Film Room: Jennings, Polamalu and Calling Your Shot in the Super Bowl

The Packers got off to a nice start in Super Bowl XLV. Even after giving up a touchdown with less than a minute to play in the first half, they went into halftime with a 21-10 lead. However, they opened the second half with 4 straight scoreless drives.

The Steelers didn’t fare much better, but they did manage a touchdown on their first drive of the 3rd quarter, cutting the score to 21-17.

The close of the 3rd quarter found the Steelers in Packers territory and looking to score the go-ahead touchdown. On the first play of the 4th quarter, Kevin Greene told Clay Matthews “It. Is. Time,” Matthews told Ryan Pickett to spill it, and the Packers got the ball back on a fumble recovery. (The specifics of that play will be dug into on a later date.)

After that fumble recovery, the Packers drove 53 yards in 6 plays. On 1st & goal from the 2, Aaron Rodgers was sacked for a loss of 6. Now facing 2nd & goal from the 8, the Packers trotted out trips formation on the right, with Greg Jennings in the 3. (Wide receivers are numbered from the sideline to the line of scrimmage [LOS], so the “3” would be the closest receiver to the LOS in a trips formation.)

If you’ve watched the Packers Super Bowl XLV Champions video as much as I have, you have Jennings’ speech memorized.

“You see Polamalu fly down? I don’t care who that is, he can’t fly down and adjust…They’re completely dropping the corner route. Completely. When I say completely dropping, you put anybody in that corner; in the number 3? Run ‘em corner? Wide open.”

So what led Jennings to that observation? Let’s take a look.

Play 1: 3rd & 9, 12:31 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

Jordy Nelson is the 3 on the right side and Troy Polamalu is the single-high safety, shaded to the trips side. Nelson runs a post from that position, while Donald Driver runs a dig route behind him. The Steelers bring pressure up the middle, leaving Lawrence Timmons – the linebacker on the opposite side of the line from Nelson - to carry Nelson up the field to pass off to Polamalu.

Polamalu’s first move is to break down towards Nelson, then backpedals and breaks on the post at the same time Nelson does. That leaves no deep defender in the outside zone.

Play 2: 1st & 10, 2:31 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 14-3

One of the best throws you’re ever going to see. Jennings is the 3 on the left, running a post, with Nelson running a vertical route behind him.

The Steelers are in a two-high alignment here, with Polamalu to the trips side and Ryan Clark to the other side. James Farrior carries Jennings up the seam and passes him off deep.

Even with Nelson running a vertical route up the seam, Polamalu is breaking to the middle of the field at the same time Jennings breaks. Rodgers isn’t even starting his throwing motion yet and Polamalu is already flying toward the middle. That aggressiveness leaves his deep zone empty.

Play 3: 3rd & 10, 13:11 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers leading 21-17

This play comes from the same drive we’re going to end with. Jennings is the 3 to the left side, and the Packers trot out the “Dusty” concept. “Dusty” is, as we all know, the most handsome & charming of all passing concepts. Out of trips, the two outside receivers run “under” routes (think shallow dig routes at 4-6 yards), while the 3 has the option to run a post or a corner route. (As with all concepts, there are a number of names it is known by. This one could be Dusty, Double China 7 or Colt.)

The Steelers bring the man over Nelson on the blitz, leaving him uncovered and rotating the back-end of the Steelers defense to a single-high look, with Polamalu as the single-high safety. With pressure off the edge, Rodgers hits Nelson on the slant for 38 yards.

Jennings runs a corner route from his 3 spot, but Polamalu is looking behind the blitz and doesn’t pick up the corner route until late. By the time he starts shading over Jennings, the ball is out to Nelson and Polamalu spins like a top in an attempt to recover.

Play 4: 2nd & goal, 12:03 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers leading 21-17

And now, after 700+ words, we find ourselves back where we started: 2nd & goal, with Jennings the 3 in the trips set to the right. The concept on the right is the same concept we saw on the left on the 38 yard completion to Nelson (a play which occurred two plays prior to this one). The playcall itself appears to have been Y Stick Colt.

