'Big Five' Adds Offensive Wrinkle

Just prior to receiver Koren Robinson’s reinstatement from a year-long suspension, quarterback Brett Favre talked about how Robinson could add another dimension to the Packers’ passing game. Last Sunday, the offense revealed that extra dimension. Called "Big Five," a five-wide receiver alignment was used for the first time this season. - More | Packers-Panthers Game Center


WRs (from left) James Jones, Donald Driver, Ruvell Martin, Koren Robinson (81) and Greg Jennings (85)

Just prior to receiver Koren Robinson's reinstatement from a year-long suspension, quarterback Brett Favre talked about how Robinson could add another dimension to the Packers' passing game.

Last Sunday, the offense revealed that extra dimension.

Called "Big Five," a five-wide receiver alignment was used for the first time this season, featuring Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Ruvell Martin and Robinson all split out (three on one side, two on the other) with an empty backfield and Favre in the shotgun.

It's a formation the Packers employed only a handful of times, but with the Minnesota Vikings missing their top cover corner in Antoine Winfield with an injury, "Big Five" forced the defense to dig deep into a depleted secondary to account for all the downfield threats.

"That's like a college-type formation," Martin said. "To get into that, we're just out there having a blast."

The intent is all about finding a matchup to exploit. Is there a fourth- or fifth-string cornerback lined up against one of the receivers? Is the defense trying to cover a receiver one-on-one with a slower safety or linebacker? Favre can survey the defense before the snap and have a pretty good idea who's going to pop open first.

"You're just looking to get a better athlete on one of their lesser athletes if at all possible, or possibly get them into a designed coverage," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "If you think you know teams have a certain check to (defend) an empty backfield or a certain check to 'X' amount of wideouts, and you know what the check is, you might be able to call a play more in tune to what you're expecting."

The offense is also trying to limit the number of options the defense has, making for an easier read for Favre and the receivers at the line of scrimmage.

"If you play with three wideouts and one back, teams may have a library of stuff they can pick from," Philbin said. "Whereas if you go five wides, a team maybe has two answers or one answer. It all depends on what you're comfortable with and what you anticipate getting defensively."

The Vikings clearly weren't anticipating the five-wide alignment, burning a timeout in the first quarter the first time they saw it. The Packers had employed an empty backfield set in previous games but had used either one or two tight ends along with the receivers, and teams generally will use a linebacker to cover a tight end.

But that's not a good idea with a wide receiver. A good example was in the Kansas City game two weeks ago. It was not the five-wide/empty backfield set, but in a multiple-receiver formation, the Packers lined up Jennings in a spot normally occupied by a tight end, and the Chiefs didn't adjust properly. They left linebacker Donnie Edwards to cover Jennings, and with the safeties split wide to help on the outside receivers, the middle of the field was wide open once Jennings ran past Edwards and Favre hit him for a game-winning 60-yard touchdown.

{sportsad300}Last Sunday, the best gain out of "Big Five" was a 25-yard pass to Martin to convert a third down and set up a field goal in the second quarter.

But the potential pitfalls were evident on the Packers' next possession, when Favre was under heavy pressure and barely got the pass away, completing it to Robinson but short of the first down on third-and-10.

Pass protection is at a premium, because with five receivers, the five offensive linemen are on their own with no help. And if the defense decides to gamble and blitz, there's almost certain to be a free runner coming after the quarterback.

"There are some risks, the biggest being you have to protect your quarterback in this league," Philbin said. "Everybody needs to know who's getting blocked, who's assigned to getting blocked and who isn't. You'd better be ready."

The fact that the coaching staff has used just a five-man protection, with "Big Five" and other formations, on a regular basis this season says a lot about how far the offensive line has come. Last year, with as many as three rookies starting up front in several games, the Packers often utilized seven-man protections, adding tight ends and/or running backs to the protection scheme and leaving only three receiving options for Favre downfield.

This year, the offensive line has consistently displayed the ability to protect Favre with just the five linemen, leading to more offensive wrinkles such as "Big Five."

"You have to give those guys some credit," Philbin said of the line. "They did a good job. (The Vikings) did some three-man blitzing and gaming and twisting, and for the most part aside from one time, I think our guys handled it well."

The receivers have to be just as alert, because they must know whether they're a "hot" read and need to be looking at Favre right away should he need to get rid of the ball immediately after the snap.

But that's something receivers are asked to do all the time, reading the defense for a potential blitz or pressure package and adjusting their routes accordingly. Philbin said the receivers are running many of the same routes they run out of other formations, so it's not as though there's a whole bunch of new elements to learn with "Big Five."

Now that the Packers have rolled it out, it's on film for everyone else to see and prepare for, so the element of surprise is gone. But that's not to say it won't be used again. It depends on the defensive matchup more than anything.

"I think you can get it out there again, and you see what you get with it -- see how the other team is going to decide to play it, what personnel they're going to use," Philbin said. "You may decide it's not to your advantage to use it as much, but I think you certainly can throw it out there again and see what you get.

"It's not the end-all and be-all of football, but it's certainly a nice little component of our offense."

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