By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) When you have the best available quarterback in a passing league, running the ball seems unnecessary. For years, the numbers indicate the Packers felt the same way.
In their 2010 Super Bowl season, they ranked 24th in rushing offense. In their nearly perfect 2011 season, they dropped to 27th. As such, opponents sat back in two-high safety looks to defend the pass, confident they could stop the run with seven defenders.
In 2013, the Packers have taken a different approach, and rank fifth in the league in rushing. This change in philosophy is attributed to new personnel, a commitment to running the ball, and a creative package of run plays.
Since he arrived in Green Bay, head coach Mike McCarthy has run a zone-blocking scheme. But this season, the Packers have reinvented their running game, adding a variety of new concepts – power, quick hitters, draws, designed cutbacks – and blocking schemes – zone, man, and gap – to their playbook.
Let’s go to the film room to take a closer look at the Packers rejuvenated running game.
The first example comes from the Ravens game. The Packers come out in ‘11’ personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) in a 2×1 alignment with Eddie Lacy as the deep back and Jermichael Finley as the H-Back. The Ravens respond with their nickel personnel in a 2-4-5 alignment in Cover-1 Man Free.
The Packers start this play off as a zone-blocked toss to the right. Knowing the Ravens are a quick-pursuing defense, the Packers built in a designed cutback for Eddie Lacy, bringing Finley back across the formation to seal off Terrell Suggs who has backside contain.
The Packers get the lateral pursuit and flow to the ball they expected. Finley obstructs Suggs just enough to create the cutback lane for Lacy to burst through on a 37-yard gain.
This is excellent play design by the Packers. They got the Ravens into nickel (five defensive back) personnel, and used their over-aggressiveness in pursuit against them on the cutback.
The next example comes from the Lions game. The Packers come out in ‘11’ personnel in the shotgun, with Randall Cobb as the single back, offset to Rodgers left. The Lions respond with their nickel personnel in a Cover-2 shell.
The Packers run a quick-hitter with Cobb, and gap-block with their offensive line. Gap blocking requires offensive lineman to be responsible for a specific gap.
On this play, left guard Josh Sitton (circled in green) is responsible for the playside A-gap, left tackle David Bakhtiari (circled in blue) is responsible for the playside B-gap, and center Evan Dietrich-Smith (circled in white) pulls to clear the C-gap.
The Packers line controls the interior gaps, and Dietrich-Smith’s kick-out block in the C-gap springs Cobb for a 67-yard gain.
This is another excellent play design by the Packers. Knowing the Lions front is a penetrating, one-gap front, reach blocks in zone-blocked plays can be difficult to execute. By running a gap play, the Packers get an angle on their down blocks, forcing the Lions defensive line to read their blocks and slow up their penetration.
The Bears may line up with two rookie linebackers – Jon Bostic (Mike) and Khaseem Greene (Will) – on Monday night. This is a glimpse into the future, but in the present, their eye discipline and assignments will be tested by the best in the business. When Rodgers sees 2-high, he’ll check to a run. When Rodgers sees 1-high, he’ll check to a pass. Will Bostic be up for the in-game chess match?
Given the finite amount of practice time available, teams typically commit to one blocking scheme in the run game and use it as their base. By using man, zone, and gap blocking schemes, the Packers can attack defensive fronts from different angles. By designing new concepts based on the type and style of defensive front they’re playing, the Packers can use a defense’s tendencies against them.
Couple this creative running game with their potent up-tempo spread aerial attack, and the Packers offense creates many sleepless nights for defensive coordinators.
Questions about this playbook or suggestions for a future playbook? Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin