Assessing the Packers’ Pass Defense Issues Against the Chargers

Robert Olson analyzes the struggles of the Packers’ pass defense versus the Chargers.

Many Packers fans are concerned or have questions about the pass defense after seeing Philip Rivers’ 503-yard performance on Sunday. It is important to put things into perspective, though. Coming into Sunday’s game, Rivers was leading the league in passing yards (1,613), and the Chargers offense was averaging 318 passing yards per game (second in the NFL). Rivers is a great quarterback, and he was nearly flawless on Sunday. These are not excuses for the pass defense, they are facts. It is difficult for any defense in today’s NFL to slow down a passing attack like that. As you will see below, the Packers defense could have executed better, but you still have to give credit to Rivers and their offense.

Schematically speaking, there were plays where Rivers knew what the Packers were running based off his pre-snap read, especially when the Packers played Cover 1 (man-to-man underneath with a single-high safety in the deep middle). There were times when Dom Capers lost the chess match. Also, some players failed to win one-on-one battles in the secondary on multiple occasions. This article will break down four big completions by the Chargers.

The first play that we will examine is a 38-yard completion to Keenan Allen. The Packers played Cover 4 out of the 2-4-5 nickel. As you see in the diagram below, Cover 4 consists of four deep defenders: each outside cornerback is responsible for his respective deep outside 1/4 of the field and each safety is responsible for his respective deep middle 1/4 of the field. It also consists of three underneath defenders: two “curl to flat” defenders (green arrows) and one hook zone defender (yellow arrow).

The Chargers came out in a 2x2 formation. Focus on Sam Shields and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (circled in red) and the #1 and #2 receivers at the top of the screen. WR Keenan Allen (the #1 WR) ran a Post route and Dontrelle Inman (the #2 WR) ran a Deep Out route. Inman’s Deep Out broke at 10-12 yards, so Clinton-Dix was not necessarily wrong in jumping that route. As the cornerback in the deep outside 1/4, Shields cannot always expect help from Clinton-Dix. The most difficult route to cover for a CB in Cover 4 is the Post route. Shields needed to get to the hip of Allen and contest the pass. Shields did both of those things, but the throw by Rivers was perfect. You have to give credit to the Chargers for designing a great route combination to occupy Clinton-Dix and create a one-on-one matchup for their best receiver versus Cover 4.

The second play that we will analyze is very similar to the first play. The Packers played Cover 4 out of the 1-4-6 dime, and the Chargers came out in a 3x1 (Trips) formation. Again, focus on Shields and Clinton-Dix (circled in red) and the #1 and #2 receivers at the top of the screen. The Chargers ran the exact same route combination as the play above on this 50-yard completion to Malcolm Floyd. This time, there should be blame placed on both Shields and Clinton-Dix. First off, it is important to know that the down and distance on this play was 3rd & 17. It looked like Clinton-Dix thought about trying to cover the Deep Out route, which caused him to flip his hips and get turned around. This put him out of position to help Shields with the Post route. Clinton-Dix should have known the down and distance and let the curl to flat defender (Casey Hayward) sink underneath the Deep Out route. In addition, Shields should have done a better job of getting to Floyd’s hip and contesting the pass.

On this third play, the Packers played “Cover 1 Robber” out of the 2-4-5 nickel, and the Chargers went with an Empty backfield with their “12 personnel” (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR). When Dom Capers and his staff saw that the Chargers had two tight ends on the field, they had to know that a linebacker (Clay Matthews) had to cover Chargers TE Ladarius Green man-to-man if they called Cover 1 Robber. This was a mismatch from the start. Green ran a Fade route from the slot, which is one of the most difficult routes to cover, especially for a linebacker. Rivers’ accuracy was on display again here.

