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X's & O's: Capers' Gameplan Against The Lions

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X's & O's: Capers' Gameplan Against The Lions

Regular Cheesehead TV reader (and all-too-infrequent commenter) "Paul Ott Carruth", a former player and coach who wishes to remain anonymous, breaks down different aspects of the Packers from an X's and O's standpoint. Today he looks at how Dom Capers approached the Lions' offense and how that approach produced three turnovers.

The Thanksgiving match up with Detroit was a clinic on Cover 7 and Cover 2.  If you have not been reading CHTV for long - by all means, check out my analysis of these coverages.  In the following diagrams you will see the three interceptions by the Packer defense.  Additionally, you will see a successful shallow cross conversion by Detroit.

Two of Green Bay’s interceptions came while they were in Cover 7 while the remaining interception came from Cover 2.  The Packers ran a fair amount of bracket coverage on Johnson and took their chances with Pettigrew finding the soft areas of the zones.  Coach Capers did a nice job of mixing coverage as was evident on the Woodson interception.  Much has been said about Capers not pressuring enough but this game was a good example of how bringing pressure with four from various positions worked out well.  Let’s go to the diagrams

Diagram #1

The Packers are in Cover 7 vs. this 3 x 2 empty set.  Coverage men are in yellow and rushers are in red.  Shields is in man coverage as is Williams.  Both men are playing with leverage on top of the receivers.  Woodson, aligned on in the slot is man to man.  Matthews is also in man coverage on Pettigrew.  Peprah is rotating to the customary middle third from an initial 2 high look.  Hawk is aligned to the right to account for the #2 receiver weak.  Burnett is aligned high but at the snap looks to undercut any short route in the seam  on his way to the flat once it’s threatened.  DJ Smith is the fourth rusher in this scheme.  The announcers mentioned that Pickett didn’t get a good rush and so he hesitated to tip the ball.

This is only partially true.

In order to get a balanced rush, Pickett had to widen his departure from over the Guard to the Tackle.  You’ll notice that Raji “short sticks” to the Center.  Walden rushes from his edge and Smith rushes the B gap and is picked up by the Guard.  Capers rushed the inside linebackers much more often to get his four man rush instead of consistently rushing Matthews.  This was a nice change-up and something we haven’t seen too much.  Woodson was in position to get to the tipped ball only because the Lions run Scheffler and Pettigrew on double stick routes, with Scheffler running more shallow.  Matthews had nice coverage and his athleticism lead to the pick.

Diagram #2

Even though this was the 3rd pick of the game I’ve decided to discuss this second in the order.  If you notice the Lion formation it is again a trips formation.  Only this time it is 3 x 1.  The interesting thing about this interception is that the Lions had caught on to the Packers coverage scheme.  How do we know this?  One only needs to check out the route of  Titus Young (#13).  Young is running an arrow-stop route to the sideline.  Had this been Cover 7, Woodson would have followed.  He doesn’t.  Because this is Cover 2, Woodson knows that out release by the #2 receiver will run right to Shields who is playing the “cloud” (Corner force/flat player).  Peprah is running over the top of the #1 receiver who is vertical (check out previous X & O installment on Cover 2).  Williams and Burnet are playing 2-Man coverage on Johnson and Francois is responsible for the back out in the route after taking his zone drop, meaning he will break on the ball and give up anything underneath and short.  Smith is dropping with inside leverage on Pettigrew and Woodson is ready to play any out cut by Pettigrew, which he does.

Compare this to the first diagram.  If Woodson would have widened with Young This would have been a completion for the Lions.  This indicates that the Lions had figured out the Packers were playing man coverage with Woodson on the #2 receiver for most of the game.  Yet, Capers called Cover 2 and Stafford didn’t recognize it.  His sure bet would have been to hit the back on the checkdown.  Had Pettigrew run a seam/skinny post to the middle the Packers might have been at a disadvantage because that is a weak spot with split safety coverage.  Francois deep drop to the “hole” was to account for this possibility and give up the underneath route to the back.  Diagram 1 and 2 show the chess match that is football.

Diagram #3

This diagram illustrates what I talked about at the end of my analysis of diagram 2.  This is Cover 7.  The Lions are again in 3 x 1.  Here Pettigrew runs a seam/post route.  Scheffler runs a vertical and gets width in his route.  Young fakes a quick screen.  Johnson runs a vertical on the backside.  Woodson is in man coverage on Scheffler but takes a chance on jumping the short route by Young.  Shields continues to get depth and seeing Woodson jump the short route, works over the top of Scheffler.  Matthews and Francois are bracketing Pettigrew based on his route.  Burnett is looking to undercut anything short and inside by Johnson and Peprah is bracketing with Williams.  Peprah will play any route by Johnson deep and inside while Williams will take deep and outside.  The reason Francois interception was huge was because Pettigrew had gained leverage on Matthews and the deep middle was open because Peprah was looking to bracket with Williams.

