GREEN BAY – Running back Tyler Ervin returned to the Packers' lineup on Sunday against Minnesota, and as a result so did a larger helping of motions and misdirection in the Packers' offense.
The Vikings, who saw plenty of Ervin's deployment back in Week 1, were still struggling early on to handle the element of uncertainty Ervin brings. But there also were instances where they defended it better and things weren't coming so easy for Green Bay.
Here are the examples.
Play No. 1: Second-and-4 from the Green Bay 43, first quarter, 13:00 left
Result: 10-yard run by RB Jamaal Williams
Ervin (32) starts out lined up in the backfield and wheels out to set up a screen as a decoy, with WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (83) and TE Robert Tonyan (85) as blockers out to the left. The motion pulls LB Eric Kendricks (54) out of the middle to honor the potential screen. With the Vikings playing both safeties back, Williams is running against just a five-man box, a scenario an offense will take anytime.
Play No. 2: Second-and-1 from the Minnesota 38, first quarter, 11:41 left
Result: 5-yard completion to WR Davante Adams
Two snaps later, here's an example of Ervin's motion helping the passing game. As he cuts across the formation, he draws LB Eric Wilson (50) in tighter by just a couple of steps, creating a lot of one-on-one space on the outside for Adams. The simple pitch and catch moves the chains.
Play No. 3: First-and-20 from the Green Bay 30, second quarter, 13:33 left
Result: 8-yard run by AJ Dillon
Granted, on first-and-20 after an offensive holding call, the Vikings are mostly concerned about not giving up a big play, so both safeties are back. But the jet motion with Ervin still has a positive effect for the Packers. Both Wilson and DE Jalyn Holmes (90) commit a step or two to Ervin, which leaves Dillon running against a five-man box and creates a huge cutback lane to get back most of the penalty yards.
Play No. 4: First-and-10 from the Minnesota 46, second quarter, 12:19 left
Result: 1-yard run by Dillon
Does the motion always work? Of course not. Just two snaps later, the Vikings play a similar run very differently. Holmes doesn't bite on Ervin, and the Vikings are content to take their chances with just two defenders committed to three offensive players out to the right. On top of that, with S Harrison Smith (22) on a run blitz, the five-man box seen previously is now a seven-man box and Dillon has nowhere to go. DT James Lynch (92) gets some push into the backfield to slow up Dillon, with Holmes crashing down to make the stop.
Play No. 5: Third-and-2 from the Minnesota 23, second quarter, 9:40 left
Result: 6-yard run by Williams
For all the deception motion can create, a lot of plays still come down to small margins and moments of execution. Here Ervin's motion pulls Wilson out of the middle, but the Vikings swap that for having CB Jeff Gladney (20) blitz, so they aren't light at the point of attack. The difference compared to Play No. 4 is two things – Lynch gets blasted out of the hole by RG Lucas Patrick (62), and because Williams doesn't have to hesitate like Dillon did, DE Hercules Mata'afa (51), who is unblocked just like Holmes was on the previous play, is a step slow and can't catch Williams.
Play No. 6: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 25, third quarter, 10:00 left
Result: 3-yard run by Williams
On the Packers' first play of the second half, the Vikings are no longer buying what Ervin is selling. On the motion, Wilson slides out to the edge but is still keying on Williams. Again, the corner Gladney commits to being a run defender, and DT Jaleel Johnson (94) wins at the point of attack. Minnesota does the job on this one. Unfortunately, later on this drive when the Packers try to take advantage of the lack of attention being paid to Ervin, he drops a tap pass on the jet motion, and a screen to Ervin in the flat is thrown incomplete. The counters to the Vikings' adjustments fail due to lack of execution.