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X's & O's: Decker's TD Reception

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X's & O's: Decker's TD Reception

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 and their opponents from an X's and O's standpoint. Today he looks at the first touchdown pass the Packers gave up to Kyle Orton and Eric Decker.

Sports writers and fans have been scratching their heads lately.  The Packer defense seems, in a word, “off.”  It’s really hard to put a finger on it, although, I have my own take.  But in the spirit of puzzlement, let’s take a look at Denver’s first touchdown of the game on Sunday and check out Green Bay’s defensive alignment and the actions of the players within the scheme.  It just might have you scratching your head or throwing your TV remote…..or neither.

On this play the Broncos set up shop on the Packer 5 yard line.  Denver comes out in a 3 by 1 formation with the 3 receivers in a bunch alignment to the right, (Packer point of view).  Decker, #87 is aligned as the inner most receiver, Lloyd, #84, is the outer most receiver and #12, Willis, is aligned on the line, in between Decker and Lloyd.   On the left side of the formation, Denver aligns with a TE (#86 Fells).  In the backfield, Orton is in shotgun with McGahee off set to the left.  Therefore, the personnel grouping is 11 for Denver (1 back, 1 TE).

The Packers are in their Nickel sub package (2 DTs, 4 LBers, 5 DBs).  Woodson is playing his usual position in the slot/inside, with outside leverage on #12 just short of the goal line.  Tramon is leveraged inside of #12 with his heels on the goal line.  Shields is playing off of Lloyd with outside leverage about 1 to 1 and half yards deep in the endzone.  Burnett is about 3 to 4 yards deep in the endzone in the middle of the formation.  Hawk is about a yard short of the goal line and Bishop, who initially lines up 1 yard shy of the goal line, changes his alignment to outside of Matthews on the line of scrimmage.  Peprah is aligned with outside leverage on the TE Fells a yard shy of the goal line.

At the snap, Denver keeps in the TE in to help the offensive tackle double on Matthews. Denver then slides the remainder of their line to their left (Packer right).  Walden receives a one on one match-up against the Denver left tackle.  Our two defensive tackles are left to take on both offensive guards and the center.  The diagram is adjusted to show the line movements post snap.   Denver routes show McGahee executing a check-release and run the check down.  To the bunch trips side we see Lloyd running a wheel-fade route at Shields.  Shields executes his drop to match Lloyd’s release and route.  Willis runs a stop route right between Tramon and Woodson.  He stops at the goal line.  At the snap, Woodson opens his hips at a 45 degree angle, facing his rear to the sideline.  As he does this he should be able to see both Willis running the stop route and Decker running the short out (sometimes referred to as a bench route).  Tramon “bounces” at the goal line waiting for Willis to declare his intention.  Orton successfully throws the ball to Decker who catches it, turns upfield and lurches in to the end zone.  So what happened?  Why was it such an easy pitch and catch?

Here is my take.  It appears the Packers were in some type of zone coverage based on the drops and reaction of the Packer defenders.  My guess it was some type of Cover 3 based on the alignment of Burnett playing the deep middle, Shields ability to react to the short throw after his drop and Woodson’s opening of the hips to play the releases of Decker and Willis.  This brings me to another point.  How can you tell when the coverage is zone or man?  Well, a simple check is to look for the drop of the coverage defenders.  By that I mean do they turn toward the man or do they turn toward the ball.  Woodson’s hip turn had him facing his eyes inside toward the QB.  He was executing what is called a “zone turn.”  Zone turns have the coverage defenders getting their eyes on the ball.  “Man turns” have the defenders turn toward their man and run with him from the snap.  It is not surprising the Packers went with zone coverage vs. the Denver “bunch set.”  Going to some type of man coverage would have put the Packers at a disadvantage.  When receivers bunch up closely they are hoping to face man coverage in order to rub and pick defenders off.  Because the Packers run so much man and man/free coverage perhaps the Broncos were banking on some type of man coverage in this situation?  Now, that doesn’t mean man coverage can’t be executed vs. a bunch set such as this.  Tramon and Woodson could execute what is called a “banjo” technique on Decker and Willis.  This simply means that both Tramon and Woodson are playing man to man but they won’t declare who they have until the receivers declare.  If this was the case, Woodson would have jumped Decker and Tramon would have stuck to Willis because Woodson was leveraged outside and Tramon was leveraged inside.  Had Decker run vertical to the goal line and Willis run the out then Tramon would have taken Decker and Woodson would have taken Willis.

