Slot Receiver the One to Watch in Packer Offense

Matt Bowen, writing for the Chicago Tribune, provides his always insightful look into the Xs and Os for the average fan.  He looks at how the Packers will use Greg Jennings to target Brian Urlacher in the cover-2.  The graphic that comes with the article, shows how a typical red zone play develops.  The X receiver in the graphs carries the free safety away from the middle of the field while the strong safety worries about possible vertical routes from the three receivers from on that side of the field.  Urlacher has the slot receiver, Jennings, in the middle:

“This is a tough play for any Mike linebacker. Brian Urlacher is responsible for covering the Z vertically up the field. He will open his hips to the passing strength (closed side) and carry Jennings on the post to the middle of the end zone. Safeties Major Wright and Chris Harris will break to overlap Jennings on the throw from Aaron Rodgers, but the play initially has to be made by Urlacher. That’s a tough assignment versus the speed of Jennings.”

But it won’t be just Jennings who will be challenging Urlacher today.  The play reminds me of an article I read an article last week from Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  McGinn points out that the slot was always the position that Donald Driver occupied but that now, with age catching up to Driver, its falling more to James Jones and Jennings:

“Sunday against the Giants, coach Mike McCarthy sent out three wides on 17 snaps. Nine times Driver was in the slot, but on the other eight he was either by himself outside or outside the slot receiver.

“Because the slot receiver has an easier two-way go against the defender and often is covered by the No. 3 cornerback, slot has been the money position.”

“Jennings, a classic X (split end) receiver in his first four years, has played the slot more than ever before. Jones, who generally lined up wide right in three-wide sets, also has worked extensively inside. [Jordy] Nelson can go anywhere now, too.”

I used to think that the safeties had the toughest assignment in the cover 2 defense.  But gradually I’m starting to realize that if they’ve got it the worst, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher‘s job can’t be far behind.  Many will remember that it was Wes Welker, lining up all over the field but most often in the slot where he got a free release and could go in any direction, who did the most to ruin the Bears when they played the Patriots.  Its obviously going to be an important position to keep an eye on today as well no matter who lines up there.

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