The Bone is what the Packers call the inverted wishbone look, according to running backs coach Edgar Bennett. Mike McCarthy's diverse offense has turned to that look off and on throughout his tenure. Until last week, John Kuhn was the tailback behind fullbacks Quinn Johnson and Korey Hall. On Sunday at Philadelphia, it was rookie James Starks (218 pounds) behind fullbacks Johnson (263) and Kuhn (250).
Most teams have only one fullback on the roster — some don't have any — so the formation isn't something teams work against on a regular basis. So, the unusual look is just one more thing the Atlanta Falcons had to prepare for leading up to Saturday night's divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome.
"It's very challenging because it's not something you see ordinarily throughout the league so you don't have a lot of time on task in terms of aligning to it," Falcons coach Mike Smith said when asked about The Bone by Packer Report on Tuesday. "You have the potential there — although the tailback ended up being the guy that carried the ball in the game last week — but you have a lot of potential there in terms of who can carry the ball, how many lead blockers you can have. It does create issues in terms of your keys. You're not used to keying three backs in the backfield. It's a good scheme and they've done a very good job with it. It's something that I think Mike has toyed with throughout his time there in Green Bay and it was big emphasis point this past game."
It wasn't necessarily the game plan, though. On his first touch of the game, Starks rumbled for 27 yards out of The Bone. The Eagles did well containing that look for most of the rest of the game, with Starks gaining 22 yards on six attempts (plus a botched hand-off, an incomplete pass and a scramble). When the Packers got the ball with 4 minutes remaining and nursing the 21-16 lead, McCarthy went to The Bone immediately. Starks gained 3 yards on first down and, in a huge play, picked up 12 yards for first down on the next play.
"I think it's like anything else when you're in a particular personnel group," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said on Wednesday, a few days after Starks gained 61 yards on eight carries out of The Bone (7.6 average) compared to 62 yards on 15 carries out of "traditional" packages (4.1 average).
"Typically, we have that up — not every single (game) but virtually all the time. And sometimes when things are going well out of a certain group, you kind of keep riding it a little bit until the defense either takes it away by their adjustments or alignments, etc. I think it was a little bit of both. I think it's been a productive formation over a long period of time for us, even though it's not necessarily a primary personnel group or formation. And it was effective, so that being said we got some mileage out of it."
In The Bone, the five linemen are joined by the three backs, with either a receiver to each side or a tight end to one side and a receiver to the other. With no clear strength to the formation — "symmetry" was Kuhn's word for it — there's nothing to tip off the defense on whether the play is going left or right.
And with a receiver or receivers on the field, the Packers are perfectly capable of throwing out of such a run-heavy formation. Rodgers dropped back to pass twice. He missed what would have been about a 15-yard completion to Donald Driver when his pass was just off-target. He also scrambled once, though a questionable holding penalty was called on Daryn Colledge.
"If you're going to roll out a group of people in the game, at some point in time you've got to give the other side a little bit of credit," Philbin said. "So, you'd like to have some balance within a personnel group in terms of run-to-pass, so that's something we're obviously going to have to be cognizant of. Because defensive coaches are smart and they're looking at their computer and if you're 85 percent run, they're going to start moving their line, they're going to start blitzing guys, they're going to start having an extra DB down there, so you have to be able to complement a base formation."
Which is fine, since some of the Packers' biggest plays on offense have come off of play-action fakes on running downs.
"It could be," Rodgers said when asked if big plays are available in the passing game out of The Bone. "That's why it's worked for us in the past really three or four years and we've been effective with it. But we definitely can run passes out of it."
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.