4 Downs With Dougherty: Packers spread wealth
Every week I’ll share four observations the day after the Packers' game. Here they are after the Packers’ 26-10 win over Chicago on Thursday night.
First down: The most stunning stat from Thursday night was that though Aaron Rodgers completed 39 passes, Jordy Nelson caught only one (for nine yards) even though he played the most snaps (83) of all the Packers' receivers. That's probably a good sign for the Packers because it means Rodgers wasn't locking onto his favorite receiver too much. Rodgers targeted Nelson only four times, compared with 16 targets for Davante Adams, 15 for Randall Cobb and 13 for Ty Montgomery. Throw it to whoever is open or has the best matchup.
Second down: Packers practice will look different for the next few weeks and maybe the rest of the season now that they’ve gone to spreading out the field with four and five receivers as the crux of their offense. That means a lot of shuttling personnel between plays and not running the ball as much as they try to sharpen their new approach on the practice field. One thing to look for in the next few weeks is to see if they can find ways to turn short completions into long gainers with big runs after the catch. If defenses are going to sit back with two safeties deep, then throwing over the top will be tough, especially for a team that hasn’t done much with the deep ball anyway. But run after the catch is a staple of the West Coast system, so that will be their best chance for chunk plays. You have to think eventually either Trevor Davis or Jeff Janis, their two fastest receivers, will break off a long run.
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Third down: LaDarius Gunter is living the ups and downs of an NFL quarterback. Two weeks ago as an injury fill-in against the New York Giants, he played an excellent game in which he regularly matched up with one of the NFL’s most dynamic receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. Then last week he had a brutal day against the Dallas Cowboys – quarterback Dak Prescott’s passer rating was a little more than 150 when he threw at Gunter, according to Pro Football Focus. And then Thursday night, Gunter had another strong game. With his top three cornerbacks out because of injuries, defensive coordinator Dom Capers had Gunter cover the Bears’ best receiver, Alshon Jeffery, and Gunter came back with a strong game. Gunter matched up well because he has good length (6-1) to handle Jeffery’s size (6-3). Jeffrey also isn’t a burner, so Gunter’s lack of straight-line speed wasn’t an issue. Jeffery ended up with only three catches for 33 yards.
Fourth down: What a contrast watching the Packers play offense and defense Thursday night. On offense they were running in new personnel down after down. But on defense, in part because they were missing their top three cornerbacks, they were as static as you’re going to see a Capers’ defense. Capers played most of the game in nickel personnel, switching to dime only on really obvious passing downs. Micah Hyde’s ability to play slot cornerback was a big help to Capers here. In the nickel Gunter and Demetri Goodson were the outside cornerbacks and with Hyde with in the slot, Capers didn’t have to play rookie cornerback Josh Hawkins. Jake Ryan (31 of 48 defensive snaps) and Blake Martinez (35) were the inside linebackers, and the only rotating of personnel took place on the defensive line and at outside linebacker.