So where was the breakdown?  For my money, I’m banking on Woodson as the culprit.  Now, as I said in the post about the Kellen Davis TD, the Capers’ defense allows for risk taking.  I’m hoping that Woodson was doing just that by jumping Willis instead of taking Decker.  The problem here is that Shields was forced to come off of Lloyd and react late to Decker.  While the tackle attempt was atrocious at best, asking him to play their best receiver and compensate for Woodson is just too much to ask of any corner.  Had Woodson not gambled and executed his responsibility by taking Decker based on his release, the chance for a TD becomes smaller.

It’s hard to argue against Woodson taking a chance and jumping the stop route by Willis after he registered an interception and return earlier in the game.  One could argue that taking a risk when you’re in your own territory as opposed to taking a risk when your opponent is backed up is not a smart thing to do.  I don’t have a problem with Woodson’s play in general or this play as long as it was a risk type of action and not a blown assignment.  I choose to believe Woodson knew what he was doing and gambled and lost.  It’s just something that fans are going to have to get used to with this defense and the style of play by certain defenders executing it.  I’m more concerned with Green Bay’s inability to consistently get off the field on 3rd down and medium to long distances from time to time……but that’s a different story altogether.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (25) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

PackerAaron's picture

For the record - "I’m more concerned with Green Bay’s inability to consistently get off the field on 3rd down and medium to long distances from time to time"


lebowski's picture

Rush more than 3 and it might improve

PackerAaron's picture

Actually, they rarely rushed fewer than four yesterday. The problem is, when the offense is keeping in 6 or 7 to block, you're just banging your head against a wall.

Paul Ott Carruth's picture

Correct. The problem to me is not so much the 6 man protections as it is who teams are using to protect in a 6 man protection scheme. I think this explains the infrequent pressure Matthews is generating in the pass rush when the Packers rush 4 in their sub-front. Instead of going against an offensive tackle on initial movement and then facing a chipping back, it appears teams are using a tackle and tight end to block Matthews quite a bit. In my opinion, Matthews is the quintessential space pass rusher. To me he doesn’t do quite as well against 300 lb. tackles and 250 pound tight ends. I think this lack of room to operate and use his full arsenal of moves explains the lack of impact plays we are seeing from him. That’s not to say he isn’t having an impact and I’m not a big fan of judging a DE or OLB on their sack totals alone but you’d have to admit there is a notable difference in the frequency of impact plays when he rushes.

CSS's picture

Shields game is still evolving and he's completely dependent on his catch-up speed and overall athleticism to run with opposing wide-outs. When you compress the field, especially inside the 10, Shields is a liability while he's still learning how to read an opposing offense, adjust and trust his film study.

I realize you're saying Woodson put him in an awkward position, just a general observation about Shields game at this stage of his development. He has to have help in the red-zone and they can't depend on him to adjust at this point.

Great article, thank you!

Jordan's picture

You mean they can't depend on him to adjust to his teammates blown assignments and questionable play? Isn't covering one of the best receivers in the game (Lloyd) good enough for you?

CSS's picture

You must have missed the 'general observation' part in that sentence where I wasn't even referencing that play. Go play condescending internet analyst with someone else.

markinmadison's picture

Id love to read your thoughts on 3rd down.

Ace731's picture

The Redzone defense has been pretty stellar to this point in the season. Lots of goal line stops. I've seen more in 4 games this season than I have in a long time.

The pass defense hasn't been great by the packers this year, but it hasn't been great for any team either. We know what they are capable of and as long as we continue to win the defense will step up.

Opposing teams have 164 pass attempts against the packers, 4th most in the league. 77 rushes against is the lowest in the league. Teams are passing 68% of the time against us, and we've played 4 pass first teams. I expect these numbers to change during the rest of the season.

Jordan's picture

"I choose to believe Woodson knew what he was doing and gambled and lost."

I choose to believe that Woodson was thinking about a pick six record and the Hall of Fame and selfishly blew his assignment....especially after listening to his post game interview.

