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Anatomy of a Failing Third Down Defense

The Patriots struggled to stop the Packers on third down. What's the reason for the Packers' success?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers had 16 third down attempts on Sunday and they converted 10 of them, with an additional third down play converted due to a penalty (we are excluding the game ending kneeldown on third down). The 11/17 (65%) conversion rate was great and it made the game extremely difficult for the Patriots to contain. Here's a breakdown of all the third down attempts.

Play 1: 3rd and 8 from the Patriots 21 yard line. Aaron Rodgers throws to Davante Adams, but the ball is tipped and falls incomplete. A flag is thrown for defensive holding on Brandon Browner. A replay of the penalty wasn't shown, but it looks like Browner threw Jordy Nelson to the ground prior to Rodgers' pass attempt. Browner was four yards beyond the line of scrimmage and Nelson had draw level with Browner prior to digging back to the quarterback- the fact that Nelson drew level with Browner meant that the cornerback could no longer "chuck", or knock back, Nelson (similar to how Jamie Collins hits players within the rules). Bad play by Browner, probably should have been called illegal contact instead of holding, but that determination is without seeing the full play by Browner.

Play 2: 3rd and 8 from the Patriots 14 yard line. Rodgers overthows Adams by a lot on a fade route. Tight coverage by the Patriots defense and quality defensive stop.

Play 3: 3rd and 1 from the Patriots 22 yard line. This is the "too many men" disaster. The refs called the Patriots for too many men and were going to give the Packers a first down. Bill Belichick flipped out as the Patriots only had 11 players on the field. Harsh words were said. When the play finally happened, running back Eddie Lacy hit an inside hole for a four yard gain. Vince Wilfork and Alan Branch were sealed out of the lane and Jamie Collins hit the hole a little too late to stop the first down. Great execution by the Packers. Weird start to the game by the refs.

Play 4: 3rd and 9 from the Patriots 17 yard line. Rodgers technically targeted Randall Cobb, but he overthrew the end zone. Really bad throw, Patriots had tight coverage across the board.

Play 5: 3rd and 2 from the Packers 23 yard line. Rodgers completed a 45 yard gain to Adams. Logan Ryan was in coverage and he bit hard on Adams' fake to the first down marker. Adams showed a double move, like he was running an out route, and Ryan tried to jump the play. Adams instead burst down the sideline and was wide open for a big gain. Great play by the packers, bad defense by Ryan.

Play 6: 3rd and 5 from the Packers 33 yard line. Rodgers completed a 33 yard gain to Cobb. Cobb started in the backfield, with three Packers receivers in a trips right formation. Cobb ran a wheel route around the three receivers and the Packers generated separation from the coverage with the route. Oh, also Rob Ninkovich was the player in coverage of Cobb, which is a terrible defensive design. Kyle Arrington was supposed to be in coverage of Cobb, but was impeded by the bunch formation of receivers, so Arrington couldn't wade through to trash. Great play design by the Packers, poor formation and design by the Patriots. Darrelle Revis needs to teach the other defensive backs how to get through the traffic.

Play 7: 3rd and 2 from the Patriots 26 yard line. Rodgers completed an 8 yard gain to Cobb. Great play design by the Packers as Rodgers and the offense faked a run to the left side. Arrington bit and Cobb leaked out to the right; Rodgers rolled out right and had an easy throw and completion to Cobb for a first down. Really good play design by the Packers, Arrington needed to do a better job of diagnosing the play- although he was convinced he had backside contain on the run play.

Play 8: 3rd and 12 from the Patriots 20 yard line. Rodgers completed a 12 yard gain to Cobb. The Patriots were in cover two with two safeties at the sticks. Really questionable ball placement by the refs as it appeared the Packers were stopped at least a yard shy of the first. No challenge by the Patriots, though.

Play 9: 3rd and goal from the Patriots 6 yard line. Rodgers sacked by Dont'a Hightower. The Patriots sent Hightower on an A-gap blitz and they caught the Packers unaware. Hightower blew through the blockers and had a handle on Rodgers before he could react. Really well drawn defensive play by the Patriots, although it was one of the few times during the game that they called for an impactful linebacker blitz.

