Packers pass, pass, pass, pass, pass on chance to run to victory
Matt LaFleur arrived in Green Bay as Packers coach with the intention of running football. LaFleur has stayed true to his word. Green Bay entered Thursday’s game against Philadelphia ranked 10th with a run rate of 43.8 percent, a stark contrast to last year, when the league’s most pass-happy attack ran the ball just 32.5 percent.
However, in the defining moments of Thursday’s game, LaFleur went full Mike McCarthy.
On a series of plays starting with first-and-goal at the 1, the Packers threw the ball every time. Even with receiver Davante Adams out with a toe injury leaving running back Aaron Jones as the team’s top playmaker, the Packers didn’t run the ball. Even with LaFleur’s fondness for running plays that look the same, he didn’t once marry a pass to a run.
On first down, Rodgers threw a fade to tight end Jimmy Graham, who couldn’t make a one-handed grab against safety Rodney McLeod. On second down, Rodgers attempted a bootleg to the right but the Eagles were all over it; defensive end Brandon Graham was right in Rodgers’ face, and he threw it into the dirt near tight end Danny Vitale. Third down was as close as the Packers got to running it, with a run-pass option in which Rodgers faked a handoff to the right to Jones. That gave Rodgers an option to run or pass. McLeod attacked the play from a linebacker position, Graham and receiver Allen Lazard were covered, and Rodgers threw it out of bounds. That set the stage for fourth down. Rodgers dropped back, bought time to his right and threw a jump ball to Graham in the back of the end zone. Again, he couldn’t come down with a one-handed catch, this time vs. linebacker Zach Brown.
Why not run it? Even once?
“That’s a great question,” LaFleur said. “We got in goal-line (personnel and) we liked the matchup on the outside, Jimmy Graham on the safety. That was incomplete. Second down, we tried to stay in goal-line (personnel) thinking they might think we’re running the ball. We ran a keeper and the defensive end played right up the field and he was in Aaron’s face. Then third down we called – it was a play with a run-pass option, and Aaron saw what he saw and he pulled the ball, the defense reacted, so he had to throw it away. Then fourth down we tried another pass. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us.”
Green Bay got one last shot. Starting from its 11 with 5:02 remaining, Rodgers moved the ball to the Eagles’ 7 by completing 7-of-10 passes to five different players. On first-and-goal with 1:06 remaining, LaFleur called a run to drain some of the clock. Jones gained 4 to the 3.
The Packers let the clock wind to 28 seconds when they snapped the ball. Rodgers threw it to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was aligned outside right with fellow receiver Darrius Shepherd in the slot. It’s essentially a pick play, with Valdes-Scantling dipping inside of Shepherd. Rodgers threw it but it was tipped away by cornerback Craig James and intercepted by linebacker Nigel Bradham.
“It felt like with the slightly outside leverage on Darrius that Marquez was going to win,” Rodgers said. “It's so tight down there, if I hold it a tick, obviously I’m going see Darrius, so I was disappointed for it to end like that.”
When he watches the film, Rodgers might not be so disappointed with the decision – it appeared Shepherd’s man converged on Valdes-Scantling only after the ball was released – but that’s neither here nor there. A chance to improve to 4-0 died with an abominable 3-of-7 performance in the red zone.
LaFleur might be disappointed with his decisions, as well. On the first sequence, if it’s four-down territory, why not run it once, even if it’s only to set up a pass? The Eagles had destroyed Green Bay’s running game, holding Jones to 21 yards on 13 carries, but without Adams, why not give the team’s best remaining playmaker a chance? Then again, Rodgers was rolling and Jones finished with just 1.7 yards per carry, so why not give the future Hall of Famer as many chances as possible to win the game?
“We had a couple opportunities there to score,” Rodgers said. “We just didn’t quite execute. It hurts. Obviously, the way they were stopping the run, we feel good about those four calls. I liked the calls, and I feel like we were close on a couple of those to really scoring and tying it up.”