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2020 Opponent Scouting Report: Packers Offense- Aaron Rodgers is still amazing

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Green Bay Packers Appleton Post-Crescent-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Overview

On November 22nd, 2020 the Indianapolis Colts will host to the Green Bay Packers. In this Week 11 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

This week the Colts will face another division leader as the Packers come into this game at 7-2. The Packers didn’t look good last week, nearly finding a way to lose to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. Unfortunately the Colts can’t count on two bad performances in a row from a good Aaron Rodgers led team. The Packers will probably be the favorites in the media this week but they’ve only played two teams with a winning record going 1-1. The Packers haven’t seen a defense quite like what the Colts have.

Let’s see what we can expect in week 11.


Offensive System:

When talking about the Green Bay Packers offensive system it’s impossible not to mention head coach Matt LaFleur and when talking about Matt LaFleur it’s difficult to leave Sean McVay out of the conversation. Like McVay, Matt LeFleur spent 2010-2013 with the Washington Football Team. Unlike McVay, LeFleur left Washington and went south to Atlanta to be the Falcons quarterbacks coach (there was also a one year stop at Notre Dame in 2014) in 2015. When Sean McVay was hired to become head coach of the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 he called up his old buddy, LeFleur, and asked him to come be his offensive coordinator. In 2018, LeFleur wanting a chance to actually call plays, accepted the chance to become the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator. Despite an average season (he was working with Marcus Mariota, it really wan’t his fault) he was given the opportunity to become the head coach of the most storied franchise in NFL history; the Green Bay Packers.

Many believed LeFleur was hired in large part due to his time spent with Sean McVay and while there may be some truth to that, it’s not the whole truth. See, McVay, LeFleur and Kyle Shanahan are all considered to be great play callers with amazing ability to innovate schematically. What else do all of these young head coaches have in common?

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Shanahan.

I’ve written at length this year about the Shanahan brand of West Coast offensive system and I’ve written so much about it because ultimately it’s a highly effective system. It’s considered a “quarterback friendly” system due to the simplified reads and multiple throwing options it often creates on one half of the field.

Again, I’ve written about it a lot this year so if you’re yearning for more about this style of offense you can go check out my article on the Jaguars, Vikings, Browns, Bengals or Titans, instead of diving deep about it here I’ll give you the $0.10 tour of the Shanahan WCO:

It’s all based off of having a solid run game, usually based around outside zone runs and then off of those outside runs, they use a lot play action including a lot of naked bootlegs after faking to the opposite side of the field.

The Packers system is rooted in those Shanahan offenses but LaFleur has added his own wrinkles.

Mesh

Okay, so this isn’t just a Matt LaFleur wrinkle, everyone uses mesh but it is representative of LaFleur’s offense as a whole. It’s based in the Shanahan WCO but it draws from other, more modern systems like the Air-Raid.

I’ve written a lot about mesh, I’ve read books about mesh, it’s such a simple play and given all of the option routes possible, mesh might be the most versatile passing concept ever created. If you want to dig a little deeper into mesh here’s a good article from the American Football Coaches Association.

4th and inches

If you just started watching football in 2020, I guess maybe you were bored and decided being locked at home during a pandemic would give you time to really become a football fan? But if your only exposure to fourth down play calls is from the 2020 Indianapolis Colts, seeing this fourth down roll out pass is probably what it was like seeing an airplane fly in 1905. You’ve seen the headlines, you knew it was possible but to see it with your own eyes is almost unbelievable.

Here the Packers stick to their Shanahan roots, rolling to the left while the line slides the same direction. Aaron Rodgers has his best receiver one on one against a linebacker so it really wasn’t much of a contest but the play was designed to have multiple options. The backside receiver was running across the field and would have been an intermediate option had Rodgers first option not been available. Rodgers final option was probably just to pack it in and run for the first. His line was already out there and he probably could have gotten around the edge for the first if everything else failed.

