Packers Broncos Film Study - Waste in Bunches

After the Broncos' defense demolished the once vaunted Packers passing attack Sunday Night, a lot of people came to realize something I (and others) have been asking about for some time. Why do the Packers continue to predominantly feature a downfield, isolation route heavy passing scheme when their receivers aren't able to beat press coverage? (Probably becasue that's what Rodgers wants, but let's put that aside for now).

This first came to my attention last year in the Packers' opening game versus the Seahawks. The Seahawks played aggressively on the Packers' receivers, daring them to beat press coverage and get open man to man. They kept 7-8 in the box to minimize the Packers run game (Lacy and Starks were both limited to yardage in the 30s) and got after Rodgers hard and often, finishing with three sacks and multiple pressures. Also remember that the Packers' did not once throw to Richard Sherman's side, keeping Jordy Nelson away from him all night. It allowed Nelson to haul in 9 catches, but it wasn't nearly enough.

Fast forward to 2015, with Jordy Nelson out and Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery all missing games due to injury and the Packers find themselves answering media questions all week about what they can do to get their receivers open. 

Well, I have a suggestion, and I've been championing the idea since early last season. It's something Mike McCarthy rarely has in his offensive game plan - the use of bunch formations in the passing attack. 

Bunch formations are one way to effectively beat press coverage and get your receivers more free releases. Of course, it's only one of many tactics that can be used, but I've focused on bunch formations because I've seen other teams use them so effectively and yet they are almost non-existent in the Packers offense. This from a coach who says he has enough game day plays to play 2-3 games.

Before I go further with the bunch theme, first let me turn you on to an excellent article written this week by Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated's MMQB.com. I highly recommend you read the entire article, but here's the money excerpt:

So Green Bay’s problem is defeating man coverage. The answer as to how to fix this is the same as for all the other teams suffering poor receiver play: more “man-beater” play designs. If guys aren’t getting open physically, help them get open tactically.
 
Examples of “man-beaters” include intertwined crossing routes; trips bunches with receivers crisscrossing in their releases off of the line; pre-snap motion (something you almost never see from the static Packers); stack releases, with one receiver lined up behind another (think Julian Edelman and the Patriots); and the most popular route concept in today’s quick-passing NFL: natural rubs and picks. What all these concepts have in common is that they cross up receivers in some fashion, meaning defenders must back off lest they run into one another chasing the criss-crossers. This approach is antithetical to the spread isolation routes of Green Bay’s scheme.
 
So while Andy give you a multitude of possibilities, let's focus here on the one thing I've been screaming about for the last year or so, bunch formations.
 
Last week during our bye week edition of CheeseHead Radio, we interviewed Rob Demovsky, Packers reporter for ESPN.com. As we were discussing the issues facing the Packers receivers, I brought up the topic of bunch formations and we all agreed, the Packers just don't do it much, if at all, and no one knows why. 
 
The bye week, of course, is a week for self scouting and we can be sure the Packers examined ways to resolve the issue facing the Packers passing attack. As I prepared to watch the game Monday night, I wondered with antici....... pation what new wrinkles we would see from the Packers. By all accounts from multiple experts closer to the game and more knowledgeable about the inner workings than any of us are, not much was changed.
 
You predominantly saw the same passing attack Andy describes in his post. How could this be? How could we not try to fix this problem? Well, I had to find out for myself, so I went back and watched the All-22 coaches' film. 
 
As an aside, the play-by-play study of the Packers offense in this game bore out what I felt watching the game live, they were dominated in EVERY aspect possible. I can't give you one player who shone or even had an above-average game.
 
But there was something else I noticed that I hadn't watching live. The Packers actually ran four plays with bunch formations. And guess what - the first one showed so much promise, with three (count 'em) three receivers getting open on the play. But it was all downhill from there. The second time they ran the ball, the third time there was no crossing of the receivers and the final time (with a minute gone in the third quarter) it was third and long and the receivers ran awful routes. And that was it. It was never seen again.
 
For your viewing pleasure, (and just to be able to say you have seen the Packers use a bunch formation), here are the four plays.
 
 
 
Play #1  4:34 left in 1st quarter, 1st and 10, Broncos 7, Packers 0:
 
The Packers go trips right with Cobb in the backfield. James Jones runs right at the Broncos DB's and ties up two of them. That gives Cobb some space in the flat and Rodgers chooses to go there immediately. The Broncos' DB does a great job extricating himself from the traffic and getting out to bring Cobb down after a 7 yard gain. Rodgers has a fairly comfortable pocket and if he had eschewed Cobb and followed his progressions, he had Davante Adams open on a crossing rout early and then Perillo on a short post late. All in all, VERY promising.
 
