An unexpectedly thrilling victory over the 49ers leads us into the bye week. It’s a time to stop, take stock of the team, and catch our breath before continuing on. I don’t know about you all, but I feel like the bye is coming at a perfect time. The offense is slowly getting closer to being on the same page, but they’re not quite there yet. Let’s dig into a handful of passing plays from this past game.
Last week someone told me they had a hard time telling where one play ended and the next play began. I’m experimenting with something on this post, putting the down, distance and situation before each play. I’m hoping this will help provide context, as well as giving a relatively clear indicator for the start of each play. Let me know if you like it or hate it.
What I Didn’t Like
1st & 10, 8:45 remaining in the 4th quarter, trailing 23-30
In this section, I wanted to look at this series of plays in the red zone. Last season, the Packers were scoring touchdowns on 61.9% of their trips to the red zone, which was 4th in the league. This year they are scoring touchdowns on 50% of their trips to the red zone, which is ties for 21st in the league. What can this sequence tell us?
On 1st down, they are running a naked bootleg, looking to hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling  on a corner route. Davante Adams  is running a crossing route from left-to-right, while Aaron Jones  fakes to the left on the play action before sneaking out to the right. There is also a rare Marcedes Lewis  sighting, blocking down before releasing to the right. The idea is to get the defense moving left with the play action of Jones then hit something to the other side. If Valdes-Scantling isn’t immediately open, you’ve got Adams, Lewis and Jones as late options (Jones as a throwback option behind Adams and Lewis).
It’s not a bad idea, but the Packers had already gone to the well too many times on the naked bootleg stuff, so the 49ers were all over it. I like setting up levels counter to the play action side, but the bootleg seems unnecessary, especially since the 49ers already showed they were looking to shut that down after getting beat early. If Lewis were to stay back and block the end, this would have had a better chance of success, but that’s just hindsight. The Packers liked their naked bootleg action this game and it bit them here.
If my numbers are correct, the Packers ran 5 naked bootlegs in this game. On the first two, Rodgers went 2/2 for 82 yards. On the next three, he went 0/2 and a sack for a loss of 9 yards.
2nd & 10, 8:40 remaining in the 4th quarter, trailing 23-30
We’ve got a dig/corner/flat combo working to the right, with Kendricks on the corner off the end of the line, Jimmy Graham  with the dig from the left side and Jamaal Williams  with the flat route from the backfield. No misdirection here. Aaron Rodgers  appears to be looking at Kendricks, then Graham. He’s looking to get the ball out quickly, so if those guys aren’t open he’s checking down. Richard Sherman  carries Kendricks up the field on the corner and the safety crashes on the dig from Graham. Nobody open, so he checks it down (and misses the checkdown).
With a single high safety, I’m a little surprised Rodgers wasn’t looking Graham first, then Davante Adams  out of the left slot. If the linebacker carries Graham up the field – which he does – that spot on the field is empty. So then it’s time to watch the safety. If he crashes on Graham, that means Adams is man-to-man on the dig. If the safety drifts over Adams, that means Graham is man-to-man on a linebacker. Taking your chances with Adams man-to-man out of the slot vs. Kendricks man-to-man with Sherman seems like a no-brainer. Not a bad concept.
4th & 3, 7:49 remaining in the 4th quarter, trailing 23-30
Hey look! Slant/flat to the left! Rodgers liked the match-up of Valdes-Scantling on K’Waun Williams  on the flat route, so he went there. The ball hits Williams in the back and the Packers turn the ball over on downs.
The question posed on the broadcast is why Rodgers didn’t throw to Adams on the slant. That certainly looks like a good option. The linebacker is sitting right in the middle, but a good throw leads Adams into the end zone. Targeting Adams in this situation has a lot going for it. Adams is one the best red zone receivers in the league, is the Packers #1 receiver and is man-to-man on a slant route, a route that he always kills.
Ultimately, I think the reason he didn’t throw to Adams is because the 49ers are showing blitz and they had been getting pretty good pressure on him during the game. If he were to throw to Adams, he would have had to wait a beat to make sure no one was dropping under the slant route. Since Valdes-Scantling is running to the boundary, Rodgers just has to read the boundary defender. If he runs with Adams, Rodgers has Valdes-Scantling man-to-man. It’s a quicker, less complicated read, which allows Rodgers to get the ball out before the rush is able to get home. Adams looks like the right throw here, but I can understand why he throws to Valdes-Scantling in this situation.