Rodgers is initially looking to his left, but the defender routes Andrew Quarless to the inside and the safety sinks over the top, so the Stick route is out. Rodgers moves back to his right, where Polamalu completely dropped the corner route.

The Steelers aren’t set at the snap, which helps with some of the confusion. As with the other plays we looked at, a linebacker (Farrior) carries the 3 from the inside. Also as we have seen – and as Jennings had seen – Polamalu is flying down on the post route, leaving the corner open.

In Jennings words, “you put anybody…in the number 3? Run ‘em corner? Wide open.”

They put Jennings in the 3 and it resulted in a touchdown and a 28-17 lead early in the 4th quarter.

Great recognition by Jennings on the defensive tendencies of the Steelers when the Packers lined up in that formation.


Albums listened to: Black Milk – Album of the Year; Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks; Rick Ross – Teflon Don; The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang; Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s – Buzzard; S. Carey – All We Grow; The National – High Violet; Kate Nash – My Best Friend Is You; Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People; Lissie – Catching a Tiger; Doug Burr – O Ye Devastator

For this series, I've only been listening to music that came out in the year of the season that I'm looking at. A friend suggested a playlist might be a fun suppliment to the articles, and I'm kicking myself for not thinking of it sooner.

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Dusty Evely is a film analyst for Cheesehead TV. He can be heard talking about the Packers on Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter at @DustyEvely or email at [email protected].

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Comments (7)

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Lphill's picture

April 14, 2021 at 04:10 pm

The real lesson here is the fact this was the only time in Rodgers career that he had a defense in the top 10 , and look at the result, defense wins championships but Mark Murphy and Gutey didn't get the memo.

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PatrickGB's picture

April 14, 2021 at 07:05 pm

They also had multiple starting caliber WR’s.

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PeteK's picture

April 14, 2021 at 07:21 pm

Some observations: baby faced Rogers, Jennings was an all around great WR, that was a smooth offense, CM's play might be most important since QB sneak, Rogers & Bulaga ( rookie) were the only first rounders on that O.

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LeotisHarris's picture

April 14, 2021 at 07:47 pm

Thanks for another enjoyable and informative trip in the Wayback Machine, Dusty. I appreciate these beacons you shine through the thick pre-draft fog.

"...first play of the 4th quarter, Kevin Greene told Clay Matthews “It. Is. Time,” Matthews told Ryan Pickett to spill it, and the Packers got the ball back on a fumble recovery." The beauty and simplicity of your description made me smile. Summerallesque.

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veteranviewer's picture

April 15, 2021 at 12:10 am

When Jennings gets the ball in the endzone and hangs onto it as Polamalu immediately decks him is to me one of the great plays in Packer history.

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NickPerry's picture

April 15, 2021 at 05:31 am

There were so many plays in that SB but one of my favorite all time plays is still the throw on 3rd down to Jennings after the Steelers closed to within 3 points in the 4th quarter.

Rodgers threw that ball on a rope and Ryan Clark got his finger tips on it and change the spin ever so slightly but Jennings still caught the ball.

I still say had Woodson not broken his collorbone the Steelers wouldn't have ever even gotten back in the game. The score when Wood gets hurt was 21-3 and the Steelers hadn't done squat! The MOMENT he goes out that entire game changed.

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Bearmeat's picture

April 15, 2021 at 08:26 am

I love this breakdown and remember that play and the set up. Brilliant against a great defense.

Unpopular opinion number 1: We were on the way to blowing them out until Wood and Drive got hurt in that super bowl. Look at the score before halftime when Wood went out.

Unpopular opinion number 2: This is the only time Rodgers has had a top 10 scoring defense IIRC. And look at the result. The GMs and coaches have failed miserably on the defensive side since 2010.

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