It could be argued that two fourth-quarter, fourth-and-1 plays ended Green Bay's shot at the playoffs.
The first was the Packers' attempt on the first play of the fourth quarter from the Jacksonville 44-yard line. The Packers started this drive on their 36 with 3 minutes left in the third quarter. They made it to the Jacksonville 47 before Ryan Grant was stuffed for no gain on second-and-1 and third-and-1.
On fourth-and-1. Green Bay lined up with seven on the line, power left, with Grant and fullback John Kuhn in a slightly offset-I. Jacksonville played six tight at the line, with three linebackers closing in, At the snap, Kuhn took the ball and headed straight up the middle, into a huge scrum of Jags defenders. He started to go up and over, but fell back before gaining the first down. Jacksonville took the ball back, down 13-7, but with momentum in hand.
The Jags had a fourth-and-1 of their own five plays into the next drive. Unlike the Packers, Jacksonville disguised that fourth-down run with a shotgun, four-wide set. Green Bay put four at the line and played just off the receivers. At the snap, Garrard headed right on a draw, right tackle Tony Pashos blocked in on Aaron Kampman, and because the Packers were playing to cover, Garrard had a free lane around right tackle, ran for 4 yards to the Green Bay 28 for the first down before A.J. Hawk could come in to make the hit. Jacksonville scored its second touchdown five plays later. The momentum had shifted.
The Jaguars are able to have faith in the success of unorthodox formations in short-yardage situations because Garrard is a big guy who runs well. What surprised me about the play on the Packers' side is that for a play-caller who likes as many odd formations as any coach in the NFL, Mike McCarthy went with a straight, predictable power set, tipping his hand to a defense with a strong inside middle.
Packers on Defense: Garrard to Northcutt
Breaking down the Garrard-to-Northcutt touchdown pass.
Graphic by Doug Farrar/Football Outsiders
Part of the problem is a depleted front seven, and the impacted pass rush that would inevitably follow, and part of the problem is that the injury bug has drifted back to the secondary. With Atari Bigby and Aaron Rouse out with ankle injuries, the team decided to move super-corner Charles Woodson to safety, playing him there first against the Panthers. The Packers lost 35-31, and though Woodson got high marks from the coaching staff for his play at safety, the move has been reviewed and criticized, as have all moves coinciding with Green Bay's four-game losing streak and postseason elimination.
The Jaguars added fuel to that debate on their first drive, marching 73 yards on 12 plays. Garrard's first impact pass of the game was the 30-yard touchdown to receiver Dennis Northcutt with 8:11 left in the first quarter.
The Jaguars had third-and-19 — an obvious passing situation — and Garrard went shotgun, split-backs, with three-wide. The Packers responded by playing nickel, with Al Harris trailing Reggie Williams on a go route outside left. The man with a bull's-eye in his back wasn't Woodson, though — it was cornerback Will Blackmon, who was playing inside against Northcutt with Nick Collins over the top. At the snap, Maurice Jones-Drew drifted into the left flat, which brought Hawk to cover. Tramon Williams was dropping back from press coverage at left corner on Troy Williamson as Williamson headed upfield with inside position.
At the 20, Northcutt gave Blackmon a sweet double move, faking outside and cutting back in. Blackmon was taken out of the play, and Northcutt slanted in and caught the ball at the 10-yard line. Collins was out of position because he bit outside as he was coming up to help, and Woodson was late to the party on the other side because his first instinct was to help Tramon Williams. Rouse was out of the picture because Reggie Williams had him outside on the left sideline route.
Injuries have decimated the Packers' defense all season, but it's only recently that it's hit the secondary. In the end, that proved too much for the team to take.
Doug Farrar writes for FootballOutsiders.com. He is also a Panelist for The Washington Post and a contributor to The Seattle Times.