Tag Archives: Cincinnati Bengals

Week 3 Initial Reactions: Bengals 34 Packers 30

  • For a game between two probable playoff teams and for as exciting as it was, it was a really ugly game.
  • Sam Shields just made himself a bunch of money.
  • Jonathan Franklin looked like an absolute stud, except for of course on the 4th and 1 play where he fumbled. I thought Bleacher Report’s Aaron Nagler hit the nail on the head with this tweet.

The Packers have been poor on 3rd and 4th and short for almost the entire Mike McCarthy era. Obviously, that situation is tailor-made for Eddie Lacy, but he missed the game with a concussion. The Packers offensive linemen are almost all finesse blockers who struggle in short-yardage when the defense knows whats coming. Franklin never had a chance. 

  • I tend to not really believe in QB wins or anything that isolates wins and losses to one player, but this tweet from Packer Report was pretty damning.

Yeah, yeah, yeah I get it: the Packers win a lot of games in the first 3 quarters. But for as good as Aaron Rodgers is, he really doesn’t have that defining come-from-behind win in his belt. Just a lot of near-misses like the Arizona playoff game. 

  • I’ve defended the training staff ever since the Super Bowl run when the Packers had 18 players on IR, but enough is enough. Its been how many years of having seemingly a half a dozen injuries on every play. They may be fine medical professionals, this is a results-oriented business. Eventually, no matter how nice you may be or how many good ideas you have, if the main area you are responsible for is constantly under performing, it is time for a change. I can live with having them play out the season, but this season should be the staff’s last. Football is a violent game and things like concussions are borderline unavoidable, but how many soft tissues injuries have the Packers had?
  • Was this Rodgers’ worst game as a pro? Or at least since 2009 in Tampa right?
  • Clay Matthews’ injury was pretty much the end of the Packers’ defense. 20 unanswered points? Come on.
  • Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the loss is not necessarily that they lost, but that it seems like the same things keep happening every game, win or lose. The textbook slow start on offense. The defense fluctuating between dominant and awful.
  • That Week 4 bye is looking awfully attractive now, eh?
  • I have a feeling that Finley leaving the game early really messed with the Packers game plan.
  • Going to be a LONG two weeks. Bring on the Lions.

 

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Week 3 Preview: The Bengals Offense Is More Than Just A.J. Green

Plain and simple: A.J. Green is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. His unique combination of size and speed combined with his route-running savvy make him a tough matchup for any cornerback in the NFL. Two consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, 18 touchdowns in his first two years and an absolute domination of one of the better CBs in the game–Peanut Tillman in Week 1. But as with many elite talents, Green’s domination is not limited to his box score numbers.

The Bengals knew they had a stud WR in Green but also needed to provide QB Andy Dalton with more weapons not only to take the next step as a franchise and win a playoff game or two, but also in order to figure out whether Dalton is the guy to lead them to that success drafting Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert and North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard to help them serve both masters: put Dalton in the best position to succeed while also effectively moving all of the chips in on this season to determine whether he could be the franchise guy.

One of the things I believe the most about football schematically is that the truly impactful players are either able to draw double teams or are so good that they don’t need help in nearly any situation. Think of Revis Island. When the Jets made two consecutive AFC Championships, a big reason was their elite defense. And a big part of their elite defense was having the best cover corner in football able to cover anyone at anytime from almost any alignment. Safeties could cheat away from Revis allowing them to move effectively guard other receiving options or crash in on run plays.

The same is true with elite WRs like Green. He draws double teams because of how good he is, causing a mismatch somewhere else for the Bengals offense to take advantage.

A.J Green’s impact on the Bengal offense was perhaps the most obvious on this play toward the end of the 1st quarter. 

Watching this Monday night game with All-22 really gave me an appreciation of Ike Taylor, who the Steelers left on an island throughout the night, playing 1 on 1 on 28 of the Bengals 49 pass plays. But that isn’t the case on this play.  CB William Gay is actually playing the zone corner to that side of the field with Ike Taylor on the opposite side. But watch LB Lawrence Timmons (94 top middle) and especially S Ryan Clark (25 top right). In the screen shot below, you can see four Steelers react to A.J. Green’s side, leaving Eifert wide open for a big play that would eventually lead to a TD.

Four Steelers

I would expect a heavy dose of 2 TEs in the game, especially considering how much the Packers ILB struggle in pass coverage and with raw safeties Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings slated to start for the third straight week and wouldn’t be shocked if Eifert in particular had a big game.