Had Pettigrew caught that ball he would have had RAC yards.  While this is Cover 7, it is not the Cover 7 that I’ve previously discussed.  I’m not sure what it is called in the Caper’s lexicon but the defenders know there is no deep middle safety in this version of Cover 7.  The deep middle man (Peprah) is now working  bracket coverage with another defender.  In this case, it was with Williams on Johnson.

Diagram #4

I wanted to discuss this because it shows how miscommunication can cause a breakdown.  The Lions come out in a 2 x 2 set.  Johnson motions to a “hip” position off of Pettigrew.  As this occurs, Tramon bails out for depth and Burnett screws down in to the box.  Tramon will now play deep coverage and Burnett will run with anything short and become the force player against a run.  Woodson is in man coverage on the backside on #2 and Shields is playing man coverage on #1.  Matthews, Pickett, Raji, and Smith are rushing.  Jones drops in to coverage looking to wall off #2 and leverages inside.  Peprah rotates to the deep middle as is customary in Cover 7.  At the snap, Pettigrew runs vertical in the seam.  Tramon and Francois work a bracket on him.  Because Smith is rushing it clears out underneath, leaving Johnson to run unobstructed on a shallow cross.

I don’t have a definitive answer as to who is responsible for this mix-up but my best guess is Burnett.  He seemed to hesitate and believe that he was passing off Johnson to a defender inside.  If you watch the film, you’ll see that he then starts to give chase.  It is also possible that Francois was supposed sit and bang Johnson on the shallow cross.  Either way, give credit to the Lions for exploiting the defense.  It was a good play design.  Even if Francois would have stayed to bang and run with Johnson, this would have been a clear mismatch.

Final Thoughts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Pressuring just to send pressure is not a good thing and playing coverage all of the time is not a good thing.  How you use your personnel is the key.  Where and when you cover or pressure is the key.  In this game, Capers used his personnel well.  Matthews dropped quite a bit.  Bringing that fourth rusher from the inside linebacker position was a nice twist.  The fact that he mixed up his coverages and played some Cover 2 was a nice change as well.  Are the Packers opportunistic as all the analysts are saying? Yes.  But they just don’t fall in to those situations.  Much of it is a result of a great scheme.  You may call it luck and that’s fine, but remember, “luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”  By all accounts, this defense looked pretty prepared.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (13) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

djbonney138's picture

I love it. Thanks!

PackersRS's picture

It's not luck when, since Capers took over, they've been in the top 2 in takeaways every season.

They already had the personel, particularly since Woodson came in, being in the top 10 in takeaways since 2006.

But when personel met scheme, it became the best D in the league in forcing turnovers.

Great post as always POC.

Paul Ott Carruth's picture

I agree. It isn't luck. This defense has the athletes and a quality staff of teachers to execute a scheme that can get quite exotic at times.

Ryeguy812's picture

I noticed on a number of occasions where Shields was at the line looking as if he was going to jam his man before bailing out at the last minute before the snap. What's the deal with that? Showing press-man before falling back into a zone?

PackersRS's picture

I don't know how the Lions' offense works, if hot reads happens post-snap or if it depends on audibles, if it was the latter it would prevent it. Would love to know about that too...

Paul Ott Carruth's picture

Hot reads can be identified pre-snap if the QB can identify the unblocked rusher, yet, ultimately, the QB has to be able to read post-snap as well. Every good NFL QB has to be able to read pre-snap. Every GREAT NFL QB has the ability to read post-snap progress of the defense.

packeraaron's picture

Ryeguy - not necessarily into a zone, but it is indeed a "bail technique" where the corner will show press prior to the snap and then bail out at the last second, trying to confuse the QB.

Paul Ott Carruth's picture

Yes, and the bail technique works just as well when a CB shows bail and they squats as in the Woodson interception via Cover 2. It's the mini-chess match within the larger match.

Pack88's picture

Ryeguy Tramon Williams had an article about this technique on Friday, his explanation was that CJ was so physical that Cb's who try to jam him lose in the contact and he gets to run free setting him up for big plays! BTW I had the same question when I saw the game, but my immediate thought was it disrupted the Lion passing game as even though CJ is very fast he has buid up speed and by bailing it disprupted Staffords timing and permitted TW to take him virtually out of the game
Pack88

Tommyboy's picture

Man, I don't even know where else I could go to learn this stuff if I wanted. Thanks Paul Ott Carruth!

Now, one more thing; you're a former player and coach. At what level? I've been wondering that for a while - or shall that remain shrouded in mystery too?

petr's picture

Thanks very much for these wonderful articles

tundravision's picture

Fantastic. Thanks much, Paul. I love learning the intricacies of football. We need to sit and have a beer during a game and I will just soak it all in.

Otto's picture

The identity of POC becomes more and more intriguing. You're becoming the 'Deep-throat' to Nagler & Carriveau's Woodward and Bernstein.
Coach and player, huh? Have you ever punched Angelo Mosca?

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