yard run by Lacy. This play was executed perfectly.
There is no doubt that this is the best running back corps in McCarthy’s tenure, and the running game should continue to improve. It will be interesting to see if McCarthy incorporates these two running plays more in 2014.
Thanks for reading, Packers fans. Follow me on Twitter at @RobertOlson92 for daily analysis on the Packers.
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