On the fourth and final play of this article, the Packers used their 1-4-6 dime and brought a six-man blitz with Cover 1 (man) behind it. Joe Thomas and Clay Matthews blitzed through the A and B gaps, respectively, and Casey Hayward blitzed from the strong side. Capers has sent this blitz in the past with positive results. Here, however, the Chargers “scatted” RB Danny Woodhead, which forced OLB Mike Neal to “peel” off and cover Woodhead. This was obviously a mismatch, but many man (Cover 1 and Cover 0) blitzes are designed to have the OLB/DE “peel” and cover a back out of the backfield if the back runs a route to the flat. The Chargers won the chess match again here.

Overall, the Packers defense struggled against the pass. However, they only allowed 20 points, and they finished strong. The Chargers’ last four possessions were: punt, field goal, punt, and turnover on downs. This is still a good defense, and it should be getting B.J. Raji, Nick Perry, and Morgan Burnett back soon. The Packers are 6-0 heading into the bye week, and many key players will be returning from injury, so Packers fans should feel fortunate.

Thanks for reading, Packers fans. Follow me on Twitter at @RobertOlson92 for daily analysis on the Packers.

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Comments (63)

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Lphill's picture

October 22, 2015 at 01:12 pm

I would have expected at least 2 or 3 interceptions considering how many throws Rivers made , you new it was coming out fast and yet nobody Jumped any routes , if Charles Woodson was playing he would have a career day .

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Evan's picture

October 22, 2015 at 01:44 pm

"...nobody Jumped any routes..."

Shields jumped a back-shoulder but dropped the INT.

I think Hayward and Dix also dropped INTs. So, there are your 2-3 INTs. They were just dropped.

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Idiot Fan's picture

October 22, 2015 at 02:20 pm

There was also the INT (Hayward, I think?) that almost certainly would have been a pick-six, but the play was blown dead (after the INT) due to a false start. It was literally a penalty by the Chargers that saved the game for them.

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Mojo's picture

October 22, 2015 at 04:10 pm

Yeah, I remember saying to the group I was with that the Chargers were actually rewarded with a penalty on the Chargers.

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Evan's picture

October 22, 2015 at 05:01 pm

There really should be a way for teams to decline the penalty and take the INT. I'm sure there are many complications, but teams shouldn't be rewarded by their own penalties.

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Duke Divine's picture

October 22, 2015 at 08:04 pm

A false start is a dead ball penalty. There is no play. Teams do not get rewarded for penalties they commit. Just because a few guys didn't hear the whistle in a loud Lambeau doesn't mean there is an actual play going on. Had the penalty been a live ball foul like an illegal formation or illegal shift/motion the play would have went on the the Packers could have declined the penalty and could have had the INT count.

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Chad Toporski's picture

October 23, 2015 at 06:08 am

I wonder why it's a dead ball penalty? Why not keep the play going and let the defense decide if they want to accept it?

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Evan's picture

October 23, 2015 at 07:12 am

It's a safety issue - RG moves early, d-line flies off the line and pile drives the QB before the rest of the o-line can get out of their stance.

I don't like that it's a deadball foul and wonder if there is some way to make it not one, but as I said above, there are probably way too many complications.

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RobinsonDavis's picture

October 25, 2015 at 11:59 am

You are right Evan and IdF! Thanks for the reminder!

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GVPacker's picture

October 22, 2015 at 04:39 pm

Good point Evan, and if Shields holds onto the ball we can take -3 off the Chargers point tally and the Packers have a 10 point cushion.

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Duke Divine's picture

October 22, 2015 at 07:59 pm

Shields and Hayward flat out dropped one INT each. Either one of those picks would have prevented the eventual scoring drive that followed. A stop on 4th down with no time on the clock at the end of the first half and just one of these INTS being made would have made this game a lot less tense.

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PETER MAIZ's picture

October 22, 2015 at 01:26 pm

Philip Rivers is an incredible quarterback. If we had not gotten an early lead, he would have probably won the game.
At least Peyton Manning will most likely not show that kind of performance.

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Evan's picture

October 22, 2015 at 01:49 pm

I'm putting the over/under on INTs against Manning at 2.5 and I'm taking the over.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

October 23, 2015 at 07:45 pm

Manning is throwing with a fraction of the velocity and less accuracy Rivers had on Sunday. It's apples and oranges.

