Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Marinelli Report - Week 5 - Green Bay

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) gets past Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) during the second half of an NFL football game at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Arlington. The Packers won the game 35-31.
Smiley N. Pool/Staff Photographer
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) gets past Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) during the second half of an NFL football game at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Arlington. The Packers won the game 35-31.
I think you can accept the Aaron Rodgers realities. Most of the NFL has tried at times to slow him down and - often with minimal assistance - Rodgers does what he does against many a foe. 

But, Aaron Jones?  
I would suggest just about any reader of this piece right now had not heard of Aaron Jones before Sunday. Heck, I would suggest that just about any Green Bay Packers fan was pretty unfamiliar with the rookie from UTEP who was making his first career start on Sunday after being taken in the fifth round last May.
Now, he may be starting a great career with his monster performance on Sunday that included 19 carries for 125 yards (6.6 per carry), a vital 9-yard reception to move the chains, a touchdown and one of the biggest plays in the biggest drive of the game with his 15-yard run that got out of bounds with 45 seconds to play in the game.  
Aaron Jones is not Todd Gurley. But one could make a significant case that he hurt the Cowboys as badly as Gurley did the week before by attacking the one part of this defense that appears to be ripe for attacking right now - the linebackers.
Ironic, of course, when you consider all of the consternation regarding the Cowboys defense over the offseason was focused on the ability to get sacks and the ability to cover wide receivers down the field. Both of those categories have worked out pretty well, to be honest. The sack totals are higher than they have been in years and the biggest wide receiver day against the Cowboys so far has been Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Otherwise, nobody has had a 75-yard day at receiver against Dallas. But, it is abundantly clear in the losses to Denver, Los Angeles and now Green Bay that the common theme is these offenses are attacking the linebackers repeatedly and without mercy.
If Gurley is going to get you, fine. C.J. Anderson? I guess. But now the attack is from Aaron. If you thought Aaron Jones and his battered offensive line could outproduce Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys line of first-rounders, then you should predict things for a living.  
Sean Lee is the talisman of this defense. He has been for sometime. Unfortunately, he is getting older and his body's durability has always been his enemy. But the results with and without Sean Lee over the last three years is staggering. Here are the Cowboys run defense numbers with Sean and without him (in the four games he missed due to injury):
Eighty-nine yards is among the best in the league; 139 is going to be near the bottom. The difference is staggering. Without him, you are looking at Jaylon Smith, Kyle Wilber, Justin Durant, Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens. There may not be more than one NFL starter in that group right now. And some guy named Aaron Jones repeatedly shredded their efforts on Sunday.  
This was early in the game. I believe Wilber has contain. Or, actually, nobody clearly has contain.
Green Bay said, "Nobody has contain left, so run over there again." They did. And Byron Jones did not have a great day, either.  
In the red zone, it was as if there were no linebackers at all.  
All day long this went on. Repeatedly. Right at Jaylon Smith most of the day.  It was as if they watched what the Rams did and dared to try it without Gurley (or Ty Montgomery).  
Look at the entire front cave-in on a zone play, setting Jones up for a cutback that has nothing but daylight.  
Fourth-down pitch to the sideline in a footrace with Jaylon:
Or, run right at him.  
But, then late in the game, with Jaylon on the bench, the Deacon package is pretty small and there are running opportunities against an undersized front if you have time. Green Bay had the time. This run was huge.  
As you can see, Jones needs some credit. But I think the common denominator is the Cowboys linebackers getting carved up pretty badly. It is an unlikely weak spot on the defense, but I have no choice but to point the finger there - because consecutive Cowboys opponents did so when they came in here. Everyone is talking Aaron Rodgers, but, you held him to 221 yards. The other Aaron was the guy who seemed to be holding the bloody weapon most of the day.  
OK, hold Green Bay to less than 25 minutes, three conversions on third down, just three explosives, and sack Rodgers four times?  I think that would be pretty nice work, right?
But, we also have to consider 4 of 5 in the red zone, no takeaways, and, of course, that final drive.  
