Packers planning more changes to clean up field-goal problems
GREEN BAY – With their field-goal protection leaking for a couple of weeks, the Green Bay Packers made changes entering Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Packers replaced two components to the right side of their protection unit last week. Lineman Ben Braden, who is on the practice squad, and backup center Jake Hanson were plugged onto the field. They replaced starting right guard Royce Newman and backup right tackle Dennis Kelly.
Special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton also worked with holder Corey Bojorquez during the week to vary his snap counts, preventing opponents from getting a good jump on their kick rush.
The changes were made after the Packers appeared to allow a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown before halftime against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A week earlier, Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal at San Francisco was almost blocked from the right side.
Whatever adjustments the Packers made didn’t prevent Sunday’s debacle. A field-goal unit that had shown signs of cracks early this season finally crumbled, missing three field goals and an extra point.
“I would say we got some of it cleaned up,” coach Matt LaFleur said, “but certainly there’s some more to clean up. I thought we did a better job this last week of using a different snap count, which I thought definitely helped us alleviate that jump that the field-goal block team was getting. But there’s some other things that we’ve got to tweak, and we’ll look at those this week.”
LaFleur said he doesn’t believe Crosby rushed his process because of the previous issues. Instead, he sees problems with the operation that need to still be cleaned up. LaFleur would not give specifics, but he said Sunday’s breakdowns were not entirely on Crosby.
“You can’t put all of that on Mason,” LaFleur said. “I thought there were some areas that we need to make sure we get corrected, and we will.”
Mix-up on play before halftime burns defense
A big reason the Packers' defense gave up a shocking, 70-yard touchdown against the Bengals before halftime Sunday is because of how well it knows its own offense.
Before the second down from their own 30-yard line with 50 seconds left, it looked like the Bengals were a long shot to even get into field-goal range. Then the Packers rushed only two defensive linemen, dropping the other two in coverage. It allowed quarterback Joe Burrow to buy time for his receivers to run downfield, ultimately finding rookie Ja’Marr Chase for the touchdown.
LaFleur said his defense heard a term the Packers offense uses in its playbook. The Packers defended that term like it was the same play, but it wasn’t.
“Our guys thought they heard something that we actually have in our offense,” LaFleur said, “that I don’t know if Cincinnati has in their offense or not, in terms of the same words for the same play. So our guys thought they heard that, and they were playing that play. Unfortunately, they guessed wrong.
“It definitely hurt us in a big way because certainly you never want to give up a 70-yard touchdown completion in that type of situation. That was obviously a huge play in the game.”
Jones goes long distance
Heading into Sunday, the longest run the Packers had managed was AJ Dillon’s 25-yarder against Pittsburgh and the longest run Aaron Jones had managed was 15 yards, also against the Steelers.
But on first and 10 at the Packers' 25 late in the fourth quarter, Jones turned what looked to be a busted play into a 57-yard run that put the team in position to take the lead.
Bengals safety Vonn Bell blitzed late right into the gap in which Jones was headed, but using a jump cut, Jones avoided Bell and then cut behind a block by left tackle Yosh Nijman. Safety Jessie Bell came next and Jones juked him, breaking open at around the 35-yard line.
He raced down the sideline, using a block by receiver Randall Cobb as long as he could before putting a finishing stiff arm into cornerback Mike Hilton just before he was pulled down from behind.
“That play is a gap scheme, so you can hit any of those gaps,” Jones said. “As I was taking my steps, I felt the safety come down and I knew I’d have a one-on-one with him. I was just able to jump-cut him and then get inside of Yosh and keep it moving onto the next safety.
“I was able to set him up with all the space that I had.”
As for the stiff arm at the end, Jones said it was due to his motivation to get into the end zone.
“I wanted to stay up and score,” he said. “But it felt good.”
Dillon catches fire in passing game
Dillon almost duplicated his career receiving numbers in one afternoon against the Bengals.
The Packers' second-year running back entered with seven catches for 60 yards in his first 15 career games. In Cincinnati, Dillon had four catches for 49 yards and his first career touchdown.
But Dillon’s impressive receiving went beyond the numbers. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Dillon’s 12-yard touchdown was especially impressive. On the play, Rodgers threw a fastball above Dillon’s head. Dillon made a good adjustment, then held on as Bengals safety Bell rocked him crossing the goal line.
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“I’m proud of the touchdown catch,” Rodgers said, “because I threw him a high, hot one, and we were just laughing about how he thought he was going to get in relatively easy, and he kind of took a shot there. He’s such a big body though.”
At 6-foot, 247 pounds, Dillon’s size lends himself to being a power running back. Rodgers said he’s showing he's capable of being much more.
“He’s done a good job in the passing game,” Rodgers said. “Catching the ball, run after the catch. He’s really expanded his ability to play and be more than just a downhill, winter running back for us, and I give him all the credit.”