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RCPackerFan's picture

October 22, 2015 at 01:59 pm

'Overall, the Packers defense struggled against the pass. However, they only allowed 20 points, and they finished strong. The Chargers’ last four possessions were: punt, field goal, punt, and turnover on downs. This is still a good defense, and it should be getting B.J. Raji, Nick Perry, and Morgan Burnett back soon. The Packers are 6-0 heading into the bye week, and many key players will be returning from injury, so Packers fans should feel fortunate.'

Written perfectly...

I think losing Raji was felt more then most thought. He has been great at creating penetration right up the middle. While he maybe wouldn't have gotten to Rivers very often (he got the ball out insanely fast), even if he is able to get into the backfield it could have forced Rivers to throw the ball late or off balance.
I'm not concerned with the defense at all.. I am however looking forward to getting all 3 starters back that they were missing in this game.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 22, 2015 at 10:04 pm

2 of our defensive linemen had excellent games: Daniels and Pennel. In addition, Datone showed up on many game ball lists due to some big splash plays, and he was fairly solid in addition to those plays. I am sure that Raji was missed, but he does not get home inside of 2 seconds, though when the initial read was not open and Rivers had to pull it down and reload, Raji probably would have helped on those plays.

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Dan Stodola's picture

October 22, 2015 at 11:12 pm

I didn't hear Pennel being mentioned anywhere as having an excellent game. Daniels had a very good game and Datone certainly did. Packers played a lot of nickel w/ SD being in pass mode all game, so its unlikely Pennel was even on the field too much, since he isn't one of the nickel Inside pass rushers. I honestly don't recall Pennel being mentioned at all or playing much.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 23, 2015 at 03:08 am

That is one of your problems. Mike Pennel got the best PFF mark on DL and was second on the team after T. J. Lang...
Not that I take seriously anything from PFF after they gave Palmer positive grade on very weak game with just 1 TD and 2 INT, but this is the easiest notification to you who mentioned Mike Pennel regarding his strong game...
Mike Pennel is not so well known player as B. J. is, so announcers ignorance is not excuse to not notice player...
If you would honestly watch the Packers games, you should notice all of the players who plays, especially if they are playing quite a lot!
Evidence:
https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2015/10/19/best-players-at-every-p...

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Dan Stodola's picture

October 24, 2015 at 01:06 am

Funny, but the link you provided doesn't mention Pennel at all. Got something you wanna provide that really lets us know? How many snaps did the great Pennel play? Its not hard to have a nice big grade if you only played a handful of snaps.

From what I could tell, Packers were in nickel 90% of the game (rough estimate). Pennel isn't one of the interior pass rushers in nickel.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 26, 2015 at 03:13 am

Here is the link from PFF. Pennel's grade was +4.8, best among all packers. Pennel played 24 snaps, about the same as Datone - (25 snaps, but Datone is not mentioned as one of the top 5 GB performers in the game). It is true that Daniels (+4.4) played 70 snaps and Guion played 54 snaps. No other DL played since Raji was injured/inactive.

Those snaps add up to 173, based on 92 offensive snaps for SD. That means GB had 1.88 DL on the field on average. According to PFF, Lang (+4.6) and Bakhtiari (+1.9) and Aaron Rodgers (+1.9) had the other good outings.

https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2015/10/19/sd-gb-grades-career-day...

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RCPackerFan's picture

October 23, 2015 at 06:21 am

Yeah, Daniels is have a great year. He is becoming a dominating player. And Datone Jones the last 3 weeks has really stepped up. He was great in this game.

The thing about Raji that has been so good is his penetration right up the middle. He has been able to get to the QB and RB's quick off the snap. And when he hasn't gotten into the backfield fast he helps allow the ILB's to get there with him occupying the blockers.

The way Rivers was getting rid of the ball so fast, he wouldn't have been in on every play and it probably wouldn't have changed the game a lot. But there would have been more plays affected by him.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 23, 2015 at 01:22 pm

Daniels leads all 3-4 DEs with 19 pressures. Best in the NFL at total pressure.

