As we’ve been doing 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, breaking down the Green Bay Packers’ offense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Packers’ Run Game
Three games in, it hasn’t been the strength of the team. But it’s capable of being a strong rushing attack. Led by Aaron Jones, one of the more talented backs in the league though his numbers don’t look great so far. He’s averaging 3.9 yards per carry (but Pittsburgh’s standards, I suppose that’d be a great mark to reach) with two rushing scores.
As an offense, they have just three runs of 10+ yards this season. That’s tied for 30th in the league. Only the Bucs have had fewer.
Their run game is pretty varied. There aren’t a lot of trap runs with a pulling guard but they’ll run split zone/inside zone, duo, and toss plays on the perimeter. Their toss is run to the field (open) side of the field. Two examples.
They like to use jet motion, especially in the low red zone, near the goal line, to move the defense to create a crease for the back between the tackles.
They also ran a jet pass for a TD to RB Aaron Jones last week. Green Bay has used several “Pony” backfields with Jones and AJ Dillon on the filed at the same time.
They will use a fullback, #49 Dominique Dafney, technically listed as a tight end but someone who spent a lot of time in the backfield. He had played 48 snaps so far this season. However, he was placed on IR earlier this week and obviously won’t be available. I’m not sure if they plan on replacing his role. They could with someone like #81 Josiah Degura, a similar H-Back type of player who has logged a little bit of time this season. A tight end at Cincinnati, he can block and catch
What I like about them as an offense is how quickly they can change personnel groupings and formations. They can go heavy on one play and then go empty the next. They can go from 12 personnel to 11, always rotating in new faces and forcing a defense to consistently play catchup and match groupings.
Some examples. From Pony to 11 personnel empty the very next play.
Other offensive stats. For the three-game season, they’re averaging only 22.7 points per game. But after putting up just three in a Week One dud to the Saints, they’ve put up 30+ over their last two, averaging 32.5 per game. They have three turnovers this season but all three came in their opener. They’re just 21st on third down at 36.7%.
Packers’ Pass Game
With Aaron Rodgers, returning to the team after offseason drama and threatened retirement. But he’s the same guy, at least, once he got pass the mess that was Week One. Over the last two weeks, Rodgers is completing 75% of his passes with six touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 8.6 Y/A. Elite numbers and the tape is even better, highlighted by that game-winning touchdown drive against the San Francisco 49ers. Last week, Rodgers was 16/18 for 140 yards and a touchdown on throws 2.5 seconds or quicker so the quick-game has been highly effective for him.
His favorite target is Davante Adams, one of the top receivers in football. Adams is has 25 catches on 34 receptions. Those receptions are tied for most in football while his receptions are #1 in the league. Adams is responsible for 38.6% of Rodgers’ attempts and a whopping 41.7% of his completions. Adams is by far the #1 receiver on this team. No other player has more than ten catches and no other wide receiver has more than six.
The #2 receiver on this team is Aaron Jones. He’s caught all ten of his targets and has three receiving scores compared to just two on the ground (one TD though came on the aforementioned jet pass which is effectively a run play, though it goes down as a pass in the box score).
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a downfield threat with 4.3 speed averaging just under 13 yards per catch. Something to keep in mind given the Steelers’ defensive struggles keeping a lid on things.
I don’t know if I’d call it a RPO-heavy offense but Rodgers has a ton of freedom. Especially down on the goal line, he’s willing to make the play as opposed to handing it off. It’s a lot to defend in a small area.
One concept to watch is the “chop route” otherwise known as the slot fade. To a big body like Allen Lazard. Slot alignment gives the receiver a lot of room and makes it hard for the CB to pin the receiver to the sideline, as can be the case on go-routes from a wide, outside alignment. Both of these came on 3rd and short/medium, 3rd and 3 and 3rd and 4. Shot play against man coverage.
Their screen game is also effective and comes with a good deal of window dressing.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Packers week, Steelers fans!
Coming off of a tough first three weeks, things won’t get any easier whatsoever for the Pittsburgh Steelers as the black and gold go on the road to historic Lambeau Field for a Week 4 matchup with the red-hot Green Bay Packers and future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Following an ugly 38-3 loss to open the season to the New Orleans Saints, the Packers have picked up two impressive wins over the Detroit Lions (35-17) and San Francisco 49ers (30-28) in the last two weeks and have really found their stride offensively.
Currently, the Packers sit No. 11 in Football Outsiders’ Offensive DVOA, including marks of 12th in Passing DVOA and 16th in rushing DVOA.
Under head coach Matt LaFleur, the Packers have been pretty balanced, running things through the Aarons on offense in Rodgers and fifth-year running back Aaron Jones.
Rodgers is certainly the straw that stirs the drink. While he went through a tumultuous offseason that had his status in Green Bay up in the air, Rodgers has played some great football early in the season, continuing to show he’s the most talented QB in the history of the NFL.
The 37-year-old quarterback loves hooking up with star wide receiver Davante Adams throughout games, but the guy to watch out for in the middle of the field is emerging tight end Robert Tonyan, who Rodgers has really trusted over the years.
