Packers Should Motion Watson from Backfield

Take a page from Coach Holmgren with Antonio Freeman

The Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams in no small part because of the presence of wide receiver Christian Watson but, to run the table, they’ll likely need to be mad scientists to design unique plays for him.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur acknowledged Watson affected the game by the Rams dedicating All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey (who has a stellar 81.9 rating out of 100 from Pro Football Focus) to Watson and rolling safety help his way on many plays. That opened up plays for Watson’s teammates.

They’ll have to do much more to get the ball in the hands of their best weapon on Christmas against the Miami Dolphins—and not just because Watson is on my fantasy team.

The Dolphins D is Better Against the Run

It’s because the Dolphins rank 10th in rushing defense in the NFL. The Packers will have a much harder time running AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones up the middle against the likes of Dolphins NT Christian Wilkins than they did against the Rams sans Aaron Donald.

What’s more, the Dolphins are just 27th in the league against the pass.

While cornerback Xavien Howard was an elite player the past two years, Pro Football Focus (PFF) has him rated just 56.5 this season, or 83rd out of 122 cornerbacks. His bookend corner on the outside, Noah Igbinoghene has fared worse (48.5). Rookie slot corner Kader Kohou (69.7) has performed the best, according to PFF.

Still, asking a rookie to beat a veteran like Howard one-on-one every play may be asking a lot, as is finding holes in zones. While the Packers don’t have a lot of time before the game, they did have the bye week to draw up plays for Watson who, before the Rams game, was on a blistering touchdown pace. They’ll need to in order to keep up with Miami’s elite offense (10th in total touchdowns; 4th in passing scores).

Motion Watson ala Freeman

They could take a page out of former Packers Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Holmgren’s playbook, and line Watson up in the backfield—alone behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers, or in tandem with Jones or Dillon.

How, say, would they defend a Watson-Dillon backfield? That’s like preparing to stop a tank and a stealth bomber simultaneously.

They could motion Watson out of the backfield (as Holmgren often did with Freeman). Freeman would get favorable matchups that led to big plays. While Kohou runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, he’s also 5-10 and Watson is 6’5. Howard ran a 4.58 coming out of college while Watson clocked 4.28 at the NFL Combine. Motioning Watson from the backfield also would create pre-snap chaos for the defense.

It also can be a tell to Rodgers for whether it’s man coverage or zone. When asked about designing plays for Watson, LaFleur said, “As a playcaller, you got to be mindful of what you’re calling so at least the opportunity is there.”

In the scenario where they show the defense a look with Dillon and Watson in the backfield, they could run it with Dillon once, toss it to Watson to run with it, motion Watson and throw it elsewhere, motion Watson and throw it to him, hand it to Dillon and flea-flick it back to Rodgers to go deep to Watson.

The possibilities are many, and it would be classic LaFleur to show one look and do multiple things from it to keep the defense guessing.

The Packers will be in warm, humid Miami for what amounts to a playoff game for both teams. Conditions should be ripe for Rodgers to get the ball to Watson. They just need to cook up motion and an exotic look or two to free their Frankenstein monster to electrify the offense--and Packers fans.

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Chris Hollenback worked for the Packers in 1998-1999, he has written for Packers.com and other media outlets, he's much shorter than Derrick Mayes and Brett Favre nicknamed him Chris "To-hell-en-back." Follow him on twitter at @CHollenback

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3 points
 

Comments (21)

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Since'61's picture

December 20, 2022 at 08:03 pm

MLF fancies himself as an NFL play caller but he is an HS level play caller when you compare him with Mike Holmgren. Now in fairness to MLF, except at QB, his Packers offense is nowhere close to Holmgren's. Holmgren's OL was much better than MLFs even when Bakhthiari is healthy. Holmgren's receiving corps was excellent when compared with MLFs except for Adams and maybe in the future depending on how Watson and Doubs over the longer term. I will call the RB s even. TEs favor Holmgren significantly.

