On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers were upset at home by the Minnesota Vikings. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine didn’t help avoid disaster.
Let’s say you are a defensive coordinator facing the Minnesota Vikings — one of the NFL’s most unapologetically run-heavy offenses — on a day so windy that the National Weather Service issues a “Small Children Blowing Away” advisory for the region.
Your game plan would be simple, right? Stack the box, shoot the gaps, load up to stuff the run and force Kirk Cousins to (chuckle) beat you with his arm.
But let’s say you are Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, the NFL’s last pure Rex Ryan protege and innovator of the three-man pass rush. Loading the box just isn’t enough of a turbo-genius tactic for you. Instead, you might try something really unpredictable like, say, lining up 271-pound edge rusher Preston Smith at cornerback and seeing what happens!
Pettine’s defense allowed Dalvin Cook to rush for 163 yards and three touchdowns (plus a 50-yard touchdown on a screen pass) in the Packers’ 28-22 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Two weeks ago, the Packers allowed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to rush for 158 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-10 loss. In last year’s NFC Championship Game, Pettine’s defense allowed the San Francisco 49ers to rush for 285 yards in a 37-20 Packers loss.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Brady and Cousins combined for just 50 pass attempts in those three losses. They were sacked a total of two times. Pettine’s defense made life as easy as possible for a pair of notoriously mistake-prone quarterbacks and couldn’t pressure a living legend whose greatest late-career weakness is a habit of coughing up pick-6’s when pressured.
That screen shot of Smith at cornerback reveals part of the problem. He’s out there because tight end Kyle Rudolph is split wide and Smith is assigned man coverage on Rudolph. Cousins could easily have exploited that mismatch if the Vikings weren’t leading 28-14 and jamming the ball straight down the Packers’ esophagus.
Pettine’s defense is full of concepts that opposing offenses figured out how to exploit about 10 years ago. That includes Pettine’s signature three-man pass rush, which baffled opposing quarterbacks when Ryan used it in 2009 but is now just a chance for most opponents to enjoy a little target practice.
Throughout Sunday’s loss, the Vikings lined up in three-tight end formations, or in the I-formation with two tight ends, and all-but held up signs which read “Dalvin Cook is about to run off tackle” from the sideline.
Pettine responded time and again with a base package: three down linemen, linebackers well off the ball, safeties rarely anywhere near the box. The Packers linebackers then overshot their gaps constantly and allowed wide-open cutback lanes, because Pettine’s defenders seem to think “gap discipline” is some sort of sex kink.
Throw in some horrible dive-stick tackling and the incapability/unwillingness of many Packers defenders to disengage from blocks, and you have the recipe for an upset loss to a bad team running a high school offense.
“We knew we had to stop the run,” head coach Matt LaFleur said after the game (via Brandon Carwile of Packers Wire). “That didn’t happen.” Translation: I called a pretty terrible game too, but I better find a scapegoat so I can get ahead of Aaron Rodgers’ next passive-aggressive smear campaign.
The Packers face the 49ers, who still rely on their running game to hide deficiencies elsewhere, on Thursday. If Pettine can’t prevent what’s left of the 49ers committee backfield from running right through the heart of his defense, he probably won’t survive the following week’s “mini-bye.”
And that’s a good thing, because the Packers are one bad Pettine idea away from lining 315-pound nose tackle Kenny Clark up at free safety.
It’s Not Delivery; It’s DiNucci
We’re not going to rip Mike McCarthy too hard for most of the Dallas Cowboys 23-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
If anything, Doug Pederson deserves more criticism for letting Carson Wentz launch interceptions out of a tee-shirt cannon instead of just running up the gut against a bad defense and waiting for Cowboys third-string quarterback Ben DiNucci to make mistakes.
McCarthy and coordinator Kellen Moore threw all the end-arounds and Wildcat-style plays they could think of at the Eagles, and that’s fine: better to toss the kitchen sink at an opponent than wave the Adam Gase Surrender Flag.
But one dumb play call may have cost the Cowboys a win. They led 9-7 in the early third quarter, and they marched to the Eagles 27-yard line on seven straight simple running plays. A touchdown might have cut the heart out of an Eagles defense getting zero support from their offense.
But on 2nd-and-8, DiNucci handed off to Ezekiel Elliott, who pitched to receiver Cedrick Wilson on what must have been the fourth or fifth Cowboys reverse/misdirection play of the night. All-Pro defensive lineman Fletcher Cox led a convoy of Eagles who weren’t fooled by the play and stuffed Wilson for a 10-yard loss while would-be blockers bumped into each other in confusion.