This play challenges all three levels of the same side of the field. It’s all very Shanahan-ish.

This is a LeFleur wrinkle

These Packers want to challenge the edges with their running backs. They’ll run between the tackles too, but this year they’ve tried to get the ball outside via some form of pitch play, multiple times per game. Outside running, or attempting to run outside, is a hallmark of all of those Shanahan teams, the difference here is just the delivery method. Instead of the outside zone stretch hand-off (the play that Edgerrin James rode all the way to the Hall of Fame) this team most often tries to get outside with various pitch concepts like the one above.

Very West Coast of them

The Packers like to throw to their backs, and to their credit these backs are good in that role. Like traditional West Coast systems the Packers like throwing to their backs to let them work in space to pick up yards after the catch.

Frank isn’t the only one running on 2nd and 10

Frank might be the only one to continue running given the almost complete lack of success they’ve had doing it but the Packers clearly care about keeping defenses on their toes and ensuring they don’t get predictable on second and long.

I just love this so much

I’m a sucker for a good tight end slip concept.

The play action to the running back pulls the linebackers towards the line of scrimmage. The receiver running the end around pulls the defensive back with him across the formation, creating extra traffic for the defense on his way. One tight end pulls around to the left, which both adds to the run fake as the offensive line steps to their right simulating a zone run to the right, but this tight end also acts as more protection for Aaron Rodgers as he has to have his back turned to the defense longer than he normally would. Meanwhile the play-side tight end takes a zone step, engages with a linebacker and waits just long enough to sell the fake before shedding the linebacker and running absolutely, completely, totally, amazingly wide open into the end zone where he makes the easiest touchdown catch of his career.

Sean McVay gets a lot of credit for using these tight end slip concepts because he uses them a lot. But it’s possible he stole his ideas on these concepts from Matt LeFleur.

I’m not saying that’s how it happened, they probably worked together and they both like them because they work, I’m just saying it could have happened that way. You don’t know. You weren’t there.

Can’t relate

It’s plays like the one above that made this stat possible. The Colts have struggled with play design and execution this year near the goal line, the Packers on the other hand have not. When they get close they tend to get in.

The Colts have seen similar offensive schemes this season (as recently as last Thursday) and except for the Browns (and Jags but it was a bizarre week one, the Patriots beat the Dolphins, the Cowboys defense limited the Rams to 20 points and the Chargers managed to win a close game, it was all really strange based on what we know, now) this Colts defense has managed to shut this style of offense down almost completely. Their ability to fill gaps and Grover Stewart’s ability to get penetration in the middle of seemingly every offensive line has rendered most rushing attacks useless. The Colts speed at linebacker from Bobby Okereke and Darius Leonard has limited backs and tight ends in the passing game while the surprising Colts secondary led by a resurgent Xavier Rhodes and third round rookie Julian Blackmon have been able to slow down most passing attacks they’ve seen this season.

Having said all of that, the Green Bay Packers present a highly unique challenge to the best Colts defense I’ve ever seen and that challenge starts with their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.


Quarterback:

Aaron Rodgers had a rough year in 2019. And by “rough year” I mean by his standards as he threw for 4002 yards, 26 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Seriously, somehow there were people talking about Rodgers as if he had “lost it”. As far as dumb narratives go this was one of the dumbest. This season Rodgers is on pace to have an absolutely insane season and depending on who you ask, is the favorite to win the MVP award this season.

I’m not sure how much I really need to tell you about Aaron Rodgers. There’s almost nothing he can’t do as a quarterback. He’s 37 so I suppose he’s not going to be as aggressive running the ball as someone like Josh Allen might be, but Rodgers did score on a scramble from 10 yards out just last week, the box score will only give him credit for five yards but he took the snap in the gun and ran it in from the 10 while outrunning a defensive end. Even though he’s an “old” quarterback he’s not old in the same way Philip Rivers is.

