That was a pretty frustrating game. Some pretty high highs and some pretty low lows. I definitely said some not-so-nice words after the Packers lined up to punt on that fateful 4th & 2. I heard the explanation, yet I will never fully understand that decision, nor will I ever agree with it.
But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about some passing concepts. So let’s get it!
Play 1: 2nd & 9, 11:44 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers leading 7-0
I don’t have a ton to say about this play, but I did want to talk about it for a minute.
During the preseason, I was getting hyped at the varied pre-snap looks the Packers offense was trotting out.
I love this formation. LOVE it. Line up tight to compress the defense. With the right personnel, you can really spread a team horizontally. Run speed-outs, hit the sidelines or hit the gaps created by the speed-outs. pic.twitter.com/X0iBDcIGIi
— Dusty (@DustyEvely) August 19, 2018
I am happy to report they have carried those looks into the season. The offense itself clearly isn’t firing on all cylinders, but the Packers have done some really fun things with the passing offense this year. The different pre-snap formations have been a big part of that.
Watch the gif I posted above. It’s a super compressed pre-snap formation. Davante Adams  is the wide man on the left, but he’s tight to the line. There isn’t a defender tight over the top of him or playing the outside shoulder, so it’s an easy read for Aaron Rodgers . At the snap, Adams turns and Rodgers gets him the ball. Since Adams isn’t wide to the sideline, the ball gets to him quicker and he has more real estate to work with after the catch.
This only ends up being a 6 yard gain here, but I love the idea. It’s a good way to get your playmakers in space, with the ball in their hands quickly.
I know he just came back from IR and he’s not a big part of the offense, but I feel like Trevor Davis could do some really good things out of this look.
Play 2: 2nd & 10, 3:21 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers leading 7-3
Tight TE look to the left, with Robert Tonyan  and Jimmy Graham . They both fire outside at the snap. Graham curls back into the middle of the field while Tonyan keeps running up the sideline. Think of it as a slight post/wheel action on that side, with Graham on the post and Tonyan on the wheel. Let’s look at how it looks and talk about what it does.
The push-out/post route Graham runs helps pull a boundary defender to the middle and also helps tie up the safety in the middle. Basically, it helps to manufacture a one-on-one opportunity between Tonyan and a safety.
Out of the slot on the right, Marquez Valdes-Scantling  releases inside before heading up on the seam. Getting upfield on that seam route helps pull the safety to that side away from the deep zone.
If the pocket didn’t start breaking down when it did, I believe Rodgers was going to hit Tonyan up the sideline. Instead, he has to pull the ball down and escape to his right. Tonyan does a good job of seeing that and cutting back towards the middle, helping to gain even more separation. That gave Rodgers a chance to unleash a deep ball:
I will never pass up an opportunity to talk about a post/wheel combination or to watch a Rodgers bomb on repeat.
Play 3: 1st & 10, 2:00 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers trailing 14-17
Nothing special here. Just a slant/flat on the right. Draw the underneath defender out wide, then hit the slant in the window that movement creates. The Packers run this a lot so I usually just leave it out of this article, but I feel it’s important to show it from time to time, just to remind everyone about one of the staples of the offense.
This one picked up a cool 11 yards.
You can see Rodgers waiting for the window here. He hits the top of his drop and the defender still hasn’t cleared the window. So he waits a beat and fires it in.
You know what? We’re here. Let’s talk about this specific play in terms of what is happening on the left and what that means for the action on the right, and one small tweak I wouldn’t mind seeing.
Here is the play as it was run. We’ve got a slant/flat on the right. On the left, the tight end is running a post route over the slant, while the two wide receivers are running digs at different levels.
Provided the timing is correct – and it is on this play – I’m fine with the tight end running the post. It comes close to the slant, but it’s timed in such a way that the defender is running past the slant by the time the ball comes out. It makes the window kind of tight so that’s concerning, but the timing here is fine.
It’s the digs I have an issue with. If the slant is open – and that’s the first read here – those digs limit yards after catch. You’re dragging a couple defenders into the exact zone the slant is running into. With the slant, you’ve got a quick-hitter with your receiver running full speed, and he’s running directly into defenders from the other side, who were drug into the middle by your own routes.
Here’s what I would change:
Keep the tight end post, but change the other routes. We’re keeping a dig, but we’re giving it to the slot receiver and having him run shallow. The outside receiver will be running a curl behind the dig.
This way, when the slant catches the ball, there’s a chance for a really nice lane to run to. It basically keeps the defenders on that side shallow. If the slant is open and that side has been cleared out, there’s a chance for a big gain.
Play 4: 2nd & 7, 0:51 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers trailing 14-17
Running back wheel! As soon as this happened in the game, I knew I would be writing about this. You knew I would be writing about this. So let’s get to it.
On the right, we’ve got Lance Kendricks  running a flat off the end of the line, Equanimeous St. Brown  getting an inside release and running a post from the outside and Aaron Jones  running a wheel from the backfield. The flat route drags a defender shallow to the sideline, while the post drags a defender down the field and into the middle and also holds the single high safety in place.