Now let’s see what the right side is doing.
Double-post with Graham and Equanimeous St. Brown  (with St. Brown crossing underneath Graham) and a flat route from Williams out of the backfield. With no safety sitting in the middle, that side looks pretty tempting. Look at that route from Graham.
Nice jab step to the outside before coming back on the post route. Well done.
Here’s my main issue with this series of plays: you’re in the compressed area of the red zone and there is very little motion and not much of an attempt to knock defenders off their coverage. Even the slant/flat isn’t run tight enough to create a rub. There just isn’t much of an attempt to deceive or create any natural picks. It’s baffling.
What I Did Like
1st & 10, 10:53 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers trailing 0-7
The Packers came out aggressive. They go with the naked bootleg, then have Rodgers roll towards the side running a wheel/post combo. Adams runs a little delayed out off the line, holding his defender and opening up room behind him. Here’s what a post/wheel looks like:
It’s a two man route. The outside man runs a post while the inside man runs a wheel, crossing underneath. It’s designed to have the post take away the boundary defender and the safety, leaving the wheel unattended. It’s a lovely design that has big play potential, as we see here. We’ve also seen a double-post/wheel from the Packers before, which is exactly what it sounds like: the two outside men run mirroring post routes while someone from the inside runs a wheel underneath. I’m always a fan of seeing this. It worked perfectly for the Packers here.
2nd & 7, 4:20 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers lead 10-7
We just saw the post/wheel. Now here we are later in the quarter and the Packers are giving the same look. On the left, we’ve got a post/wheel look with Adams on the post and Valdes-Scantling on the wheel. The 49ers had just seen this, so they’re focused on those routes.
But it’s all a lie. The post/wheel is only there to mask the Packers true intentions: a screen to Jamaal Williams. Williams follows the blocks well and picks up 10 yards and the 1st down.
I really like this. Show something they’ve already seen, get them thinking about guarding against the big play, maybe drifting back a bit more than normal, then hitting them with the screen underneath. It’s a nice look.
1st & 10, 6:59 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers trailing 23-27
This is similar to something we looked at back in Week 2 against the Vikings. In that game, it was Randall Cobb running motion and heading to the flat. Here’s the diagram for that play:
Rodgers ended up throwing the ball quickly to Cobb while the receivers on that side blocked. I liked that play, but I liked it more for what it could mean down the line. To me, that play was about establishing tendencies then hitting something counter to that play down the line for a big play. Kind of like what we talked about above on the post/wheel/screen. Zig when they expect you to zag, and whatnot.
The play run this week is not an exact replica of the Week 2 play – the alignment is different and it’s run to the left side instead of the right – but the motion seemed like something to key in on. Look at the routes behind the play this time around: there are multiple opportunities for defenders to get bumped off their coverage.
You’ve got a post/wheel by the two outermost receivers, with a chance for a pick at the mesh point. You’ve got an out/curl from the slot receiver, with a chance for a pick on the post defender at the mesh point. You’ve got a dig/corner from the tight end, with a chance for a pick on the post defender at the mesh point.
Think of the post receiver as Rip Hamilton running around a bunch of picks. These are all designed to spring him, and it almost works. You can see the defender have to run behind him to avoid the pick from Adams, and he ends up stumbling very briefly. Pressure closes in quickly and Rodgers ends up throwing the ball away, but I absolutely loved seeing this. I would have liked for them to run this a couple more times hitting the running back to really get teams to hone in on that before trying to hit something down the field, but I’m not going to knock this. The Packers are clearly working on something here and I’m a big fan.
With the Monday Night game, this week was a little tighter in terms of getting the article out. Combine that with an extremely busy time at work and you have a slightly shorter article this week. I apologize for that. As always, you can catch more plays that didn’t make it here over on Twitter, although those won’t be quite as in-depth.
Albums Listened to: St. Vincent – MassEducation; mewithoutYou – Pale Horses; The National – Sleep Well Beast; Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle; John Carpenter – Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998; Frankie Rose – Cage Tropical