I also choose to believe that Driver's exit on a cart, and then a return......and then the reports of his knee being fine on Monday.......all coinciding with Nelson's contract extension on Saturday and 1st quarter 50 yard TD weird.

I sure hope Driver and Woodson are focused on the "team" least when playoff time rolls around.

How many of Shield's missed tackles this season are the result of other player's errors and questionable play in the first place? Shields isn't the type of player that will able to do his difficult job and clean up after other people's mistakes on a regular basis. At least not at this point in his young career.

Tom Crabtree gives up a critical sack vs Carolina in the redzone and is worshipped in the media. Shields misses a tackle of a running back (Stewart) after the front guys get scorched on a screen and is crucified. So much for sniffing out a screen. Opposing offensive coordinators are more than capable of game planning for Capers' often used corner blitz.

CSS's picture

"I sure hope Driver and Woodson are focused on the “team” repeating….at least when playoff time rolls around."

It's only 7:50 am CST and this already wins ignorant statement of the day. Nothing in this sentence can be supported based on anything in their history with the organization or what they did against Denver. Zip.

CSS's picture

Crabtree is a role-player on the most prolific offense in Packers history through 4 games; Shields is a starter (that appears to have regressed) on one of the most porous defensive backfields in the league. Where exactly did you think the scrutiny was headed? I can't find any articles gushing over Crabtree since he made the roster. Likely one of the last 10 guys to make the roster, by the way.

I get it, Crabtree is your whipping boy but the contrast falls on its face as a defense for Shields average play through 4 games.

Capers has been blitzing linebackers, really hasn't blitzed cornerbacks much at all, so not sure why you're complaining about that either.

PackerAaron's picture

Thanks Jordan. I needed a good laugh to wake me up.

Jordan's picture

Hey if you guys want to defend a 3rd string tightend-Crabtree, I'll defend an undrafted free agent in Shields.
You think maybe Shields' making $405,000 this year is too much?

If the fans and Packer media keep on picking on Shields, I guarantee there will be 15 other teams that will gladly pay him big money and take "your liability" off your hands. That way, you can sit back and watch Jarrett Bush and Pat Lee and be happy.

PackerAaron's picture

What on Earth are you talking about? Where have I, or anyone, "defended" Crabtree? Can you link to a post where I have done so?

As for Shields, as I've written countless times - the guy has all the talent in the world and can be as good as he wants to be. But his tackling is horrible. Horrible. Don't take my word for it - his own position coach agrees. And where have I said anything about Shields' salary? Talk about grasping at straws.

Look, you can defend Shields all you want. I get that. What I don't get is questioning vets like Donald Driver and Charles Woodson and their desire to repeat as World Champions. I mean, that is so beyond laughable I have trouble typing it with a straight face.

Jordan's picture

Everyone knows that Shields physicality and tackling has much to be desired. My point is: I think fans should look at the whole defensive play and see why Shields is even being asked to make these tackles in the first place. In other words, why did it get to the point where Shields is being asked to play cornerback, linebacker, and safety? What are the other 10 guys doing or not doing on the play?

There's no doubt in my mind that Driver and Woodson want to repeat. I'm just saying that they also have other individual achievements on their mind. And yes, I do seriously question if Woodson made a "best interest of the team decision" for his gamble in the red zone on Decker's touchdown.

As for Driver, he talked not that long ago about how he felt he was deserving for the Hall of Fame with Tim Brown. And he said that with a straight face. That tells me his mind is not clear. Just my opinion. (And no I didn't say he was delusional but I was thinking it).

As for Crabtree, there's plenty of fans that have been talking for a year about how great a blocking tightend he is with their chests puffed out but when a play like the Carolina sack happens at a critical juncture, they get quiet as a mouse and sweep it under the rug.

PackerAaron's picture

"As for Crabtree, there’s plenty of fans that have been talking for a year about how great a blocking tightend he is"

Ah. See, now you've backtracked and switched from "The media loves Crabtree" to "Fans love Crabtree"

Yes, he allowed a sack against Carolina. He also missed his block on 4th and 1 against the Broncos. Neither of those plays takes away from the fact that he is a very good blocking tight end.

Aaron Rodgers threw an interception right to Brian Urlacher. (He's actually done that three times now) - does that mean we need to stop talking about how well he plays the position? Of course not.