This throw against the Lions in Week 2 was a thing of beauty at Lambeau Field.
If you’re a linebacker in coverage on Tonyan playing against Rodgers, expect him to thread the needle. He has pinpoint accuracy and really trusts his arm regardless of the situation.
Look at that ball placement there on the touchdown.
He can still spin the football with the best of them at his age, which is absolutely remarkable.
In Week 3 against the 49ers, Rodgers was not afraid to take shots down the field, starting right away on the third play of the game for the Packers, hitting reserve wide receiver Allen Lazard down the right sideline on the slot fade to spark the Packers’ offense.
While the Packers are a balanced offense overall that likes to run the football and maintain possession, keeping a young, developing defense off the field, Rodgers is not afraid to cut it loose and go deep, stressing opposing defenses – especially safety tandems.
I love the concept and overall design here by the Packers, getting Marquez Valdez-Scantling wide open on the over route, stressing the 49ers’ safety tandem, forcing safety Jimmie Ward to choose between Adams in front of him or help over the top with MVS.
He chooses incorrectly, helping against Adams just enough for Rodgers to put the ball out there for MVS to run underneath for the splash play.
One area that I am really impressed with the Packers’ offense is in the red zone, where LaFleur goes to players, rather than plays. He’s really good as the head coach and play caller at playing to his stars’ strengths, getting them into winning situations.
This play against the 49ers at the goal line might not look great to the naked eye, but the subtle shift with Adams gets the 49ers thinking he’s going across the formation, sending the defensive back sprinting to the middle of the field passing off coverage.
Instead, it’s a quick hitter back outside to Adams, getting him the ball with blockers in front for the easy score.
They’ll do things like this with Jones out of the backfield and Tonyan on tight end screens as well.
Rodgers’ arm talent will shine on Sunday though. His ball placement is otherworldly, and he just makes it look so easy. Compare that to how the Steelers’ passing game looks at the moment and it might just be otherworldly.
This throw on the game-winning drive to Adams over the middle was spectacular. The ball placement to get this over 49ers’ linebacker Fred Warner down the middle of the field is incredible.
MVS is dealing with a hamstring injury and could miss the game, which would hinder Green Bay’s ability to take the top off of defenses. Rodgers will still take his shots though to Adams and Lazard, and we could even see veteran Randall Cobb try and get loose out of the slot.
In the backfield, Jones is so underrated. He’s a terrific running back that runs with power behind his pads and has emerged as one of the best pass-catching running backs in football.
He’s phenomenal between the tackles and consistently falls forward. Out of the backfield, the Packers have gotten creative, especially in the redzone, scheming up open throws for the standout running back.
I love the pairing of Jones and Dillon. Dillon is the power back that can bludgeon fronts early in the game, wearing them down. He’s also shown good hands out of the backfield early in the season.
Veteran tight end Mercedes Lewis is the pseudo-fullback in Green Bay. He’s the second tight end and is used almost exclusively as a blocking tight end. He’s the key in the run game off tackle.
The veteran helps a young, battered offensive line on the ground and through the air. Without All-Pro left tackle David Baktiari, the Packers have struggled a bit in pass protection. Green Bay initially shifted standout lineman Elgton Jenkins to left tackle early in the season, but he’s dealing with an injury, leaving a young, inexperienced line in flux.
To their credit though, they were really good in Week 3 on the road. They’ll need to maintain that level of play against a Steelers’ front that should get T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith back this week.
Here’s how I expect them to line up left to right on Sunday in Lambeau:
LT – Yosh Nijman
LG – Jon Runyan
C — Joshua Myers
RG – Royce Newman
RT — Billy Turner
Nijman did a solid job replacing Jenkins in Week 3, protecting Rodgers’ blindside without much help, in terms of chips.
I’ve been really, really impressed by the interior though, especially in the run game.
Runyan has emerged as a really good run blocker, while Myers looks much like he did at Ohio State on tape. Newman has been a pleasant surprise, kicking inside to guard after playing tackle throughout his time in college at Ole Miss.
The tackles are there to take advantage of in the passing game though, so we’ll see how Watt and Highsmith perform on Sunday.
On special teams, veteran kicker Mason Crosby remains as solid as they come kicking the football. He still has a powerful right leg and is deadly accurate, especially at home. He’s money one the Packers get into opponent’s territory.
Punting has been a struggle as the Packers thought JK Scott was going to be the answer. Instead, the Packers cut him after three rough years. The Packers traded for veteran punter Corey Bojorquez, who seems to have solved some of the issues in the punting game through three weeks.
Rookie Kylin Hill has really impressed me as a kick returner early in the season. He was a dynamic weapon at Mississippi State and has translated to the NFL nicely in the return game.
Hill has a 41-yard return on the year and has made defenders miss on returns, which could lead to a game-breaking play.
Fellow rookie Amari Rodgers handles the punt return duties. He was a dynamic returner in college at Clemson, but he’s yet to make an impact play in the NFL.
This is a dynamic offense overall thanks to scheme and talent at key positions. LaFleur is a master play caller, while Rodgers, Jones and Adams consistently win their matchups. This will be a tough task on Sunday for the Steelers.