Rodgers arm is still one of the strongest in the game and he’s as accurate as ever, anytime the wind isn’t blowing over trees outside the stadium.

The wind was a factor last week

I can never remember if it’s Rodgers or Rogers as evidenced by my Tweet

This isn’t the kind of thing we should expect to see in Lucas Oil Stadium. Being indoors isn’t an advantage for the home team any more than it is for the away team.

Rodgers first INT of the year

I’m going to break down every interception Rodgers has thrown this season and I’m not doing it because I think he’s going to throw one against the Colts this weekend. In fact, I’m going to tell you it’s very unlikely to happen as he’s only thrown three this season, four in 2019 and only three in 2018. It’s possible we don’t see Rodgers throw another pick this season but the three interceptions he’s thrown so far this year all have something in common; consistent pressure.

The play above, Rodgers doesn’t have pressure, but he did on almost every pass attempt leading up to this throw. Further the Buccaneers didn’t tip this blitz before the snap, the Packers line has a slide protection to the left and when Rodgers sees the extra rusher in his peripheral vision, he knows he has to get rid of the ball quick because there will be someone coming unblocked. Finally, he doesn’t really step into his throw and it almost looks like he’s trying to avoid being hit. Sometimes Aaron Rodgers does things that are incorrect from a technique standpoint that other less physically gifted quarterbacks just can’t do, but considering the pressure he had gotten and what I’m about to show you, I truly believe the pressure was getting to him in the clip above.

Not really his fault

Anytime a pass goes through a receivers hands and in to the arms of a waiting defender I wish there was some sort of official stat for receiver interceptions. But there are a couple of similarities between this play and his first interception which happened just a few plays before this one.

First the Bucs send a blitz and like in the clip above, they’re in man to man coverage. Rodgers sees the blitzing linebacker start to get through the A gap. He falls down but Rodgers had already begun his throwing motion. Rodgers rushes this throw, not really following through with his throw and fading back almost like he was hoping to avoid getting hit.

This interception wasn’t Rodgers fault but clearly the pressure was getting to him.

This was all his fault

At the time of this writing this game just ended, so I don’t have access to the all-22. But here’s what I do know; The Jaguars had been consistently getting pressure on Rodgers all day. They sent a blitz and were in man coverage. Rodgers doesn’t follow through with his throw and he’s falling back as he releases the ball but more than that he doesn’t even see the defensive back undercutting his receiver.

Please realize these are just three clips in what has otherwise been an insanely good year for Aaron Rodgers. These three plays shouldn’t be expected to be repeated by the Colts or any other defense this season, it’s just that I noticed a few similarities on all three of his picks this season and I wanted to present them. Now I’m going to show you what is more likely to see this Sunday from Aaron Rodgers.

Ridiculous

He moves in the pocket, creates more time, throws on the run to his receivers back shoulder in the endzone away from the defenders in front of his receiver. He makes it look easy and had he not made a career out of doing things exactly like this I would assume this was just a lucky rep. But this isn’t luck, it’s just Aaron Rodgers.

Fastest 37 year old in the league?

Even at 37 Rodgers is the most mobile quarterback to never be famous for his scrambling ability. Rodgers has always been known as a good athlete but the first thing most non-Packers fans think of when they think of Aaron Rodgers usually has very little to do with him having the ball beyond the line of scrimmage.

His mobility, apart from just scrambling to pick up yards on his own, is probably most effective when he is extending plays, allowing more time for his receivers to work their way open down field. This trait makes his ability to throw exponentially more difficult to defend.

Easy points

A little spoiler for later: look how much help they’re giving the right side of the line.

It’s not that often you see max protection blocking schemes used this close to the opponents goal line. Ultimately the play action and the defenses reaction to it, combined with the Packers use of 8 blockers gives Aaron Rodgers plenty of time. If Aaron Rodgers has time, if it’s schemed or if he creates it, Rodgers is absolutely deadly.

