Another week, another ugly loss filled with too many mistakes and missteps. The optimist in me knows they still have a shot, but the realist in me knows the season will end once the final whistle sounds in Week 17.
Still, we’re here to talk about the passing game from this past week. Good, bad. The gang’s all here. Come with me if you want to live.
Play 1: 3rd & 8, 11:30 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0
We talked about levels concept last week, so let’s look at this little beauty to kick things off. On the left side we’ve got an out/pivot route combo to set up the levels, with a post route from the outside to help create space on that side of the field.
The pivot route does some nice heavy-lifting on this play. Instead of running a delayed out, the pivot has a built-in delay to the release to the outside, allowing both receivers to be in the same area but spaced out enough that Aaron Rodgers  has enough room to hit either of them. The delay of the pivot opens a nice throwing lane to the out over the top. It also has the added bonus of dragging the slot defender to the inside.
The slot defender plays this well. The Vikings are in zone, so, after his initial step towards the pivot route, he backpedals under the out. Once the pivot breaks back into his zone, he breaks up, helping to open up room for Davante Adams  on the sideline. When Rodgers is flushed out of the pocket, he has room to drop this ball into Adams on the sideline.
Play 2: 2nd & 7, 6:01 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0
This is an RPO (run/pass option) to the right. If you’re curious as to whether something is an RPO vs. just a play action play, watch the offensive line. If the line is pushing forward as if it’s a run, it’s likely an RPO. If they drop back into pass protection, it’s play action.
Here are a couple rough diagrams showing what each of those looks like. Keep in mind that blocking schemes are pretty complex, so these are just some very simplistic diagrams, used only for the sake of explaining the general concept.
The above image is an example of run blocking. The offensive linemen are pushing forward, looking to pave the way for the running back.
The above image is an example of pass blocking. Instead of pushing up at the defense, the line falls back in order to protect the quarterback.
The key with an RPO is the pre-snap read. If you’re looking to pass, the ball has to come out quickly or you’ll get hit with an Ineligible Man Downfield penalty. With a single high safety in the middle of the field and Davante Adams as the only receiver on that side of the field, Rodgers knows he has a one-on-one match-up with his best receiver.
So this is all pre-determined. Rodgers knows he has Adams man-to-man and he also knows Adams has an outside release. So he drops back and fires to the back shoulder. Adams get a clean release and it’s all over. Good throw and catch and Adams gets to the pylon. Just a beautiful little play. Not much to it from a play breakdown standpoint, but it shows a bit of what the Packers do with the RPO.
Play 3: 2nd & 2, 1:36 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 7-7
If you’ve been reading this article all year, it should come as no surprise that I’m a fan of some of the passing concepts the Packers have pulled out this year. I certainly have issues with the passing offense – and I even have some small tweaks that I think would help the offense, if anyone feels like calling me to discuss it – but the formations and route combos have been much more inventive this year than they have been in past years. I don’t always love when the plays are called or the personnel used, but, if you’re looking purely at route concepts, I’ve been a fan of most of what the Packers have run this year. There is a thought put into the passing offense that I haven’t seen lately, and it’s been really cool to watch.
So keep that in mind while I talk about this play.
There is nothing to this play. Here is the thought process: it’s 2nd and short so we should take a shot. We’ve got go routes on the outside and a shallow dig route in the middle. These are purely iso routes: nothing more, nothing less.
That being said, it’s not terrible to do this occasionally. Every offense does this from time to time. Looking at a single high safety, you’ve got your outside men man-to-man. The dig route pushes up enough to draw the attention of the safety, preserving those outside match-ups (I would like the dig to push a little further down the field, but that’s just me). You’re trusting one of your guys on the outside to get open, while keeping an additional 2 men back to block to wait for those to develop.
And it works! Kind of. Look at Adams at the bottom of the screen. He gets a nice release off the line (of course he does; his feet are insane) and is able to create some separation from the defender.
The read here goes from right to left, so Rodgers it looking at Equanimeous St. Brown  on the right as the first read. He doesn’t fare quite as well off the line, so he moves to the middle, where the linebacker has dropped to take away that throw. By the time Rodgers gets to Adams, the pocket has begun to break down, so he breaks out and ends up hitting St. Brown for 23 yards.
I think the Rodgers from 2 years ago would have tried to hit Adams over the top, even with the pocket breaking down, but I don’t know that he fully trusts his arm/knee just yet.
I wanted to look at this play to show that “iso routes” aren’t always no-no’s. There are times to trust your guy to beat the guy across from him. It’s not a great plan to form the crux of your passing offense off of them, but they’re not always bad.
Play 4: 2nd & 6, 14:16 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers tied 14-14
You want to see something that isn’t an iso route? Of course you do. You’re only human.
On the left side, we have dual slant routes from the receivers. That serves its own purpose: if you’re going against zone, the slant from the slot can work as a bit lead route to draw the coverage. The outside defender follows the route slightly to the middle to hand off to the linebackers, leaving a window behind that slant to hit the follow route. So we’ve already got that working.
Now, underneath that action we have Aaron Jones  running to the flat from the backfield. We’ve looked at the slant/flat concept ad nauseam in this space and what that does (I won’t get into it here, but you can read more about it on Play 2 from Week 10), so here is your double-slant/flat.