The Cowboys then missed a 52-yard field goal, and the Eagles capitalized on the good field position with a go-ahead touchdown.
Dallas faces the Steelers next week. So hurry back, Andy Dalton! On second thought: no, stay home and get well, Andy.
C’mon Coach is really curious what the DiNucci-led offense will look like against the Steelers defense, in the same way we’re curious about what an explosion in a glass factory would do to a ballistics dummy.
Better to Burn Out Than Fade Away
Why the heck are the Detroit Lions still giving Adrian Peterson carries?
Peterson rushed five times for seven yards in the Lions’ 41-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 8. Granted, D’Andre Swift rushed six times for just one yard, but Swift was effective in the previous weeks. Peterson now has 42 carries for 112 yards (2.7 yards per carry) in his last four games.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell tried to explain the Lions running back rotation a few weeks ago, and C’mon Coach invites you to interpret his blathering for yourself. The one point Bevell clearly stressed: Peterson is the starter, no matter what, which surely has nothing at all to do with the 35-year old future Hall of Famer’s colossal, fragile ego.
Young running backs Swift and Kerryon Johnson (who has been relegated to third-down duties he is not really suited for) should be getting the bulk of the Lions carries while Peterson poses for his Canton bust and prepares for a second career as a fitness guru or something.
But Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn are committed to going through the motions of pretending to have built a playoff contender, and that means keeping Peterson content so he can provide “leadership,” “reliability” and lots of 2nd-and-11 opportunities for the Lions offense.
This Week in Adam Gase Idiocy
The Kansas City Chiefs faced 4th-and-4 near midfield while leading the New York Jets 7-3 in the first quarter. Patrick Mahomes gestured to keep the offense on the field, but Andy Reid overruled him and sent out the punting unit.
Any Pop Warner coach could smell a fake punt coming based on the field position and situation. Even the broadcast team quipped about a fake. But Jets special teamer Pierre Desir — a seven-year NFL vet at cornerback, who was lined up against Byron Pringle, a wide receiver by trade — sprinted straight back 15 yards to block for the return before noticing that Pringle had turned for an easy first-down completion from punter Tommy Townsend.
Gase also embarrassingly threw in the towel with nearly 11 minutes to play, running the ball while trailing and shrugging his shoulders while Chiefs mop-up reliever Chad Henne munched the clock. No, the Jets weren’t going to come back from a 35-9 deficit, but there are youngsters on the Jets offense like Lamical Perrine and Denzel Mims who could have used the touches and confidence-building statistical padding.
So Gase is no longer even pretending to try to develop youngsters. He’s one step away from just sitting on the sideline in a beach chair with no pants on and waiting to see if the Jets will fire him.
Signs of Life in Atlanta
The Falcons picked up a much-needed win over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. And with the Broncos on tap for Week 9, there’s a chance they could enter the bye with some much-needed momentum, right?
“I hope it’s the start of something,” Matt Ryan said after the game (per ESPN’s Michael DiRocco.) “I really feel like, although we’re 2-6, I feel like we’ve been in some tight ones. We’ve played some good football. I think we can play some really tough football here in the second half of the season.”
OK, first of all, “momentum” and “Atlanta Falcons” should never be used in the same sentence; this is a team that could somehow go the wrong way when getting sucked into a black hole. Secondly, their second-half schedule features the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice each, plus the Kansas City Chiefs: they aren’t going to fool anyone by going 6-2 down the stretch like they did last year.
Furthermore, interim head coach Raheem Morris didn’t exactly state a case for himself for a full-time gig on an evening when the Falcons:
- Called a timeout on 4th-and-1 from the three-yard line early in the first quarter to dial up the perfect goal-line play: a field goal.
- Called their second timeout with 4:48 to play in the first quarter, on a second field goal drive.
- Ran a 3rd-and-14 pitch sweep to Todd Gurley while trying to run out the clock in the fourth quarter in which Gurley — who seems to have the situational awareness of a drunk at Mardi Gras these days — ran out of bounds.
- Got flagged for two roughness penalties. (Falcons defenders have a habit of delivering their biggest hits two beats after the whistle).
- Allowed a 3rd-and-18 conversion on a deep pass to D.J. Moore where A.J. Terrell appeared to think it was 3rd-and-3 and his job was to smother Moore at the line instead of preventing a deep throw.
The moral of the story is that badly-coached teams sometimes beat mediocre opponents, and it rarely has any long-term meaning.
You know what? That could be the official tagline for Thursday Night Football!