Opponents Using Delayed Routes To Combat Fire Zones

The Packers defense is getting killed by late-releasing tight ends and running backs when Capers calls his signature pressure plays.

Dom Capers' defense has come under a bit of fire early in the 2011 season, and for good reason. They have allowed their first two opponents to move the ball almost at will, especially on third down. Yes, some of that can be attributed to the fact that they faced Drew Brees and New Orleans' high powered offense. They followed that up by having to face Cam Newton and Steve Smith without Tramon Williams (and Nick Collins later in the game.) But both performances featured something that has become all too common from opponents facing Capers' pressure packages - late releasing tight ends and running backs running drag routes over a barren middle of the field when Capers attempts to use his fire zones.

The concept is simple - the offense keeps one or two tight ends and/or running backs in for blitz pick up. After the initial rushers make their way up-field,  a back or a tight end will release (either off of a block or after finding themselves without anyone to block) and cut across the middle of the field, which the secondary has vacated to cover receivers downfield.

We've seen this again and again over the course of the last year. The first time I really noticed a team doing this to great effect was the first Detroit game last year, when Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan used a variety of late releases and straight up tight end screen passes to combat Capers' fire zones.

While teams didn't really seem to copy that attack too much last year, both opponents the Packers have faced this year have used it quite a bit. It's starting to look like coordinators saw how well this technique worked and have used the offseason to gameplan accordingly, because through the first two games of this still-young 2011 season it is absolutely killing the Packers.

And you can bet Mike Martz will be using Matt Forte this way a whole bunch come Sunday.

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Comments (39)

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Bassmanzim's picture

September 20, 2011 at 01:50 pm

What can Capers do to adjust moving forward?

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RockinRodgers's picture

September 20, 2011 at 01:51 pm

So how does Dom counter this?

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dullgeek's picture

September 20, 2011 at 01:57 pm

I saw that at the game on Sunday. It happened a *LOT*. The RB or TE would release into the middle and there was no one even close to them.

So do you zone blitz and drop a lineman into coverage?

Do you not blitz and hope the line gets pressure?

Do blitzing LB's have to pancake the RB or TE so that he can't release into the soft underbelly?

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PackerAaron's picture

September 20, 2011 at 02:17 pm

My two cents (which isn't even worth that) - Capers needs to use a page out of Spagnuolo's playbook and have guys feint their blitzes and then pull out of them into coverage, and vice versa. You see some guys line up as if they're going to blitz and then bail, but you rarely see them take steps toward the passer after the snap of the ball and then drop or see them take two steps back as if they're going to drop and then blitz. Mixing in some deception like this would make the reads harder for the QB.

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Bearmeat's picture

September 20, 2011 at 06:11 pm

I saw the Steelers do this throughout their playoff run and in the super bowl a bunch. It certainly wouldn't hurt to try it, and it seems like it would work well against younger OL and QB's....

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PackersRS's picture

September 20, 2011 at 06:39 pm

Jimmy Johnson's Eagles were the best at it.

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Shaun's picture

September 20, 2011 at 01:59 pm

Leave Woodson in the middle to spy on Forte.

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RockinRodgers's picture

September 20, 2011 at 02:32 pm

Almost half the passing yards the Packers have given up this year have come from RB and TE. 381 yards.

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Nerdmann's picture

September 20, 2011 at 02:35 pm

Let them do that, but have Burnett come flying in to pick it off and take it the other way.

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Ian's picture

September 20, 2011 at 02:41 pm

Delayed routes are some of the toughest for a defense to pick up, especially for a read-and-react group of LBs like the Packers have. The best medicine is to get the pressure there first and not allow the time for these delayed routes to develop. I suppose you could have an LB or Woodson spy Forte, but that doesn't seem Capers' style.

Great read, Mr. Nagler!

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fishandcrane's picture

September 20, 2011 at 02:56 pm

Teams have to use their te's and rb's. They may not want to...but wr's are closed for business. Always a good thing I imagine despite the yardage..

