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What You Might've Missed: Random rushers

On third down, Packers’ defense constantly mixed up who was rushing vs. dropping


GREEN BAY – Unpredictability was a common descriptor throughout the offseason for Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's new scheme.

That characteristic came to life in the opener vs. the Bears, as Pettine employed a number of different pass-rush schemes on third down from the same or similar personnel groups and fronts.

Change was constant, the idea being to make it difficult for the offense to know who would be rushing and who would be dropping into coverage on any given third-down passing situation. The goal is to make it look random, so the offense might be a step slow to react.

The results were promising, as after the Bears converted their first three third downs of the game, they went just 4-of-14 after that. More to the point, the Packers have so many different rush combinations at their disposal that on the Bears' final drive after Green Bay had finally taken the lead, Pettine still had a couple of new combinations to dial up that he hadn't shown until the game was on the line.

Here's a closer look at four different examples:

Play No. 1: Third-and-13 from the Green Bay 46, second quarter, 7:36 left

Result: 9-yard completion to TE Dion Sims, leading to a fourth-down stop

The general pattern with each diagram is the players who are circled rush the quarterback while certain players who are boxed drop off the line. This is a five-man pressure from a seven-DB package (or six-DB personnel if S Jermaine Whitehead is considered a LB). It has LBs Clay Matthews (52) and Blake Martinez (50) dropping into coverage, while from the top of the screen, CB Josh Jackson (37) blitzes, as do Whitehead (35) and CB Jaire Alexander (23) from the bottom.

Sims finds open space to QB Mitch Trubisky's right, but Martinez closes fast enough to get him short of the first-down marker, and the Packers get the stop on the next snap when the Bears go for it on fourth down and fail.

Play No. 2: Third-and-9 from the Green Bay 15, third quarter, 9:18 left

Result: Incomplete pass

On this red-zone third down, the Packers rush only four, but two of the four are cornerbacks, as all three players lined up along the interior front drop back. Martinez, Whitehead and Matthews all bail at the snap into underneath zones, while Alexander attacks from the top and Jackson from the bottom. The call works as intended, freeing up a rusher who comes unblocked, in this case Jackson. Unfortunately the rookie doesn't finish off the sack, but Trubisky can't find a hole in the seven-man coverage and throws it away, forcing the Bears to settle for a field goal.

Play No. 3: Third-and-9 from the Chicago 19, fourth quarter, 1:50 left

Result: Incomplete pass

The above plays are just two examples of the various rush combinations the Packers employed on third downs, and with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, they still had new looks.

On this third down, Pettine dials up a six-man pressure overloaded to one side. All the extra rushers come from the defense's left, with Alexander, Whitehead, and also S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) blitzing from well off the line of scrimmage. From the middle of the defensive front, Martinez and Jackson drop into coverage. The Bears don't have enough blockers for everyone, so Trubisky gets rid of the ball early and behind the out-cutting TE Trey Burton (80).

Play No. 4: Third-and-10 from the Chicago 46, fourth quarter, 1:10 left

Result: Incomplete pass

Unfortunately, the Packers have to stop the Bears on one more series due to Clay Matthews' roughing-the-passer penalty on fourth down after the play above. Having sent DBs after the QB here and there, this time Pettine sends none. All the members of the secondary stay in coverage while Martinez makes it a rather standard four-man rush, with one twist. As LBs Reggie Gilbert (93) and Nick Perry (53) criss-cross at the line of scrimmage, Martinez splits them and comes free, rushing Trubisky's throw again.

This time, on the next play, the Packers get the fourth-down stop they need to end the game.

To understand another aspect to all the variations, watch the clips again, keeping an eye on Chicago's offensive linemen. Except for play No. 3, when the Packers sent six rushers, the Bears had a member of their protection unit blocking no one while at least one defender was getting pressure. Schematically, that's a win for the defense.

It's only Week 1, but this gives a taste of what Pettine's defense is all about – attacking the offense in different ways on third down out of similar personnel groupings and fronts. As the games continue, opponents will become wise to all the change-ups, and the Packers will need to disguise their intentions as best they can.