I’ve made it in to week 2 of breaking down all of new Packers head coach Matt LaFleur’s calls. If you haven’t read the first two articles in my off-season series, I’d encourage you to do so. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with what I’m doing this off-season, I’m breaking down each of LaFleur’s play calls from the 2018 season, both pass and run. I’m hoping by doing this that it will give you a good idea of what is in store for the Packers for the upcoming season. In this edition, I’ll be breaking down the run concepts that LaFleur used against the Houston Texans in week 2.
When I’m breaking down tape of LaFleur’s play calls, I decided to buy a blank notebook and chart each and every play, sort of like compiling a playbook. When it comes to the run game, I chart the front that each play is ran against and the scenario of the game. I always make sure to write down the down and distance, yard line, hash mark, gain, defensive front and play call. After I have all of that data, I’ll hand write the play out and add any notes if necessary. If you would like to see any of my scouting notes, don’t hesitate to ask. You can contact me on Twitter at @PTTF_Ben.
Now on to the breakdowns.
I Formation Play Calls
The thing that I noticed off the bat was how much LaFleur used the I formation in this game. Most were out of 21 personnel. Personally, I love the use of the I. There is a reason that teams have been using the formation since the 1960’s. It simply works. It is a great way to incorporate pulling lineman in the counter and power game. The I also is a good formation to go to in the play action game. The old saying is true that the run sets up the pass. If you run the ball enough out of this formation you will see that inside linebackers tend to cheat up on a play, get suckered by the run and a quarterback can hit an underneath route such as a slant or a drag.
Here is an example of what I call a bend play. It’s almost like a counter in this circumstance. At the snap of the ball there is a hard lateral step by each lineman with the fullback bending out to block out the end man on the line of scrimmage. The play-side Houston linebacker does a good job reading and taking away the inside run, forcing the ball carrier to bounce. The same goes for #97 on the interior line. Nonetheless, I like the call. Just because one team sniffs out a run doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work, remember that.
Here is an example of what is known as a power run concept, with the fullback again blocking the EMOL. Usually in a power look the backside guard will pull and lead up in the gap, only this time LaFleur went with no lead man. I have seen him run it both ways and it is effective. The key block must be made on the edge. If the EMOL squeezes the play too quickly he can blow up the run. I really like the vision that the running back shows here as he sees the cutback and hits it.
LaFleur goes to a zone look from time to time out of the I formation. Here he gets the fullback involved with a quick motion before the snap of the ball and goes with a stretch play. The first thing you might notice is that this play got blown up right from the get go. You’d be correct, but also notice the player who disrupts it all. None other than J.J. Watt. It’s a tough task to ask any center to block him, especially in a zone look. I like to focus more on the play call itself rather than the end result. When you watch each play call, picture the Packers personnel running the play. Granted, the end result still may not be very pretty, but personnel can be a major factor in the outcome of a play.
In a zone concept such as this the first step is the most crucial. Their job is to get to the play-side shoulder of the man they are blocking. With a short first step it will be hard to make up ground to reach the player they need to block, so again, this is probably the most important part in the scheme. The fullback here acts as a lead blocker. His track is right off of the outside leg of the tackle and he is searching for blue jersey to block. The running back has to be smart here and take the best possible angle to gain yards. In a zone look it could even be the cutback. If the defense reads zone they can sometimes have a tenancy to overpursue, leaving the cutback lane wide open.
A couple of times during this game LaFleur went what a double wing look. The double wing incorporates tight ends a foot or so outside of the tackle, both off of the line of scrimmage. There is a receiver split out to each side, both on the line of scrimmage. I like this formation for a few reasons. The first is that it is balanced. The defense can only set their strength to the wide side of the field, which could allow the quarterback to flip a play to the short side if need be. The Titans go with a toss play out of this look for a 3 yard gain on 2nd and 9. The first step up front is an important one, much like a zone step. Not a bad call in this situation. It sets up the offense for a 3rd and medium play, which opens up the playbook a little more.
Here is another example of a double wing look, only this time out of the gun. The wing to the short side (#18) is a receiver in this case rather than a tight end. This could be a giveaway for the defense as he might not be as good of blocker. Even if he is a receiver, I still treat this as a double wing look because of his alignment in the formation.
The offense here goes with a split zone call. In the split zone you will get the offensive line zone blocking and a wing coming across the formation to block the EMOL. I like the split zone call because it can be run from a number of different formations. Reads can also be built-in, giving it another dimension. The crucial part of a split zone play has to be made by the running back. The running back has three reads from this look. The first is to continue running outside if the zone blocking sets up well, seeing how this is a zone concept after all. The second is to plant his foot and get downhill. The third is to hit the cutback if he catches the defense overpursuing. The kick out block helps in that regard, opening up another running lane.
I mentioned that one of the best things about this play is that it can be run from different formations. The split zone is ran from an 11 personnel look here, only this time to the short side of the field. It’s a solid play call that can pay off big time.
The pistol formation has always been a go-to look for some teams in the league when it comes to running the ball. It’s a solid look because it offers the threat of a downhill running attack while giving the quarterback the vision to see sideline to sideline for the pass game. Again, the fullback is responsible for blocking the EMOL which turns this play in to more of a counter or bend look. With as much as LaFleur likes to use the fullback in his run game I think it is important that the team finds a true fullback who is a reliable blocker. I never knew how important a fullback is to a solid run game until the Packers didn’t have one. McCarthy had to rely on inside zone runs and stretch plays, all out of single back formations.
The Titans ended up rushing for 100 yards this game. Not bad considering how early it was in the season. It takes teams a while early on in the year to find their groove in both the running and passing game. I liked the play calls that LaFleur went with against Houston. So far in the run game I’ve liked what I saw. I think a lot of his ideas and concepts will translate well to the Packers offense.
Keep checking in here at Pack To The Future as I continue my series over LaFleur’s play calls all offseason long.
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