You can see exactly what it does here. The Vikings are in man coverage, so the slants clear out the edge, while also working as a natural pick on the defender covering Jones out of the backfield. The inside slant takes Eric Kendricks  out of the picture. Mackensie Alexander  flows to Jones once he sees the pick. He guides Jones out of bounds, but not before Jones is able to pick up an easy 10 yards and a 1st down. It’s a simple little design and it works perfectly here.
And, of course, Jones flexes on Alexander after the hit.
Play 5: 3rd & 7, 11:44 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers tied 14-14
On Play 3 I mentioned that iso routes aren’t always bad. That was 2nd & 2. This is 3rd & 7, and I do not like this. Not. One. Bit.
This is essentially the same exact play as we saw in Play 3. The Vikings come out with a single high safety, while the Packers run go routes on the outside and a dig in the middle. Rodgers likes his match-up with Adams and Xavier Rhodes  on the left, so he reads the safety at the snap to make sure he’s not buzzing over the top. When he sees the safety backpedaling, he throws to Adams. Adams has a step on Rhodes, but Rodgers overthrows.
If we look on the other side, Marquez Valdes-Scantling  runs a really nice slant/corner route, turning Trae Waynes  around. Here is what I really like about this route: he sells the slant well, and Waynes – playing man coverage – has to keep in mind where the first down sticks are. Valdes-Scantling steps outside, forcing Wayne to respect a deep ball. When he steps back to the slant, Waynes has to scramble to get back, knowing the slant is open for the first down. At that moment, Valdes-Scantling flips it back outside, completely turning Waynes. That combination step is really effective here.
Like I said on Play 3, I don’t have a huge issue breaking out iso routes from time to time. However, I don’t like it in this situation. The Packers have been struggling in 3rd down situations. 3rd & 7 isn’t ideal, but it’s manageable. Instead of scheming something up to spring a man for the first down, the Packers just threw guys out there and said, “Alright, get open.”
The fact that Adams and Valdes-Scantling beat their men is irrelevant. Sure, it’s great that they did and you know they have the ability to do so, but you have to look at the situation. Again, it’s 3rd & 7 and you are at the Vikings 47 yard line. It’s a tie game against your divisional opponent. The previous week you struggled to score in the second half. In the first drive of the second half, it would be nice to get some points, both because it would allow you to pull ahead and also give some confidence to your team. This was a big play on a big drive. This is where you need to get creative, pick up the first down and keep the drive going.
So what do they pull up on 3rd & 7? Iso go routes. It’s a bland, uninspired playcall that killed the drive.
I’ve said this a bunch but it bears repeating: in a vacuum, I’ve liked a lot of what the Packers have run this year. But I don’t always love when they run it. This play in-and-of-itself isn’t awful, but to call it up in this moment is inexcusable.
Play 6: 1st & 10, 14:16 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers trailing 14-24
We’ll follow up the ugliness of the previous play with the relative beauty of this one. Let’s start on the right. We’ve got Valdes-Scantling running a post/comeback while Aaron Jones  runs a wheel out of the backfield, coming off of a playfake.
On the left side, we have a post/wheel, (Adams on the post, St. Brown on the wheel) with the wheel coming off a block-fake. The block fake works because Lance Kendricks  is coming across the formation to that side. To the defender, it looks like St. Brown is blocking for the Kendricks release. St. Brown disengages from the block to hit the wheel. The post has cleared the side, so if the defender bites on Kendricks, there’s a ton of room on that side.
I really like this design. It doesn’t work here for a couple reasons. The main one is that the Vikings defense plays this very well. The other reason is that St. Brown pulled up lame slightly earlier and didn’t appear capable of turning on the jets when releasing on the wheel. Still, it’s a solid idea.
Play 7: 3rd & 1, 2:30 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers trailing 14-24
Sometimes you’ll have a bad call that goes good and a good call that goes bad. Because, for all the schemes in this world, these are still people executing them, and sometimes people aren’t perfect. I know. I’m as shocked as you are.
Take this play. I’ve already listed the scenario above, but let’s do it again because it’s important to the playcall. 3rd & 1, Packers down 10 points. They need a touchdown and a field goal to tie. The Vikings are looking for the Packers to run something to pick up the first down. The Packers are looking to exploit that and go for the touchdown.
On the left side, Adams and St. Brown are running dual slants. Or, at least, it looks like they are. Adams sell the slant route well and Holton Hill , anticipating the slant, cuts on it. You can see by his path that he’s looking to knock this ball away or intercept it. The Packers anticipate that and run something counter to it, and they’ve got the perfect man for the job.
Davante Adams is a tremendous route runner. Watch him sell the slant, then jerk back to the outside on the corner route. Hill thinks Adams is running a slant when he’s really running a sluggo (slant-and-go). It’s a great call in a big moment and they have the right guy running it. Rodgers missed the throw which is an unfortunate ending, but it’s still a great idea in that moment.
Let’s end by watching that break in slow motion.
Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
That’ll do it for this week. At some point I’ll be posting more passing offense gifs over on Twitter. So if you feel like looking at even more of these plays (with much less commentary), hit me up over there.
Albums listened to: The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request; Eliza Shaddad – Future; Cullen Omori – The Diet; Manchester Orchestra – The Black Mile Demos; Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s – Vulgar in the Chapel; The Dodos – Certainty Waves; Dave Davies – Decade; The Struts – Young & Dangerous; Bud Powell – The Amazing Bud Powell;