Hello and welcome to my new series! In the past, I have broken down plays I loved or hated from the previous week. Since we have multiple film writers on staff this year, I thought I would try something a little different. For this entire season, I’ll be looking exclusively at the Packers passing offense from the previous week, specifically the route concepts they use. For too long I’ve heard Packers fans saying: “McCarthy uses too many iso routes that rely on a receiver beating the man across from him, with very little attempt to scheme anyone open.” If I remember correctly, the genesis of that critique came from an Andy Benoit article a few years ago. It’s held up as gospel truth, but I’ve not really seen many articles detailing what the Packers do in the passing game from week-to-week. I’m not saying it’s an untrue statement, but I haven’t really seen any deep-dives into the passing game lately.
I started writing about the Packers because there were things I was curious about that I wanted to dig into a little deeper. I’ve always approached my writing with that in mind. That led me to this series idea; what exactly are the Packers doing with the passing offense?
I’ve been writing Eye in the Sky for so long that starting into something new is a bit scary. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do in this space or how I’m going to present things. So bear with me while I take a few weeks to figure things out. I hope you enjoy the journey. I know I’m very much looking forward to it.
And so, without further adieu, I bring you the first edition of The Passing Chronicles (I’m open to a better name).
What I Didn’t Like
This was the first passing attempt of the game. When you talk about iso routes, this is a perfect example. You’ve got a go/curl on the right side, but, based on how the defense is aligned, that’s not opening anybody up. You’re hoping for a quick throw to Randall Cobb  on the curl or that Davante Adams  can beat his man deep. “Man beater” routes.
On the left side you’ve got a go route on the outside, a dig from the slot and a drag off the end of the line. Again, nothing about those routes plays off anything else. You’re hoping those guys can beat the man across from them. It’s a boring, uninspired offensive look, and it was the first look we had at the 2018 Green Bay Packers passing offense. It ends with Aaron Rodgers  unable to find anyone open, fleeing the pocket and, ultimately, throwing the ball away.
Against a good Bears defense who had just added one of the best pass rushers in the game, I expected some creative, quick-hitting plays out of the gate. I did not get that. None of us got that.
Second passing snap. We get a little something here. A couple men go in motion before the snap, including Jimmy Graham . The motion from Graham forces the defense to show their hand; they start with a two deep look, but Graham going in motion brings one of the deep men down to the line, ultimately showing that the Bears are in Cover 1 Man coverage. I like the Jimmy Graham/Randall Cobb  stacked look on that side, with both of them pushing down the field before splitting off.
This isn’t terrible. There’s an idea there. But it’s missing something. Watch Jamaal Williams  out of the backfield. He releases late and to the left, bringing a linebacker with him. But what good is he doing? The Packers already know it’s a Man look. The Bears are close to the line but they’re not necessarily showing pressure. With that look, you have to assume someone is assigned to Williams.
Now picture this: instead of Williams releasing to a curl on the left, he releases through the middle and curls under the post from Graham. There’s a linebacker in zone roaming the middle. If Williams releases to that side, that could pull the linebacker up, opening a nice throwing lane to Graham over the middle. That Graham/Cobb route concept is fine. But add in a curl to that side and it could help to open up a lot.
On the other side you’ve got two man-beater routes. The slot man gets open which is good, but it’s purely about beating the man in front of him.
Go routes on the outside, a dig route out of the slot and criss-crossing routes out of the backfield. None of this is hard to cover. Randall Cobb  runs a really nice dig route out of the slot and find himself open, but, again, that’s completely on him beating his man.
Watch Lance Kendricks  out of the backfield and the timing against the dig from Cobb. If Kendricks comes out a little quicker, his route can help clear a throwing lane to Cobb. Tie those routes together! Have Kendricks break out slightly before Cobb breaks in. It clears out the linebacker and opens for a nice timing route to Cobb. But you don’t even get that here. You have Cobb breaking open behind a stationary linebacker, which makes for a tough throw. Instead, Aaron Rodgers  throws to Davante Adams  up the sideline. If this is a back shoulder throw it has a decent chance of being completed. But, again, nothing is tied to anything else.
It’s just a bunch of guys running around independently, trying to get open on their own. I hope this does not become a common refrain this season.
What I Liked
Fear not! It’s not all doom-and-gloom. The Packers did some nice things in the passing game here as well, although they mostly waited for the second half to unleash those.
The post by Davante Adams  on the outside helps take the top off the defense and clears out the sideline. The post by Jimmy Graham  from the right slot pulls his defender to the middle. The play action to the left pulls the linebackers over and up towards the line. Lance Kendricks  is lined up in the backfield. His initial movement through the line is non-committal, holding the linebacker in the middle. When he finally releases to the right, he has plenty of room to operate. Kendricks isn’t the fastest guy, but his route out of the backfield allows him to build up speed and get a good angle on the linebacker. Once he gets the angle, he has quite a bit of space.
If the linebacker in the middle bites a little harder on the play action, there’s an opening for a quick throw to Graham in the middle. If that’s not open, you have your pick of Kendricks or Jamaal Williams  as checkdown options.
Here’s a tweak I would make: push the post from Adams a little deeper, and do the same on the dig/post from Graham. The depth from Graham puts more space between him and the linebacker and also helps put the single high safety in a bind. Does he drop back on the post from Adams or crash on the shallower post from Graham? If he stays deep, hit Graham. If he crashes, you’ve got a chance at a big play to Adams.
