It’s very easy for me to say from the comfort of my couch, but that was a nice, easy win against a team the Packers should have beaten. I love thrilling victories, but boring victories are easier to live through. The Steelers offense was limited due to the man under center, but I thought the Packers defense showed some nice things. As far as the Packers offense? They showed some nice things as well. Let’s talk about it, shall we? (I wrote the recap this week, so if you’re interested in reliving some of that game, feel free to do exactly that.)
Play 1: 3rd & 6, 0:46 remaining in the 1st quarter
For the first time this season, Randall Cobb  really showed what he can contribute to this team in the passing game. He was the leading receiver on the team, catching 5 passes for 69 yards and 2 TDs. Not a bad day. To the surprise of absolutely nobody who has ever heard me talk about him, we’re going to focus on a few Cobb plays in this space.
Of his 6 targets, 4 of them came on 3rd down. On those 4 3rd downs, the Packers needed an average of 6.8 yards to convert for 1st down, and they gained an average of 17 yards. This was the first 3rd down, and it came at a critical juncture. The Steelers were ahead 7-0 and the Packers first drive ended in a punt. They really didn’t want to get too far into the game without tying it up. And so here they are, facing 3rd & 6 at the Steelers’ 34 yard line.
The Packers go 4 wide against a look that appears to be single-high. They’re running a vertical route on the left and dual out-and-ups on the right, with Cobb running a slant from the left slot.
After the snap, the coverage shifts to an Inverted Cover 2 look, with the safety in the middle looking to drive at something in the middle and the slot defenders dropping back into a two-high shell.
The Steelers are also showing a pressure look up front, which they drop out of at the snap. Cobb initially looks to be covered by the slot defender, but he bails at the snap to defend the deep half of the field. At the same time, the Steelers drop a defender off the line into the hook zone. That drop takes him to the outside shoulder of Cobb.
With the wide drop – and the opposite slot defender also dropping back into a hook zone – the middle of the field is open. Cobb drives a few steps up the field, sticks his foot in the ground and cuts hard to the middle. The safety and hook defenders drive on it, but the ball is already out. Nice route by Cobb and the Packers pick up 8 yards.
Play 2: 3rd & 4, 15:00 remaining in the 2nd quarter
A few plays later and the Packers are facing 3rd & 4. What do they do? Why, the exact same thing, of course. And so do the Steelers.
Once again, the Steelers show a single-high look pre-snap, then fall into an Inverted Cover 2 post snap, with the hook defenders angling off the line from a pressure look.
With the middle vacated and the hook defender dropping to Cobb’s outside shoulder, he’s easily able to get position with a nice cut. Rodgers hits him for 12 yards.
Play 3: 3rd & 10, 11:03 remaining in the 2nd quarter
The Steelers are showing a two-high look, with the safety over Cobb dropping down closer to the line before the snap. Davante Adams  is running a vertical route on the left and the Steelers have him bracketed with a defender playing trail technique off the line and a safety over the top.
The Packers are running double in-breakers from the right, with Cobb in the slot. The safety sneaking down means no one is over the top, and it’s his job to carry a vertical route up the field. Cobb pushes hard off the line, selling the vertical route. As the safety flips his hips to carry the vertical route, Cobb cuts back inside. With the slot defender starting in outside position, Cobb is able to keep that man on his hip and create separation with a hard cut to the inside.
After the cut, the slot defender falls off and under the other in-breaking route and Cobb is picked up by the safety. Having turned him on the cut, Cobb has already created the initial separation and is able to outrun him across the field. Rodgers hits Cobb on the left side of the field and Cobb is able to get upfield and split the two defenders waiting for him, picking up a 23 yard touchdown.
Truly some vintage Cobb moments. With the explosiveness out of his breaks, it almost looked like it was 2014 again.
Play 4: 2nd & 7, 14:20 remaining in the 3rd quarter
We’re going to take a break from Cobb for a second and look at what ends up being a throwaway, but could become a big-hitter down the road. Amari Rodgers  had 7 snaps on Sunday, but he made his presence felt on every one. He primarily functioned as the jet motion man, which is where we’ll pick up here. Rodgers goes in motion as the jet man, jogging under the formation. With Aaron Rodgers under center, the jet man typically works as the flat control on passing concepts, throttling down in the flat and serving as a checkdown option.
On this play, he hugs the corner on the release and wheels up the sideline. Adams is the outside receiver on that side and he turns a deep curl.
The idea behind this is to have the hard-pushing route from Adams occupy the safety/deep defender, then catch the defense napping on the outside. If they’re looking for the flat, the boundary defender could sag down on the edge and just be looking to be nearby to the flat, only to get caught by surprise on the wheel. That boundary defender could also carry Adams up the field from the outside, leaving the boundary relatively open.
The Steelers pass this off well, but another team might not be quite so lucky. Just something to keep in mind going forward.
Oh, I’d be remiss if I let this play go by without mentioning the solid pass pro work by Jones.
