The Packers’ game against the Ravens was not particularly successful from a defensive perspective. The defense surrendered 354 yards and 30 points to a depleted Baltimore squad. Mark Andrews, the Ravens’ excellent tight end, was a particular problem, racking up 136 yards and two touchdowns on 10 catches. Allowing such dominance is unquestionably a blight on the Packers’ defense. During and following the game, Joe Barry received some heat for not adjusting quick enough to limit Andrews. However, upon reviewing the game film, I think that this criticism is somewhat unwarranted. The Packers defense did make adjustments, even doing so early in the game. Andrews accrued 95 of his receiving yards and both his touchdowns in the first half. In the second half, Green Bay held him to a more modest 41 yards. I want to take a look here at how they tried to accomplish this.
The First-Half Issues
Much of Andrews’ success in the first half came at the expense of safety Darnell Savage. Here, on only the third play of the first Ravens drive, Andrews is able to beat Savage for a 40+ yard gain. The Packers are running a five-man blitz, leaving 6 players in the secondary. They are running what is known as a 3 under-3 deep coverage (3u-3d). In this coverage, the outside corners and one of the safeties each take a deep third of the field, while the underneath players guard the shallow thirds. In this case, Amos has to guard the deep middle of the field (MOF) while Savage rotates down to the low MOF. Savage appears to react too slowly when the ball is snapped, losing his leverage on Andrews’ Over route. Andrews makes a strong catch and breaks a tackle for a long gain.
The Ravens’ second drive saw some of the same issues. Savage lines up in man coverage on Andrews here. He gives up inside leverage on the route – perhaps expecting a double move, or that De’Vondre Campbell will take the route – and can’t get to the catch point to break up the pass.
Onto Andrews’ two touchdowns (both in the following cutup). On the first, the Packers again run a 3u-3d zone blitz, this time with Savage as the deep MOF defender. Andrews runs a vertical route then breaks outside once he sees the QB scramble. I don’t fault Savage too much for this; there isn’t an easy way for him to maintain good leverage once the QB breaks out of the pocket. On the second TD, the Packers are running a Cover 0 blitz (man coverage with no deep safety). Savage gets in a good position trailing Andrews across the field, but appears to overplay the ball and gets caught behind the TE’s upfield shoulder.
These four catches certainly weren’t the only ones Andrews accrued in the first half, but they give a good look at the issues that he was causing in Green Bay’s secondary.
How the Packers Adjusted
Starting in the second quarter, the Packers started to adjust their defensive strategy to guard Andrews more carefully. There are three main ways that they did this.
Adjustment #1: Modifying Their Zone Coverages
In their efforts to neutralize Andrews, the Packers didn’t just turn to traditional double-teams, which can limit a defense’s options in defending the rest of the offense. Instead, they started to pay extra attention to him in some of their zone coverage looks.
In the first part of this cutup, the Packers are in Cover 3 (a coverage that has 3 deep zones and 4 underneath zones). Andrews is in the slot to the top of the screen. Campbell – who normally would have responsibility for the flat in this coverage – bumps Andrews before passing him off to the hook defender (Amos), who is strongly shaded to that side. In the second clip, GB is again in Cover 3. Andrews lines up as the lead man in the bunch. Kevin King is in as the dime safety, and is able to disrupt Andrews’ Over route. This time, Savage is able to get to the catch point and get the PBU.
Adjustment #2: Getting Physical
The Packers also resorted to a more physical style of press coverage to affect Andrews’ ability to get into routes.
In this clip, CB Chandon Sullivan is in man coverage against Andrews in the slot to the top of the screen. Sullivan gets a nice jam into the TE to throw off the route timing and then carries him down the field.
Adjustment #3: Cover 1 Double Jersey #
Finally, the Packers turned to a storied method of double-teaming receivers: Cover 1 Double Jersey #. This call refers to man coverage with a single high safety, with the defense doubling a certain receiver (indicated by their number). Mark Andrews is #89, so the call would be “Cover 1 Double 89.” This defense usually involves each of the two defenders assigned to the indicated receiver taking away different parts of the route tree.
Both of the clips in this cutup are from the final drive of the game. In the first clip, Andrews is the closest receiver to the ball in the 3 receiver set. King is playing man coverage with high outside leverage, with Savage overtop. Savage sees Andrews lean inside and robs the middle of the field, probably anticipating another Over route. It’s a double move this time, but with King playing high and outside it’s still covered. I should note that it’s possible this coverage is more of a traditional Cover 1 with Savage in a robber role. However, given how closely Savage is watching Andrews, I do think that this is true C1 Dbl 89. The second clip is the final touchdown before the Ravens’ failed 2-point conversion. Here, King is playing outside and underneath, and Amos is the high, inside leverage player. Unfortunately, with a double team on Andrews, the Packers don’t have enough players to employ a QB spy. As a result, Huntley is able to scramble for the TD.
The Packers used a varied combination of tweaks and special coverages in their attempts to limit Mark Andrews after a disastrous first few drives. They didn’t employ these techniques on every down. Early on they still had to devote resources to deal with the Ravens running game. At times they also decided to use extra players to restrict the QB’s scrambling ability; doubling one receiver can make it more difficult to deal with this risk, as illustrated by the last clip. Their efforts weren’t always successful, either. Andrews was still able to find some holes in GB’s coverage in the second half. Still, the snaps where they did use these measures provided an interesting look at what coverage tools the Packers have available to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some of these methods again this season or post-season. In particular, I’ll be keeping an eye on how GB handles Justin Jefferson in their rematch with the Vikings, considering how much trouble he gave the defense last time.
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