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What You Might’ve Missed: Occupying a safety

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GREEN BAY – Packers tight end Jimmy Graham had just one catch for 21 yards in Sunday’s painful 29-27 loss to the Rams in Los Angeles, and he’d certainly like to make a bigger statistical contribution.

But Graham’s hidden impact on some of Green Bay’s biggest plays in the game can’t be denied, because he occupied one of the Rams’ safeties various times, making easy reads for QB Aaron Rodgers to take advantage of the partner safety being unable to help where needed.

Here’s the film.

Play No. 1: Third-and-5 from the Green Bay 30, first quarter, 7:18 left

Result: 48-yard completion to WR Davante Adams

The Rams send a five-man pressure, which leaves S John Johnson III (43) responsible for Graham, in effect drawing a double-team with a linebacker dropping into zone coverage. That means there’s just one safety deep, Lamarcus Joyner (20), who’s trying to disguise his intention, initially lining up shaded toward Adams’ side. But just before the snap you can see him start to shift toward the middle of the field into a standard single-high look. Once he does that, he has no chance to make it to the boundary in time to help when Adams’ stop-and-go move gives him the advantage.

Play No. 2: Third-and-9 from the Green Bay 26, third quarter, 1:04 left

Result: 41-yard completion to Adams

This time it isn’t just one safety being occupied, but both. Joyner is locked on Cobb in one slot, and Johnson is locked on Graham in the other. Before the snap, Rodgers gives Adams a hand signal, presumably changing his route to the deep post as the QB suspects the slot route combination will keep the safeties shallow. Johnson even turns his body when Graham makes an out cut, taking himself out of any potential deep help. When Rodgers reads both safeties staying roughly square to the line of scrimmage and not helping deep, it’s bombs away.

Play No. 3: Second-and-10 from the LA 33, third quarter, :21 left

Result: 33-yard TD run by RB Aaron Jones

Here Graham is running a simple drag route across the middle, but Joyner is clearly obsessed with him. He’s pointing at him from the moment the ball is snapped and moving up to double-team him in coverage. He’s so focused on Graham he has no idea Rodgers has handed off on a draw play to Jones, who then has only one safety, Johnson, to beat in the open field for the score.

Play No. 4: Second-and-9 from the LA 40, fourth quarter, 8:57 left

Result: 40-yard TD pass to WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling

This is very similar to the first play, with the Rams bringing a five-man pressure, leaving Johnson responsible for Graham, with Joyner the single-high safety. Again, Joyner starts to shift more toward the middle of the field at the snap, pulling him away from where he’s eventually needed, as Valdes-Scantling’s inside move gains quick separation on a go route.

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