As we have been for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, the Green Bay Packers’ offense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Packers’ Run Game
They’ve struggled to find their identity all season and Aaron Jones, who showed promise, is out with an MCL injury and Ty Montgomery isn’t looking to hot to play (as of this writing). So they’ll rely on rookie Jamaal Williams, who is slogging along with a 3.2 YPC and a long of eight yards on 49 total carries. That’s pretty terrible. #32, Devante Mays is his backup, a 7th rounder from Utah State (who had just 37 carries as a senior).
Since Aaron Rodgers went down in Week 6, they have just nine runs of 10+ yards, tied for 30th in the NFL, and four of 20+, which is much better league-wide, tied for 10th. Their average is actually pretty good though, 4.5 YPC, over that span. So it’s a run game that has hit a couple big plays, Hundley’s mobility helps, but been spotty.
Get a variety in the run game. Inside zone and power are the dominant runs but they’ll mix in some outside zone, too. Example of their power run.
They use a fullback, #22 Aaron Ripkowski, who is relatively heavily used within the offense. Often sidecar to the QB in pistol.
Their red zone offense is scoring about 2/3 of the time on the season but over their last three games, it’s around 42%. So the overall number is skewed from what Rodgers did before getting hurt. Their third down offense comes in at 40%, 14th in the NFL.
Gotta give props to Jordy Nelson in the run game. The man usually doing the dirty work. Lined up between tackle and TE to help as a blocker. Digging out the safety on crack blocks. He’s someone to keep an eye out for. Helps spring big runs.
Last thing. They’ve been running a wildcat with Randall Cobb to try and generate something. Not super effective but something to gameplan for. Here is Cobb out of the pistol running an option play.
Packers’ Passing Game
It’s all led by Hundley and predictably, they’re feeling the heat of life without Aaron Rodgers. The Packers were shut out for the first time last week since 2006. Hundley’s numbers are….bad. Completing under 61% of his passes, averaging 5.9 YPA with just two TDs and 7 INTs. He’s been sacked 17 times too.
Some stats since he took over early in Week 6. They’ve scored only 67 points, dead last in the league (even the Browns have 73). Their net pass average is 30th, only ahead of the Browns and Ravens, their third down percentage is under 32% and 29th in the NFL and they’ve completed just seven passes of 20+ yards, tied for last with…the Ravens.
Which is too bad because their receivers are decent. Davante Adams is the leader in the clubhouse, catching 50 passes and targeted 81 times. He and Jordy Nelson have combined for 12 of the Packers’ 15 TD passes this year. But they don’t have much elsewhere. Martellus Bennett underwhelmed and then was cut and Williams doesn’t offer a lot out of the backfield. Randall Cobb has turned into a Jarvis Landry-type, too, barely averaging 10 yards per catch.
I have one idea of why Hundley has struggled and why he’s been under so much pressure. On the road, they go to a silent count, which every team does. What Green Bay uses is a leg kick to signal the snap. But they do it on every snap and Hundley doesn’t do a great job faking it or varying the time from kick to snap. It almost always happens as soon as his foot hits the ground.
So if I’m the Steelers’ front seven, forget about any cadence or other cues. Watch that leg.
Route concepts are pretty varied. You’ll get a lot of spot to the boundary, a triangle read with a corner/curl/flat, and they use a liberal amount of playaction, especially out of pistol, to try to sucker up the defense and take shots over the top. Especially early downs, 1st and 10 and the first play of a series.
Lot of slant and slant/flat in third and short. I’d play inside leverage with my DBs and force Hundley to make some tough throws outside the numbers.
Josh’s Individual Report
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
It’s now Week 12 in the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers return to action Sunday night in primetime against the hapless Green Bay Packers at Heinz Field.
The Steelers are coming off of a convincing Thursday night win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 11, while the Packers ride into town looking to get on the scoreboard for the first time in 60+ minutes after a 23-0 shutout loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens.
It’s important to keep in mind that this is an entirely different Packers attack without all-world quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who was lost for the season in Week 6 due to a broken collarbone against the Minnesota Vikings.
Green Bay didn’t address the quarterback position on the waiver wire or in free agency after Rodgers’ season-ending injury, so the reigns of the offense wrest solely in the hands of third-year backup Brett Hundley.
The former UCLA standout’s performance has been rather rocky, to say the least.
Last week against Baltimore he turned the ball over four times (three interceptions, one fumble) in the shutout loss, but the week prior on the road in Chicago, Hundley looked pretty good, throwing for 212 yards and one score in the win.
Make no mistake though; this Packers attack is light years different with Hundley at the helm compared to Rodgers. In fact, the skill positions look much weaker with Hundley calling the signals. That’s not a knock on a deep, talented receiving corps of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, but it is a knock on a weak tight end group of Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers and an inexperienced running backs room of Jamaal Williams, Devante Mays and Ty Montgomery, who might not suit up on Sunday night.
With Hundley, he has clear arm talent, which allows him to throw with power and accuracy off-balance or on the move, but he struggles with pocket awareness due to his happy feet and general discomfort behind a shaky offensive line, and his mechanics in the pocket are very, very poor. His base is all over the place and when he does fire he has his feet set properly to get the most power on his throws.
Under Hundley, the Packers have built in a number of easy completions that are quick and decisive, designed to get the ball out of his hands quickly and to get him into a rhythm. Additionally, with Hundley’s mobility, the Packers will hit you with the read-option every now and then, but I’ve only seen it three times in Hundley’s four starts.
