We have a new weekly feature on the blog in which we review the top 5 defensive plays. So let's get to it: I'll describe (and link to video where applicable) of the top 5 defensive plays, and you get to vote and discuss them.
1. 1-10-TB 45 (5:55)12-A.Rodgers pass short left intended for 89-J.Jones INTERCEPTED by 33-E.Mack at TB 43. 33-E.Mack to 50 for 7 yards
This play occurred in the fourth quarter when it seemed the game was out of reach for the Bucs. At the time they were down 28-19, needed to score twice in six minutes and had just punted the ball away instead of going for it on 4th-and-3. But then Elbert Mack stepped up.
At the snap the Green Bay Packers line up with three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back. The Bucs respond with nickel personnel, which instead of Myron Lewis or E.J. Biggers involves Elbert Mack as the third cornerback at the snap. Aaron Rodgers executes a play-action fake while the Bucs rush four players against his six blockers. The Bucs don't get a lot of pressure, although Haynesworth manages to push his blocker back and affect Rodgers' throw just a little.
But mostly, this play is just made by Elbert Mack. The Bucs are in zone coverage with Mack on the outside, and he sees this throw to James Jones in the slot all the way. He's breaking on the ball before it's even thrown and can easily step in front. And with that, he gives the Buccaneers new life in a game that seemed out of reach just seconds before.
2. 1-10-GB 29 (12:45) (Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers sacked at GB 37 for -8 yards (92-B.Price)
The Buccaneers do a lot of interesting things at the snap here. The Packers line up in an empty set with four wide receivers and one tight end, and the Bucs are clearly showing man coverage before the snap. With Rodgers having just five blockers, the Bucs send five too - their three defensive linemen, linebacker Geno Hayes and cornerback Ronde Barber.
In theory the Packers have five to block five here, but because of the way the blitz is set up Da'Quan Bowers comes clean off the edge. That's a little surprising, actually, as the Bucs didn't really go through much trouble to disguise this and Rodgers should have adjusted his protection or hot routes to account for the blockers. But with Ronde Barber occupying the right tackle and Geno Hayes going inside to the right guard, there's no one left to pick up Da'Quan Bowers who can just run straight at Rodgers.
That's not the great part of this play. The great part is that Brian Price beats the center clean. That center is Scott Wells who has been starting for the Packers for seven years now and really is one of the better centers in the league. But Brian Price made one move and was past him, grabbed Rodgers around the ankles and never let go. With Bowers coming around the edge the quarterback had nowhere to go, and apparently the coverage on the back end was good enough to prevent a quick throw.
I'm not sure why the official charter gave this one to Price and gave no credit to Bowers on what should be a split sack, but this is a great play by Price and Bowers didn't really have to do much for it.
3. 3-9-GB 45 (12:23) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers sacked at GB 25 for -4 yards (94-A.Clayborn)
This play showcases Adrian Clayborn's talent and power, and also showed that he really left some opportunities on the field on Sunday. This is easy football: Clayborn threatens an outside move, then shoves the tackle outside while going inside and smacking Rodgers in the mouth. Clayborn could have done that all day, but only made a few inside moves. Most of the day he was busy going around the edge, and Marshall Newhouse had few issues stopping him that way.
Another factor on this play was coverage. Clayborn doesn't come clean to Rodgers and needs a little time to bring him down, but he's afforded that opportunity because Rodgers can't find the throw he's looking for. Rodgers tried to step up and find some room to extend the play, but Clayborn tracked him down before that could happen. That's Clayborn's fourth sack of the year, and though the rookie has slowed down a little in the last couple of games, he's clearly showing why he was a first-round pick.
4. 2-7-GB 9 (14:15) 12-A.Rodgers pass incomplete deep left to 85-G.Jennings (25-A.Talib)
No video available.
At this point in the game the Packers were up 21-11 and had just come out of the tunnel after halftime. After a three-yard run on first down the Packers went for a deep ball to Greg Jennings, evidently trying to stick the dagger in and turn a good lead into a nearly insurmountable lead.
The setup was easy: they came out with one running back, three tight ends and one wide receiver. A very run-heavy formation, and they were going to try to suck up the linebackers, get Jennings in behind the coverage or at least in a one-on-one situation and hit him for a homerun. Rodgers executes the playfake while the Packers use eight blockers to sell the run-fake.
Michael Bennett isn't fooled, however, beats a double team by two tight ends to get in Rodgers' face and force him to step. Unfortunately no one else was really beating his blocks, and Rodgers still had plenty of time to release the ball downfield. Albert Haynesworth managed to get a hand up as Rodgers released the ball, and may have even forced him to release it a little earlier than he wanted.
But that ball was thrown precisely where it had to be: precisely on point to Greg Jennings who was being guarded by Aqib Talib. Sean Jones had over the top coverage and could have maybe contained Jennings had he caught the ball, but Jennings could just as easily have juked out the safety to fly toward the endzone.
Except, there was Aqib Talib, playing probably the best game of his life. He was still with Jennings, managed to get a hand on the ball and preserved the Bucs' chances of winning the game with a tremendous play on the ball.
3-8-GB 41 (2:52) (Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers pass incomplete short right to 85-G.Jennings (25-A.Talib)
No video available.
And one drive later, Aqib Talib managed to do the same thing. With the Packers facing a third-and-eight nearly at midfield, the Bucs had to get a stop. The Packers kept in a back to block in the backfield this time, but still had a lot of personnel on the field for a pass with three wide receivers and a tight end. The Bucs again responded by showing man coverage across the board and having three defensive linemen on the field.
At the snap, the Bucs rushed six players, leaving six others to cover the four receivers releasing into routes. The Packers kept in John Kuhn to help block the blitz, and did a good job: no one really got any pressure on Rodgers who had oodles of time to find Greg Jennings on a crossing route. Jennings was once again being guarded by Talib, who had not jammed Jennings at the line and allowed him a free release.
Talib does a great job compensating for that, though, by playing the underneath coverage perfectly. Aqib Talib showed a tremendous closing burst to get to the football and deflect it before Jennings could grab it and go.
That play forced the Packers to punt the ball away and kept them to 0 points in the third quarter, allowing the Bucs to creep within two points of the Packers a few plays later. Another crucial defensive play that could have been important, had the Bucs not lost the game.
So, which play do you think was the best?