Breaking Down the Key Plays in a Possible Super Bowl Preview

In Week 13 of the 2014 NFL season, in what could very well have been a Super Bowl preview between the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, the Pack emerged victorious on a cold night in Green Bay, Wisconsin, winning by a final score of 26-21. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 368 yards and 2 touchdowns on 24/38 passing, while his counterpart Tom Brady went 22/35 with 245 yards passing and 2 touchdowns as well. The Patriots held the Packers to three points in the second half, but could not do enough to achieve the comeback win. They had a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Brady was sacked by Green Bay DT Mike Daniels and New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the ensuing field goal attempt. Green Bay ran out the clock to end the game, leaving fans all over clamoring for a rematch between the two teams in early February in Glendale, Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLIX. The outcome of the game came down to a few close calls that went the Packers’ way in this matchup. However, things could change in a neutral site two months from now. I took a look at some of the key plays that helped Green Bay come away with the win on Sunday.

0:39 left in the first quarter / Ball at the GB 23 / Result: Davante Adams 45-yard catch

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With the Patriots in a Cover 1 defensive scheme with Devin McCourty as the lone safety, the Packers lined up with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams to the strongside of the formation, and Jordy Nelson and Richard Rodgers on the weakside of the formation. McCourty was shaded over to the other side of the field to help cornerback Brandon Browner on Nelson, so Darrelle Revis and Logan Ryan would have to deal with Cobb and Adams’s out-and-up routes on their own. Nelson ran a crossing route and Rogers ran an out route to try and get separation from their defenders.

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When the ball was snapped, Ryan bit on Adams’s double move, and Adams took advantage, snaking past Ryan up the sideline as Aaron Rodgers nailed him for the 45-yard completion.

 

0:15 left in the first quarter / Ball at the NE 32 / Result: 32-yard TD catch by Richard Rodgers

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The Packers came out in “11” personnel, meaning 1 RB and 1 TE, and had three wide receivers. New England countered with Cover 1 man, with all wide receivers being pressed at the line of scrimmage. Cornerback Kyle Arrington was playing the role of a “robber”, a position that a strong safety such as Patrick Chung usually plays for the Patriots. Arrington might have been put in here because he has better coverage skills than Chung. However, those coverage skills did not come in handy here, as Arrington was burned by the tight end Rodgers for the 32-yard touchdown. Rodgers ran an inside post, and Arrington had no help over the top, as Devin McCourty was shaded over to the strongside of the offensive formation to help Browner cover Nelson.

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Arrington had no help from the beginning: Rodgers got a free release off the line of scrimmage and caught Arrington flat-footed, and the other Rodgers (Aaron) hit the tight end for the score, putting the Packers up 13-0 at the end of the first quarter.

 

11:22 left in the second quarter / Ball at the GB 32 / Result: Randall Cobb 45-yard catch

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The Packers threw a wrinkle into the game at this point, with trips formation to the right, and Randall Cobb—a wide receiver—in the backfield to the right of Aaron Rodgers. Jamie Collins was out wide covering Richard Rodgers, the tight end. McCourty was the lone safety in Cover 1, and was shading towards Collins in case he needed help over the top versus Rodgers. Arrington was playing the robber role again in the box, and looked to be in charge of covering Cobb. However, when the ball was snapped, Cobb released out of the backfield and ran towards the flat. DE Rob Ninkovich followed him, likely because he had a responsibility in the Patriots’ defensive scheme to cover a receiver in the flat if there was one. Cobb ran a wheel route up the right sideline and had Ninkovich beat. Arrington had a tough time fighting through the trips formation of receivers on the right, and got there too late.

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Rodgers easily hit Cobb for the 33-yard completion over the lumbering Ninkovich. The Patriots got lucky, because Green Bay had Nelson open on the inside post route versus Revis without safety help, and if Rodgers found him Nelson would likely have run it in for a touchdown.

 

0:23 left in the second quarter / Ball at the NE 45 / Result: Jordy Nelson 45-yard TD catch

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With an empty backfield and five receivers spread out wide, the Patriots were showing an A-gap blitz with Dont’a Hightower, and McCourty was the lone safety as usual in Cover 1 defense. Browner was covering Cobb wide left, and Logan Ryan was covering Adams in the slot. Revis was on Nelson split out right. Nelson ran a post route, Adams and Cobb ran mirroring inside posts.

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When the ball snapped, Nelson ran at Revis, and got away with a slight push-off as he broke into the post. McCourty seemed to think Nelson was going to run a go route, because he moved towards the sideline as Nelson broke off the line of scrimmage as the ball was snapped. In the picture above, you can see McCourty has over-committed, and isn’t able to give Revis the help he was expecting. Revis played Nelson with an outside technique, and it was clear he was expecting McCourty to have his help in the middle of the field. At that point, it was too late, and Rodgers hit Nelson for the crucial touchdown before halftime that wound up being the reason the Patriots lost that game. If McCourty stays in the center of field, he makes the tackle on Nelson and prevents the touchdown.

 

2:28 left in the fourth quarter / Ball at the GB 43 / Result: Randall Cobb 7-yard catch for the first down

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The Packers started with James Starks in the backfield next to Rodgers, but he motioned out to the right before the snap. The Patriots had McCourty, once a cornerback in his rookie year, covering Jarrett Boykin. The only safety help was Patrick Chung who was playing “halves” coverage on the weakside of the offensive formation. “Halves” is when a safety is in charge of half the field. In this case, Chung was in charge of providing help from the right hashmarks to the sideline. Inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower played zone in the middle of the field. Boykin and Adams ran mirroring inside post routes to the left and Nelson ran a go route with Revis covering him. Richard Rodgers, with Jamie Collins covering him, ran a flag route, and Cobb ran a post route with Logan Ryan responsible for him.

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At the snap, the Pats defense had all of the receivers under wraps, except Randall Cobb. Cobb caught Ryan flat-footed on the post route and gained separation from him. Hightower was in the middle of field playing zone, and should have picked up Cobb, but moved up as Cobb ran towards him. As Hightower moved up, Cobb adjusted his route and went behind Hightower. Patrick Chung displayed his poor coverage skills by essentially not helping anyone. He stayed in his zone, not helping anyone cover their receiver. A split second later Rodgers found Cobb for the completion and the first down, ruining any hopes New England had of coming back and winning the game.

Aidan Curran
Georgetown Class of 2018

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title image courtesy of CBSSports.com

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