 
 
 
Play #2  12:43 left in 2nd quarter, 3rd and 2, Broncos 14, Packers 0:
 
The Packers go trips left with Lacy in the backfield. The Broncos appear to be overloaded to the trips side and Rodgers appears to audible out of the play to a Lacy run to the Broncos' weak side. Denver, however, seems to read the change (note them talking and pointing in that direction) and take immediate angles to the weak side, stuffing Lacy and stopping him short of a first down. Bunch formation wasted.
 
 
 
 
Play #3  4:29 left in 2nd quarter, 3rd and 6, Broncos 17, Packers 0:
 
The Packers go trips left with Richard Rodgers completing the trio out of motion. As the ball is snapped, there is no crossing or attempts to confuse the defense. Rodgers chips a blitzing linebacker and then releases into the waiting arms of a Broncos DB. Randall Cobb runs a short curl right at a Broncos DB and Davante Adams (on the outside) runs a short corner route. No deception, no criss-crossing, no picks. Bunch formation wasted.
 
 
 
 
Play #4  14:17 left in 3rd quarter, 3rd and 11, Broncos 17, Packers 7:
 
The Packers go trips right and execute a good-looking crossing of receivers. However, being 3rd and 11, it's rather easy for Denver to defend. They have two CB's playing about 5 yrds off, letting the Packers start their routes and picking up the two short routes. Then they had two safeties right around where the Packers needed to go for the first down, ready to pick up any deep routes or keep shorter completions from becoming first downs. Add to the four vs. three numbers is the fact the receivers all ran pretty poor routes. Lesson learned: bunch formations don't help that much when you have more than 10 yards to go for a first down and the defense is in dime coverage. Bunch formation wasted.
 

;

In summary, it looks like the Packers did indeed come up with a new wrinkle, but the execution was poor and they abandoned it over the last 29 minutes of the game (most likely because the execution was poor). Oh well. I'll have to find somethng else to obsess over...

 

__________________________

"Jersey Al" Bracco is the Editor-In-Chief, part owner and wearer of many hats for CheeseheadTV.com and PackersTalk.com. He is also a recovering Mason Crosby truther.  

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Comments (34)

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EdsLaces's picture

November 05, 2015 at 01:34 pm

We are 6-1 and I can't remember a more depressing packers week. I really hope we play well and win Sunday so we can all move on.

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croatpackfan's picture

November 06, 2015 at 02:58 am

It is so not because Packers lost, but because Packers were humiliated... I hope players feels that humiliation even worse that we, fans, feels...

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zoellner25's picture

November 05, 2015 at 01:39 pm

I realize most of our WRs have been injured in way or another, but they better step up, or they'll forever be known as the bunch who couldn't play without Jordy. Cobb was visibly agitated when directly asked that yesterday. But it's proven true so far this year.

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Lphill's picture

November 05, 2015 at 02:34 pm

You throw the ball deep even if you overthrow just to keep the defense honest . Rodgers does not do that , let Janis fly down the sideline and throw the ball 40 or more yards . That will make the defense think.

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Dan Stodola's picture

November 05, 2015 at 07:12 pm

Not unless he catches it. Defense won't budge until a big play is actually completed. Janis is nothing but fast. Teams will put a CB on him and say don't let him beat you deep. One on one coverage w/ no safety help.

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NewNikeShoes's picture

November 06, 2015 at 12:22 am

But a team won't be worried about a big play if you don't attempt one.
Why the hell not? Let Janis loose, or for that matter, every WR.
This team needs to experiment with the talent they have.

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Dan Stodola's picture

November 06, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Don't have anything against throwing one occasionally. Just saying til one is completed the D wont budge.

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croatpackfan's picture

November 06, 2015 at 03:09 am

Please, for God sake, please stop that stupid Jeff Janis pressure... No person who can influence the decision on Jeff Janis playtime does not read your (and mine) comments and discussion, so you just firing your shots in the air. Tell me one team who have fast WR and just shooting passes to him no matter coverage, catch percentage, successfulness of those passes etc. And you are playing with 10 guys on the field... So, stop with that, please...

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wimiller's picture

November 05, 2015 at 03:57 pm

is there any reason to believe any of the hype about davante adams? he had two good games last year if memory serves, and mostly it seems he and rodgers are never on the same page. AR seems usually to expect him to break routes off in which DA just keeps going, and needless to say he has no separation.

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D Ernesto's picture

November 05, 2015 at 10:05 pm

Had to check this, I thought I wrote it. Ya in my thinking Davante has had two good games. Rogers will not pass to anyone covered. He hates interceptions so much he will eat the ball or run. That's his achiles heel, if the guy isn't open Rogers won;t make the pass.

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croatpackfan's picture

November 06, 2015 at 03:18 am

It is not truth! Aaron will throw the ball to covered WR when he is sure that WR is ready to fight for it - Look at the first James Jones TD of the season! Look at the R. Rodgers TD against Cowboys last season! " that comes me immediately on my mind...

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marpag1's picture

November 05, 2015 at 04:35 pm

The article begins with the assertion that "[GB's] receivers aren't able to beat press coverage," but I don't think it does a very thorough job of proving that, and that's a pretty huge weakness in the argument. For the record, I don't think it's a crazy assertion to make. I certainly wouldn't say that beating press coverage is their strong point. But the article points to only 2 out of the past 23 regular season games, and those two games were arguably against the two best defenses in the league in their respective years (DEN and SEA). To say "this offense struggles to get open against top ranked defenses" is a truism that can be said of every offense in history.

I know it's not the most useful stat in this regard, but over the past 10 years (not counting this season) the Packers have averaged sixth in the league in passing yards. That would seem to indicate that those receivers must be getting open somehow...

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JerseyAl's picture

November 05, 2015 at 07:11 pm

The purpose here was not to prove or disprove anything, rather to look at one particular press-beating tactic the Packers rarely employ. And I merely brought up the Seattle game as a starting point where we started to notice this issue. it was much easier to solve last season with Jordy Nelson in the lineup. This year is a much different story.

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D Ernesto's picture

November 05, 2015 at 10:08 pm

When I started reading your discription I thought, wow he is describing exactly what the Patriots do with excellance. And they have wiry guys in Amendola and Edelman to exercute it.
No way Davante, too slow, and Richard R, way too slow can pull it off. You need Cobb and Montgomery for this too be effective.

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JerseyAl's picture

November 06, 2015 at 07:38 am

There's some validity to that, but if you look at the Combine 40 times for Adams and Montgomery, they are 4.56 and 4.55 respectively. However, once they get on the field, Adams seems to be a lot more tentative, Montgomery is just all out all the time. It's an attitude difference as much as anything.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 06, 2015 at 08:45 am

I agree, JerseyAl, but I don't think 40 time is the right time or stat to cite. Montgomery has great burst, and Cobb is very quick. I'd be looking for the quickness of Cobb and Monty more than long speed guys in these rubs and crossers, and yes, the attitude of Cobb and Monty would be a plus.

As for Marpaq1's concern, I would take it as conventional wisdom that GB's WRs haven't liked press coverage. Even Jordy, who is pretty decent to good against press, doesn't like it, imo. I didn't think it was something that needed proving to assert.

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marpag1's picture

November 06, 2015 at 01:36 pm

Unless we are talking about special circumstances, I would take it as conventional wisdom that stiff, press/man coverage is almost always superior to soft zones.... assuming that you have the personnel to do it. And conventional wisdom also says that the reason most teams don't routinely play great press coverage is not because they think that zone is better, but simply because they lack the personnel to play man.

To play like Denver and Seattle, you need big, physical corners who can line up in-your-face and yet still have the fluidity and speed to avoid getting beat deep. There are precious few players in the league who can do that. IN ADDITION, you also need to have a killer pass rush that can get home and get home in a hurry without relying on extra rushers. This is equally vital because no cornerback, no matter how much of an All Pro he might be, can blanket a receiver for 5 or 10 seconds on a consistent basis. Pass rushers who are able to do this are worth their considerable weight in gold. It's rare for any team to have both the coverage players and the pass rushers to excel at man coverage. There are very, very few teams in the league who have the studs to do what Denver and Seattle do.

So yeah, of course receivers aren't going to "like it" and they aren't going to do as well when they are playing against the most gifted defensive athletes in the league.

I agree with Al that picks and bunches and scrapes or whatever you want to call them can be an effective strategy against man coverage. But I do take issue a little bit when the quality of the opponent never, never seems to enter the equation. Simply to throw out the assertion that GB receivers "can't beat press coverage" is a little bit misleading at best. Most every receiver is going to look worse when he's staring Richard Sherman in the face, or when Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are coming off the edge. And it's a good thing that there are very few Shermans, Millers and Wares in the NFL.

Are the Packer receivers a bunch of slow-twitch lopers who can't get off the line as a general rule? Or are they about as good or even better than most groups in the league, but they ran into a buzz saw in Denver and Seattle?

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Spud Rapids's picture

November 06, 2015 at 01:49 pm

I think your spot on about the pass rush. The Patriots tried the exact game plan vs. the Packers last year by pressing the receivers. The biggest difference was the pass rush was kept in check and Rodgers had enough time. I think the biggest problem was Rodgers had the pocket pressed into his face the whole game and the times when he didn't the Broncos sat on the routes. Overall I think very few teams could have done what Denver did and let's face it they "bought" that defense with the mortgaged future of their team. I'll bet in 2-3 years they are no better than a 6-10 team.