Play 10: 3rd and 2 from the Patriots 45 yard line. Rodgers completed a 45 yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson. A lot can be written about this play. 23 seconds left in the half. The Patriots played tight coverage with a single high safety. Really questionable play design by the Patriots when the goal should have been to stop the big play, not force a punt. Nelson nudged Revis at the top of his route and Rodgers hit him in stride. Devin McCourty overran his coverage, giving Nelson free range of the open field. Lot of things went wrong for the Patriots defense on this play, Packers attacked it perfectly.

Play 11: 3rd and 3 from the Patriots 47 yard line. Rodgers scrambled for 9 yards. The Patriots defense really faltered and didn't even think to contain Rodgers. Chris Jones and Rob Ninkovich were supposed to be on the far side of the field, with Vince Wilfork and Akeem Ayers on the near side. Wilfork and Ayers played their part well. Jones tried to collapse the pocket towards the inside, which would normally be fine, except that Rob Ninkovich was stunting to the inside as well- which means that there was no one responsible for splitting out wide to contain Rodgers. Poor play and possibly poor design by the Patriots. Easy first down for Rodgers and the Packers.

Play 12: 3rd and 17 from the Patriots 33 yard line. Rodgers completed an 11 yard gain to Cobb. Patriots were again in cover two and they got a stop well shy of the first down markers. Solid defensive play design and execution.

Play 13: 3rd and 7 from the Packers 40 yard line. Rodgers completed a 12 yard gain to Adams. This is the play where Adams blatantly pushed off of Alfonzo Dennard and no penalty was called. Really bad job by the refs here and the Packers managed a first down off of the play.

Play 14: 3rd and 21 from the Packers 41 yard line. Rodgers completed a 2 yard gain to Adams. This was the next set of downs after Play 13. Rodgers and the Packers didn't really try for the sticks and gave Adams a low crosser with the Patriots in tight coverage and pursuit. No chance of a first down and a well designed defensive stop by the Patriots.

Play 15: 3rd and 6 from the Packers 29 yard line. Rodgers completed a 9 yard gain to Andrew Quarless. A terrifically drawn play by the Packers. The tight end Quarless was covered by Pat Chung, with the former blowing the latter off his coverage at the top of his route. It was a textbook separation by Quarless, one that Rob Gronkowski does on a weekly basis. Chung wouldn't recover and the Packers got a first down. Hard to defend a really great play by the Packers tight end.

Play 16: 3rd and 5 from the Patriots 10 yard line. Adams drops a touchdown pass from Rodgers. Patriots were lucky here. Adams had a touchdown if he held onto the ball as he had an easy step on Logan Ryan in coverage. Adams did a head fake and got Ryan flat footed before taking an inside angle. Ryan never got his hands on Adams, which is a major issue in press coverage. Patriots got a huge break here as the Packers took advantage of a mismatch on the outside.

Play 17: 3rd and 4 from the Packers 43 yard line. Rodgers completed a 7 yard gain to Cobb. The play broke down and Cobb got around his coverage. It was a perfectly placed throw by Rodgers into a really small window of space and Cobb managed to hold on. Hard to defend a play when it breaks down and the Packers had near perfect execution. Have to tip the cap to their play.

Of the 17 plays, refs had a direct impact on three (valid penalty on Browner, missed penalty on Adams, and questionable ball placement in the red zone), with an indirect impact on a fourth (the too many men debacle that didn't impact the well executed Packers play, but was eyerolling enough).

One plays were converted purely on the basis of poor defensive play by the Patriots- the Rodgers scramble with no defensive linemen containing. Another was exacerbated by poor defensive play (the Nelson touchdown would've been a converted third down, but should never have been a touchdown).

In reality, of the 17 plays, the Patriots had five quality stops on Rodgers two early overthows in the end zone, the Hightower sack, and the two and-long stops. The Packers had great plays drawn up for nine 3rd down attempts, even though Adams dropped one of them.

It should be noted that of these 17 third down attempts, only one really came against either Brandon Browner or Darrelle Revis (the Nelson touchdown over Revis). For the rest of the game, the Packers attacked Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, or Pat Chung.

The Patriots have to tip their cap to the Packers as Green Bay executed extremely well when they needed to extend drives.