After this game, I heard a lot of people calling for Mike McCarthy’s head to be delivered on a silver platter. I didn’t get a chance to watch this live (I was in West Virginia for the weekend at a place that had spotty wifi), so I was curious to dig in and see what the passing game looked like. I half expected to find a bunch of failed iso routes. I did not find that.
The entire idea behind this column is completely new for me, so it’s likely to be a bit of a work in progress all season long. For this week, I decided to introduce some more route diagrams into the column. Let’s see if that holds for next week.
What I Didn’t Like
This is the only play I’ve got under this section, and it’s not even really that bad. Just a small thing about it I don’t really like.
Before the snap, Jimmy Graham  motions from the wide spot to the under man in a stacked look off the right side of the line, with Marquez Valdes-Scantling  as the front man.
We’ve seen a lot of stacked looks from the Packers this season involving Graham, and most of them feature Graham as the front man. The front position is where Graham belongs. When I’m thinking about what things I like from that stacked formation, it’s having a big body up front as a kind of shield and a quick receiver underneath to run a quick cut behind the shield. Having that big body in front helps block off the defense. It’s harder to see and harder to cover the man behind.
On this play, Valdes-Scantling pushes up for a clear-out route while Graham runs a quick slant underneath. If Graham is on the clear out, that gives Valdes-Scantling some room to move with the space that creates.
I love the stacked look and what the Packers have done with it so far, but I prefer Graham to be the front man. This works well with Randall Cobb in the under role – his quickness works perfectly under the shield provided by Graham – but, without him, I’m fine with another receiver in that role. I also wouldn’t be mad if Aaron Jones worked as the under man, but that’s not likely to ever happen.
What I Did Like
We’ve got a bit of a stacked look on the left, with Davante Adams  under and slightly outside and Marquez Valdes-Scantling  as the front man. Valdes-Scantling is running a corner route that acts as a bit of a clear-out route (more on that in a second) while Adams runs a drags underneath. On the right side, Jimmy Graham  is running a dig off the end of the line while Equanimeous St. Brown  runs a post from the slot.
Graham’s dig takes him under the post of St. Brown and the corner from Valdes-Scantling. What I want to focus on is the Graham/Valdes-Scantling pairing.
I’ve got Graham in purple and Valdes-Scantling in red. The corner from Valdes-Scantling helps clear out that deep side of the field for the route of Graham to cross underneath. The post from St. Brown helps take the top off, so the hope is that Graham is carrying his man across the formation and no one else. The safety is gone and the left side of the field is cleared out.
As it turns out, Valdes-Scantling is held up throughout his route and can’t quite get the push upfield he’s supposed to get, putting he & Graham in close proximity. If Valdes-Scantling were able to release, it would have put the deep defender on that side in a bind: fall off and run with Valdes-Scantling on the corner or drop on Graham? In this case, he appears to be closing on Graham, meaning Valdes-Scantling would have been man-to-man on the corner route.
It didn’t work here, but I like this quite a bit.
I don’t have a ton of talk about with this specific play. Valdes-Scantling runs a nice out route from off the right side of the line (starting an inside push to turn his defender before cutting to the sideline), Aaron Rodgers  hits the top of his drop and throws a nice ball. Nice, easy 14 yards.
I want to focus on Aaron Jones  releasing out of the backfield to the right. Watch how the play action serves to pull the linebacker up and Jones’ releasing on a route holds the linebacker in place, allowing for a nice throwing lane to Valdes-Scantling.
Aaron Jones is a good receiver (in fact, he played wide receiver in high school). His catch numbers aren’t great, but last year’s catch rate data can essentially be scrapped (more on that here). I believe that Jones can be a weapon in the passing game. The more he is featured in that portion of the game, the more defenses have to account for him. Suddenly you’re able to fake jet sweeps pre-snap and defenses have to account for the fact that he can run it from that position or catch it after the fact. They can’t afford to leave Jones alone in space, so they cheat a little to try to take it away. That spreads the defense horizontally and suddenly you have more gaps in the defense to exploit.
It’s something fairly small, but getting Jones involved more in the passing game can really open a lot of things up. So now the Packers have Jones and an emerging deep threat in Valdes-Scantling to go along with Jimmy Graham, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb (when he’s healthy). That has all the makings of a lethal offense.