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Dan Stodola's picture

November 06, 2015 at 07:13 pm

I would say a combination of circumstances.

1. Jones and R. Rodgers are definitely slow twitch and probably aren't good beating the press (which BTW can happen in man or zone coverages).

2. Cobb and Adams can beat some press w/ quicks (mostly Cobb), but neither strikes me as being overly physical and consistent beating the presss.

3. Packers lost Jordy and now each WR or TE is getting coverage by a better CB than they would otherwise.

In short the receivers left on the roster now are a bunch of role players. They are now being forced to take a larger role/better coverage than they are able to handle.

Cobb is getting the #1 CB and a lot of other attention that Jordy usually gets. Adams is getting the #1 outside or overall #2 CB on every team. Jones same...

Without Jordy to open the field and take the best coverage, the Packers role players at receiver aren't able to consistently beat press or the coverage of the better CB they are facing.

Denver was definitely a buzz saw waiting to happen. Many factors are in play.

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Big T's picture

November 05, 2015 at 05:11 pm

I would make the whole team watch this game on a continuous 24 hour loop. They would be hooked up to an electrode and whenever they made a mistake on the field they would be shocked. The intensity of the shock would increase after each mistake made. It would be an electrifying experience and maybe bring the team closer together...

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4thand1's picture

November 06, 2015 at 11:45 am

Some of the players might not survive.

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John Galt III's picture

November 05, 2015 at 07:15 pm

The Packer coaching staff and TT are methodical and plodding. They have never, ever struck me as tacticians. If something doesn't work it will be many, many games before any changes are made.

Our receivers are not getting open and the article is well thought out, but it may be some time or next year before anything is done about it.

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MarkinMadison's picture

November 05, 2015 at 07:39 pm

Nice work JerseyAl. Frankly, I can't tell a trips formation from a bunch formation. Hopefully, we'll see the Packers come out this week using more of this concept and with better execution.

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JerseyAl's picture

November 05, 2015 at 09:16 pm

A trips formation can be a bunch or the receivers can be more spread out - just means 3 receivers on the same side. A bunch formation with 3 receivers (the examples above) is always a trips formation. I tend to use the terms interchangeably, which technically is not correct. Sorry if that caused confusion.

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MarkinMadison's picture

November 06, 2015 at 06:46 am

Thanks for the explanation. You didn't cause the confusion.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 05, 2015 at 09:20 pm

Besides the run play (obviously) and Bunch 4 -- tell me that outside WR wasn't open and had a step on the CB? That's NFL open.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 06, 2015 at 08:53 am

I agree with your point, Drealyn. In the 3rd video, Adams looks open to me on the left sideline, but Denver sent a (delayed) blitz and Aaron was on his ass in about 2.05 seconds.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 06, 2015 at 09:50 am

I agree with your point, Drealyn. In the 3rd video, Adams looks open to me on the left sideline, but Denver sent a (delayed) blitz and Aaron was on his ass in about 2.05 seconds.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 06, 2015 at 10:01 am

True. I'm just taking up for the WRs a bit.

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lennysmalls's picture

November 05, 2015 at 10:16 pm

Well written article. Watching the Bengals tonight it's amazing what a stud wide receiver and a decent tight end can do for an offense. Aren't the Packers though using this season as a development year with Nelson being out, in that Cobb isn't a #1 given his size, and Montgomery, Adams, and Janis are all basically unproven talent? Not expecting much from this offense this year given what I've seen so far, and it looks like we'll be a one and done in the playoffs.

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croatpackfan's picture

November 06, 2015 at 03:25 am

Oh, another doom guy... We better sit Aaron and all our valuable players and start to fight with Detroit for No 1 draft pick! That is how we will plenty of time do develop all our 2nd season players and rookies...

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Ruppert's picture

November 06, 2015 at 10:09 am

"Antici......pation?" Great reference, Jersey Al.

Watching the offense Sunday night was pure torture. It looks to me like McCarthy took over play calling a couple weeks prior and continued on Sunday. The unwillingness to try different means to get guys open is alarming, but not out of character for Mike. I have no idea why we don't at least try these things on a token basis just to make other teams do more prep work. We may not have wrs who can get open without tactical changes. We have to adapt and I really don't get the unwillingness to change.

Nice article, Al.

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4thand1's picture

November 06, 2015 at 11:53 am

Teams will prepare for what they see on game film. Billicheat does something different every game. The Packers seem to always stick to the script, especially during a game. They like to jump out to a lead and hang on for dear life lately. I remember years ago they went to the short passing game and were moving the ball up and down the field. I don't know if they have won the time of possession battle in a game this year. Also MM wants 70+ offensive plays a game and its not happening.

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JerseyAl's picture

November 06, 2015 at 07:24 pm

glad someone picked up on it!

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