IT"s EARLY! This is a marathon physically and schematically to February.

Regardless...down 13-0 and being shredded...I think the Packers still felt like they still were going to control the game.

We have to remind ourselves as we calmly watch our D in the new era- there are playmakers everywhere- and future and potential NFL Hall of Famers - (I now light my lighter in trib to Nick Collins)

Oh, .... and our O.

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Bob's picture

September 20, 2011 at 03:10 pm

5 Offensive lineman and a tightend or back plus quarterback = 7. 3 defensive lineman and 2 blitzers = 5. You have 6 defenders in coverage on 4 receivers. Shouldn't be to much trouble to find someone to cover late route runners.

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PackerAaron's picture

September 20, 2011 at 03:17 pm

The trouble is, you see this a lot on 3rd down and guys get run off past the sticks. The TE or RB run underneath the coverage and get to the necessary yardage before the secondary and the backers are able to close.

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packallday555's picture

September 21, 2011 at 03:34 pm

This. It theory, like Bob points out, we usually have the guys to cover it. But you've gotta take into account that guys are playing zones. The offense's are almost undoubtedly running guys through certain zones to pull our zones back further, and then releasing their RB or TE into that vacant spot.

Great read by the way!

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BTF's picture

September 20, 2011 at 03:10 pm

Nice article. TY.

Hopefully we get Williams back and can move Woodson inside in the nickel which may help and Capers can make the necessary adjustments.

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MarkinMadison's picture

September 20, 2011 at 04:12 pm

Agreed. I felt like if Williams had been on Smith, then Woodson would have at least taken away the TE.

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Scott in China's picture

September 20, 2011 at 04:02 pm

OK. This is exactly why Nagler should be credentialed. Awesome stuff. Maybe we should just start calling you "Hack" Nagler.

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PackerAaron's picture

September 20, 2011 at 04:04 pm

Lol. Thanks man.

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FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

September 20, 2011 at 06:46 pm

I've been calling him a hack for years. :-P

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PackersRS's picture

September 20, 2011 at 04:22 pm

With Collins, IMHO the answer would be mix some cover 0 on 3rd downs. If the TE and/or RB stay, the players responsible for them play coverage near the 1st down line, and react to any delayed route.

But without Collins, I sincerely doubt that Capers trusts Peprah and Bush to play man in that situation.

I would mix Cover 1 and Cover 3 on most 3rd and mediums or shorts, would dial down the blitz, use them against the shotgun almost only on long situations.

Also, would stop using Clay Matthews as a spy, and would let them rush with no contain principles against Cutler.

Great article. Hadn't noticed it.

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Packers Freak's picture

September 20, 2011 at 04:55 pm

Good observation. I didn't catch this while watching the games, but now that you say it, I remember it happening quite a bit.

Also probably explains why it appears that the redzone D is playing so well. The closer they get to the goal line the less a factor this becomes.

It would help if the blitzing players would get to the QB though, seems like there blitz hasn't been as effective so far.

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PackerAaron's picture

September 20, 2011 at 06:48 pm

" seems like the blitz hasn’t been as effective so far."

Against Carolina this was mostly due to the number of guys the Panthers kept in to block. Esp early, they were running two or even one man routes with everyone else in to protect. You can do that when you have a dynamic receiver like Steve Smith who is capable of winning against coverage more often that not.

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FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

September 20, 2011 at 06:50 pm

32nd in pass defense, much of that with Collins. Adjustments will be made. I dont care if we're getting no push, there is no excuse for that with the talent we have on the field and in the coaches box...collins or not.

GBP 4 LIFE

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davyjones's picture

September 20, 2011 at 07:59 pm

Did you get boobs in your face for your birthday last week?

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FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

September 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Davy, I'm proud to report that I sure did. Good times... Great oldies.