Finally, if you haven’t been watching or listening to Aaron Rodgers on the Pat McAffee Show every week on Tuesdays, I suggest you start tuning in. A lot of people have assumptions about the kind of person Rodgers is and while I don’t know that these conversations will change your mind they’re usually highly entertaining and I almost always learn something from Rodgers as he discusses everything from his on-field interactions, to his weekly preparation. Rodgers has been given a lot of labels and questioned for only having won one championship in his career and while he isn’t completely blameless, after listening to him truly explain himself, I have a hard time believing the Packers lack of post season success falls mostly at the feet of Rodgers.

No matter what you think of him, the Colts defense will have it’s hands full this weekend.


Running Back:

The names to know this week: Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams

The name to possibly know but probably not: A.J. Dillon and Tyler Ervin

I am going to start this paragraph about AJ Dillon by saying that he has been playing really well and the rookie looks like a good running back. Nothing I’m about to say is meant as an indictment of Dillon as a player. Dillon was placed on the Covid 19 list after testing positive following the Packers week 8 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. At this time I don’t know if he even has a chance to play this weekend but the Packers (some would say stupidly as they ignored many good receiving options completely) drafted Dillon in the second round of the 2020 draft and has largely been the third option at running back for the Packers this season.

Tyler Ervin does play running back and he will get handoffs from time to time but if Ervin can play this weekend you’ll most likely see him used in pre-snap motion. Most of the time Ervin is just window dressing on a play going the opposite way but he’s a good enough athlete that defenses have to respect him as a threat around the edge. He does seem to catch a lot of swing passes in the flat off of motion, so that has to be taken into account as well. Ervin left last weeks game with a rib injury. At this time we don’t know if he’ll be able to go against the Colts, but running backs and rib injuries go together only slightly better than running backs and lower leg injuries.

Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are the backs most likely to have an impact this weekend regardless of Dillon’s availability. 2019 saw Aaron Jones break out into a true feature back role, rushing for 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns, while catching 49 passes for 474 yards and 3 more TD’s. This season Jones has missed two games but is averaging seven more yards per game and nearly half a yard per carry more.

Williams is a very good RB2, racking up more than 700 all purpose yards and 6 total touchdowns of his own a season ago. Both Williams and Jones are 25 years old, so why the Packers decided to draft a running back in the second round, I’ll never understand.

They really want to get outside

Jones and Williams both are dangerous in the open field once they get going. It does make some sense that the Packers try to get them outside the tackles as Williams is the bigger of the two backs weighing in at 213 pounds. The Packers thought this was a more pressing need than most others so they did something about it.

He won’t play but this is what they’re missing

As I said AJ Dillon seems like a really talented running back and while it’s early watching him it seems like he’s someone who will have a nice career as a good back. But the issue many people had with his selection isn’t with him as a player but rather what fans and pundits believed were the Packers biggest needs and running back was nowhere near the top of the list.

Frankly, I would be very surprised if the Packers have much success on the ground on Sunday. Having said that, it is the NFL and anything could happen. Any given week some UDFA we’ve never heard of out of some NAIA school in Utah can have the game of their life. We never see it coming but in this one I would be floored given just how good the Colts run defense has been this year. These Packers have talented backs and the Pack will look to get them going but I don’t think they’re capable of winning this one in the trenches.


Pass Catchers:

Names to know: Davante Adams, Robert Tonyan and Marquez Valdes-Scantling

You might also see: Equanimeous St. Brown, Marcedes Lewis and Malik Taylor

St. Brown came into last weeks game with only one catch on the season but was on the field often against the Jaguars. Lewis is 36 years old and isn’t a great pass catching option at this point but it could happen given the Packers lack of other options. Taylor is a UDFA from Ferris State and has more catches and targets than St. Brown.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling is on pace to have more than 600 yards and 6 touchdowns. Robert Tonyan plays tight end but was a quarterback for the Indiana State Sycamores. Tonyan has 27 catches nearly 350 yards and 5 touchdowns on the year.