Does that look like the throw chart of a QB who destroyed you? I don't think so, either. Hardly any passes to the middle of the field. A number of back-shoulder fades to the left, a long pass to Martellus Bennett, another to Lance Kendricks and just slipping some shorter passes for results after the catch. It doesn't feel that way, but the secondary held up pretty well against Rodgers. 
Keep in mind that 20 percent is usually the league low for blitz rates. So it is clear that the Cowboys have no interest in risking big plays behind blitzes. They want to defend conservatively and they continue to do so. No big plays. Make the opposition put long drives together. Most times, that will work out pretty well.  
Again, only three big plays - all to guys you wouldn't expect to get explosives. No Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams or Randall Cobb on this list.  
We will call this section "Welcome back David Irving."  He was disruptive and excellent. Very excited about his next few months next to DeMarcus Lawrence.
It would be nice if someone else was close to him, but I assume Lee and Irving will be in second and third place pretty quickly.
That continues to keep Lawrence on his record pace. We have not seen a start to a season like this since I have kept this stat.
OK, let's look at a few more plays here.  Cowboys are on pace for their best sack season since they led the league in sacks in 2008 with 59. Since then, they have never had more than 42 and their highest mark in the last five years has been 36.  
But, look, sacks are coming! Lots of them. They have 16 so far. That puts them on a 51-sack pace which would also put them with the league leaders. Here are the sacks from Sunday where they produced solid pressure on Rodgers for big parts of the game. 
I got excited when I saw that Tyrone Crawford got a sack, but then I noticed it was just a poor screen play by the Packers where nobody blocked him on purpose. Still counts...
Here is David Irving jumping the snap and the Packers bust their protection. Watch the center No. 63 Linsley and the guard No. 73 Evans start yelling at each other on this play. I thought you had him.
This is textbook work of keeping Rodgers in the pocket and continuing to fly around trying to close down the play. This was also the Mayowa personal foul on the Lawrence sack. Mayowa has to be smarter, but the call was also pretty ridiculous.  
And this sack is Lawrence winning against Bulaga and forcing Rodgers to step up. Meanwhile, Irving is running over No. 64 McCray at left guard and taking the sack. Lawrence deserves credit here, but Irving is making an immediate impact at DT.  
And now two Green Bay plays that did not go well for this defense:
I assume Byron Jones has a television and knows that there is no red-zone combination over the years more lethal than Rodgers to Jordy Nelson. Despite that knowledge, he falls for the play-action fake (perhaps because he knows how bad the linebackers have been), but that is not doing your job. He gave this TD away way too easily for a safety. Bad job on a rough day for 31.
And now, the play that we talked about all week. From Monday's column:  
...after an incompletion and a short run, Green Bay faced a third-and-8 at the 30-yard line. This is the play that will stick in your memories for a bit.
The Cowboys are going to roll out the "Deacon" package, where they are in 2-deep, man under with three rushers and a linebacker playing quarterback spy. The two linebackers who are on the field are Anthony Hitchens and Justin Durant. One of them is to pick up Jones and the other is to keep Rodgers from breaking contain. The three pass rushers are the best the Cowboys have -- DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving and Benson Mayowa from left to right.
The Packers will double-team Lawrence -- which requires the right tackle and right guard -- leaving Irving in a one-on-one with center Corey Linsley and Mayowa against Lane Taylor (who is their left guard playing left tackle for just the second time in his career). The left guard is responsible for a blitzing linebacker who appears to be Hitchens, but when Jones slides out of the pocket into a route, Hitchens goes with him. The problem with that is Durant is doing the same thing. The Cowboys have two linebackers who play both positions regularly, and on this occasion it appears both seem to be thinking they have the same responsibility. Both are on the running back, and neither is spying the guy with the ball and reputation -- Rodgers.
As the play develops, Mayowa is beating Taylor, and as Rodgers steps up in the pocket, Mayowa gets both hands on the quarterback at the 38-yard line. But Rodgers is able to power through that and head to the left sideline. Irving, who has tremendous mobility for a man his size, is now on top of Rodgers' path and dives from close proximity to get his legs at the 33-yard line. Somehow, Rodgers eludes him, too. Since there are no linebackers nearby and the secondary is in man coverage, he has a lot of space down the sideline and finally stops the clock and play at the 12-yard line with 21 seconds to play. It is a fresh set of downs, and that might have been the last chance to stop him, as the ending from here felt a bit inevitable.
And that was that. Ballgame.

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