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jaydubya's picture

September 20, 2011 at 07:19 pm

I'm going out on a limb here, and guessing maybe Dom is giving a look, early in the season, for opponents to study on film, and then have a few rabbits in his hat awaiting unsuspecting/unprepared opponents for later in the season, or even playoffs, when things really start to matter. ( kinda worked for us last year )

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jaydubya's picture

September 20, 2011 at 07:58 pm

Jeessh, that came off sounding kinda condescending. Aaron please know that I really appreciate your wise insight, and that of many others here as well. My apologies. ;-)

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FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

September 20, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Hope you are right dubya.

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Cow42's picture

September 20, 2011 at 08:48 pm

Bring rushers right at the te's & rb's. Can't run a route then. Or just let it happen. Bears have been doing it forever-keep everything in front of you, come up and hit after the catch, shut things down in the rz. Problem is pack doesn't tackle as well as the bears.

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packsmack25's picture

September 20, 2011 at 09:31 pm

This is also the reason that the Red Zone defense has been so good. You can't run those delayed routes to as great of an effect when you run out of room. I hope teams dink and dunk like this all year and stall in the Red Zone.

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FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

September 20, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Valid point. While it would suck to watch,i would gladly concede gaudy yardage numbers to the opposing offense so long as we are not giving up gaudy point totals. That after all is the only defensive start worth the paper it's written on, everything else is just window dressing.

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FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

September 20, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Although I dont think you could characterize what we've been giving up as dinking and dunking, more like gauging and shredding.

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FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

September 20, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Or even gouging. Lol

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darrin's picture

September 20, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Great stuff, everyone. I noticed many times a back or TE open just beyond the line of scrimmage with 10 yards to run. Makes sense. Would seem they need more pressure from the down linemen and not rely on blitzing LB or corner. Would Neal help? If I were Martz, I'd run deep routes on WR and release Forte over the middle assuming Jay-baby isn't already on his back. Maybe Dom knows this (of course he does!) already. Can't wait for Sunday. Hope Claymaker tees up on Cutler.

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Jordan's picture

September 21, 2011 at 01:10 pm

"While teams didn't really seem to copy that attack too much last year, both opponents the Packers have faced this year have used it quite a bit."

100% correct.

Steelers/Rothlesburger also blew several chances to match Mendenhall up on Hawk. Rothlesburger fortunately made many poor decisions in SB XLV and wasn't patient.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Capers is extremely taxed right now trying to keep Hawk out of coverage. It's like 11 on 10 right now cuz Hawk's pass rush is feeble. Packers are getting no coverage from Hawk and no pass rush.....and a bunch of missed tackles. Hawk is good in the red zone but from 20 to 20, it's painful to watch.

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PackersRS's picture

September 21, 2011 at 02:00 pm

You know, you're right, and that intrigues me, because it wasn't happening last year, in fact PFF graded him positively in pass coverage if I'm not mistaken.

What is strange is that, also if I'm correct, he is the playcaller on defense. So it all but excludes the possibility of him not being "protected" anymore this year in coverage by Dom Capers.

It could be physical form, but then again that leap he made in the endzone in week 1 was pretty athletic, specially considering how late in the game it happened.

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PackerAaron's picture

September 21, 2011 at 02:11 pm

I think, as I wrote above, teams have just had all summer (including the lockout where coaches were left with nothing to do but break down the same tape over and over) to pick apart the weakest points of the Packers defense. Hawk was picked on a bit last year but Jordan is right, so far both teams the Packers have faced seem to be targeting him especially.

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maxginsberg's picture

September 21, 2011 at 03:17 pm

A good offensive coordinator can isolate almost any player in pass coverage. In two weeks, the Packers have faced two good offenses, and while others will attempt to isolate Hawk, they may not be as effective. The chess match continues...

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packallday555's picture

September 21, 2011 at 03:39 pm

Great comment. Totally agree. Hawk in coverage is SO painful too watch. He just can't match up with RB's and keep them in check.

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