Calvin Johnson is more physically imposing than Green, but is probably Green’s best comparison in the league. The Packers have used a variety of packages in the past to try and stop Calvin with little success, including the speedy Sam Shields, the more physical Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson and a multitude of double and even triple teams. The Packers can get away with that to a certain extent because, for the most part, the Lions have lacked other weapons in the run and the pass game. In addition to Eifert and Gresham, the Bengals also have two other solid receivers, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Although neither have quite become starting caliber at this juncture in their careers, both are more than adequate to handle the single coverage looks they often get because of Green. Each had just 1 deep target: Jones on 5 targets and Sanu on 6. Now certainly part of that is a result of Andy Dalton’s mediocre arm strength, but much of them seem to work as high-percentage throws for a few quick and easy yards, such as the video below. 

The Steelers are in zone coverage with a single high safety a common red zone coverage but also the perfect coverage for the quick out to the receiver for a few yards. Dalton doesn’t even get to his 3rd step before the ball is out. Although Jones and Sanu aren’t burners, Sanu in particular is actually fairly good at making the initial guy miss because of his size. For good measure, he drags William Gay for an extra yard or two, giving the Bengals an easy win on 1st and 10.

Aside from two solid TEs, a stud 2 nice secondary receivers, the Bengals also feature a nice tandem of backs which complement each others’ strength’s nicely the aforementioned rookie Gio Bernard and veteran mudder BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis is what he is: a decent between-the-tackles runner who never fumbles and understands blocking schemes and benefits from his own learned patience behind the line.  But Bernard is the far superior talent who still struggles a bit with some of the nuances of the pro game. Nothing too out of the ordinary: pass-blocking, trusting your line, taking the green in front of him, etc. But he’s clearly the back of the future and has already displayed some innate receiving and yard-after-catch ability in just his first 2 games.

Sure, that’s Bernard’s best play in his pro career to date, but look at the feet frequency. He doesn’t have elite speed, but because of the foot frequency, he get easily get underneath the linebackers, make the catch, and turn up-field without wasting steps or motion. He made one of the best safeties in football-Ryan Clark-look like a walk-on from Duke. With Green over the top, Gresham and Eifert up the seam, Sanu and Jones in the flat and Bernard able to leak out any where, what coverage do you play to stop the Bengals on a critical 3rd and 3? The weapons Cincinnati possesses makes that choice exceedingly difficult.

Overall, while I believe the Packers are the better team, I feel like the secondary breakdowns that have occurred time and time again over the first two weeks will really come back to bite Green Bay. I expect a substantial number of checkdowns from Dalton as he did Monday Night–attempting to dink and dunk his way through a porous Green Bay back 7. Combined with a strong Cincinnati front 7, I’ll take the Bengals to win 30-27 over the Packers, sending them into their early bye week 1-2.

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Week 2 Review: Breaking Down James Starks’ Big Day Against Washington

Eddie Lacy’s production during the preseason, and his relative success Week 1 against one of the toughest defenses in football, had Packers fan excited that 2013 would finally be the year the Packers had at least a competent running game to combine with their elite passing attack. Although the Packers offense has been one of the best in football during the Mike McCarthy era, the gap between the dominating passing game and the suspect running game is arguably the largest in the NFL, especially since the end of Ryan Grant’s first stretch in the Green and Gold. Countless announcers and media members have cited the long stretch since the Packers last a 100 yard back–Brandon Jackson on October 10, 2010 against Washington who basically had one 71 yard scamper which buoyed his overall performance. DaJuan Harris gave Packers fans a bit of hope after his solid end to the 2012 season, but clearly the brain trust felt the running game still needed improvement and gave Stephen Jackson a token offer while also investing a 2nd round pick in RB Eddie Lacy from Alabama and trading up in the 4th round to grab Jonathan Franklin from UCLA. Most fans, including myself, likely left bygones Alex Green and James Starks for dead.

Many fantasy prognosticators predicted a huge day for Lacy in week 2 against a Redskins defense that despite some talent in the front 7 looked awful in Week 1 against Chip Kelley’s uptempo attack. Instead it was James Starks who partied like it was the 2010 playoffs and had a huge day: 20 carries for 132 yards and 1 TD while also adding 36 yards receiving. But was Starks’ huge game a product of strong vision and decisive cut or an improved offensive line performance against a poor defense?

