The Packers went flat in a week against their division rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, much the same as last year in the first week on the road in New Orleans. The Packers had no answer for the Vikings pass defense which largely sat in a quarters/cover-2/cover-6/cover-8 form for the vast majority of the game and sat above anything the Packers wanted to throw. on them.
Rodgers threw for less than 200 yards and had an interception on a forced field throw. The game didn’t start well either after rookie wide receiver Christian Watson dropped a wide open touchdown pass after sprinting past veteran NFL cornerback Patrick Peterson.
This kind of set the tone on offense for the rest of the game, as the Packers couldn’t execute their core RPO concepts or vertical passing routes in both game action play and in the game. straight overtaking game.
In addition to the defensive pattern putting pressure on the passing game and removing down routes, Rodgers also left a few guys open and didn’t seem comfortable pulling the trigger on some throws he should probably have.
Vikings two deep safety blankets
One of the ways the Vikings put the clamps on the Packers offense was with the amount of two-deep safety shells their defense played, mostly cover-6. Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell comes from the Vic Fangio tree of defensive coaches and runs the same basic structure of the Fangio defense.
Cover-6 in the Fangio tree is a combined cover with cover-2 away from the passing force and cover-4 or quarters from the passing force with the nickel aligned on that side. It’s great coverage that keeps the offense and their passing game in front of defenders by forcing them to rely on quick passing concepts.
It was a cover shell that got the Packers in trouble in the playoffs last season against the 49ers because it allowed the 49ers defense to bracket Davante Adams with the cover-2/cloud cover side.
Responsibility for lower defenders aligns with back cover and uses match principles to fill in the gaps. For example, the “QTR Flat” (quarterback flat) defender would chase the flat route to the perimeter but carry them if they go vertical because the safeties are playing over vertical routes or deep routes. The vertical hook defender fills the gap on the cover side 2 and the “receiver 3 hook” defender carries the third receiver into the pattern.
Here the Packers execute one of their core concepts, an all-vertical variation with a swinging route by the running back that should create a horizontal and vertical stretch of defense.
The Packers waved to a 4-person lineup with running back Aaron Jones to Rodgers’ left and travel receivers on the same side.
The receivers take off on the field with the No. 2 in the travels spinning a wheel behind the outside vertical to try to create space. Since the corner and safety on the quarterbacks side of coverage can go past the vertical of the No. 1 receiver, the flat quarterback defender can carry the vertical of the No. 2, forcing Rodgers to throw to Jones on the swing road towards the dish. Unfortunately, Rodgers throws an errant pass that sails out of bounds as Jones tries to catch it.
Later in the third quarter, Rodgers spat out his second turnover of the game when he fumbled after holding the ball too long as coverage encompassed the return corner route he wanted to push from the other side of the field. He might have had a chance to hit Watson on the left sideline by getting the better of quarterback coverage.
The Packers execute a game-starting return pass where, ideally, Rodgers would start before heading back across the field to the return route. On the rollout side, Rodgers has Watson on track to split quarter coverage.
The Vikings are on cover 8 this time with the quarters side of the tight end away from the passing force and the cover side 2 from the passing force with the nickel. The responsibilities of the flat quarterback, vertical hook and 3-receiver hook remain the same as for the cover-6.
Rodgers pretends, starts on the left and turns to look for the return route, but the corner of the cloud has sunk under the return with the safety support overhead. At this point, Rodgers should have turned and taken a chance on Watson, who had about two or three steps on the defenders chasing him. Instead, he pulled the ball down and fumbled for a bag.
Whether or not he had to take a chance on Watson, and for obvious reasons he probably didn’t trust him, cover still covered their main route here.
On another sack early in the fourth quarter, the Vikings played back-to-back quarters with game principles to deny access to certain areas of the field in which the Packers like to execute their concepts.
The offense is executing their double pass (middle read) concept, a basic pass into LaFleur’s offense and a hugely successful pass that nets them big wins. But the Vikings called the perfect cover for it.
The pre-cover snap quarters right through, so-called “nickel quads” in the Fangio tree. Security Harrison Smith (#22) is neighborhood security away from the passing force, so his job is to hide in midfield and look for work. The safety of the other quarter corresponds to the vertical of #2 and the single receiver side corner corresponds to the vertical of #1. Lower defenders have the same match principles as cover-6 and cover-8.
Smith spins down and helps frame the cruiser as there is no vertical threat on his side of the field as Rodgers leaves the start route to the right and looks for the dig route down the middle. There’s no pitching and by the time he gets to control he gets kicked out from behind by Danielle Hunter (#99).
The Packers faced RPO issues from the Vikings defense on the goal line and missed a scoring opportunity.
Here the Packers have a spot/flat RPO concept called 4th down with the spot flat on the left. It’s a Packers favorite and they’ve hurt the Vikings with it in the past, as well as other teams. However, Za’Darius Smith has seen this in practice and knows what it looks like when he sees it. He’s Rodgers’ main read on whether to give or throw.
The Vikings line up with a wide corner on the receiver, indicating it could be zone coverage. As Rodgers runs the receiver down on a short move to a left stack, the Vikings defenders trade players, another zone indicator.
At the snap of his fingers, Rodgers feeds the ball to Dillon expecting Smith to widen flat in a short area, but instead the Vikings play the man on the stack and Smith has a free run at Dillon to tackle him on the goal line.
Aaron Rodgers’ missed opportunities
The most concerning aspect of this game, other than it looking like a game where the starting quarterback didn’t have any preseason reps with the new guys in a game, is the fact that Rodgers n Didn’t look comfortable throwing to receivers who were open.
Fall for the lack of time with the new receiver group or not having Davante Adams anymore, or both. But either way, he’s unaware that it was a problem last season with Adams too, where Rodgers left too many pitches on the field against the 49ers.
On Sunday, he still had a few open receivers that he either didn’t see or didn’t feel comfortable throwing to. One game in particular was very alarming although it probably won’t continue like this for the rest of this season.
The Packers run a variation of a Y-cross concept with Watkins running the right-to-left crosser across the formation. The tight end in the left slot runs an out-and-back route and clears space for Watkins’ cruiser. Dillon’s swing pass to the left also helps clear that void between hashes and numbers on the left. It looks like the Vikings are in some form of quarterback coverage or 6-coverage again, but it’s hard to tell based on how the defensive leverage plays out.
Either way, Rodgers passes Watkins who is about to open up behind the hook zone defender. We’ve already seen Rodgers tear up that pass with incredible anticipation as well as other throws.
He didn’t have that anticipation that day as he passed several other open receivers throughout the game.
Maybe it’s just a timing issue and a lack of experience with a group of receivers who aren’t sure what Rodgers’ expectations are on certain plays. It’s also very similar to Week 1 last season, and it took the Packers offense a full half of Week 2 football last year to really start to come together.
There is no doubt that Rodgers needs time with his reception hall and the return of Allen Lazard should help that process, but he will also have to rely on the young guys because it is really the only way to establish the trust and understand timing and expectations on certain games. . Hopefully this starts to fall into place in week 2.