During the offseason I always like to have ‘projects’. I really like to center these projects around coaching changes that have taken place on the team, such as Pettine coming on last season. I like to not only prepare myself for what I will see during the upcoming season, but also I like to prepare you, the reader.
My project this offseason is to break down every play that new head coach Matt LaFleur called last season with the Tennessee Titans. Every week I will break down his pass and run calls in separate articles to give you a more in depth look at each phase of his calls.
I knew this was going to be a big task, so following the announcement that LaFleur was going to be the new head coach I purchased a book called Football Scouting Methods by Steve Belichick, who was the father of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. This book has been hailed as the single best book on scouting ever. While some of the formations and playcalls are a little outdated (it was written in the 60’s) the scouting methods stay the same.
I apply a lot of methods that I learn in this book to scouting LaFleur’s offense. One of the methods mentioned in the book was charting each and every play a long with the hash mark, yard line, gain and loss and what coverage it was against. In the run game I will chart what front a run was called against, but in the passing game it is important to know what routes were called against what coverage. This way you will have a better idea of what is effective and what is not. I’d like to incorporate my charts in some future articles, but for this one I will keep it like normal.
Kicking things off I would like to start with discussing LaFleur’s use of 2X2 formations. I’m a big fan of the 2X2 look. It is a balanced formation that you can do a lot out of. Usually against balanced looks such as this, you will see a variety of coverages. Miami ran a lot of single high looks, usually a cover 1 or cover 3 look.
This 2X2 look is a type of ace formation. What I call the ace is 2 flankers to each side. The flanker is eligible to go in motion and to create different looks with his motion. For example, one flanker could motion to another side creating a 3X1 look, which would force the defense to change coverage at times, such as if they were in a 2 high look. Cover 2 or cover 4 could be ran against a 3X1, but most of the time they are outnumbered to one side.
In this play LaFleur calls a double out look against cover 3. We are all accustomed to the Packers wanting to stretch the field vertically. I’m not opposed to it, seeing as how Rodgers is effective in the vertical game, but the horizontal game is a great way to go as we see in this clip. It really is an old west coast concept. By setting up the horizontal passing game a team can control the clock and steadily march down the field. Teams that want to go vertical, such as McCarthy did, take a risk by having an intercepted pass or wasting a down by overthrowing the ball. The completion percentage would seem to be higher by setting up things horizontally and take less of a risk. The Packers receivers are quick and shifty and I think this would be a good way to utilize their strengths.
I touched a little on using a 2X2 motion to create a 3X1 situation earlier and here is an example of that. Let me say firstly that I love the play design, but the execution here is not good. When shifted to the 3X1, you can see that the number 1 and number 2 receivers both break to the inside with the number 3 receiver running a wheel route. For whatever reason he gives up on the route, but I think this could potentially be a big gain play.
At the beginning of the play here we see a 3X1 look which shifts in to a pro formation, which is another balanced 2X2 look. What I call a pro formation is simply a tight end and flanker to one side with a twins look showed to the other side. A pro formation usually has the split wide receiver on the line of scrimmage with a slot receiver as the number 2 man, so really this could be considered an ace look since there are 2 flankers to each side.
Again we see LaFleur go to the horizontal game. Its a safe play in the red zone and can be a good first down call. I think with a player like Rodgers this would be a completed pass. It all has to be quick hitting with the quarterback and his receivers. Here, its a quick three step drop, find the receiver and get it there. All in rhythm.
This is a playcall I really liked and one that could work well in short yardage situations. The Titans start out in a pro formation and shift in to a 3X1, getting the ball in the hands of the number 3 receiver with two perimeter blockers. This almost is a run play by design. I like that it gets the ball in to the hands of an athletic player in the flats and locking on and driving with the number 1 and 2 receivers. The way this play is designed it looks as if it has built in run concepts with an inside zone look. The quarterback would get a box count presnap and go from there. If the box is stacked, hit the receiver in the flats. If the numbers line up then run the ball.
Are you starting to see a trend here?
LaFleur uses motions and shifts..a lot. And I love it. I can’t tell you how many times I was begging McCarthy to run more motions this season. Motions get defenses out of coverages. They have to move defenders around presnap and a lot of times the offense can catch them out of position. This was one thing the Packers offense definitely needed.
This was one of the smartest plays I saw all game. Not so much by design, but by the read made by the quarterback. Originally it looked to be a stretch or off tackle play but Mariota was able to read that the corner was coming on a blitz and he got it out to his wide receiver. This may or may not be in the playbook, but it should be. All 11 players have to be on the same page each play which means that communication is a big factor in this offense.
When it comes to pass protection in this game I mostly saw base 5 man protection up front. The running backs got involved in the pass game a lot, usually checking to see if there was a blitz then releasing in the flats. I think this varies game to game and what the opponent looks like up front. Other than 5 man protection, I saw a few slide protection looks to the strong side.
The Titans ended up losing this game 27-20. In the passing game they went 20-38 and 220 yards. Injuries did play a factor though, as Mariota was injured during the game.
Look for my next article coming out soon over LaFleur’s run game in week 2 and his pass game to soon follow it. I would encourage everyone to take a look at the tape over the offseason and find out what could be in store for the Packers in 2019.
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Go Pack Go!