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RobinsonDavis's picture

October 25, 2015 at 12:26 pm

This is an interesting give and take point and great article! I agree with most of the Pro DL comments and will yield to the tape and experts at PFF on this one, especially the comments on Raji and Daniels tying-up opponents enabling others to pressure/tackle throughout the season. The Raji/Daniels duo has been tearing it up. However, I recall Rivers able to complete quick passes due to the lack of our secondary engaging receivers off the line (talked about in depth below), AND the Pack was not consistently getting pressure up the middle (except when CM blitzed), allowing Rivers to quickly step into a throw. Raji was missed and Daniels was definitely getting a lot of attention paid to him. Yet, PFF also ranked BOTH Chargers guards as the worst performers at their position this past week, so obviously our defensive interior was making plays. What do I know?

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mikekk's picture

October 22, 2015 at 02:50 pm

why is caper's defense incapable of taking one or two receivers out of the game? The Patriots do that all the time. Capers defense nope...at one point Banjo was covering K. Allen, really Capers a backup safety. Capers def. is toast when you have a good QB and a good receiver. The Patriots take away a teams best weapon, why cant we do that?

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PaulRosik's picture

October 22, 2015 at 04:53 pm

Packers defense has allowed less points, and even with the 500 yard day allowed less pass yards, and has more sacks and more interceptions than the Patriots defense. I think on the Patriots web site, they are asking why they can't have a defense as good as the Packers at defending the pass.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 23, 2015 at 03:05 am

Oh, another "Fire Dom Capers" guy...

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KenEllis's picture

October 22, 2015 at 03:20 pm

Regarding the statement, the "Chargers’ last four possessions were: punt, field goal, punt, and turnover on downs," was that in the point that Keenan Allen (and his 14 receptions for 157 yards) left the game?

I think that poor performance last Sunday was an outlier and the D is going to be pretty good, but I hate blaming injuries for a poor performance when the other teams have them as well -- think SD was missing multiple starting OLineman as well.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 23, 2015 at 05:43 am

Maybe you should blame injuries, because of that injuries Chargers were longer on the field than they should been. Our offense was not helping defense, and the reason you can read here:
http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/page/32for32x151021/ranking-most-banged-n...

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Big T's picture

October 22, 2015 at 03:31 pm

Rivers is a freakin whiny crybaby little biatch. He needed to be pyle driven to the turf. We need to stop being so nice to these whiny bitches. As Pat Benetar would say "Lets get Physical"

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4thand1's picture

October 22, 2015 at 04:45 pm

That was Olivia Newton John,lmao. Pat B would kick her lily ass.

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Norm's picture

October 22, 2015 at 04:46 pm

"Pat Benetar?"

"Forget it, he's rolling!"

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PackerBacker's picture

October 22, 2015 at 06:06 pm

Ha, nice.

Why would someone "dislike" this? I think there's some dickhead going through here just disliking everything. What a tool.

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4thand1's picture

October 22, 2015 at 08:17 pm

You hit the nail on the "dickhead"

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 22, 2015 at 10:13 pm

He dissed my Olivia Newton John, though! But you are right, there has been someone disliking most comments.

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Dan Stodola's picture

October 22, 2015 at 11:14 pm

We've had the discussion on who that is already. Can we just accept its going to be the case and ignore it?

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calabasa's picture

October 23, 2015 at 11:24 am

No shit. I miss the days of the Broncos-Chargers matchups just to watch Cutler and Rivers get their panties in a bunch, yelling at each other.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsSpYLU7Ig0

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PackerBacker's picture

October 22, 2015 at 04:06 pm

Still don't understand why CM3 doesn't jack up Green at the line of scrimmage. How are you going to allow that type of fast TE a free release at the LOS. He's going to lose that every time.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 22, 2015 at 10:20 pm

Well said. Look at all 4 plays. No packer touches the receiver at the line. They are all free releases. [It might have been hard for Neal to bump Woodhead as he had to peel off.] I miss Al Harris. Can we bring him in for a seminar on how to bump and redirect receivers?

