November 22, 2020

Packers' road loss at Indy highlights short-yardage conversion woes

The Green Bay Packers dominated the NFL’s best defense for two quarters Sunday afternoon, scoring 28 points with beautiful ease en route to a 28-14 halftime lead on the road at Indianapolis. 

But their inability to convert short down-and-distance derailed what would have been a signature road win and a stranglehold on the wide-open NFC race for the conferences' number one seed. 

Let’s not ignore the obvious mental mistakes that led to costly turnovers in critical moments, but notwithstanding, if the Packers are able to convert two of their short-yardage plays in this game, it’s an easy win.

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Armed with one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, an elite running back and the NFL’s highest rated quarterback, one couldn’t help but think, what gives? Why is it so hard to pick up 36 inches or less for a first down to sustain drives?

The answer is poor play-calling, lack of execution and unfathomable predictability on short yardage plays. 

You don’t need to be an elite NFL scout to predict the Packers' plan on short down and distance, based on their formation and personnel. 

Tight set with multiple TEs, two RBs and one WR. Inside run, loss of one.

Shotgun formation, Rodgers takes the play-clock down to near zero with Aaron Jones licking his chops…only to be stuffed as the stacked box fills the creases and pile-drives the RB for no gain.

Play-action pass and 1-2 routes from TEs covered by LBs as Rodgers is chased off his spot with 2 seconds to throw the ball. Incomplete pass, fourth down. Sound familiar?

Fourth-and-one on the Indy 34 with 3:11 left in the fourth quarter, LaFleur rolls the dice and goes for it. First of all, this is a terrible decision. Inside the dome, one of the best kickers in the game - tie it up and kick the 51-yard FG here. Against the number one defense in the NFL, sometimes you need to set the ego aside. But fine, all the rage is rolling the dice on fourth down, but once again it's a horrible play call. Immediate pressure and blitz not picked up, Rodgers over-throws Jamaal Williams, ball hits the turf and it's a turnover on downs. 

It is all too familiar and the Packers get an F on creativity, execution and personnel grouping mixes on these plays. It’s mind-blowing how poorly such an explosive offense performs on plays that don’t have to reinvent the playbook. 

Here’s an idea: have 3-4 canned quick-plays at the ready to execute following second down, that do not allow the defense to substitute personnel. Get up to the line quickly, catch the defense off-guard and let Aaron Rodgers read the defense and make a quick decision. Quarterback sneaks need and should be a weapon of choice, as should under-center quick run handoffs to up-backs while the defense is scrambling to get set. 

Just because Tyler Ervin is inactive doesn’t mean jet-sweep motion should cease to exist – keep the defense off balance by forcing them to honor pre-snap movement, read the defense and get that 36 inches. 

Good teams are mediocre on short down and distance, great teams convert the majority of the time. The Packers have all the tools, intelligence and scheme to be great, it’s just sad they can’t concoct the right elixir to convert the plays that great teams do time and time again.