4 Downs: Luck again eludes Packers
Every week I’ll share four observations the day after the Packers' game. Here they are after the Packers’ 31-26 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday.
First down: Andrew Luck beat the Packers the same way Sunday that he did the last time the teams played, in 2012. Four years ago he played a middling game (81.0 rating) but made plays when he absolutely had to, the biggest coming on the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter when he converted a third-and-12 by shrugging off a Clay Matthews sack to complete a 15-yard pass to Reggie Wayne. On Sunday, Luck again had his ups and downs (74.0 rating, two interceptions) but made the plays to win the game. The biggest was when he helped kill the final 3 ½ minutes by converting a third-and-10 on which he shrugged off Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s sack and hit tight end Jack Doyle for 20 yards. He's a big man who's tough to get on the ground.
Second down: I don’t recall ever seeing the Packers using an unbalanced kickoff coverage alignment except on onside kicks. But it must be something new in the league, because both teams used it several times Sunday, and it bombed on the Packers’ first attempt. The alignment is unbalanced in that six players lined up on one side of the ball instead of five on each side. Packers special teams coach Ron Zook used it to open the game. The object appears to be to kick the ball to the corner of the strong side. On the opening kickoff, the Packers had six players lined up on their right, but Mason Crosby’s kick made it only to the hash marks on the strong side. Return man Jordan Todman had the whole field to work with and returned it to the Packers’ left side, which was the weak side. He took it 99 yards for the touchdown. The Packers’ Jermaine Whitehead was blocked into Kyler Fackrell on the return side, so both were wiped out of the play, which created a big alley. But it appears the kick needed to be quite a bit closer to the sideline as well. That’s how the Colts did it on the next kickoff. Pat McAfee kicked the ball to the front corner of the strong side, and Trevor Davis returned it 26 yards.
Third down: The Packers definitely like undrafted rookie safety Kentrell Brice. The latest sign came Sunday when nickel cornerback Micah Hyde injured his shoulder and had to leave the game. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers could have brought in Demetri Goodson to play outside cornerback and moved Quinten Rollins to the slot, where he’s played extensively. Instead, Capers brought in Brice to play the slot. I can’t recall Brice playing the slot much if at all during training camp. He picked up a big holding penalty in the fourth quarter.
Fourth down: The Packers, at least for now, appear to have settled on Davis as their primary kickoff returner. When Zook put two returners deep, he went with Davis and Jeff Janis. But when he went with only one deep, that player was Davis, while Janis lined up way up field as a blocker.