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Nick Perry's picture

October 24, 2015 at 07:35 am

Clearly he learned because he "Jacked Up" Gates on the Chargers final play!!

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GVPacker's picture

October 22, 2015 at 04:47 pm

This game reminded me of the Wild Card game against Arizona in 2009. Instead of Kurt Warner slicing up the Packers secondary it was Philip Rivers. Will the Chargers Offensive Game Plan be the Blue Print that teams with a competent QB use to light up the Packers Defense in the very near future?

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Oppy's picture

October 22, 2015 at 05:28 pm

Very few teams have the arm talent to execute the way the chargers did vs. the Packers D.

I can study all the early Mike Tyson footage I want, I'm never going to be able to get in the ring with a title contender and knock him out in less than a minute.

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PackerBacker's picture

October 22, 2015 at 05:39 pm

Peyton Manning next week. Not as strong as he used to be, but short routes and quick passes don't need strength.

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Dan Stodola's picture

October 22, 2015 at 05:54 pm

Manning is done being a quality QB anymore. Short throws generally have smaller windows and less time to hit that window. Still helps to have arm strength.

Have you watched Manning this year? He's terrible. He's 45th in the NFL in QB rating. 72.5! 7 TD's and 10 INT's. And Denver has probably already accounted for his lack of arm strength to help him.

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PackerBacker's picture

October 22, 2015 at 06:09 pm

Maybe. I know he's had a crap season. Believe me, nothing would make me happier than to see them dominate Manning.

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porupack's picture

October 22, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Well, all too often we see such stats of opposing players improve after playing Capers' Defense, so pardon my skepticism, but all the pre-game discredit to other team players either as 'no-names' or 'in decline' seem to result in 'break-outs' and 'turn-arounds'.

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PackerBacker's picture

October 22, 2015 at 05:37 pm

We should be able to find out how good Dom Capers' self-scout is next week. Manning doesn't have the arm he did a few years ago, but he's smart enough to be able to get the pre-snap read and get the ball out quick. Plus arm strength is less of an issue on shorter routes.
If they still struggle next week, this could be an issue.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 22, 2015 at 10:23 pm

A possible difference is that Rivers can still throw a nice deep pass. Looks like Manning no longer can throw deep, which should allow our DBs to sit on or jump more underneath routes. We will find out in 10 days or so.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 23, 2015 at 05:45 am

Do not count on that. Last week Sanders TD was 20+ beauty! So, Peyton maybe does not posses skills to do that throws all the time, but he can bite you if you underestimate him... Like old snake...

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4thand1's picture

October 24, 2015 at 08:21 am

Manning also has a week to rest. An extra week for him to study game film. Don't worry, he hears all the critics too, and he will have his best game of the season.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 22, 2015 at 10:35 pm

A fine article.

2 of the plays involved Shields (and Dix). Does Shields ever bump anyone? Is he just bad at it?

The other two plays showed OLBs in mismatches (though both LBs hustled and Rivers needed to throw a decent pass to complete the pass or in Nealś case to lead the RB well to turn it into a long gain.

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Dan Stodola's picture

October 22, 2015 at 11:24 pm

Shields plays the WR close to the LOS, but doesn't actually press the WR and engage him too often. Shields relies on his speed and outstanding athleticism as a CB, not his physicality.

Both plays involving Shields and Clinton-Dix seemed to be mistakes on Ha Ha more than anything IMO. If he's in 4 deep zone coverage, it doesn't seem to make sense to go underneath Shields to cover the deep out. And the other one he seemed to run a circle around the WR.

I'm sure Rivers was purposely influencing him w/ his eyes.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 23, 2015 at 03:14 am

Now I'm sure... You have to purchase glasses...

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porupack's picture

October 22, 2015 at 11:49 pm

Robert, Thanks for such excellent article, great use of diagram followed by gif. Really appreciate it, and credit to CHTV to awesome site.

I see your point on example 1 and 4, where coverage was excellent, but Rivers was outstanding.

