Is Barrington the Answer in 2015?

By the standards of most NFL teams, the Green Bay Packers had a successful 2014 season. They went undefeated at home, won their division, and were a few plays away from being the NFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. But the fans and the organization itself are used to this level of success, and often, anything less than a championship is seen as a wasted season. Changes have already been made with the coaching staff and personnel, and others may be coming. One major question mark is at the inside linebacker position. Longtime starter AJ Hawk seems to be on his way out, and Brad Jones is already gone. Clay Matthews’ future role is nebulous at best, and Lattimore seemed to have played his way out of a starting spot as the season went on. The only reasonably consistent player at the position is Sam Barrington.

The 2013 7th round pick out of South Florida played in 14 games last season and finished with 39 solo tackles, a sack, and a pass breakup. Towards the end of the season, he seemed to be considered the most reliable option at ILB by the coaching staff. The question is, do the Packers have a serious need at the position going into the 2015 draft?

In coverage:

New England, Week 13

In this play, the defense is playing Cover-6 zone, where Barrington (red box) is responsible for the hook zone to the side away from the pass strength.

Barrington ZCV vs NE(1)

 

Gronkowski (red route) is running a deep cross, while the receiver to Barrington’s side is running a fade and the tailback is going to the flat after play action.

Barrington ZCV vs NE(2)

Barrington is put in a bit of a dilemma. He has Gronkowski coming across the field behind him and Blount going to the sideline in front of him. However, because in Cover-6, Shields is responsible for the flat, he should maintain depth and play the hook zone (yellow).

Barrington ZCV vs NE(3)

Brady gives a slight pump fake to Blount, which is enough to get Barrington to bite and move out of the throwing lane. Once Gronkowski is out from behind Hawk, he is wide open.

Barrington ZCV vs NE(4)

…which looks like this from a different angle. Brady anticipates Gronkowski getting open, and it results in a gain of almost 30 yards.

Buffalo, Week 15

Again, the Packers are in a Cover-6 defense in the red zone, with Barrington playing the hook zone with inside position on the tight end, who is running a seam. The slot receiver, Woods, is running a drag.

Barrington ZCV vs BUF (1)

 

Barrington drops back one or two steps to close the window on the seam route, but then passes him off to the safety, who is responsible for that deep quarter of the field. Barrington then recognizes that the QB is throwing the drag, and drives on the receiver.Barrington ZCV vs BUF (2)

He makes a perfectly timed tackle and stops him for a gain of 4 on second and eighteen.

Barrington ZCV vs BUF (3)

Boom.

Buffalo, Week 15

1st and 15- The Packers are in a zone defense, possibly Cover-3 or Cover-4. Barrington again has a zone responsibility in the middle of the field. The Bills are running a halfback screen with the center and the left guard releasing into the left flat.

 

Barrington screen vs BUF (1)

 

The way the defense is drawn up, Barrington and Hyde are the only two defenders close enough to make a tackle before the tailback gets downfield. If the offensive linemen execute well enough, both defenders will be blocked and Jackson will be able to get into space.Barrington screen vs BUF (2)

 

However, Barrington shows great recognition as soon as the linemen move forward to set up the screen. He uses his speed to essentially overpursue and force Jackson to slow down and cut back inside. The best part of this play, however, is that his momentum to the outside forces both linemen to try and block him, leaving Hyde unblocked to make the tackle before the back gains too many yards.

Barrington screen vs BUF (3)

 

 

Vs. the Run

1st and 10- Barrington is lined up to the strong side of the offensive formation and his responsibility is the outside gap. The Bills appear to be running inside zone, but the Packers line does a great job of stuffing up the middle and forcing Jackson to bounce the run to the outside.Barrington outside zone vs BUF (1)

 

After the handoff, Jackson sees there is nowhere to go, so tries to get around the end. This sets up a one on one tackling situation with an unblocked Barrington.

Barrington outside zone vs BUF (2)

Barrington’s strength is open field tackling. He makes a solid tackle on Jackson and brings him down for a gain of 3 yards.

Barrington outside zone vs BUF (3)

 

 

Dallas, Divisional Round Playoff

2nd and 3- Barrington is lined up to the strong side of the formation again, but this time the play is run away from him. His job is now to “clean up” and make sure Murray can’t cut his run back inside once he’s reached the second level.Barrington outside zone vs DAL (1)

 

Barrington outside zone vs DAL (2)However, almost immediately after the snap, center Travis Frederick reaches him with a perfect second-level block. Barrington either tries to push Frederick back, which is unsuccessful due to his smaller size and higher pad level, or is totally inadequate in his attempt to get off the block.Barrington outside zone vs DAL (3)

Frederick maintains his block until the whistle has blown, and had Murray broken free and cut back inside, Barrington would have been completely removed from the play.

 

In addition to defending the run and the pass, a starting inside linebacker must be able to call plays and audibles for the defense, as well as help other players adjust to shifts in the offensive formation. This has been Hawk’s responsibility for the past few years. However, Barrington showed some of this ability in the playoff game vs. Dallas. The tight end was lined up on the right side of the offensive line, but then motioned to the left side. Barrington recognized the shift and conveyed this to the defensive linemen, and the run was limited to a gain of three yards.

 

 

Barrington QB of defense vs DAL (1)

 

Overall, Barrington has shown flashes of play that look like that of a quality NFL starter. However, his production is inconsistent at best, especially in the pass game. He does not seem to have a natural feel for zone coverage, which is understandable due to his limited experience as a starter. Against the run, he is a better than average open field tackler when unblocked, and is decent at taking on lead blocks without giving ground. He also occasionally shows the ability to make a lead blocker miss using his hands and good footwork. However, when in sideline-to-sideline pursuit of outside run plays, he is easily blocked by offensive linemen and shows poor ability to get off blocks once engaged with the offensive player. Also, when the area between him and the ball carrier is cluttered, he has difficulty finding his way through to get in on a tackle. When his path is unclear, he is very hesitant to commit and often can be found arriving late to a pile with the ball carrier already on the ground.

In conclusion, Barrington shows some of the physical and mental ability required to be a quality starter. However, there is no guarantee he will develop into one, and if he does, it may not be by next season. Therefore, even if Clay Matthews is kept primarily at inside linebacker next season, the position is still one of major need when Draft Day rolls around.

 

The Battle for the NFC- Rodgers and Co. take on Sherman and the Legion of Boom

Any  discussion of a matchup against Seattle should start with their defense. They are loaded with talent at all three levels of the defense, especially the secondary, featuring the best cornerback and free safety in the league. They are well coached, they tackle well and they play with a level of intensity that comes with the knowledge that a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy is within their collective grasp.

It’s fitting that they will play a team with one of the best offenses in the league to decide the NFC championship. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense may not be the flashiest, but the results are undeniable, especially since Mike McCarthy opened up the playbook midway through the season and started getting creative with formations, personnel and scheme. Before the last Super Bowl, a storyline was made of the fact that the best defense would be playing the best offense, and we all know how that turned out. However, Rodgers and the Packers are on a different level than the Peyton Manning- led Broncos. That isn’t to say that Green Bay will have an easy outing on offense at CenturyLink this Sunday, but if Coach McCarthy calls a smart game, and Rodgers plays like the Rodgers we saw in the second half vs. Dallas (and isn’t limited too much by his calf injury), the Packers will have a good shot at a trip to Arizona.

The Seattle defense, while very, very good, does have its weak spots, just like every other team in the league. The first of these, and the most important, is that their scheme is predictable. They consistently use a variation of a defense with only one safety in the deep middle of the field (usually Earl Thomas). The two variations are Cover-1 man, with man coverage underneath and the free safety deep playing zone, or Cover-3, with the safety playing the deep middle zone, the corners on each side defending the deep outside zones to their side, and four other defenders (the linebackers and the strong safety) playing coverage in short zones underneath. The fact that an offensive coordinator knows with reasonable certainty what most members of the defense are responsible for allows him to scheme routes and route combinations to get guys open down the field, or to set up favorable one on one matchups.

The second and third vulnerabilities are caused by their scheme and the way they play it. When they are in their base Cover-3 defense, their linebackers are responsible for covering the short-to-intermediate area of the field. Therefore, they make sure to backpedal, or sink, to a relatively deep area in order to be able to undercut deep crossing routes and to carry tight ends and slot receivers up the field. This means that they often allow a lot of easy catches and checkdowns to backs and tight ends around the line of scrimmage, but their defensive success is predicated on their ability to come up quickly and tackle the ball carrier before they can gain significant yards. The speed of their linebackers allows them to consistently do this. However, if they attempt this on Sunday, the man they will have to come up and tackle will be the freight train otherwise known as Eddie Lacy. If he can break a few tackles (which is likely), not only will it consistently put the offense in good position, but it will force the Seattle linebackers to cheat up closer in their zone coverages as the game goes on in order to tackle him before he can gain enough momentum. This can compromise the integrity of their zones, creating opportunities in the middle of the field for Cobb and the tight ends. The third vulnerability, occurring when they are playing their Cover-1 man defense, is ironically the exact opposite situation. When an offense leaves a tight end or a back in to help block, the linebacker or safety responsible for covering him often sits in the very short area of the field, in order to cover him if he runs a delayed route. However, they are too far away to rush the QB once they see their man is blocking, but too short to help defend any routes near the sidelines or in the intermediate middle of the field. This means that the boundary receivers will essentially have one on one matchups when McCarthy keeps extra men in to help block, and presumably, Nelson and Cobb will win their most of their matchups against Seattle’s non-Sherman DBs.

If the Green Bay offense can take advantage of these small, few flaws in Seattle’s defense, and the defense shows up like it did against Detroit and in clutch moments against Dallas, the Packers will have a fighting chance to win this game. In the NFL, playing against the reigning champions in their house, that’s all you can ask for.