It’s certainly something to keep an eye on though.
I mentioned Hundley’s mobility, and there are times that he truly looks like Rodgers on the move. He has a similar throwing motion and body language. If you watch him on some plays, it’s hard to miss.
With Hundley, the Packers are going to try and establish the run, which allows him to work off of play-action fakes. He seems to be most comfortable on those types of plays where he can get a deep drop, suck the linebackers up and have time to survey the field.
Here, Hundley rolls left after the play-action fake and fires across his body on a line to Nelson on the hitch route. You can clearly see the arm talent. What hinders the third-year pro is his decision making more often than not.
Out of the pistol here, Hundley gets off the subtle play-action fake and then sees a clear throwing lane up the seam to Adams, who settles into the zone coverage nicely. Hundley does a nice job of scanning the field and letting Adams work open before uncorking the missile for the first down.
In his four starts since taking over for Rodgers, Hundley has grown comfortable with Adams, looking his way more often than not, which has rendered Nelson into the decoy role of sorts.
Adams has hauled in at least 5 catches and 50 yards in all three games since the bye, including 8 receptions for 126 yards last week against the Ravens.
When you make plays like this consistently for your quarterback, you’re going to see a lot of targets.
Standard scramble drill here, and Hundley throws an absolute dime to Adams for the score, throwing to a tight window on his back shoulder where Adams has the strong hands to turn around and pluck the ball out of the air for the score.
Too often though, Hundley fails to make these types of throws consistently.
In the run game, Montgomery and rookie Aaron Jones provided the Packers with a splashy ground game under Rodgers, but once the All-Pro quarterback went down, teams started to load the box against Hundley, forcing him to beat them with his arm.
That hasn’t stopped the Packers from trying to establish the run game though. Montgomery scored a long touchdown against the Bears on the road in Week 10, but he’s dealing with rib issues once again and appears unlikely to play on Sunday night. Jones injured his knee in the first quarter of the Bears game and will be out for some time, so the run game falls onto a duo of rookies in Williams and Mays.
Against Baltimore, Mays fumbled on two of his three touches, so expect Williams — a power runner out of BYU that I had questions about due to burst and durability — to receive the lion’s share of the carries on Sunday night.
With Williams, he’s a running back who seeks out contact, similar to Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette. He won’t run around you because he’d rather make you feel him run through you. He’s a classic power back that runs downhill hard, which has worked in the last three games (39 carries, 125 yards and one touchdown in last three games).
Those aren’t groundbreaking numbers, but his performance has provided the Packers with some semblance of balance on offense, which takes some heat off of Hundley to make all the plays.
Fullback Aaron Ripkowski will also get some touches Sunday night, whether that’s as a running back or a receiver out of the backfield. He plays the John Kuhn role for the Packers right now.
Unfortunately for Williams, he’s running behind a banged up offensive line that has struggled to run the ball consistently or protect the passer over the last three years or so.
On Sunday night, expect them to line up like this left to right: David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Jahri Evans and Justin McCray.
Both Linsley (limited practice Wednesday, back) and McCray (full practice, knee) are banged up, but both should be able to go. If either Linsley or McCray can go, expect backup center Lucas Patrick and backup right tackle — and former first round pick — Jason Spriggs to see some snaps.
Bakhtiari is an above average left tackle in this league who doesn’t receive nearly the credit he deserves, while Evans has bounced back in a big way in the last few years of his career after being cut twice by the New Orleans Saints in the last few years.
Bakhtiari and Evans are the road graders in the run game, while Taylor serves as a strong pulling guard on trap and counter plays. Overall though, this line has struggled to protect Hundley, which could be a problem on Sunday night.
I mentioned Adams and Nelson earlier, but keep an eye on how Green Bay uses Cobb Sunday night. I’ve seen him line up in I-formation as the running back, as the sidecar in shotgun and as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation. He’s going to primarily line up in the slot and is a dangerous run-after-catch receiver, but the Packers have shown a willingness to manufacture touches for him since the bye week.
On special teams, Mason Crosby continues to be a solid kicker, but in the last two weeks he’s had two field goal tries sabotaged by his own holder, Justin Vogel, who has struggled to catch the snap and place the ball down correctly, resulting in one blocked kick against the Detroit Lions and one missed field goal against the Ravens.
The Packers are on their third long snapper of the season, so that could be a big part of the issue, but Vogel has really struggled as the holder this season on top of his punting woes.
Don’t expect the Packers to play the field-position game on Sunday night, due largely to Vogel’s inconsistencies, as well as the offense’s struggles with putting enough points on the board.
In the return game, Trevor Davis has provided the Packers with a spark, averaging 23.1 yards per kick return on 15 tries and nearly 10 yards per punt return on 12 tries. However, Davis has issues with the mental aspect of the game at times as a returner, having fielded one punt in his own end zone in Week 10 against the Bears on the road, and also trying to return a kick from the back line of his own end zone, where he was cut down at the 10-yard line.
Overall, this isn’t the Packers’ attack that we’re used to seeing under Rodgers. He was able to cover up for a number of deficiencies offensively, but with Hundley, he simply can’t do that. For the Packers to have any chance on Sunday night in a tough environment, Willliams will have to get going on the ground early, allowing Hundley to build off of the ground-game success with the play-action passing attack. Special teams can’t continue to have brain cramps in big spots, either.
It’s unlikely though.