The Green Bay Packers were all too close to their season being over as they prepared to face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Through the first ten weeks of the season, the Packers experienced frustration on both sides of the ball. But in Green Bay’s 31-28 victory, when the offense finally came together, it was critical for the defense to step up and make plays, which they did.
Prior to this week, the Packers overall defensive DVOA was ranked 18th with 1.3%. With key defenders Eric Stokes, De’Vondre Campbell, and Rashan Gary out, it wasn’t looking good. Yet, that defense played its best game of the season on Sunday.
Instead of leaving Darnell Savage in the safety position, defensive coordinator Joe Barry rotated Savage to the nickel corner spot, and upgraded Rudy Ford to the starting free safety position. Ford grabbed two interceptions, which changed the entire dynamic of the game.
Let’s pull the film to see how the Packers made adjustments on the defensive side of the ball to pull out their first win in five weeks!
(Syndication: Journal Sentinel)
The main focus for the Packers defense was shutting down CeeDee Lamb. Dallas’ top receiver still managed to grab 11 out of his 15 targets for 150 yards and two touchdowns. This is because with Eric Stokes out, the Packers didn’t have one defender mirror Lamb all game; they forced the Cowboys to move him around. Lamb played 43 snaps from the slot, and 29 out wide. So, Dallas did a great job getting him open.
Throughout the game the Packers’ defense was running nickel and dime packages against the pass. In their nickel package, Savage lined up in the slot, and Ford was deep next to Amos. Rasul Douglas and Jaire Alexander were at the boundaries.
Savage allowed Lamb to go 2-for-2 for 51 yards. Alexander’s numbers against Lamb weren’t any better; he allowed Lamb to go 4-for-6 for 55 yards and one touchdown.
— Kevin Gray Jr. (@KevinGraySports) November 13, 2022
It was imperative for the Packers to adjust in order to keep the Cowboys guessing.
To keep Lamb covered, the secondary had to make sure they had two sets of eyes on him whenever he crossed over the middle. Which is called “brackets”, and so by the fourth quarter, this is what the Packers’ defense did.
The defense came out dime coverage, with six defensive backs.
Savage was lined up deep next to Ford, with Amos in the box next to Douglas who was lined up across from Lamb, who was in the slot, then backup Corey Ballentine was on the outside.
Rudy Ford in Cover-3
(Syndication: Journal Sentinel)
The six-year veteran Rudy Ford has made his way around the NFL. First playing for the Arizona Cardinals before getting traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019, he played for the Eagles for two years as a safety and a special teams gunner. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson decided against renewing his contract. Then as a free agent, in 2020, he was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he played as a nickel cornerback in addition to special teams. Before the start of the 2022 season, Pederson once again let him walk and Ford was picked up by the Green Bay Packers.
Before Sunday, Ford had only seven starts in 66 games played, over a six-year span. He had one interception, 109 tackles, two tackles for loss and 0.5 sack.
Ford made his start at safety on Sunday as Savage took the nickel cornerback position. Ford played the free safety over the middle in Cover-3, and managed to intercept Dak Prescott twice to put the Packers into ideal field position to control their lead before halftime.
On his first interception, Ford was playing free over the middle. Lamb and tight end Dalton Schultz were both running towards him and with little depth between the two receivers, Ford was able to jump the route.
Ford never stepped up to help, he stayed deep because the coverage asked him to be the last line of defense.
Later in the game, the defense adjusted. On the interception, this time Savage passed Lamb off, allowing Ford to read Prescott and step up to pick off the throw.
The cornerbacks stayed underneath, and Savage picked up the outside quarter of the field. This allowed Ford to step up to pick off the pass. Prescott must have thought that Ford would stay deep like he did earlier int he game when Lamb ran the similar route.
These switches might save the Packers' season.
(Syndication: USA TODAY)
The Packers made key adjustments mid-game to keep the Cowboys’ offense in front of them. With Savage looking more comfortable in the slot nickel position, it’s likely that Ford stays at deep free safety. The defense looks more aggressive as a whole.
According to Football Outsiders, the Packers’ pass defense finished second in the league in week 10 DVOA, with -18.1% and 9th in overall DVOA going even 0.0%.
If the offensive side of the ball can continue to put points on the board, the defense might have themselves a new look with Ford looking dominant in cover 3. If there is one thing that week 10 told us, it’s that the Packers’ season is far from over.