A deep dive on a schematic tweak sighted in the Green Bay Packers film from the win over the Patriots
This series is intended to bring a deeper look at the Green Bay Packers gameplan to identify specific schemes, plays or players who will help the team in its chase for another championship
The Green Bay Packers have a run defense issue that needs to get solved quickly before it really sinks the team. Most fans have questioned Joe Barry’s ability to make in-game adjustments, while others (including this one) wonder if the front seven has lacked the discipline and/or want-to needed to stop the run.
Barry has primarily employed 2-deep safety coverage with lighter boxes in order to keep everything in front of his defense. This has led to consternation from fans as the Green Bay Packers have struggled mightily to defend against the run, as opponents have rung up explosive after explosive on the ground.
Right now, the Green Bay Packers are currently ranked 28th in DVOA against the run, which is actually an improvement from their 32nd ranking after Week 3 despite allowing 167 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per carry to a Patriots team that would have run the ball on every offensive play if they could.
The Green Bay Packers need to improve against the run – that fact is dead obvious. Many fans, however, don’t realize Barry and the defense may have laid the groundwork for such improvement in last Sunday’s game.
Basic Run Fits
With most of the league utilizing some form of zone blocking scheme, most NFL defenses employ some sort of gap-control run defense to both limit options for the Running Back (RB) and naturally bring bodies toward the ball carrier.
Below, you can see a presnap view of the Green Bay Packers defense against the Chicago Bears in Week 2. The Bears have 12 personnel (1 RB/2 TE/2 WR) and are aligned in an Ace formation (2 in-line TEs with the QB under center) and the Packers counter with their Base personnel in a 3-4 formation.
The Bears run an Inside Zone to the right, which means each offensive lineman is going take a step to his right and block the first defender he sees (OL Coaches call this “blocking first color”). The purpose of any zone run is for the offense to get the defensive front flowing in the direction of the play so natural run gaps form.
The beauty of zone schemes is the back isn’t married to a particular gap as would be the case in a Power or Pin and Pull scheme where the play is designed to hit a specific gap. Instead, the running back needs to be patient and have good vision to identify any run lane his OL has opened.
From a defensive point of view, the front seven is trying to clog as many of these gaps by either putting a defender in the gap or having bigger defenders stack blockers to control two gaps at once (hence the term “2-gap defender”). By clogging the gaps at the line of scrimmage (LOS), the second-level defenders (LBs or box safeties/defensive backs) are able to flow downhill to tackle the RB.
Setting the edge is paramount in run defense as it prevents the RB from bouncing runs to the sideline where the last line of defense is a corner who is likely physically outmatched against an RB. In the picture above, Outside Linebackers (OLBs) Rashan Gary and Preston Smith each set strong edges in their own right.
Gary uses perfect technique to keep the Right Tackle (RT) from hooking him to the inside by keeping his outside arm free, denying the RB the ability to bounce this run outside to the sideline. Smith identifies the TE coming to block him on a Wham concept and defeats this block to set the opposite edge.
With the RB hemmed inside the tackle box, it is now the job of the 2nd level defenders to attack downhill and tackle the RB to limit potential gains. It’s a carefully orchestrated effort where all defenders must remain disciplined in order to prevent the RB from breaking through the LOS with a head of steam to get into the secondary.
Unfortunately, the Green Bay Packers have had inconsistent success at best in accomplishing the above. They have stretches of games where their defense looks to be playing as one synchronized unit and then entire drives where the unit looks like they’ve never played football together before.
On some plays, defensive linemen lose gap integrity or get blown off the LOS by double teams. On others, the second-level defenders are too hesitant to attack downhill and either get swallowed by an OL releasing from a combo block or the RB is running by them already. The Green Bay Packers need to address these issues now.
Barry’s Week 3 Adjustment
Green Bay Packers Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry made a tweak to his defensive scheme against the run this past Sunday, one that could alleviate some of the team’s run defense issues. The catch is the adjustment Barry turned to requires more decisiveness from the team’s Inside Linebackers (ILB) and continued discipline from the DL.
The Green Bay Packers again are in their Base 3-4 defense against the Patriots’ 12 personnel. The Patriots are running an Outside Zone (OZ), which has the OL doing the same blocking scheme as an Inside Zone but the RB aims for the B-Gap (between Guard and Tackle) or C-Gap (outside of Tackle).
Barry’s adjustment from the beginning of the season is to get an extra body up on the LOS at the point of attack by having the play-side OLB (Gary on this play) crash inside while the play-side ILB (Campbell) scrapes over the top and sets the edge to hem the run inside.
By having more bodies on the LOS, the Green Bay Packers are hoping to eliminate options for the RB to choose from while the remaining ILB scrapes from over the top to help on the tackle and the backside defenders squeeze the RB down by running horizontally down the LOS to prevent cutback lanes for the RB.
However, Campbell is late on this play to get to the C-Gap, which allows the TE to make contact with Campbell and hinders his ability to hem the RB back inside to help. Instead, Campbell is forced to chase the RB to the sideline.
The Green Bay Packers didn’t employ this against Zone running plays; the defense did this against Power and Pin/Pull schematic runs as well.
On the following drive, NE runs to Quay’s side of the field with a Power concept; Power is where the backside G pulls and leads the RB through the designed run gap. Gary again crashes inside off the snap and does his job, stopping the pulling G and keeping the B-Gap filled.
Walker, however, hesitates and is late getting to his assigned gap. This has been a repeated occurrence for the Green Bay Packers rookie, who has seemed to be thinking too much as opposed to reading and reacting on the field. This heavily hampers his play speed on a play-to-play basis.
Luckily for Walker, Gary also stones the TE on the Wham block whose assignment is to kick out Walker to create a lane for the RB. Walker again hesitates instead of stepping to the LOS to hem the RB back inside to help.
Walker manages to track the RB down because of his speed and also due to Stokes defeating his block to help force the RB to the sideline. The Green Bay Packers need their secondary to be force players against the run if Barry is going to continue to call 2-deep shell looks.
It took until the final Patriots drive of regulation, but the Green Bay Packers defense finally executed this defensive adjustment properly, this time against an inside zone play. This time, Preston Smith is the play-side OLB, and he crashes inside to fill the B-Gap
This time, Campbell flows quickly and decisively to fill the play-side C-Gap and set the edge, hemming the RB back into the middle of the OL. This kind of decisive action is what the Green Bay Packers will need out of their defenders if they’re going to be better at stopping the run.
What does it all mean?
While many fans of the Green Bay Packers have called for Barry to “make a damn in-game adjustment”, the players have to do their jobs. The primary way the Green Bay Packers run defense is going to improve is the guys on the field have to execute better.
The part that’s on Barry is committing the necessary resources to stop the run when the opposing team is as hell-bent on running it as the Patriots were in Week 4 and likely how the Giants will approach the game in London.
We’ll see whether the Green Bay Packers continue to utilize the schematic change they put on film against the Patriots, or if this was a one-week gameplan meant for an uncommon opponent only. The positives afforded by this change are it gets more defenders on the LOS to plug run lanes and simplifies the amount of gap reading rookie Quay Walker will be required to do.
Simplifying reads will help Walker play faster and more decisively, which will allow his already elite athleticism to play up even further. Nothing is simple in the NFL, but it’s nice to see that the Green Bay Packers have not only paths to improving their ailing run defense, but have made initial attempts at doing so already.