Tale of the Tape
Joe Schobert: 6’1″, 240lbs
Aaron Jones: 5’9″, 208lbs pic.twitter.com/LaDnkgyehh
— Dusty, but Spookier (@DustyEvely) October 5, 2021
Play 5: 2nd & 7, 5:40 remaining in the 3rd quarter
It’s not often that a running play gets my out of my seat, but this one did exactly that. Once again, we have Amari Rodgers as the jet motion man. There’s something about jet motion I don’t talk about a lot, and that’s the confusion it can cause with the defense and their assignments. Defensive structure & assignments can be tied to the strength of the offense. If you have 3 men on the right and 2 on the left, the strong side would be the right. The structure of the defense on that play is suited to defend a the strongside a certain way, so they are likely tilted to the right.
Motions can change that. Quick motions can change that. So quick motion with a snap that can occur just after – or just before – the motion man crosses the path of the center can cause some quick-shifting and confusion. I could go on for a while about this, but I think we all get the general idea. On this play, the jet motion leads to some confusion with the Steelers defense.
Amari Rodgers goes in motion before the snap, drawing Terrell Edmunds  up to the line. The ball is snapped before Rodgers crosses under the center, so Edmunds ends up attacking the A gap between Josh Myers  and Royce Newman . In addition to the jet motion causing some possible confusion, a lot of teams look to load up on the run on the opposite side of the line from where the running back is aligned in shotgun. The thinking is that, for a running back to receive the handoff, he needs to cross the face of the quarterback, and therefore will run more naturally in a straight line to the opposite side of the line from where he starts.
The problem for the Steelers lies in the fact that Devin Bush  is already aligned in that same A gap. And, while he briefly drops back at the snap, he attacks that gap as soon as Dillon gets the ball in his hands.
The Packers have a couple nice double-teams up front and the Steelers have two defenders in the same gap. With Yosh Nijman  locking up his man, that leaves a wide open gap.
Dillon veers into the open gap and picks up 25 yards.
Play 6: 1st & goal, 4:51 remaining in the 3rd quarter
It would have been cool if Dillon had been able to pick up that extra yard and the touchdown, but then we wouldn’t have been able to see this beauty this week. It’s probably my favorite play of the day, just because the design is so gorgeous.
I love a well-designed pass play in the low red zone, and I love the avenues for creativity that are opened up when you’re able to pair a couple of guys with elite short-area quickness. The Packers are no strangers to some really nice concepts in this area with the pairing of Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.
There was this beauty against the Bears in 2017: a variation of the well-worn slant/flat concept, with Adams and Cobb reversing their routes at the mesh point. It forced the defenders to respect the potential rub route, then played counter to it.
Just thinking about this play for no reason in particular. pic.twitter.com/sYanZbiUH2
— Dusty, but Spookier (@DustyEvely) October 5, 2021
Then there was this play against the Colts in 2016, where it looked like Cobb was simply occupying the defense and allowing Adams to get a free release before releasing across the middle of the field.
Cobb starts out looking like he’s blocking for a WR screen to Adams in the flat. He releases on the slant & his defender stumbles.
PA pulls up the group in the middle. Safety recovers but doesn’t see Cobb streaking behind him. PERFECT throw. pic.twitter.com/FLrm6hNz8z
— Dusty, but Spookier (@DustyEvely) April 29, 2020
Let’s add another one to the highlight reel in 2021.
Cobb and Adams are stacked on the right, with two defenders playing directly over top of them. Rub concepts can be extremely effective in this area due to the tight confines and immedate reactions you can draw from the defense. Two defenders on the same plane are prime for a rub concept, as any kind of crossing routes can cause them to bump into each other. The Packers show what looks to be a tight follow-slant concept. The core concept itself is one of my favorites in this area. The front man pushes hard on a slant, and the underneath man runs a tight slant on the front man’s hip. If the ball comes out fast and leads the trailing receiver, it’s really tough to defend. The underneath defender doesn’t have time to jump under the follow slant, and the routes are run too tightly for him to bit between them, so the follow-slant has a nice, open lane to the end zone.
The Steelers play this well, by dropping a defender under the concept after initially leaning in on the play action. So the Steelers have the follow slant covered up, but they don’t have this variation covered up.
As the front man, Cobb runs the leading slant, then pivots back to the outside.
Two defenders converge and stay with Adams, giving Cobb a free release to the outside. He is followed by his initial defender, but he’s playing behind Cobb and can’t close in time. Rodgers rolls out after the play fake and has a perfect angle to hit Cobb.
Beautiful design off a popular concept in this part of the field. Huge, HUGE fan of this (in case you couldn’t tell).
Albums listened to: Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse; Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes; Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface; Taylor Swift – evermore; Mineral – EndSerenading; The National – I Am Easy to Find; Peter Hook – Dreams (Joy Division Orchestrated); Mitski – Be the Cowboy; Philip Glass – Candyman Soundtrack; Bowery Electric – Beat