Even though it is the week of Christmas, I had a plan in place to make sure I spent just as much time writing this article as I do every week.
What do they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? They’re dumb. Those plans are really dumb.
I basically got a chance to analyze the first half of this game, which accounted for 22 of the 59 snaps I was hoping to get through. So it’s a less-than-complete dive into the passing offense this week, but I suppose it’ll have to do. I’ll go through the rest of the game in the next couple weeks and I’ll be posting about some of those plays over on Twitter.
Let’s get to it. We’ve got 4 plays this week.
Play 1: 3rd & 5, 15:00 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers trailing 0-7
Listen. On 3rd & 5, I don’t like this play call. It could have gone better, but I still don’t like it.
Equanimeous St. Brown  goes in motion before the snap. The defender following him across the formation signals that they are likely facing man coverage. If you look at the other pre-snap movement, you’ll see that they have a single high safety (signaling Cover 1 Man) with pressure coming off the edge and up the middle.
In this case, Jimmy Graham  off the left side is the hot read. Both men on his side are showing pressure, so he’ll be uncovered off the line unless there is a dropping lineman/linebacker. In this case, there is not. Graham – a man who has been the hot read a time-or-two in his career – knows this and turns to look back at Aaron Rodgers  after clearing the defenders.
There are no dropping defenders, but the single-high safety is screaming down at Graham. With pressure coming, it certainly looks like Rodgers needs to pull the trigger on this.
You can see him thinking about it, but he ends up pulling it down and briefly looks outside to the mirroring go routes before being taken down. Why doesn’t he throw it? If we think about both of these gifs together, it paints a bit of a picture. The ball can’t really be thrown on a line until Graham clears Jamal Adams  to the inside. Once that happens, the window between Graham and the crossing Davante Adams  is really tight. And, if he hangs on until that is cleared, the safety is on Graham. So Graham is the hot read, but the angles are all wrong.
Rodgers can certainly be knocked here a bit. When the throw to Graham wasn’t there, Adams on the crosser seemed to be the next-best option. We can see him crossing the field with an angle on his man, which certainly seems like he would be capable of picking up the 1st down and more. In addition to that, the read on the pressure would have told Rodgers that if the throw to Graham was safe, the throw to Adams would be as well, as that zone would be vacated. So let’s ding him.
However, we’ll also ding the play call. It’s 3rd & 5. You’ve got four receivers going against man coverage. Your two shorter receivers are running routes that don’t create a natural rub but are close enough to hinder a clear hot read, which seems less-than-ideal. Your other two routes are go routes run roughly 5 yards apart.
This play call in this situation does nothing for me. Nothing. Yes, Rodgers should have hit Adams. Yes, Justin McCray  should have actually blocked at least one man. But these routes aren’t doing anyone any favors in this situation. Burn this play. Burn it to ashes, then pour gasoline on the ashes and burn it again.
Play 2: 1st & 10, 7:36 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers trailing 0-14
Here’s a play I really like! We’ve got play action to the right with a bootleg back to the left. We’ve seen a lot of this action out of the Packers this year, but I don’t know that we’ve ever seen this specific concept off of it.
Jimmy Graham is running a pivot route off the left side while Marquez Valdes-Scantling  is running a crossing route off the right side. Jake Kumerow  is running a deep comeback route outside on the left, helping to take away a defender.
I love the timing of the pivot from Graham; he turns to run to the outside at the same time Valdes-Scantling is entering the zone, so they are briefly within an arm’s length. You can see the bind this puts the defender in; he simply can’t cover both of them.
The defender keeps drifting to the outside, while Valdes-Scantling simply pulls up behind Graham and sits in the vacated zone, drifting slightly back towards the middle of the field to help Rodgers get the ball past Frakie Luvu . It’s a nice concept that works exactly as intended, and it’s a nice move from Valdes-Scantling to help his quarterback out. Easy 12 yards.
Play 3: 3rd & 3, 3:34 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers trailing 7-21
I love the design of this. LOVE it.
On its face, this looks like a slant/flat combo meant to spring Davante Adams on the flat. It makes sense: get your best receiver on the edge, in space, needing to pick up 3 yards. If it looks like that it’s because that’s exactly what it is. On the right side, Adams is running a flat from the slot while Equanimeous St. Brown  is running a slant from the outside. They’re running it tight, and it certainly looks like St. Brown’s goal is to knock off Adams’ man.
A couple things happen that get rid of Adams as an option. The first thing that happens is that the defender gets a solid jam on Adams off the line, which means the flat coverage action takes place under the slant from St. Brown.
The second thing that happens is that the entire side of the defense is looking for Adams to get the ball in the flat. Not only is he the Packers unquestioned #1 receiver, but Rodgers had been feeding him all day. By this point in the game, Rodgers had attempted 11 passes and Adams was the target of 7 of them (63.6%). The Jets crashed hard on Adams in this situation for perfectly valid reasons.
But this isn’t just any slant/flat. The Packers run a moving pocket, with Rodgers rolling towards the right side. Instead of finishing the slant to the middle of the field, St. Brown releases vertically after completing his portion of the rub. By having St. Brown release up the field instead of completing the slant, he stays on the same side of the field as Rodgers.
All of that allows St. Brown to leak out into space, over the coverage on Adams. It’s a nice variation of the slant/flat combo the Packers use so often, complete with a moving launch point for Rodgers.
Shout out to Bryan Bulaga  for getting out in space and doing what a tackle is supposed to do when he has a linebacker in his sight: take him to the ground with ease.
Play 4: 1st & 10, 0:33 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers trailing 14-21
Last week we talked a lot about follow concepts. Here we have the beginnings of that same idea, then reversed, then set up as a follow concept with a shot. I like this one.
On the right side, we have Jimmy Graham off the end of the line, Equanimeous St. Brown running a pivot route from the slot and Marquez Valdes-Scantling running a sluggo (slant-and-go) from the outside.
The initial cuts from St. Brown and Valdes-Scantling appear to be dual slant routes, with the slant on the outside following the one in side. Graham simply runs a flat route underneath.
After the first few steps on the slant, the routes change. St. Brown pivots back outside and behind Graham, effectively creating another follow concept, with the receiver to the inside clearing out room for the receiver on the outside. While that happens, Valdes-Scantling takes off down the field. Since the Packers ran a lot of this last week, they were likely looking for that outside receiver to jump the slant, leaving the go route off the end of it wide open.
Instead of jumping it, the defender falls back underneath the sluggo, passing it off to the safety. There’s a window there, but not a huge one.
The shot to the sluggo isn’t there, but that route takes away the outside defender, opening up a quick, easy throw to Graham in the flat. It’s only 3 yards, but the Packers were looking to pick up a few yards and stop the clock and this accomplishes that mission. If that outside defender bails and carries the sluggo up the field, there’s a chance for a decent gain off an easy throw here.
Albums listened to: Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler – This Is Christmas; Basement – Beside Myself; Restorations – LP5000; Suede – The Blue Hour; Night Terrors of 1927 – Everything’s Coming Up Roses