Welcome to a very special edition of The Passing Chronicles. I’m sure everyone has seen the story making the rounds about Rodgers straight-up ignoring a playcall from McCarthy and calling his own play. Here is the relevant bit:
“One time I really saw it for the first time, we were in the huddle. I guess McCarthy called in a play, and Aaron was kind of like, ‘Nah,’ ” [Marcedes] Lewis said. “He gave a direction and a protection to the line, and went. It was a four-minute offense, he threw a 40-yard bomb for a completion. I’m like, ‘What’s really going on?’ I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life.”
According to an interview with Kristine Leahy, Lewis cited the Buffalo game as when this took place.
Packers TE @MarcedesLewis89 is on the show today with a lot of love for @AaronRodgers12. Says he walks around with a chill swag and is incredible in the huddle. pic.twitter.com/zntwqFTZIp
— Kristine Leahy (@KristineLeahy) October 30, 2018
With that in mind, let’s do what we do here and look at the routes.
3rd & 3, 4:09 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers lead 19-0
With the Bills showing pre-snap pressure, Marcedes Lewis  and Jamaal Williams  stay back to block, leaving only 3 men to run routes. As you can see from the beginning of this clip, Marquez Valdes-Scantling  goes in motion before the snap, signaling man coverage. The Bills are showing a two deep look, but that switches to Cover 1 Robber, as the cornerback lined up over Davante Adams  in the left slot comes on a corner blitz and the safety picks up his man.
As we can see from these routes, we’re pretty much looking at an iso call. As Lewis says in the above clip, the defense is looking for the Packers to run the ball and Rodgers wants to hit them over the top. According to Lewis, this doesn’t sound like Rodgers called a set play: he basically just called up routes on the spot. For lack of a better term, he drew up this play in the dirt.
From the gif, we can see that he has no pre-snap adjustment. Rodgers snapped this ball with 7 seconds on the play clock, so there was a window for an adjustment if he needed one, but apparently he felt like he didn’t need one. He came up to the line, ran motion, surveyed the field during the motion, snapped the ball and threw to Valdes-Scantling.
It’s not a bad match-up. Valdes-Scantling was going up against Ryan Lewis, who ended the season ranking 142nd in yards per pass and 141st in success rate (per Football Outsiders).
Rodgers looks left at the snap, but works his way back over to Valdes-Scantling quickly. He’s either looking to take a shot down the left side first and doesn’t like the match-up, or he’s looking at Adams for a quick throw. He doesn’t like either of those, so he moves to Valdes-Scantling quickly and gets rid of the ball.
Something else to note is that the look left draws the safety that way, ensuring a one-on-one match-up on the outside.
Now, the routes. They’re not great. As I’ve mentioned multiple times, I’m not a huge fan of running iso routes, and that’s what we’re looking at here. The Packers have 3 routes and each one of them relies on the receiver to beat the man across from him. Nothing is schemed open. It’s also a 3rd & 3 with a single shallow-to-intermediate option and two deep routes. That’s something else I’ve railed against.
So what can we learn from this?
Unfortunately, not a ton. We can’t point to every 3rd down play with routes like this and say “Rodgers is making all these calls! It was never McCarthy!” Short of players coming out and detailing a bunch of different plays this has happened on, there’s really no way to know that. It can tell us that it’s extremely difficult to draw up a nuanced play in the huddle. If you’re going to draw it up on the fly, it’s easier to run something like this than something like, “Okay, you run a dig at 16 yards and you run a post from the other side breaking at 16 1/2 yards, with the breaks taking place 15 yards apart on a horizontal plane.”
But maybe it can tell us something else. Valdes-Scantling was targeted 3 times in this game, with this being his only catch. Let’s see how those other plays went.
Valdes-Scantling is running a flat from the right slot. He pushes up the field before turning to the outside. With the depth of the cornerback, Rodgers wanted him to run directly to the flat instead of pushing upfield first. Rodgers got on him a bit for this.
On 4th down, Valdes-Scantling is running a comeback route from the right outside. Rodgers works over to him and fires. Coverage is tight. Instead of attacking the ball, Valdes-Scantling falls back as the ball arrives and it’s almost a pick-six. Rodgers did not like this one bit.
So that’s two attempts to your promising rookie, and two times you have chewed him out. With the game in-hand, it could be that Rodgers wanted to show his receiver that he had confidence in him. “Hey, go deep, I’m getting you this ball.” Perhaps he saw his guy struggling a bit and thought he’d give him a boost. Whether he came down with the ball or not, having your quarterback show that confidence in you could certainly give a boost.
All of this is conjecture. It could be that Rodgers just didn’t want to run the play McCarthy wanted to run. I have no way of knowing that. But, with this play being talked about, I wanted to throw that out there. There is so much that can go into every play that we will never see.
As a summary: the routes themselves? Not great. But there could have been something larger at play. Or not! Who knows?! (This kind of hard-hitting analysis is why they pay me the big bucks.)