Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. The topics of this edition include:
NEXT GEN STATS: Can Ty Montgomery key a Packers offensive revival?
It sounds crazy. A second-year pro who barely touched the field the first four games of this season sparking an offense that features a two-time MVP quarterback and a pair of former Pro Bowl receivers? But there is no disputing Ty Montgomery's value to the unit after watching him become the only player in the NFL this season to post back-to-back games of 10-plus receptions.
While everyone in Packerland has been waiting for the 2015 third-round pick to make his mark as an electric playmaker on the perimeter or in the kicking game, I don't think anyone expected Montgomery to make his contributions as a running back for the Packers. Sure, the 6-foot, 216-pounder played a variety of positions (QB, RB, WR, CB, S and PR/KR) as a high school standout, but he spent the bulk of his time at Stanford snagging passes and fielding kicks. In fact, as a prospect, Montgomery was viewed primarily as a return specialist after posting ridiculous collegiate averages (27.4-yard average on 91 career kick returns; 19.8-yard average on 12 career punt returns) while showing flashes of big-play ability as a catch-and-run playmaker for the Cardinal. Discussing Montgomery on and after draft day, Packers' officials described him as a bigger version of Randall Cobb and raved about his running skills, instincts, quickness and power.
When I studied Montgomery prior to the 2015 draft, I loved his combination of size, strength and explosiveness as a receiver/returner. He displayed rare power for a receiver with the ball in his hands and his rugged running style made him an ideal candidate to thrive as a return specialist as a pro. Naturally, I had some concerns about Montgomery's ability to play wideout after watching him struggle with drops during his final season at Stanford. He didn't look like a natural pass catcher and his inconsistency led me to question his long-term potential as an outside receiver.
That's why I have to tip my hat to Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett for carving out a role for the Montgomery when the offense desperately needed a spark. Sure, the injuries to James Starks and Eddie Lacy accelerated the move, but the team already was experimenting with Montgomery in the backfield as part of the "Big Five" package (a five-receiver set) that's been an occasional staple in the offensive playbook for years. During the 2007 and 2011 seasons, Green Bay used the package to spice up an offense that that needed some juice. The depth and talent available at receiver enabled the team to trot out more pass catchers and create mismatches all over the field. Surveying the team's current roster, the "Big Five" package allows McCarthy to tap into a young and talented receiver corps.
From a matchup standpoint, Green Bay's five-receiver set is a nightmare to defend due to the presence of five dynamic pass catchers on the field. In addition, the Packers have a pair of multipurpose threats in Montgomery and Randall Cobb capable of aligning anywhere on the perimeter or in the backfield as quasi-running backs. Thus, defensive coordinators must decide whether to put "dime" (six defensive backs) or "quarters" (seven defensive backs) on the field to best match up in the passing game while leaving the defense vulnerable to the run with so many "little guys" in the box.
Against the Cowboysand Bears, the Packers used their "Big Five" package on 25 total snaps (12 plays in Week 6; 13 plays in Week 7). Although the package didn't yield big results initially (Green Bay averaged 5.3 yards per play in Week 6 and 4.9 yards per play in Week 7), it has allowed the unit survive a spate of injuries at running back that has crippled the team's offensive balance. Without a credible threat in the backfield, defensive coordinators have used more man coverage (Cover 1-Free and Cover Two-Man) to disrupt the flow of the Packers' quick-rhythm passing game. This has forced Rodgers to make more tight-window throws, leading to his abnormaly low passer rating (91.7).
To combat these tactics, McCarthy has used the "Big Five" package and more hybrid spread formations with a wide receiver in the backfield. In the past, Cobb primarily occupied this role, but Montgomery has become the "A Back" for the Packers. In the last two games, he has aligned at running back on 66 offensive plays (22 snaps against Dallas; 44 snaps against Chicago) and given the unit a spark as a runner-receiver. Montgomery possesses the quickness to run away from linebackers or interior sub-defenders while running routes out of the backfield, which gives Rodgers an explosive outlet to target when coverage takes away his primary threat on the outside. In addition, Montgomery's combination of wiggle, burst and strength allows him to gobble up yardage on checkdowns delivered underneath coverage. These dump-offs are the kinds of chain movers the team didn't get with Lacy on the field.
Looking at the All-22 Coaches Film from the past two games, it is apparent that Montgomery gives the Packers an effective counter to the coverage tactics opponents have been using. When originally aligned in the backfield, he has snagged 13 of 18 targets on passes thrown in his direction. The receiving yards have been modest (103 receiving yards, or 7.92 per reception), but the tactic has been enough to create a headache for opponents attempting to blanket the Packers' aerial attack with coverage-heavy scheming.
Speaking of counter tactics, the Packers' selective use of Montgomery as a runner on draws, delays and inside-zone plays has been effective (see: nine carries for 60 yards vs. Chicago). He has shown a knack for finding creases in traffic, which is likely due to his experience finding open seams as a returner. Check out the following clip from the game against the Bears. Montgomery takes a delayed handoff and bursts through the A-gap:
The 30-yard run showcases his patience, balance and body control as a playmaker between the tackles.
If Montgomery can continue to give the Packers solid production as a runner-receiver, Green Bay's sagging offense could get back on track by using a flexible package that accentuates the versatility and explosiveness of one of their young playmakers.