Chiefs vs. Packers Game Preview: Scheme Spotlight, Play-calling Debates, Matchups to Watch, and More
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The Kansas City Chiefs (4-4) and Green Bay Packers (7-1) meet Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium at 3:25 pm CST.
Aaron Rodgers is OUT. Jordan Love will start.
Here’s what else you should know:
Trying to come up with a specific scheme that could highly impact the Chiefs-Packers game is a little difficult at this point in time. Defensively the Packers play a ton of 2-Man and Cover-4 coverages while rushing only four. The Packers major in the exact defensive style that other teams adjust to when playing the Chiefs. We’ve spent enough time talking about how to beat it so no need to dive any further into it, for now.
On the offensive side of the ball, it’s a complete crapshoot on what the Packers may do. With Aaron Rodgers out for this game and Jordan Love taking over, who knows what the Packers’ offense will look like. One big key will be getting clean, easy looks for Love to get into a rhythm. The last time the Packers and the Chiefs squared off, they were able to do that for Rodgers utilizing a lot of Empty sets.
Going into empty sets can greatly simplify an offense for a young quarterback. It makes it difficult for defenses to disguise their coverage on the back-end as well as their rushing personnel. All players are forced to declare relatively early on and if there are post-snap games being played, there is a ton of space to defend.
Beyond the scheme advantage it can provide for the offense, the Packers have found success utilizing their running backs on outside releases. Normally when a running back is split out as the widest player, they will run some form of basic crossing route. In 2019, the Chiefs were beaten by some of these and tried to counter by having their linebackers in man coverage play with hard inside leverage to take away those routes.
The Packers countered that by running a lot out-breaking routes and even some double-moves with their running backs. They got into these plays with interesting designs - motioning the running back inside, stacking or switching some releases, etc - but at the end of the day the Chiefs were simply out coached and executed. The Chiefs have a more athletic and more promising coverage linebacker in Willie Gay this time around but will it be enough?
The Packers would be smart to incorporate these into their game plan vs Steve Spagnuolo and the Chiefs’ defense that has historically been pretty good against first-time starting quarterbacks. Allowing Love to play loose and not be over-thinking every step is going to be a priority for Green Bay.
Packers Perimeter Passes Present Problems
It’s a weird thing thing to say that an offense is set up perfectly for a young quarterback making his first start to step in and find success, but it’s true. Jordan Love has a lot of quality foundational pieces at his disposal.
Aaron Rodgers is not easily replaceable — and these comments shouldn’t diminish his ability. The Packers just happen to have a well constructed offense for the personnel they have.
If you’re building an offense for a young quarterback, you’re looking to run the ball effectively and create easy completions. The less plays you have to rely on him to make, the better.
Green Bay has a two headed monster at running back with unique skill sets — the dynamic Aaron Jones, and the bruising monster A.J. Dillon. The Packers can lean on these two backs to help reduce what they need from Love — especially with the quality offensive line they have.
But beyond just the prospects of the run game, this team has a lot of success with their quick perimeter passing game. The Packers have several big bodied receivers and outstanding blockers out on the perimeter. This allows them to get the ball on the edge to star players like Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams with good blocking and the ball easily in their hands.
Rodgers is outstanding getting the ball quickly to his targets quick. Love can do it more than adequately too, however. With Adams back, there are plenty of options to get easy completions for the young quarterback.
There are core principles baked into the Green Bay offense that should allow them to move the football effectively without having to expect greatness from their young quarterback in his first start.
All eleven defenders on the field for the Chiefs will be stressed to play well at the line of scrimmage — both with the run and quick passes.
It should be enough to keep this team in the game. Can he make enough to match Mahomes? That’ll be a big question.
Packers Tite Front vs. Chiefs Gap Runs
Throughout the offseason and preseason, there was plenty of buzz about the Chiefs run game and the gap concepts they could implement with their new personnel. They even featured them heavily in their preseason contests, giving some hope for a diversified run game that kept defenses guessing. However, the usage of those gap scheme runs just hasn’t been as high in 2021…yet.
This week features a prime opportunity to implement more gap concepts against the Packers tite front defense. The defense will implement a true 0-technique nose tackle (lined head-up over the center) and two 4i aligned defensive linemen (on the inside shoulder of each offensive tackle). This leaves the defense the ability to utilize EDGE rushers, safeties, off-ball linebackers, or nickel cornerbacks to fill in the edges of the defense from a wide angle while still plugging the center of the defense.
The tite front has gained popularity in the NFL as of late — lagging behind the collegiate game a bit — but the Packers are implementing it in 2021. That front should find success against a zone-heavy Chiefs rushing attack by eliminating blocking angles and preventing linemen from easily climbing. However, the space off the edges — in between a tight aligned defensive tackle and EDGE/force defender — is ripe for some gap runs.
Gap concepts attack exactly what their name implies: a specific gap along the line of scrimmage. When the Packers line up in their tight front, the gap blocking scheme typically gets even easier. A concept like G-T Counter, Power, or G-H Counter sends a pulling blocker across the line of scrimmage toward a designed gap. At times, that can make a reach block — filling the space left behind the pulling blocker — a difficult assignment for an interior player. However, if the defender is aligned tighter to the replacement blocker, that makes his angle easier and typically finds more success.
Furthermore, the tite front is typically deployed to cloud shallow passing lanes and prevent some of the RPO-heavy offenses in the league from exploiting the second level of the defense. This means more LB/EDGE or S/LB hybrid players implemented as overhangs to help fill the alley against the run while still playing competently against the pass. However, when teams run gap concepts against the tite front, they’re more often pulling blockers toward lighter linebackers or defensive backs — which is a major benefit for the offense.
I don’t know if we’ll see the usage of gap concepts as much as we expected during the offseason — or even as much as the Chiefs ran them in the preseason. However, the team still does run them — to great success — albeit sparingly. Offenses don’t like to fully tip their hands until they absolutely have to, and this could be one of those opportunities, particularly against an ideal schematic matchup.