What I see in example 2 is poor situational awareness by middle ILB. at 3rd and 17, he didn't float back far enough to fill deep middle space. This seems way to common for Defense to yield 3rd and long. This is on Capers for not having players better prepared for the situation IMO.

On example 3, Safety doesn't recognize the penetration by TE on his left, and for some reason is drawn to far to the right. Not sure if just mental error, or he is seeing a threat that I don't see.

I appreciate your point that Rivers was pinpoint exceptional, but I also know good teams take out the opponents' strengths. Plenty of teams have made Rivers look bad.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 23, 2015 at 03:20 am

"Plenty of teams have made Rivers look bad." - Hardly to support this claim with his 2nd most pass yards before he came to Green Bay... Rivers shares No 11 place by number of INT... Total 5 of them... So it is not like other teams were made him looks bad... Also, do not forget, Rivers had QBR under 100 against Packers, while he has average QBR 102.8! And so on...

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porupack's picture

October 22, 2015 at 11:59 pm

So to your opening paragraph, to have perspective on a game where Rivers generates over 500 yards, I'm not sure what yet to conclude other than maybe half the plays were simply outstanding performance by Rivers, and half of the plays were weak defense, and Rivers should have had about 250 yard passing night if GBP defense was prepared to challenge.
GBP D has potential, but its not in top 10 yet. I'll challenge most stats that suggest otherwise with this one (yielding 500+ yards).

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croatpackfan's picture

October 23, 2015 at 03:27 am

Can you answer me: Would you accept that Packers D give on every and each of 13 games more than 500 yards passing or more than 550 yards total and win all of those games by 7 point difference, or you would prefere Packers to be number one D and lose 7 of next 10 games and finish their season before start of the post season?

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porupack's picture

October 23, 2015 at 07:16 am

Do I have to chose? Maybe with better performance, I could have both? I'm happy for the win, but the whole point of the article is to dissect why/how Rivers got record performance.

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veteranviewer's picture

October 23, 2015 at 03:46 am

It would seem to me that 80% of Rivers' passes were short timing passes. I didn't see the Packer's linebackers or DBs jamming the Chargers receivers at the line of scrimmage and up to 5 yards downfield to throw that timing off and I wonder why the Packers weren't pressing the Chargers receivers more. Any answers?

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Lphill's picture

October 23, 2015 at 07:04 am

Exactly my point no jamming at the line when everyone knew it would be quick short passes , how could they allow it the whole game.

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porupack's picture

October 23, 2015 at 07:17 am

Exactly to your exactly.

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4thand10's picture

October 24, 2015 at 11:41 am

Rivers got rid of the ball very fast. I agree on jamming the receivers. Rivers ran a classic west coast offense (slants/crossing) that is perfect for certain types of defenses. On the flip side of that, GB can run any type of offense they choose. Yes, I like the big play...who doesn't? But sometimes, and especially against a cover 2 GB needs to incorporate more west coast style and quit pressing the big play if it is not there. Also could have ran the ball a bit more. I think towards the middle of last year and all year this year I finally quit harping on the defense. Rivers was good for this defense in a way because now it has been tested against every type of offense out there....hard running college read option (Seattle/ SanFran), West coast (Chargers). I have high hopes because this defense is seasoned and evolving. This GB team being rested, getting healthier...man, I'm excited. Hopefully we get a fresh Lacy for the second half of the season....that will be big.

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Dan Stodola's picture

October 24, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Teams aren't playing cover 2 or 2 deep schemes against the Packers tho. Teams are regularly putting 8 in the box, leaving 1 safety deep and playing to stop the run and short/intermediate zones. The Packers haven't given teams a reason to use 2 deep or cover 2 against them.

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lucky953's picture

October 25, 2015 at 12:51 am

Well, the shocking thing was how well the Chargers o-line played. Yes, Rivers gets it out quick but it still takes time for a guy to run 20+ yds downfield to catch that "quick release". I thought the Pack would be able to consistently collapse that patchwork pocket. The Chargers played like the professional football players they're supposed to be.

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