Davante Adams is a premier receiver in the NFL. Adams is currently averaging 107 receiving yards and 9 catches per game. He’s also scored 9 touchdowns in the 7 games he’s played this season.

Despite Valdes-Scantling’s big day against the Jaguars, Adams is the only receiving option the Packers have that will concern most opponents. Which is why it’s crazy to many, many people that the Packers, in the twilight of Aaron Rodgers career, after reaching the NFC Championship game, drafted a project QB in the first round and a third string running back in the second.

Valdes-Scantling had a huge day against the Jags

Valdes-Scantling just outran the cornerback on this one. Aaron Rodgers threw a perfect ball, Valdes-Scantling caught it and got in the endzone.

Winning on the crosser

Here MVS just wins with his speed again. It’s not that he’s a truly great receiver the Jags just couldn’t cover him. MVS is a guy that can, and will make you pay if you let him but I don’t think he’ll have a repeat performance this week.

The main attraction

If the Colts can clamp down on MVS and DaVante Adams, this game could look very good for Indianapolis. Outside of them Robert Tonyan is someone who can absolutely contribute but will have to deal with the Colts linebackers.

Even if the Colts cover these receivers and tight ends perfectly, Aaron Rodgers is capable of throwing absolutely perfect passes to otherwise well covered receivers like the throw to Adams in that last clip from the Packers official Twitter account.


Offensive Line:

From left to right: David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Corey Linsley, Lucas Patrick and Billy Turner

Bakhtiari, Jenkins and Linsley are a very good 3/5ths of an offensive line. Bakhtiari just signed a four year extension to make him the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history and he’s worth it. Jenkins is a very good guard and Corey Linsley might be the best center that I’ve watched play this year.

Lucas Patrick has two first names and he plays like it. Billy Turner has been mediocre at best and was downright bad last week against the Jags.

This play was called back due to Billy Turner

Turner was just not good against the Jags. He was flagged for a chop block and I don’t know the letter of that rule but he literally just lost his balance and fell down (not that surprising) and fell into the legs of a defensive lineman who was engaged with another offensive lineman. Had he meant to do it, then I would have been fine with the call but it was clearly unintentional. Beyond that one flag that he couldn’t really control (other than by playing better and staying on his feet) he was consistently losing in pass pro. The Colts should challenge the right side of this line early and often.

All day

Aaron Rodgers is as close to super human as any quarterback can ever be but at the end of the day, when you punch him in the mouth, he’s just like everyone else. Here Turner oversets and is beaten inside. Lucas Patrick is late to react and provide assistance leading to Rodgers getting rid of the ball that was almost picked.

The Packers offensive line does a good job opening holes in the run game most of the time. The left side of the line is rock solid in pass pro, the right side is highly suspect. The Colts unquestionably will have the advantage on the defensive side of the ball in the trenches on Sunday.


Final Thoughts:

If the Packers had almost any other starting quarterback (save for Patrick Mahomes and maybe Russell Wilson) I would be telling you that the Colts have a big advantage and the Packers offense will struggle all day.

While that’s still possible, Aaron Rodgers is simply too good to discount in that way. Even if the Colts stop their rushing attack and blanket their receiver and demolish their offensive line, Aaron Rodgers is capable of overcoming all of that, elevating the players he has around him and leading his team to victories they have no business getting.

As great as the Colts defense has been this season it doesn’t have a single player who is capable of taking over a game like a Lawrence Taylor, Bruce Smith, Reggie White or Aaron Donald. They’ve simply played fantastic team defense. On the other side of the ball Aaron Rodgers is that kind of dominant talent that is capable of doing what is impossible for most.

This offense isn’t as good as the Colts defense but Aaron Rodgers individual ability might make that irrelevant.