I like this one because it shows how little windows can be created with routes that may not even be near each other.
Look at the routes from Lance Kendricks  off the right side of the line and Ty Montgomery  from the backfield. They criss-cross each other in the backfield. Now look to the linebackers. They pull up on the play-action, then spread out to account for the possibility of the routes releasing on either side of the line.
Davante Adams  is running a dig route off the left side of the line. As soon as he’s clear of the linebacker, he cuts in. With those linebackers spread out to account for the routes from the backfield, Rodgers has a nice window to hit Adams.
You guys want to talk about mesh concepts for a minute? I know you do.
Here’s a very basic mesh concept. You’ve got a couple crossers – I usually refer to them as “dueling digs” – and a receiver running a crosser behind. The idea is that the digs will act as a natural rub in man coverage or work to spread the linebackers wide in zone. Either one of those will either spring one of the digs or open up a free spot in the middle of the field for the crossing route. The Packers basically did that in the above play, but they shifted it.
Instead of running this in the middle of the field with dueling drags, they ran it on the left, with one of the drags essentially being a flat route from the running back. For good measure, the running back pivots back to the middle. So the running back route essentially works as a follow concepts after moving the linebacker.
If you go back up to the gif, you’ll see the window this creates. It’s a slight twist on an old favorite and I really like it.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling  starts this play wide left and motions in before the snap. He could be running across the formation for an end around, so the defense has that on their mind. The ball is snapped as he clears the slot receiver and he immediately cuts on a drag. The slot defender picks him up, but Valdes-Scantling has built up some speed on the motion and easily gets the angle. Aaron Rodgers gets the ball out, but it’s off-target and it falls to the ground. Given the room on that side of the field and the speed of Valdes-Scantling, he has a good chance at turning upfield and getting the corner.
This is a nice way to utilize the speed of your receiver and possibly pick up some easy yards.
On both sides, you’ll see mirrored sluggos. They don’t work here, but I’m always a sucker for them.
Here’s your common slant/flat route. The outside receiver runs a slant route while the inside receiver runs a flat route. I’ve talked about them in the past so I don’t feel the need to dig too deep, but suffice it to say the Packers run this a lot.
And here’s your Sluggo. The outside receiver looks like he’s going to run a slant route, then breaks on a go. Slant-and-go, shortened to “sluggo.” The idea is that you set up you slant tendencies, get the defenders to jump that tendency then run counter to it. They hit big on a touchdown to Geronimo Allison against Washington in Week 3. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Last but not least, let’s look at this lovely play that ended in a Davante Adams  touchdown. On the left side, we have Adams off the end of the line running a corner route, Marquez Valdes-Scantling  running a post route from the slot and Equanimeous St. Brown  running a pivot route from the outside. Here’s how that looks:
The post route takes away the slot defender and occupies the single high safety. The pivot route keeps the outside defender shallow. That opens a really nice swath of land for the corner route to run into. Of course, it’s helpful if the receiver running the corner route can get a good release off the line to help create space.
Since that receiver was Davante Adams, you know he did.
Adams has become a very talented route-runner. Put him in the slot where there is no boundary to contain him and it becomes unfair for the man across from him.
According to Fred Haun’s game charting numbers, Adams lined up in the slot 17 times this game (accounting for 24.6% of his snaps). When targeting Adams out of the slot, Rodgers was 6/7 for 93 yards and a touchdown, for a perfect QB Rating of 158.3. If the emergence of these young receivers on the outside can allow the Packers to put Adams in a slot on a regular basis, they could really do some damage.
Putting Adams in the slot allows him a full range of route options and also could see defenses pinching their safeties to the middle of the field, opening up more opportunities on the outside. This is a very exciting development and I can’t wait to see what they do with Adams in the slot going forward.
That’s all for me today. As always, I hope you dug it. I’m always open for feedback, so feel free to hit me up with any thoughts. I’ll be putting more plays from the passing game over on Twitter, so be sure to check that out in the next day or so.
Albums listened to: Molly Burch – First Flower; Ghostface Killah – The Lost Tapes; Cat Power – Wanderer; Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie; Mae – 3.0; Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammed – The Midnight Hour; Twin Shadow – Caer