One of my favorite football analyst is Cecil Lammey, who writes and hosts great podcasts for footballguys.com. He has described Starks as a “space runner” nearly his entire career even when Starks was having success during the Packers Super Bowl run in 2010. Lammey means that while Starks can have success when holes are opened up for him in the running game and he’s able to get up to speed, he isn’t close to an elite talent that can start and stop in a hurry or can gain a few yards out of nothing.

But just because Starks lacks the elite physical tools of a C.J. Spiller and Adrian Peterson doesn’t mean Starks can’t have success and be an asset to the Green Bay offense.  While Starks may not have the speed of Spiller or the cutting ability of Adrian, he does have enough speed to get to the second level and enough strength to run through a corner or a safety. But after watching all of Starks’ runs on Sunday, it becomes apparent that he needs some creative play design for him to be effective.

One of the simpler things McCarthy did Sunday to assist Starks was using 11 personnel: 1 back and 1 tight end with 3 wide receivers-almost exclusively Cobb in the slot with Nelson and Jones on either side.  When the down and distance had about even pass/run odds, Jermichael Finley played TE while on more favorable down and distance–and when the Packers were running out the clock in the second– Andrew Quarless manned the position since he is a far superior blocker.  Below is a screenshot of what many of these formations look like:

1-1-3 Formation

Because of how much of a threat the Packers WRs and TEs are, the 11 personnel is able to significantly spread out the Washington defense and now there are just 6 men in the box. The Redskins CBs are playing man while the safeties are playing zone, effectively daring the Packers to run the ball on 1st and 10.  Rodgers would eventually audible into a quick pass into the flat for Starks which gains 6 as shown below:

The combination of the inexperienced Washington secondary and the Packers receiving talent gives amble space for Starks as he is clearly the least talented offensive weapon of Finley, Cobb, Nelson and Jones. Starks had 26 total attempts and targets: 20 rushing attempts, 1 rush that was called back on a penalty, and 5 targets resulting in 4 receptions. The Packers used 11 personnel on 22 of those 26 plays (85%).

The Packers attempted to switch it up a bit after a successful first half in which Starks rushed 8 times for 55 yards (6.9 yards per carry). After running single back, 11 personnel on all 8 of those attempts, the first two plays of the second half went away from that framework. Below is the 1st play of the second half after the Packers defense forced a 3 and out:

The Packers started out with TE Andrew Quarless, FB John Kuhn and Starks in a full house formation with 21 personnel (2 backs, 1 TE). Pre-snap, Quarless goes in motion from the left up-back to a stand-up tight end on the right side, turning the full house into an offset I (The offset I is a 2 back formation where the running back lines up a few yards behind the QB. The fullback or tight end lines up between the QB and RB a yard or two to one side). This signals to the defense that the Packers are trying to run to the right side and simply out-man the Redskins to the far-side of the field. Unfortunately, NT Barry Cofield (who was actually one of the few Washington defenders to have a good game) beats C Evan Dietrich-Smith.  Starks is actually able to brake the tackle, but the damage is done and Starks is tackled for no gain.

Although the pre-snap movement telegraphs to the Redskins that the Packers plan on running to the right side, the play has some nice concepts. Rodgers pre-snap read is likely to the safety on the short-side of the field over Jordy Nelson. If Nelson gets 1 on 1 coverage, Rodgers probably would audible into a deep pattern which the combo has hit on so many occasions during their respective careers. Once the Redskins send one safety high, Nelson sets up for a wide receiver screen which can easily become a splash play if he can break a tackle.

The Packers use the same formation on the very next snap as shown below:

Quarless motions into the slot pre-snap. Rodgers does a quick 3-step drop, but the throw is low and incomplete. Despite the incompletion, the play shows what a strong running game and a versatile player like Quarless can do for an offense. The Packers can use the same personnel for a run or a pass since Quarless excels as a blocker.

Despite the Packers’ failure to gain any yards on the last play, McCarthy again decides to go with a more run-based formation on the next series, this time with 12 personnel (1 back, 2 tight ends-Finley and Quarless) as seen below:

Sitton and Bakhtiari double while Dietrich-Smith is able to get to the second level and get a block on the linebacker. Starks gains 6 yards before contact and drags OLB Ryan Kerrigan for an additional 3. Another win for the Packers’ running game.

