Packers on Offense: The Drive-Ending Sack
Pass protection has been an issue for Green Bay all season, and it was a sack that took the Packers out of field-goal range late in the game — and maybe out of the playoff race for good. The disaster really started on the previous play, when reserve lineman Tony Moll was flagged for holding on a 9-yard Ryan Grant run on second-and-7 from the Houston 22 to the 13. Instead of first-and-10 at the 13 with 3 minutes left in the game and a 21-21 tie, the Packers had second-and-17 from the 32. It was an obvious passing situation.
The Packers lined up single-back, with three receivers to the right and a tight end left. The Texans brought seven to the line in a blitz look. What made this sack happen was impeccable timing from middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, one of the NFL's most talented young defenders. Ryans started his move to the right A-gap pre-snap, which allowed him a headstart on center Scott Wells and left guard Daryn Colledge.
Ryans got past Wells before Wells could get his hands up, and all Colledge could give Ryans was a small chip as he was zooming by. Ryans wrapped Rodgers up at the Houston 41, and the 9-yard loss gave the Packers third-and-26. A 3-yard pass to Donald Lee (Rodgers almost got sacked again) and a subsequent punt gave the Texans the ball at their 3-yard line, and 2 minutes in which to mount a winning drive.
The interesting thing about the protection on this play was that there was none. The Texans were not disguising their intentions – left end Mario Williams jumped pre-snap, and the Texans had two linebackers approaching the line. When Ryans came through, Grant turned to his right to deal with Williams and tackle Tim Bulman, who were shooting through the left side of the defense. Given the amount of protection Mike McCarthy likes to call with those full-house backfields, I was surprised that Rodgers didn't call his tight end back to block – that sort of motion play is fairly common for Green Bay.
Packers on Defense: Daniels' Big Play
The Texans had second-and-6 from their 48 with 50 seconds on the clock. They went empty backfield with tight end Owen Daniels in the left slot. The Packers played fairly tight at the line – looked like a man under with two safeties and linebacker Desmond Bishop in the middle, about 5 yards back. Daniels ran a little curl up the middle, slipping past Bishop, who was just behind him. Since the Packers were playing either shallow or deep except for Bishop, Bishop had no help. Once Daniels got past Bishop at the Green Bay 46, he didn't see another defender in his face until he got to the 25, where he was wrapped up by safety Aaron Rouse.
From there, all the Texans had to do was spike the ball to stop the clock, run it down to 4 seconds with a short Slaton run, and let Kris Brown make the game-winner, a 40-yard field goal with time running out.
The Texans were able to spread the Packers out with their empty set, and the man look took away the middle coverage that might have helped with Daniels. As much as the game came down to these two plays, it was Houston's knack for force Green Bay to adjust – and the Packers' inability to make the Texans do the same — that decided it in the end.
Doug Farrar writes for FootballOutsiders.com. He is also a Panelist for The Washington Post and a contributor to The Seattle Times.
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