Film Study: Another Week of Defensive Struggles

Robert Olson examines some of the poor execution and playcalling by the Packers defense and coaching staff at Carolina.

For the second straight week, the Packers offense and defense underperformed on the road. It was going to be difficult for the Packers to win at Denver and at Carolina, but as many people have pointed out, it was how the Packers lost each of those games. After a strong start to the season, the Packers defense has really struggled since the Chargers game. This article will focus on the Packers defense at Carolina. As always, it is up to the players to execute on every play, but as you will see below, there were also some plays where Dom Capers deserves blame.

On this first play, the Packers played Cover 1 out of the 2-4-5 nickel. Obviously, Cam Newton is a mobile quarterback, so if you play a man coverage like Cover 1 against that kind of quarterback, you need to have a spy. In traditional Cover 1, there is a free defender who is not responsible for covering anyone in man. Here, the free defender was Clay Matthews (circled in red), and he was used as a rover/zone defender (not a spy). Matthews did his job well, and the coverage in the secondary was very tight. However, nobody could account for Newton, who was able to run for a 23-yard gain. Why? Because Dom Capers did not use Matthews (the free defender) as a spy. There is no problem with playing Cover 1 versus a mobile quarterback, but the free defender has to be a spy since almost all of the other defenders have their backs turned.

On this second play, it was 3rd & 16. The Packers played “Cover 3 Buzz” out of the 1-4-6 dime. The two outside 1/3 defenders and deep middle 1/3 defender are illustrated by the red arrows, the two curl to flat defenders are illustrated by the green arrows, and the three hook zone defenders are illustrated by the yellow arrows.

First off, calling Cover 3 Buzz with a three-man rush on this down and distance is not a good decision at all by Capers. On 3rd & 16, keeping two safeties back and calling Cover 4 or Cover 2 with a four-man rush would have been much more logical. Now, let’s focus on the lack of execution by the players, particularly Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix was the deep middle 1/3 defender. Jerricho Cotchery, the #1 wide receiver at the very bottom, ran a Post route. Simply put, Clinton-Dix should not allow a Post route to go uncovered in his deep middle 1/3. That is a route that a deep middle 1/3 safety is in position to cover. However, Cotchery went uncovered on his 59-yard completion here.

The third play that this article will analyze also features Clinton-Dix. The Packers were in the base 3-4. It is difficult to be 100 percent certain whether the Packers were playing Cover 3 or Cover 1 on this play, but it looks like Cover 3 based on the way Matthews and Morgan Burnett are dropping back and the way Damarious Randall (at the very top) is using the “press bail” technique. Nevertheless, focus on Clinton-Dix in his deep middle 1/3 (red arrow). As the deep middle 1/3 defender, he has to be deeper than the deepest. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (split out at the bottom) ran a Dig (Deep In) route, which caused Clinton-Dix to hesitate. Clinton-Dix should not allow that route to occupy him. When he watches the tape of this play, he will realize that he needed to gain more depth with his backpedal and help Randall with the Post route. Although Randall technically allowed this 52-yard completion, his coverage was very tight, and Clinton-Dix should have been in position to help him contest the pass.

The fourth and final play that this article will examine is another play involving Damarious Randall. On this 14-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Devin Funchess, the Packers used their 2-4-5 nickel and ran a six-man blitz with Cover 0 behind it. Since it is Cover 0, Randall should know that he cannot let Funchess get inside of him (circled in red). However, Randall’s technique in press man was poor, and he allowed Funchess to get inside for the touchdown.

The mistakes and breakdowns by the Packers defenders over the past three games should be correctable. It is not only on the players, though. The coaches need to be better as well. Dom Capers receives a lot of blame, but Joe Whitt, Jr. and Darren Perry need to stress technique and fundamentals much more in order to correct these issues moving forward.

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

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Comments (31)

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brewers_rule's picture

November 12, 2015 at 01:17 pm

I'm still trying to understand why the spy concept wasn't the plan going into this game? Haven't spies been used on mobile QB's going back to freaking Elway's time? You contain Cam and that shuts down 2/3 of their offense, doesn't it?

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Spud Rapids's picture

November 13, 2015 at 10:55 am

The problem with a spy is that it usually results in a 1 on 1 situation between a linebacker and a more athletic QB. Yes Matthews is a freak athlete but QB's like Newton, Wilson, Kaepernick are going to be able to juke him in open space. Seems to me like it wastes a defender. I'd rather see disciplined pass rush that keeps a QB in the pocket... make him beat you with his arm.

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zoellner25's picture

November 12, 2015 at 01:26 pm

Wow, great story. Why have CM3 play coverage on that first one and not spy a QB who loves to run is stupid. I cannot understand why Capers called that coverage on the 2nd play, esp. with his 3-man rush, which I don't think has worked once in his 5 years here. Baffling really.

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Big T's picture

November 12, 2015 at 02:45 pm

TT/MM and Dom are trying to prove that you can try the same thing over and over and over and over and change the end result.

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D Ernesto's picture

November 12, 2015 at 06:20 pm

I 200% agree with Jimmy Johnson "You can't coach speed"
Our D back are slow of foot, smallish and so so tacklers.
This is what the coaches have to work with. Were not talking Smith and Rhodes and Munderline of the Vikings who are 6'2 and bone crushing tacklers who can cover.
These are guys passed over by 31 other teams more then 4 times so they knew something.
If Randall was so good how come no other team took him. DB's are a premium and you never pass on a good one.27 other teams did

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murphy's picture

November 12, 2015 at 10:37 pm

Munderline(sic) was a 7th rounder and wasn't drafted by the Vikings. They must have known something.

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FITZCORE1252's picture

November 12, 2015 at 11:27 pm

Your dong is smallish.

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Bearmeat's picture

November 13, 2015 at 08:12 am

lol

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Dan Stodola's picture

November 12, 2015 at 07:10 pm

The way I see it, is that Capers can only call plays based on expected offensive plays and down and distance. Have to remember the headset gets shut down well before the snap. So Capers can only call plays on what he THINKS the offense Might do based on down and distance.

Once Capers calls the defensive play, its on the players on the field to identify the formation the offense comes out in. If that doesn't match what the defense that Capers guessed might be (again based on D and D), the players have to make the defensive audibles on the field to match what the offense is doing.

Way too much guess work from Capers presnap, which is unavoidable, that then has to be on the players on the field.

The helmet mic is off a good 10 sec presnap or more IIRC. Its virtually impossible for Capers to guess correctly. The other part of the equation is the players on the field who are primarily responsible, the ILB and to a lesser extent the Safeties, have been or are inexperienced players and making defensive calls.

None of us has any freakin clue what Capers called and how much is on Capers and how much is on the players. My guess is its more on the players having to adjust and audible.

Not making excuses for Capers or the players, but the simple fact is none of us has much of a clue where blame belongs!

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 12, 2015 at 07:49 pm

Can we have guesses too? Or is it just for you?

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Dan Stodola's picture

November 12, 2015 at 08:25 pm

You're only not guessing if you know what Capers call was. So that means you and I and the author are all guessing! Best Capers can do is put personnel on the field based on D and D and guess at the play the offense is making. Get it? Got it? Good.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 12, 2015 at 09:43 pm

Soooooo, that obviously went over your head.

I apologize, sir.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 13, 2015 at 08:55 am

"Its virtually impossible for Capers to guess correctly."

I guess there really is no reason for Capers to send down a defensive play at all. I wonder if that might improve things.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 13, 2015 at 09:19 am

I don't think we have the type of leadership at the right position(s) to be able to pull off audibles (not just hot reads).

We don't have a 3 down MLB
We have interchangeable safeties

It could cause even more problems.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 13, 2015 at 10:40 am

We need a sarcasm font. My comment was meant to be facetious.

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LeagueObsrvr's picture

November 13, 2015 at 03:54 pm

I agree with this. We have to remember that the Packers have a lot of young players in their secondary, the warts of inexperience are going to show up a lot, even for a guy like HHCD, who is only in his second season. I just hope they can get it together soon, because this team needs it.

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JGPACK's picture

November 12, 2015 at 07:48 pm

Good article. One small point. LeRoy Butler says that Burnett was responsible for Cotchery and I tend to go with him on what a safety should have done.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 12, 2015 at 07:59 pm

That's interesting.

If the diagram up above is accurate, I don't see how Burnett could be responsible for Cotchery. Now,if the diagram is wrong and Burnett wasn't supposed to play Robber - that's different.

I would think the order of responsibility fell on HHCD, since he was supposed to have covered the middle first and then (a small amount) to the outside CB (since the pass came to his side of the field and in his zone).

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 13, 2015 at 07:08 am

Just looking at the play again, it feels like it should have been Burnett playing deeper. He started moving up once he saw Newton rolling out running. I'm assuming he thought he was going to run, but in reality Packers already had 2 defenders in that area, he should have been deeper.