In any case MLF would serve himself well to follow Holmgren in any of his HC responsibilities, specifically in play calling and in handling his star players. In any case yes, put Watson in the backfield, put him motion and whatever it takes to get Watson in favorable matchups. Holmgren knew how to use his players and how to put them in positions to succeed. MLF could learn a lot from Holmgren like choosing DCs, OCs, in game adjustments and not waiting entire seasons to make decisions. Moving on... Thanks, Since '61

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T7Steve's picture

December 21, 2022 at 08:48 am

Don't forget that Holmgren had a fullback most of the time also. Don't know why MLF has gotten away from using Digara when he had made some great blocks out of the backfield earlier.

One of the few times I have disagreed with you Since '61, is about adjustments. Not about MLF's, he's a disappointment, but Holmgren's. adjustments (or lack of) were always my biggest issue with his coaching. He'd have the team ready to start games and the O would have 15 scripted plays to start out fast with and work on from, but he could never outguess the changes put out by the opposing Ds. He also did the same things in the playoffs (MLF too) and not save stuff they hadn't been doing since week 1. I warned Cowboy fans about it, and they've come back and said they've now seen it. I thought any coach would be an improvement but was wrong.

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 21, 2022 at 09:17 am

Apparently, they don't want teams using the fullback as lead dogs any longer to reduce the incidence of concussions/CTE. They protect their knees through the new rules, but more guys are tackling high and delivering potentially, debilitating blows.

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Packerpasty's picture

December 21, 2022 at 09:38 am

Holmgrens was a cowboys coach??

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 21, 2022 at 09:13 am

Motion started with Bud Wilkerson to Sid Gilman to Paul Brown to Bill Walsh to Holmgren. It is a staple of WCO. Mike Holmgren had good mentors along the way, working for LaVell Edwards and Walsh. If he was not injured as a QB for USC, he probably would have played in the NFL. The nouveau offenses are vector and shoot from Mouse Davis. It still comes down to moving people out of the way and running precise routes with adjustments and catch the ball. Today's game is very different. The O line cannot cut, or high/low the defenders. Alexander has been called three times this year for executing a cross body block to cut down the lead blocker. It has become a space game and you have to have a guy who can peg the ball to the spot.

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Packerpasty's picture

December 21, 2022 at 09:34 am

You speak the truth!!

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Cheesey51's picture

December 20, 2022 at 11:16 pm

Carry The G fits well with having MLF follow in the footsteps of an offensive minded SB coach like Coach Holmgren.
MLF would do well to put Watson in motion and lineup in the backfield.
46% of GB's offense goes through their 2 running backs
MLF needs to scheme his running backs and find the Dolphins run defense weakness.

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Coldworld's picture

December 21, 2022 at 09:19 am

LaFleur doesn’t seem able to read and react to opponents. He never has shown an ability to change strategy in real time. He has established a consistent pattern of having a plan and it either works or doesn’t and very little evidence of a plan B or ability to improvise for either injury or impotence.

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 21, 2022 at 09:33 am

A.Jones is more of a tailback/wingback guy who can set up the 1:1 I would still put Dillon on the wheel route and put some hurt on the CB/S. MLF doesn't understand the counter game and has a limited usage of the draw scheme.

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Cheesey51's picture

December 20, 2022 at 11:22 pm

Also, just because PFF has the Dolphins 2CB's rated low, lets no get the cart ahead of the horse.NO HERO BALL, Establish the run first
This is a "playoff level" game against Miami

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Coldworld's picture

December 21, 2022 at 09:32 am

Watson is better at deep crossers than Go routes. So plan for opening those as well as using him as a decoy and let Doubs or even Toure run some goes occasionally (not Cobb or Lazard—that’s just nonsense). Mess with the D. If they have to contend with that then Watson’s job just gets easier.

Both Doubs and Toure excelled at tracking and over the shoulder catching coming in. It’s not just pure speed on those plays, plus take advantage of teams putting their best or fastest in Watson and probably shading safety coverage. We are so darn one dimensional in our thinking. MM or Holmgren, even Sherman, would have leveraged Watson much better. It’s about making a big play as a result of available talent, not who makes the catch.

