Packers maximize matchups with Montgomery

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers' Ty Montgomery congratulates Aaron Rodgers on a touchdown pass to Davante Adams in the first quarter.

The Green Bay Packers host the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, December 11, 2016, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY - The names are all basically the same, but the offense the Green Bay Packers put on the field Sunday bore little resemblance to the one that stumbled through October and staggered through November.

What has changed isn’t just about who is making all the plays but how they are making them and from where.

It has taken coach Mike McCarthy some time to accept that the best offense he can put on the field starts with Ty Montgomery in the backfield and three wide receivers spread across the line of scrimmage.

Over the past three seasons, McCarthy has been able to rely on Eddie Lacy to provide a real — or at least a perceived — threat at running back. But Lacy’s season-ending injury and general manager Ted Thompson’s poor job of stocking the roster with backup options seemed to cripple the offense.

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With James Starks ineffective or injured, McCarthy toyed with receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield, then receiver Davante Adams and then Montgomery. If the team’s 38-10 victory over Seattle is an indication, they have found the key to opening up their offense with the 6-foot, 216-pound Montgomery in the backfield.

Montgomery is forcing opponents to decide whether to treat him as a running back or receiver with their personnel packages and as was the case Sunday, the Packers kept finding good matchups all over the field.

“It’s a favorable matchup for him,” Adams said. “He’s a matchup nightmare. He’s playing running back right now, but he’s played receiver. He still has all those tools. Having linebackers cover him, it’s just not really fair.

“He’s a playmaker and does a great job after the catch. The more we can get the ball in his hands and get good matchups for him, the better we’ll be.”

The Seahawks played the Packers in a nickel defense almost the entire game, leaving linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright to handle coverage responsibilities that another cornerback or safety might normally have.

By virtue of keeping their linebackers in the game, the Seahawks often were treating Montgomery like a running back. Nevertheless, he rushed nine times for 41 yards (4.6-yard average) and a touchdown, powering through arm tackles and getting extra yards on plays Starks hasn’t been making.

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“He’s such a dynamic player,” guard T.J. Lang said. “Whether he’s carrying the football or running around as a receiver or catching check-downs at the running back position or returning kicks, he does it all for us.  He’s a very versatile guy.

“He’s really starting to come on these last couple of weeks, especially at the running back position. When he got thrown in there a month ago, it was a tough spot to be in. The biggest thing I’ve seen with him is his patience.”

In this particular game, against a defense that believes in its Cover-3 scheme and will play it no matter what the opposition shows, the Packers were able to force the Seahawks to cover receivers with linebackers and tight ends with safeties and cornerbacks.

Prior to receiver Jordy Nelson’s 9-yard touchdown catch midway through the second quarter, Montgomery caught a short pass out of the backfield and rambled through the secondary for 24 yards.

On the ensuing play, Montgomery started in the backfield and motioned to wide receiver, causing the Seahawks to quickly adjust their coverage as quarterback Aaron Rodgers prepared to take the snap. Safety Steven Terrell came down to cover tight end Jared Cook, clearing out the middle.

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Whether it resulted in Nelson getting a matchup with Wright on the next play isn’t clear, but the way the Packers are using Montgomery is definitely helping them read coverages and find the best matchups.

“I think that’s the benefit we have with guys who can play different positions,” Nelson said. “There’s certain ways we can line up that allow us to understand the coverage, allows Aaron to understand the coverage and then he can pick a defense apart by the matchups that he sees.”

Besides the 41 yards rushing, Montgomery had 45 yards on three catches and 36 yards on two kickoff returns.

McCarthy used a fair amount of newly acquired running back Christine Michael, feeding him the ball 10 times for 36 yards. Michael offers a change of pace with his quickness, although his unfamiliarity with the offense, which once resulted in him going the wrong way on a handoff, is a liability.

Montgomery didn’t have much to say about his performance, but he did acknowledge that the Packers can take advantage of whatever defense a team throws at them when he is in the backfield.

“I feel like however teams play me, it’s not going to change what I do,” Montgomery said. “I feel like either way is an advantage, if they play nickel or base, there’s a way to attack them. If you’re going to play dime, there’s a way we can attack you. That’s the way I see it.”

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It appears McCarthy is seeing it that way also.

The coach has talked about December football and the desire to be balanced, but this might just be the kind of year when he has to have a wide receiver serve as his main running back. It seems to be working for Rodgers, who completed passes to seven different players while completing 18 of 23 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns.

The offense has morphed into something different than what McCarthy imagined at the start of the year and it’s starting to put pressure on teams even as good as the Seahawks.

“Aaron did what he does so well, he moved beautifully and found guys and made it look easy,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “That was very frustrating, to just watch him have so much ease, throwing and completing balls on us. That’s just a rare occurrence for our team.

“We’ve been playing for a lot of years and have not seen a game like this.”

It’s one the Packers hope to see the rest of this season.

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