(NOTE: Apologies for the video quality on these clips. I was unable to obtain high-definition footage of the Family Night practices)
For Packers scheme enthusiasts, the offseason is often a bit of a dead zone. Studying and restudying the previous season can get old. Information from training camp is limited by the team’s restrictions on videos taken during practice.
Luckily, each year the Packers broadcast the team’s Family Night practice to the general public. This provides fans a chance to see the Packers play in Lambeau for the first time in months. Often, it can also supply an interesting look into what the coaching staff is preparing for the upcoming season. Such was the case in this year’s Family Night. Specifically, the evening yielded a tantalizing glimpse of the pressure packages that defensive coordinator Joe Barry could be cooking up.
Analyzing the Initial Blitz
Early on in team periods, the defense rolled out an intriguing pressure while in their 4-2-5 nickel personnel. The defensive line aligns in a “Load” front, with Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, and Jarran Reed overloading the left side of the offensive line. ILB Quay Walker lines up as a standup rusher over the RG, mirroring the RB, while Rashan Gary takes position over the right tackle.
Although Walker is mugged up over the right guard, he does not come on a blitz. Instead, he drops into coverage while De’Vondre Campbell spikes into the A gap on the overloaded side. Jarran Reed, lined up as the nose tackle on the overload, slants over into the opposite A gap. This forces fast communication between the center and right guard. If the center isn’t able to quickly pass Reed off to the RG, then the blitzing Campbell could have an open lane to the QB.
Similar stress is put on the LG and LT through a TEX stunt, though the play is called dead before the stunt can develop. Ideally, Kenny Clark would attempt to engage the guard, then work across to pin the tackle. Preston Smith would then loop around into the A gap.
Behind the blitz, the Packers appear to be in man coverage with a single high safety on the roof.
This blitz presentation and design has several effects. First, the pre-snap five-man front helps ensure advantageous matchups for Green Bay’s pass rushers. Faced with these types of alignments, offensive lines often employ “5-0” protection, also called “man” protection. In 5-0 protection, each lineman is assigned a specific member of the defensive front to block. This can leave the front’s stars free to rush the passer with a decreased possibility of a double team. Moreover, 5-0 blocking can be susceptible to stunts and DL games. With each offensive lineman focused on their man, passing off rushers is more difficult and and pick-and-loop games are easier for the defense to execute.
In addition to prompting 5-0 protection, this blitz essentially overloads one of the quickest paths to the QB – the A gap. If the offensive line can’t pass off the slanting Jarran Reed or Kenny Clark’s pin attempt, then either Campbell or Smith – or both – could be left running free down the middle.
Although Joe Barry occasionally sent blitzes in 2021, they were rare and often relatively simple in design. With the talented coverage players and pass rushers on the 2022 Green Bay defense, it would not be a surprise to see an increase in five-man pressures that create more one-on-ones for the defensive front. Given the hire of OLB coach Jason Rebrovich, an increase in stunts like the TEX game seen here also appears likely. In his past stops, Rebrovich’s pass rush units have consistently emphasized the incorporation of DL games.
Introducing the Variation
A few plays after the initial blitz, Joe Barry rolled out a modified form of the call. The pre-snap presentation is similar. Quay Walker walks up over the RG, opposite the RB, and the DL aligns in an overloaded front against the left side of the OL. However, this time Walker comes on a blitz while Campbell takes over coverage responsibility on the RB. Walker and the edge rusher to his side run a TEX stunt. On the overload side, the defensive tackles run a NOT stunt, with the NT attempting to pin the center and left guard and the 4i DT looping to the opposite A gap. Green Bay is again in man coverage with a single safety on the roof.
Just like offenses, defenses can employ “constraint” plays designed to take advantage of their opponents’ attempts to adjust to a base defensive call. It appears that this pressure is an example of a defensive constraint play. The defense is anticipating and attempting to exploit how the offense will change its protection call against this look.
On the initial blitz, the offense chose to go into 5-0 protection, putting a man on a man. Here, they instead use “slide” protection. Everyone except the right tackle begins sliding to the left, while the RB steps up to protect the B gap inside the RT. Instead of blocking man-on-man, the sliding OL is blocking based on zone principles. In theory, this should make it easier to handle the pressure design they experienced on the last play. The sliding RG will already be prepared for Reed’s slant, making it easier for the center to pass Reed off and pick up the blitz from Campbell. Since the sliding lineman are protecting a set zone, rather than a specific man, this protection is also better suited to handle the TEX stunt that the defense ran on the initial pressure.
One way defenses attack protection is by targeting the running back. Even good pass-blocking backs will most likely be easier to defeat than an offensive lineman. On the first pressure, Quay Walker dropped into coverage, leaving the right-side B gap empty. If this had occurred again, the GB offense would be in good shape. The zone-blocking side would have handled the pressure, and the back would’ve been free to release on a route or help the RT handle any inside moves. However, by using this variation, Joe Barry finds a way to anticipate the protection and attack the back. The TEX stunt on the right side of the line has Walker working across the face of the RB to pin the RT, while the edge rusher loops to the B gap protected by the back. This creates a mismatch – RB vs. OLB – in favor of the defense.
Even if the offense called 5-0 protection, it would have struggled to pick up this pressure. Simultaneous stunts – such as the TEX and NOT run here – can create a great deal of stress on man protection.
Much of the hype surrounding the Packers defense stems from their star-studded personnel. However, an expanded and sophisticated pressure package could also play an important role. Effective blitz looks can help put defenders in better positions to succeed and create change-ups to keep offenses off-balance. Blitz progressions like the one covered here could boost the defense’s ferocity to a whole new level. Barry will probably stick to vanilla calls in the preseason, but his blitz packages could be something to keep an eye on once the regular season starts.
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