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themesmandu's picture

December 21, 2022 at 03:00 am

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Lphill's picture

December 21, 2022 at 05:32 am

Overall going into the season with two veteran receivers Cobb and Lazard was a big miscalculation by the Packers , as evident it seems new receivers might need a full season to acclimate to the QB as well as learning the playbook this was evident when Watson failed to turn around and catch an easy TD at the end of the Rams game.

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 21, 2022 at 09:43 am

As Denny Green would say, you made the team, by mid-season you're not a rookie any longer. Get better coaches.

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

December 21, 2022 at 02:47 pm

They also brought in Sammy Watkins and tried to bring in other guys as well. It wasn't for lack of trying to sign veteran WRs.

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marpag1's picture

December 21, 2022 at 05:38 am

I fully support the idea of never doing this. At least, never in this season.

As for running the ball, we have running backs for that sort of thing. We need receivers. And there's no reason to think that Watson is a better runner out of the backfield than Jones. There are many reasons to suspect that he isn't better than Jones.

As for passing, we have a rookie wide receiver who is obviously struggling to stay on the same page as Rodgers the way that it is. Let's not submerse the dude in another ocean of gadgetry during the next five days and expect everything to be ok.

In general, I don't even want "gadget guy" on my team. I want running backs who can run out of the backfield. I want wide receivers who can win out wide. Just like I don't really want QBs who can run but are so-so passers, or corners who can return kicks (hello, Terrell Buckley), etc.

There is a reason why the NFL has generally accepted, primary responsibilities for each position. Decades of experience has shown that this is generally the most effective way to do it. So let the player do that, first and foremost... and second and 'secondmost' and third... When that becomes second-nature to them, and they can do it without even thinking, maybe then you can mess around with gadgets - one or two, let's say.

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T7Steve's picture

December 21, 2022 at 08:57 am

The NFL is constantly evolving. If you don't evolve you will be left behind with stale designs that everyone knows how to combat (O and D see Tampa 2).

That said, I love when we hand the ball to a back when they know we're going to hand the ball off and shoving it down their throats with little they can do to stop it. We just don't have the line to be able to do that at this time or this all year for that matter.

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Coldworld's picture

December 21, 2022 at 09:25 am

I’m fine with gadgets, but not when they are your best players. I don’t want Watson or Doubs getting pounded except in a playoff cliff hanger, maybe. Use Toure, since we refuse to use him conventionally and he did that quite well in preseason if you want the surprise element. The problem is that we’d rather trot out Cobb and Lazard, who aren’t viable options really these days. Again, unimaginative player usage and planning. Heck, you could even put Nixon in for a few plays as a decoy or option. LaFleur is not a very imaginative guy. That’s a myth.

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 21, 2022 at 03:59 pm

I would use Nixon out of the backfield with some of Cobb's old scheme.

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Fubared's picture

December 21, 2022 at 12:54 pm

First the problem on the team isnt offense as much as its defense. Only shitty teams have done somewhat poorly against us. Otherwise the good teams found it easy to score, easy to stay on the field and easy to keep our defense reeling for long periods of time.
3 and outs are almost non existant on this team and that goes back to Capers.
Who really cares now, its too late, season is really over. Were up against three really good teams vying for spots in the playoffs and we need to have teams in front of us go on losing streaks. Ya that wont happen.
Besides this team doesn't deserve to be in the playoff talk. They blew that a long time ago.

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Philarod's picture

December 21, 2022 at 01:37 pm

I mostly agree with you, but with this exception:

IF they win out and Wash, Sea and Detroit [can't expect the Giants to lose out] do their part (or their opponents do), then they deserve to be in the playoffs. And even if that would earn them a first-rounder - and a probable loss - at SF, I'd still welcome the chance. But yes, they have an 8% chance of getting the 7 seed; it's been a very tough year. With all that has gone wrong, if they had simply defeated the Lions...

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