GREEN BAY – When the Packers' offense is at its best, the pre-snap motions and post-snap play fakes are influencing defenders just enough to open up holes and windows for positive if not explosive gains.
A boatload of that was on display against the Patriots, as in some instances, the influence of a motion and/or play fake was rather subtle, but enough to make the play work.
Here's a sampling.
Play No. 1: Second-and-5 from the Green Bay 25, first quarter, 4:16 left
Result: 20-yard run by RB Aaron Jones
On this play, WR Christian Watson (9) runs the jet motion, but the defender most influenced is not the one who follows him across the formation. After all, that's his assignment. Watch how the jet motion, which includes a fake push pass by QB Aaron Rodgers, freezes LB Mack Wilson Sr. (30) in his tracks. After Rodgers hands off to Jones, he holds Wilson a half tick longer by carrying out another fake with a shoulder turn to the right. After all this, Wilson is a step slow closing the hole as Jones bursts through it, so much so RG Royce Newman (70) doesn't even have to block him. His angle also becomes so bad he ends up grabbing Jones' facemask and adding 15 penalty yards for a net gain of 35.
Play No. 2: Fourth-and-1 from the New England 28, third quarter, 11:16 left
Result: 17-yard run by Jones
There's one defender the Packers need to influence here, and it's LB Jahlane Tavai (48) because he's unblocked on the edge. All the misdirection by offensive line moving to the right accomplishes that, as Tavai gets sucked in, far enough that he even stumbles as he tries to reverse direction to chase Jones on the pitch left. Once that happens, Jones is getting the first down. Two other things turn this into an explosive run. One is the block of WR Allen Lazard (13) on DB Myles Bryant (27). The other is DB Jack Jones (13) staying so focused on WR Romeo Doubs (87) that Doubs' route runs Jones right out of the play.
Play No. 3: Second-and-1 from the Green Bay 46, third quarter, 3:34 left
Result: 8-yard run by Jones
Here Jones and RB AJ Dillon (28) start in the backfield together, but as Dillon motions out to the right, LB Ja'Whaun Bentley (8) takes a couple of steps to his left. As we saw in the first play, Rodgers also holds the linebacker an extra beat with the shoulder turn for the fake screen pass. Bentley is nowhere near the hole Jones is running through to get the first down and move into New England territory.
Play No. 4: First-and-10 from the New England 46, third quarter, 2:54 left
Result: 19-yard completion to Lazard
Very next play, there's all kinds of stuff going on that successfully influences two defenders. The combination Watson's jet motion and the play-action to Dillon draws Bryant up into all the traffic at the line of scrimmage and turns around Tavai in coverage. That opens a throwing lane plenty wide for Rodgers, who zips the pass to Lazard right past the shoulder of the chasing, back-to-the-QB Tavai.
Play No. 5: Third-and-6 from the Green Bay 29, fourth quarter, 10:31 left
Result: 24-yard completion to WR Randall Cobb
This time, on a crucial third down with the Packers trailing by seven points in the fourth quarter, the influence is not from a motion or play fake but the route concept. Watson and Cobb are running companion routes to Rodgers' left. Watson is running a go, and DB Devin McCourty (32) has to respect his speed and stay well behind the potential deepest route. Rodgers has so much trust in the concept, and in his longtime teammate, that he's cocking his arm to let it go just as Cobb is making his break, before he's really open. Watson's threat keeps McCourty 10 yards behind everybody, Rodgers has enough space to drop in a pretty pass, and the Patriots allow the conversion despite three defenders to guard two receivers.
Play No. 6: First-and-10 from the New England 15, second quarter, 13:05 left
Result: 15-yard TD run by Watson
Sometimes, a defender NOT paying attention to what is going on around him sets him up to get beat, too. Remember back on the fourth-and-1 when DB Jones was so focused on Doubs he ran himself right out of the play and created more running room for RB Jones? This instance of a similar laser-focus gives the Packers an easy touchdown. Both pre-snap and post-snap, Jones never takes his eyes off Doubs and therefore has no idea what's happening with Watson, who takes the jet-motion handoff. That allows Doubs to take out two defenders for the price of one without even laying a hand on Jones. Doubs goes right at McCourty, who's chasing Watson's jet motion, throws a perfect seal block, and the unaware Jones has left the whole side of the field open for Watson to waltz into the end zone. Maybe the best part of the play is seeing Doubs start celebrating his fellow rookie receiver's first NFL TD at around the 10-yard line.
Bonus No. 1: Third-and-10 from the Green Bay 19, third quarter, 14:48 left
Result: 32-yard completion to Lazard
These bonus clips have nothing to do with the discussion at hand, but they're included to show that for all the intricate play designs, motions, fakes, etc., football is still an imperfect game, and sometimes things just happen in your favor. Here, on the crucial third down that jump-starts the Packers' offense in the second half, the Patriots are running two stunts with their pass rush. The one on the right, with LB Matthew Judon (9) curling inside DL Christian Barmore (90), does exactly what's intended. Judon avoids the planned chip block of TE Robert Tonyan (85) and gets a seemingly clear lane to Rodgers when Newman can't quite pick him up. Except the stunt on the other side, with LB Josh Uche (55) cutting inside Wilson, sends Uche right into Judon's path, effectively blocking his teammate and giving Rodgers a clean platform with no one in his face to deliver a precise throw for a great catch.
Bonus No. 2: Second-and-7 from the Green Bay 13, overtime, 6:05 left
Result: 22-yard completion to Lazard
This is the play that gets the game-winning drive in OT going, and again, there's a bit of good fortune. First, for some reason, DB Adrian Phillips (21) floats into no man's land in the middle of the field, creating a wide-open throwing lane for Rodgers. It's baffling why Phillips overplays the middle, because even if Doubs is going to cut across the middle from the low side, Bentley is there as a second-level defender to clog things up. In any event, the other break happens as Jones, who's one-on-one with Lazard on the outside, slips and falls as Lazard breaks off his route, and he's got no chance to defend the pass. This pitch and catch becomes as easy as it gets, and the Packers are on their way to victory.