Another way the Packers were able to put James Starks in a favorable position to succeed was getting him in space. Unlike with Eddie Lacy against the 49ers, a majority of Starks’ runs were to the outside or at a minimum off tackle. Although Starks is far from a traditional scatback, he is still successful when he runs the stretch play because as mentioned earlier, he can outrun most linebackers but can run over smaller players in the secondary. Below is Starks’ second-longest run of the game (20 yards on the play where Meriweather left the game after leading with his helmet):

Starks takes the ball around the left end, Jordy Nelson makes a strong block on the safety to spring Starks for more yards, while Starks outruns rookie CB David Amerson’s poor angle. Starks shows his long-distance quickness on this run.

Starks ran to the left end or the right end on 11 of his 21 rushing attempts (52%) and off left tackle or right tackle an additional 5 times, meaning 16 of the 21 attempts were to the outside (76%). Interestingly, despite RT Don Barclay’s reputation as a good run blocker, just 5 of the 16 running plays to the outside were to the right side.

But Starks success wasn’t all due to favorable personnel grouping or putting him a position to succeed. Starks also was able to break tackles and found holes to run through. Look no further than Starks’ longest run of the game, the 32 yard touchdown which effectively sealed the game.

Starks gets good blocking on this play as well (Washington also had just 6 in the box), especially from TE Andrew Quarless on a DT, but once he gets up to speed, is able to break two tackles in the secondary, CB David Amerson and S Reed Doughty, and prance into the end zone. Starks got 58 of his 132 yards after contact on the day (44%).

Overall, it was a strong performance in the running game for RB James Starks, the offensive line as well as QB Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy in putting a good player in positions to succeed to the betterment of the team. Sure the Redskins defense aside from their pass-rushers is poor, but ultimately Starks did what he needed to do and gained the yards in front of him.

Toward the end of the game, the Packers largely chose to pass the ball to run out the clock. In his weekly radio show with ESPN Wisconsin‘s Jason Wilde, QB Aaron Rodgers (around the 6:32 mark) mentions that the Redskins crowded the box which made running in the second half of the 4th quarter difficult. The Packers didn’t see an 8 man box the entire 1st half. Sure the game situation dictated that the Redskins needed to stop the run to get their offense back on the field, but the Packers really only need the running game as a viable alternative to set up the pass. And in that situation, it worked.

After watching the film, it appears that Mike McCarthy and Cecil Lammey are in agreement: James Starks is a space runner. But while the term “space runner” may seem like a pejorative term, arguably so was Ryan Grant, who rushed for over 3,300 yards in three straight seasons for the Packers and was their last back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. The Packers have shown they don’t need an elite talent at running back to have a top 3 offense, especially against defenses like the Redskins. Eddie Lacy will likely regain the starting running back spot when he returns after the bye week, but Starks’ ability to handle a full workload, as long as he can stay healthy, likely explains why he was given the final running back spot over Alex Green on the initial 53. The task gets tougher next week against the Cincinnati Bengals and All-Pro DT Geno Atkins.

To view my complete notes on all of James Starks’ touches, click here.

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Initial Reactions: Green Bay 38 Redskins 20

  • Huge comeback week for the entire Packers roster. Top to bottom just simply outplayed the Redskins.
  • After solid performances last week, LT David Bakhtiari and RT Don Barclay regressed. While the game was still close, Rodgers was pressured a bit too and the Redskins had more hits than needed against the franchise.
  • Welcome to 2013 James Jones.
  • Impressive showing by James Starks, but also credit the Packers offensive line and guys like John Kuhn and Andrew Quarless for leading the way and opening up up huge holes against an underrated front 7. Special shout-outs to the Packers interior linemen, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, LG Josh Sitton and RG T.J. Lang for an improved performance.  Look for a post later this week charting all of Starks’ carries.
  • Troy Aikman mentioned over and over how much the Redskins struggled with up the middle pressure. Capers must’ve seen the same thing. Dialed up blitzes with 6 and even 7 men more than a handful of times.
  • CBs Sam Shields and Tramon Williams for improved tackling this season, but as the game got out of reach, the Packers’ poor tackling re-appeared.
  • Mike Daniels is a really solid player.
  • @jenbielema, Brandon Meriweather getting a concussion is the definition of karma. Never want to wish injury on a guy, but despite overtures from the leagues and a multitude of fines, he still manages to lead with the crown of his helmet.
  • An inspired outing from the entire Packers defense, but RGIII still just doesn’t look right. Combine that with a suspect secondary, and the Redskins could be on the outside looking in to return to the playoffs.
  • James Starks? Johnny Jolly? Shades of 2010. Did something happen that season?
  • Another strong front 7 beckons next week as the Packers travel to Cincinnati before their Week 4 buy.

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