Now I'm not a coach or former player, so I don't know 100% if thats right, but listening to former players that is what it seems like he should have done. So on that play I would place more blame on Burnett then Clinton-Dix.
This all being said, what I don't get is when your in a zone type of defense. If there is 1 guy running right in front of you wide open, why not go stick with that guy? I see this done a lot and I don't understand that.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 13, 2015 at 09:36 am

At the snap, Burnett was already coming down playing the Robber. By the time Burnett bounced backwards a couple of times the WR had already got behind Burnett. How was he supposed to know someone was behind him if he's facing the QB? Even if Burnett were to stay flat footed at the first down mark, the WR's post would still be open.

After HHCD reached the NFL logo he should have stayed squared while backpedaling. He had the perfect depth.

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John Galt III's picture

November 12, 2015 at 07:58 pm

I get negative votes but McCarthy and staff are plodders (slow to react). That does not mean they are bad people or bad coaches. It means they have a game strategy and they use it until the game is over pretty much. They have shown over and over they do not change things on the fly if it is clear that their strategy does not work. We see it. They don't.

Example: Fans have commented on McCarthy play calling abilities that they believed were deficient. It took years for McCarthy to drop play calling duties, but he did it,

Last week there was an article about bunching up our receivers to let them get open. Most people agreed it is a good idea, so lets see if McCarthy and company do that. That is what I mean.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 12, 2015 at 08:05 pm

"Most people agreed it is a good idea, so lets see if McCarthy and company do that."

But they already run that formation. Would you like to see more of it?

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 13, 2015 at 09:01 am

I have no clue as to what your point is. What I deduce is that you're asserting that it is not bad coaching to be slow to react, fail to change a game strategy even if it is not working until the game is pretty much over.

So, are you suggesting they are good coaches or bad coaches? If you think they are good coaches, I wouldn't hire you as their PR guy.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 13, 2015 at 09:55 am

I'm saying that the things some are complaining about - the coaches are already calling those plays/formations. They're just not being executed. It's that simple.

What did we not see (at all) in the first half that worked in the second half of the Panthers game???

Drag routes
Slants
Quick WR outs (or WR screens. However you want to look at it)
RB flare
Screen (to Lacy where Kuhn whiffed and gave up IMMEDIATE pressure!)

Seen it all.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 13, 2015 at 05:35 pm

Your meaning was clear. I was responding to John Galt III, not to you, Drealyn.

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John Galt III's picture

November 13, 2015 at 06:05 pm

Do you follow the GB Packers or the KC Chiefs? The Packer blogs for years have said McCarthy play calling is seriously deficient. After everyone saying this for years, McCarthy finally gives up.

I will repeat, I think the Packer coaches are slow to change. If you think they adapt quickly you are 100% wrong.

Another example: Special Teams. Have you been paying any attention? They have been bad for years. Finally after a coaching change suggested here and elsewhere since the Stone Age, they changed coaches.

That is slow to react and that is my point.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 13, 2015 at 08:51 am

1st: from the 3rd video, we need to sign that referee pronto. He has the best backpedal I've seen in the GB secondary all year.

2nd: CM3 perhaps should have spied Newton, but I loved watching him deck the crossing receiver (right at the 5 yard limit). What a concept!

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Spud Rapids's picture

November 13, 2015 at 11:24 am

I have an issue with some of the statements in this article and I'll get to the them below.

Now for my rant... I have a bigger issue with all the arm chair analysis we seem to be so confident in. Fact of the matter is I know very little about NFL scheme and preparation compared to the professionals as I'm sure many of us on here don't. Last time I prepared for a football game was when I was a high schooler. All of this extra coverage of the NFL and the fantasy football craze has made us a delusional society in that we don't know what we are talking about but somehow our critique of play calling and scheme has legitimacy in our eyes. More times than not we are just having emotional outbursts because we are not happy with the result and it turns into endless, redundant pontificating of how inferior the organization is. Just watch the game and accept one team was better that day.

Ok here is my issue from above:

"First off, calling Cover 3 Buzz with a three-man rush on this down and distance is not a good decision at all by Capers."

Why isn't that a good decision... the result was because of blown coverage not the call.

"On 3rd & 16, keeping two safeties back and calling Cover 4 or Cover 2 with a four-man rush would have been much more logical."

Why is this much more logical? The weakness of cover 2 is the deep corner route for around 15-20 yards in between the corner in the flat and the safety. That is exactly the yardage they need on 3rd and 16. Why would you put in a defensive call that the weakness is exactly what the offense needs?

"Now, let’s focus on the lack of execution by the players, particularly Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix was the deep middle 1/3 defender."

Exactly... lack of execution. Why did you just have two long statements about play calling then call out lack of execution.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 13, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Finally! There's back up.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 13, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Also, on that final GIF, who was the LCB? Why was Greg Olsen mistakenly doubled?

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khoavq's picture

November 14, 2015 at 09:13 am

"OO"

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