To help with spacing for Graham, I would alter Randall Cobb’s  route on the outside a little as well. Have him run a few steps as a dig then cut back to the sideline. That keeps the safety underneath from helping on Graham and opens up a nice window.
Here we go. Jimmy Graham  gives a chip off the right side of the line and heads to the flat, dragging a defender outside. Randall Cobb  runs a post from the slot while Geronimo Allison  runs a dig from the outside. Beyond the route combination, these are some well-run routes. Cobb pushes in at at the snap before veering back outside and up the seam. Allison looks like he’s running a go route before cutting on the dig. Watch how that affects the deep safety to that side and what that could open up. He drops wide, looking to pick up Allison. He doesn’t really pick up Cobb until he’s clear of the defense, at which point Cobb has inside position.
The route from Cobb pushes his defender back. When Allison cuts on the dig, the defender is not in position to make a play. He tries to come back, but the route from Cobb has pushed him out of position. Combine that with the linebacker taken away from Graham and you’ve got a nice window to hit Allison.
If I’m making a change to this it’s to the route of Davante Adams  on the left. His route mirrors Allison, ending up on the same hash. That drags a defender towards Allison. I would either run Adams deep to help clear out that side of the field – which would help open up some potential yards after the catch – or have him angle in hard to the middle and cut on a curl before hitting the hashmark. That would pull defender up and, once again, help open up some potential yards after the catch.
Another stacked look from Jimmy Graham  and Randall Cobb  in the right slot. This is designed to get a quick throw for some easy yards and it works like a charm. Graham pushes hard up the field and Cobb shadows him. While Graham cuts on the post, Cobb curls and Aaron Rodgers  gets the pass out on-time. It’s a nice little play that allows Rodgers to pick up some easy yards and creates a little space for Cobb after the catch.
This is the kind of thing I really wanted to see from the offense from the start of the game.
The route combo on the left looks for all the world like a slant/flat with Davante Adams  on the slant and Randall Cobb  on the flat. Cobb fakes the flat and heads up the field, allowing him to get inside position on his defender. The throw goes to Adams who tries to make a move but quickly finds himself surrounded.
I want you to turn your attention to the right. We have Jamaal Williams  running to the flat out of the backfield, Jimmy Graham  running an out route and Geronimo Allison  faking the corner route before coming back on the post. You can see what that does to the defense on that side. The route of Williams pulls a linebacker wide and up, while the out from Graham pulls in the deep defender to that side. An excellent route from Allison means he’s wide open in the end zone on the post.
But even if Allison doesn’t beat his man with his route, Graham is open on the out route. If the linebacker falls under the route of Graham, you’ve got Williams out of the flat with room to move. It’s a nice levels look, with the opening for a big play on the post. I’m a fan.
One Play I Would Fix
I know I’ve already given some suggestions, but I wanted to close this out with one play I want to fix and work off of. This week, that honor falls on a play that ended up being a sack. Let’s talk about what happened and then get into some tweaks.
Ty Montgomery  motions out before the snap, which gives them the match-up they’re looking for: Jimmy Graham  on a linebacker. Sure, Danny Trevathan  is very good in coverage, but Graham vs. a linebacker is a solid match-up. And they did it! Through pre-snap motion they forced the defense to show their hand and got a favorable match-up.
And what do they do with it? Nothing, man. Nothing. Watch that combo of Graham and Marcedes Lewis  in the middle. Graham runs a curl on one side while Lewis runs a curl in the middle.
Tie those together. Make them work off each other. Have Lewis run a drag/curl while Graham runs a post. Force Trevathan to decide whether he wants to crash on Lewis or stay with Graham. Look at him. He wants to crash on Lewis, but they don’t force the issue. Instead, they stop short and Aaron Rodgers  gets sacked. He has time to get rid of the ball, but he has nowhere to go.
It’s a kernel of a good idea but it needs to go further. The post needs more depth. The curl needs to be more to the middle. Now you’ve cleared out the edges and compacted the middle. Build off of that.
We’ve got a deeper post to push the deep defenders back and a deeper, more central curl to drive the linebackers inside. Run that tight end off the end to the outside, away from the action in the middle.
Is the linebacker to that side following the tight end up the seam?
We’ve got an option route on the curl. If the linebacker follows up the seam, the curl turns into an out. Space will have been cleared out by the linebacker vacating and the tight end will be able to get the angle on the inside linebacker.
With this, you have the possibility of a big play – the tight end up the seam – or a quick throw for 8+ yards on the tight end option.
I have a lot of other variations that could be based around this look – the drag/curl I mentioned above being one of them – but it’s a bit late so I’m going to call an end to it.
My plays are far from perfect, but I wanted to illustrate my point: by pushing the post up the field and running the curl a little tighter, you have options that you simply don’t have given the original play that was trotted out.
I hope you all enjoyed this look. Or, at the very least, I hope you didn’t actively hate it. I’m open to any and all feedback, to let me know what you thought!
Albums listened to: Lord Huron – Vide Noir; Paul McCartney – Egypt Station; Johnny Jewel – Themes for Television; Vivian Girls – Share the Joy