Then the wheel comes out of the backfield right into the lane those routes created. Jones is matched up on a linebacker and that really isn’t much of a match-up at all. Jones flies by him towards the end zone. The only threat left is the single high safety. The post holds him in place, but it’s a long throw that has to hang in the air to get over the linebacker, so the wheel veers towards the sideline to avoid the safety.
The throw here isn’t great. It needs to be a little further and towards the sideline. As it stands, Jones has to make a good adjustment back to the ball, slowing down and turning back towards the middle of the field. If the linebacker was a step closer, this would have been knocked away.
Still, it’s a really nice play design and worked exactly as intended. No surprise, but I like this one a lot.
Play 5: 1st & 10, 9:50 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 21-17
Same general idea as the previous play, but, of course, not the same. This play takes a long time to develop, so having good protection is huge.
The two receivers on the right run curls, breaking roughly 5 yards apart. The two receivers on the left push up the field. The outside receiver runs a curl, while the slot receiver runs a go.
Once again, the Seahawks have a single-high safety. The receiver running the go on the left draws his attention to that side.
Meanwhile, Davante Adams  is the receiver off the left side of the line. He runs a deep crosser, staying off the radar of the safety until he pops out of the middle. Adams is picked up by Bobby Wagner , a linebacker. That may seem like a mismatch to you. So how did the Packers get that mismatch?
Adams starts off in the backfield. He gets motioned outside pre-snap. You can see the Seahawks defenders communicating assignments.
You can see the switch here. Wagner doesn’t carry Adams across the entire field, but he picks him up as he crosses the field and carries him down the field.
Wagner takes a good angle and ends up covering him pretty well. Rodgers is flushed from the pocket so the ball comes out later than it probably should. Still, I like the idea of taking a shot on 1st down around midfield. This was schemed up well, it just didn’t land.
For what it’s worth, I believe Wagner should have picked up defensive pass interference on this play. He didn’t, and life goes on.
Play 6: 1st & 10, 6:36 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 21-17
A little play action, rollout/levels action. There’s a playfake to the left to get the defense moving that direction, then a rollout and levels set-up to the right.
I don’t know if I’ve covered this before, so let’s talk about what “levels” are.
Here’s a hastily-drawn, three levels concept. As you may have guessed, “levels” is exactly what it sounds like. You send receivers over to the same zone, running routes on the same general plane, spaced enough apart to make each of them an option. This keeps the defenders spaced apart and also makes for an easy read for the quarterback; by looking in one area, he can read three different receivers.
On this play, the Packers are running two man levels. St. Brown is crossing the field as the deeper of the two levels, while Kendricks is the shallow crosser in the flat, starting from the backfield.
It ends up with a nice throw over the shallow linebacker and an even better catch on the part of St. Brown.
From this angle, you can see how the linebackers flow to the playfake and how that helps open this up. Keep your eye on Austin Calitro . He creeps up and over, before eventually falling back into his zone. He doesn’t end up dropping back until St. Brown is already past him, at which point it’s too late to do anything. That simple fake helps open up the passing game on the other end. Funny what happens when you’re a threat to run the ball.
Play 7: 3rd & 3, 4:31 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 21-17
Everything on this is set up so well. Adams is running a go route on the left, clearing out that side of the field. St. Brown starts in the bunch on the right, but runs under the line and releases to the flat on the left, drawing the attention of a couple defenders.
All that is meant to put Valdes-Scantling – also starting in the bunch on the right – in space on the crossing route. The idea goes like this: Valdes-Scantling gets an inside release on the crosser and ends up in a part of the field vacated by defenders, due to the previous two routes we discussed. It’s a good plan.
But Valdes-Scantling is jammed. And he’s not just jammed at the line: that jam carries him halfway across the formation. By the time he shakes loose, the pressure is on Rodgers and he is taken down by a frustrating 3rd down sack.
I like the idea of getting Valdes-Scantling in space, but I don’t love the entire plan behind it. Running Adams on a go route – the only deep route in this play – against a single high safety feels a bit like a sacrifice. On 3rd & 3, I don’t really like throwing your best receiver to the wolves on the off chance the safety doesn’t shade his way. Run him on a shallow post or a slant. He’s out there on an island. With Valdes-Scantling releasing up the field, Adams would be able to run a slant underneath that route. If Adams gets a clean release, that’s a quick throw for a 1st down. That side is cleared out. You’ve got your best receiver (whose best trait is his release off the line) with a single defender in his vicinity, and you only need 3 yards.
If the slant isn’t there, you’ve got other options. But I don’t like essentially taking your best receiver out of this play.
That’ll do it for this week. Since we’ve got some extra time between games this week, I’m planning on doing a small project related to the passing game as well. Hoping I can get that done and posted by Wednesday, but we’ll see how that works out.
I’ve got a bunch more plays from this week I didn’t post here, so you can head over to my Twitter to find those. I’m a couple weeks behind, but I’ll be catching up with them soon. I promise.
Albums listened to: Vince Staples – FM!; Smashing Pumpkins – Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1: No Past No Future No Sun; Beastie Boys – To The 5 Boroughs; Mumford & Sons – Delta; The Good, The Bad & The Queen – Merrie Land; Molly Nilsson – Twenty Twenty; Laura Marling – Semper Femina; Oh Pep! – I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You; Stephen Steinbrink – Utopia Teased