The Green Bay Packers were probably watching this weekend’s Rams-Seahawks game intently. Since the Los Angeles Rams were a likely upcoming appointment, it gives Green Bay a scouting opportunity the Rams can’t match. Los Angeles and the Seattle Seahawks have played each other three times since Week 10. What did the Seahawks reveal about the Rams that Matt LaFleur, Mike Pettine and the Packers’ staff can exploit?
Here are three answers to that question:
1. Take The Gifts Jared Goff Gives You
The Seahawks had a few opportunities that slipped through their fingers on Saturday, and Jared Goff is responsible for many of them. On the play below, Goff is trying to throw deep to the boundary against Cover 3. Cooper Kupp has a step on Jamal Adams, a mismatch if there ever was one, and Goff just needs to lead him for a big play. But Goff has a nasty habit of under-throwing this pass, which brings the defender back into the play.
Adams doesn’t make the play there. If the Packers want to win and advance to the first NFC Championship at Lambeau Field since 2007, they’ll have to take advantage. Deep throws near the sideline can be opportunities for a big play when Goff is the one throwing them. Like Kendall Fuller and Richard Sherman here, the Packers have to cash in on the play.
2. Mix It Up In Cover 3
Goff is propped up mightily by the Sean McVay wide zone system. LaFleur worked in various iterations of that system for three years before becoming Green Bay’s head coach. An advantage of that scheme is how good it is against Cover 3. Pete Carroll’s formerly vaunted defense relied heavily on Cover 3, and the surge of Shanahan/McVay wide zone schemes has led to somewhat of a downswing for Carroll’s once-great tactics.
Carroll has surrendered 30 or more points in 17 games since the Rams hired McVay in 2017, and McVay’s Rams account for four of those. The Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills have achieved similar feats with similar approaches. Simply put, Carroll’s vanilla Cover 3 scheme has been hard-countered by McVay’s wide zone. Pettine would do well to avoid this pitfall.
Matchups aside, single-high defense in general can be useful. To better understand the Packers’ defensive play-calling, I reached out to Peter Bukowski of Locked On Packers. Green Bay has transitioned to more single-high shells in recent months. That means using only one deep safety instead of two, freeing up that safety to blitz, help in run support or do whatever else Pettine wants him to. This helped to shore up some of the run defense catastrophes that plagued them earlier in the season.
The weakness of these single-high cover shells exists on the outside. That safety will often line up in the middle, leaving fewer players close enough to the sideline. McVay (and LaFleur) exploit this by sending extra routes to the sidelines in flood concepts or similar play designs. These plays create a “stretch,” meaning two receivers enter one player’s zone at the same time. Those are McVay’s best plays, and it would behoove the Packers to look for a way to discourage those plays.
That could mean transitioning back to more Cover 2, but it could also expose the Packers to a major run defense meltdown. Another pitch I worked out with the help of Bukowski utilizes Jaire Alexander. Alexander is one of the best corners in the league when asked to do the most challenging thing you can ask of a corner: defend someone by himself. This makes him the perfect lynchpin to a possible counter-strategy.
Pettine can (and often does) give Jaire Alexander a “MEG” assignment, which stands for “Man Everywhere he Goes.” Green Bay hasn’t asked him to shadow since Week 7, but against McVay, it may be a good option. That would bring Alexander to the sideline almost every time McVay tries to flood it, helping mitigate the numbers disadvantage. Pettine can still use single-high alignments, and hope that Alexander plus Goff’s inaccuracy downfield can add up to enough opportunities to get McVay’s offense off the field.
3. Get To The Edge
In their first two matchups, Seattle found success on zone runs against the Rams. LaFleur may be tempted to replicate that, since inside and outside zone are staples of his offense. But after two matchups in two months, Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley made an adjustment to what he asked of his nose tackle. This is a small adjustment, but countering it requires a different strategy.
In short, Staley loves to deploy “tite” fronts, which means three defensive linemen line up inside the tackles. Compare that to typical 4-3 alignments where the edge rushers line up outside of the tackles (pictured above). Thanks to Aaron Donald, the Rams want to encourage as much penetration up the middle as possible. This meant they were asking their nose tackle to “lag,” or to attack a backside gap that would be less well-defended. But Seattle was able to exploit this strategy.
PFF’s Seth Galina explains with video in this Twitter thread:
To put it simply, the Packers shouldn’t expect as much space up the middle as the Seahawks got in the regular season. The Rams have fixed that problem. They could, however, counter L.A.’s solution by attacking the edges. Plays like the one below would be a good option because they completely remove defensive linemen on the backside from relevance on the play. If that lineman is Aaron Donald, that’s worth the work of using motion at the snap and tossing to the outside.
If Rams defenders are going to stay home in their gaps and try to win half-man relationships, it leaves them susceptible to Aaron Jones and his speed. Without aggressive pursuit, Jones can get out to the edge and pile up opportunities. Aaron Jones in space is always a goal worth pursuing, and the Rams may leave themselves uniquely open to it. Swing passes, RPOs and screens could also achieve this effect. If Los Angeles wants to prioritize patience in an attempt to counter inside zone, there are tools in LaFleur’s arsenal to punish that.
Seattle didn’t play well against the Rams at all, but they still required them to put some cards on the table. Thankfully for the Packers, they got to see those cards, and now they have all week to decide how to counter them.