CSS's picture

Shields - Why are you focusing on the one play referenced in this breakdown as opposed to the trend. His play has fallen off over 4 games. His hips are opening up in the opposite direction, he's tentative at the line and entirely too dependent on his catch-up speed. As for his tackling...your reference to the other 10 putting him in a 'bad spot' is moot (true or not) because he's been aweful. He's tied for the most missed tackles in the NFL, period. That's a terrible distinction and a fundamental. Neither fans nor the organization has lost confidence in the kid, but it's fair to criticize any starter for diminished play regardless of draft position.

Driver and Woodson - You don't have a leg to stand on here, just stop. Two unquestioned leaders in the locker room and on the field. Every player in that locker room would dress you down for even suggesting something so absurd.

Crabtree - So now it's 'fans' as opposed to 'media' talking up Crabtree? Who. Cares.

CSS's picture

Crabtree is a role-player, glad we got that straightened out.

You may want to read Capers quotes referencing Shields today in the JSO. Unless you count Capers as the 'Packers media picking on Shields' he also sees room for growth.

Everybody knew Shields was a work in progress with a ton of upside. Nobody expressed concern that he would regress, and he certainly has in 4 games.

Jordan's picture


Did you ever stop to think why Capers is even being questioned by the media about Shields? Take a few minutes and think it through.

CSS's picture


Did you stop to think about his position coach and his defensive coordinator giving honest responses to his less than average play because it's even more obvious to them on film? Take a few minutes to process the written word for content and think it through.

I've reread your comment above several times now and can't for the life of me imagine what point you believe you have. I can see what you're attempting to imply, but it takes an alternative universe to make sense of it.

Jordan's picture


If you can't make sense of my posts/comments, then perhaps you might consider moving on to comments that you find easier to make sense of. My posts/comments aren't intended for all audiences.

Jim's picture

Really Jordan? Honestly is there a crowd of Packers fans, hell, ANY Packers fans, that really think Charles Woodson and Donald Driver care more about individual records then championships, to the point of harming the Packers chance of winning? What audiences are you aiming for, excactly?

Awesome article

CSS's picture

When they only make sense to the writer It's unlikely I'm the issue, Jordan.

Paul Ott Carruth's picture

I’d have to agree with you that Driver and Woodson most likely are shooting for individual records. However, with that being said, you can say it for nearly every player on any NFL roster. I don’t think it’s inherently a bad thing as long as the chase is done within the confines of the ultimate organizational goal. I have yet to see Driver or Woodson do anything to detract from the goal of winning another championship while chasing individual records. In this play breakdown I gave my take as to where the breakdown occurred. Yes…I said it was Woodson that gambled and lost, putting Shields in a compromised position based on the route combination Denver presented. However, if you’ve read any of my other posts regarding the Green Bay defense you’ll note that calculated risk taking is an inherent feature of Dom Capers’ system. I’d say it’s produced some nice results. The downside, however, is that sometimes that risk can come at a price if it doesn’t pay off. In this particular case it was a touchdown. Now, would I have instructed Woodson to stick to Willis instead of covering Decker as I’m sure he was supposed to? No…not in a potential scoring situation. If it was from the 20 to 20 then absolutely. But, if Orton makes the throw to Willis, Woodson makes the play and all is well. My guess is that he thought he could get another pick based on his success previously in the game. Remember, he got the pick on a quick out. This red zone situation set itself up perfectly for a quick route of some sort. He took the gamble and lost. As casual fans it’s hard to understand why a guy wouldn’t execute his responsibility but, frankly, that’s what makes fans fans and Woodson an All-Pro. Brett Favre was an All-Pro but I’d be willing to bet you were throwing your remote quite often when he would force a ball in to triple coverage. You have to take the good with the bad as long as the good is more frequent than the bad. With Woodson I see more good than bad with his risks. Brett in the later stages of his career….well, not so much.
As far as people criticizing Shields all I can say is they’re right in my opinion. His tackling is not bad…’s pitiful. Then again, I can point to any number of players in the league and show you consistently shoddy tackling. However, Shields is relying on his raw talent to compensate for poor technique. While I would take him over most of the corners in this league the fact is that unless he stops “opening the gate” (opening his hips in press man) he’s going to struggle. I think the criticism is justified.

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