Week 13 features a cross-conference matchup between the two hottest teams in the NFL, the Packers v. Patriots. Let’s take a further look at what to expect in this potential Superbowl 49 showdown:
WHEN GREEN BAY HAS THE BALL
In their last two games against some of the NFL’s most prolific passing offenses (Colts & Broncos), the Patriots shut down the opponent’s run game early and forced obvious passing situations with New England in the lead during the 2nd half. (Broncos under 40 yards rushing, Colts under 20 yards rushing). This plays right into Belichick’s hands, as he wants to primarily stay in either Nickel, Dime, Big Nickel (3 S), or Penny (4 CB 1 S) personnel. Expect New England to be in some kind of sub-package (More than 4 DB’s) for most of the game. With that, Green Bay should try to establish some kind of run game in the 1st half to make the Patriots Safeties downhill players. However, Vince Wilfork and recent acquisition Alan Branch have done a good job against the run, and the Packers have had struggles of their own in the run game. While Eddie Lacy was able to seal the game late last week, Minnesota was able to effectively stop the run in the 1st half multiple times with Nickel Personnel (2 LB 5 DB), even when Green Bay played with a Tight End or Fullback (seen below). Overall, the success or failure of the Packers run game will likely be essential for how the Patriots use their defensive personnel.
Alabama pulled out an exciting OT victory against LSU in Death Valley Saturday night. LSU rarely loses in Death Valley, and it appeared LSU was headed for a sure victory, leading with less than a minute remaining in regulation. Alabama got the ball to start OT, and Bama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin called the perfect play to essentially guarentee an Alabama TD drive. The play involved deception, shifting, and a quick count. Alabama sprinted to the line and came out in an odd formation: Unbalanced. #74, who traditionally plays Tackle, was split out wide and ineligible. On the other side of the formation, a Tight End lined up traditionally where the Tackle would have and actually eligible. Alabama then quickly shifted into an “Empty” formation, where the Quarterback is in the backfield by himself:
Note that #74 is not actually an eligible Receiver on the play, because the Receiver outside of him, #2, is on the line of scrimmage. #2 is “covering” #74, and #74 therefore cannot be illegally down field at the time of the pass. (He is ineligible) However, the Tight End noted in the picture IS eligible, although he is lined up traditionally where a Tackle would be. He is eligible because he is the first “uncovered” player on the line of scrimmage. This means no player outside of him is on the line of scrimmage. Alabama then shifts, with the Running Back moving from the backfield to the outside Receiver spot, and All-American Wide Receiver Amari Cooper moving a few steps toward the sideline. This seems to cause a bit of confusion in the LSU secondary, as they are unsure how to handle the formation:
Excited for Brady vs. Manning Part XVI? These two Hall of of Famers go at it once again, and as always it should make for a great X’s and O’s chess match. Let’s analyze what we could see when each team has the ball.
WHEN DENVER HAS THE BALL
I’ve previously written about how Denver loves to use Tight End Julius Thomas as a threat from the Dakota formation. How will New England match up? Expect Darrelle Revis to play plenty of man to man on Broncos Demaryius Thomas, and Kyle Arrington to follow Wes Welker in the slot. With that, what if 6’5 250 Julius Thomas splits out wide? Most teams must match up either a Safety or Linebacker against Julius Thomas, which reveals the Defense and creates match up problems elsewhere and opens up the running game. However, expect New England to occasionally match up 6’4 220 Brandon Browner in man to man coverage when Julius Thomas splits out wide. This allows Safety Devin McCourty (#32) to remain the middle of the field and also allows Linebacker Jamie Collins (#91) in the box to play the run. (These would be the other two candidates to cover Julius Thomas). The Patriots appeared to implement a form of this strategy last week against the Bears, where Browner was matched up man to man with 6’6 265 Martellus Bennett: