Film Study: 2016 Throwback Edition

We have spent the last 13 weeks looking at passing concepts from the 2018 Tennessee Titans and imagining what they could look like with the Packers in 2019. It was fun! I hope you all learned a lot, because I know I certainly did.

The preseason is here, but I had one more thing I wanted to go through before we officially kick off the 2019 season. A common concern I've heard about Aaron Rodgers going into this year has been his penchant for holding onto the ball for too long. "How is he going to look in this offense if he doesn't get the ball out when he's supposed to?" It's true that getting the ball out on-time is a key in this passing offense (to be fair, it's a key in every passing offense), but I also believe that narrative is a little overblown. Yes, Rodgers can hold the ball for too long, but he can also get the ball out quickly if he likes the match-ups. Both sides can provide clips that "prove" their narrative, but the truth is somewhere in the middle. Rodgers can hold onto the ball for too long, but that doesn't mean he does that all the time, or even the majority of the time.

The point of today's post is not to "prove" that Rodgers releases the ball quickly more often than not. The point of this post is to show what Rodgers can do when he puts the emphasis on getting the ball out. To me, there aren't many examples that show this skill better than the Monday Night matchup against the Eagles in Week 12 of the 2016 season.

Let's set the stage: the Packers were sitting at 4-6, having just lost 4 in a row. They had lost their last two games - to the Titans and Washington - by a combined 40 points. Now they found themselves going into Philadelphia to play an Eagles team that was the top-ranked passing defense in the league (per Football Outsiders DVOA). The Eagles had yet to allow a 300 yard passer, and, though they had a middling 5-5 record, they had outscored their opponents by 55 points on the season. To cap it off, the Eagles were a perfect 4-0 at home, while the Packers were 1-4 on the road. 

In the week leading up to the Eagles game, Aaron Rodgers said something about running the table. You may not remember it. It wasn't very big news.

Let's get to it.

Play 1

Some pre-snap motion gets one of the members of the backfield on the edge, where they push up the field. The other side also has a deep out - in the form of a sluggo - while both sides have short, quick routes attacking the edges underneath the deep routes. There's a stack look to the right, with the under man running a flat route and the top man running a quick out. 

Rodgers has a decent idea what the defense is doing before he snaps, so he focuses in on the left side. He drops, and the ball is out of his hand to the out route when the back foot hits.

Here's what he's seeing: one defender comes up on the flat while the other defender is backing up at the upfield push. Rodgers sees this, hits the back foot as the out break is occurring, and lets it fly. 

Play 2

Slant/flat on both sides, though the flat route is coming from different angles. Motion before the snap helps see what the defense is doing. In this case, the motion man is followed across the formation, meaning the Eagles are likely in man coverage. On slant/flat against a single-high safety, that makes for an easy read: wait for the flat route to drag his man to the sideline, then hit the slant behind it.

Here's what that looks like. The flat defender is almost clear of the window, the slant receiver is coming out of his break and Rodgers is setting up to throw.

Step-step-step throw. Davante Adams [17] gets a good release on the slant, Rodgers hits him on-time and it goes for a touchdown.

Adams was out there doing work.

Play 3

Motion out of a full house pistol backfield. When I dream happy dreams, this is what they consist of. We've got motion out of the backfield that ends up as a dig route, under a post route. Some tight spacing on that combo, but I like it. Get a couple guys running quickly to the same area before splitting off. If the defense falls under the dig route, there's room on the post. If they fall back to the post, there's room on the dig.

But that's not exactly what we're talking about here. Those in-cutting routes can do something else as well: they can open up the edge. Ty Montgomery [88] just runs a flat route and finds a vacated edge. Beyond being vacated, defenders are actively retreating further back down the field. The two routes off the right side push up the field, and the defense is reacting to that. They don't know that those are going to be cutting off shortly, so they're planning for a deep push. 

Rodgers sees that movement by the defense and keeps looking to that side until the last minute. He knows he has Montgomery in the flat. He forces the defense to stay deep, then dumps the ball to Montgomery when he hits his back foot.

Play 4

Rodgers' first read is the out to Jordy Nelson [87] on the right. It looks like he's isolated on that side with a defender. If the receiver can threaten the defender with speed, an isolated out route is extremely hard to stop. The defender has to account for a go route, so if the receiver pushes upfield, they have to react to that. If the quarterback gets the ball out on time, it's in the air before the receiver even breaks to the sideline. The receiver's job is to threaten deep, then cut quickly to the sideline before the defender can react.

A defender drops back into the hook zone, but it's not a wide enough drop to get under the out route. The outside defender is fading back. This tells Rodgers he has more than enough space to hit the out route.

Step-step-step throw. There is absolutely nothing to be done about this.

Play 5

This was a 3rd & short. We've got a clear-out route on the right, a curl route from the slot and a flat route from Randall Cobb [18] underneath it all.

The outside defender is removed by the go-route, and the Eagles switch coverage between the curl and the flat. But the pass-off between the defenders is deeper than the flat, so the defender doesn't have a great angle on it.

Rodgers sees the switch and gets rid of the ball as soon as his back foot hits. Step-step-step throw. Cobb is able to get an angle on the defender and he picks up the first down. 

Play 6

We've got a little high-low action on the right, with the flat route under the deep-pushing corner and go routes. But we also have an isolated slant route with Adams on the left, and a flat release underneath. Given the fact that Adams racked up 156 receiving yards just a couple games prior to this, it's safe to say that Rodgers had a decent amount of trust in Adams at this point. There appears to be a lot of space underneath the slant to that side, so that's what Rodgers is looking at.

A rush is coming off that side and Rodgers sees it. That means he should have a clear throwing lane to Adams and plenty of room to fit the ball, but he does one little thing to make sure:

Look at the footwork and the shoulders. You can see Rodgers look immediately to the left, so he knows there's a rush coming. He never looks like he's seriously thinking about throwing anywhere else, but he wants to hold the middle linebacker to the middle of the field. So he gives a cursory glance to the right and turns his feet and shoulders to the right. That holds the linebacker in place and keeps him from drifting under Adams. When he's ready to throw, he pops back to the left and finds a ton of room for the throw to Adams.

Again, Adams doing work.

Play 7

We've got slant/flat on the left and a couple curls on the right. Everything looks straightforward right now.

Immediately post-snap, that changes. The defender over the slot receiver blitzes off the edge. That is paired with the safety crashing on the slot from his deep position. The thought process is this: the quarterback will see the blitzing defensive back, see that as a vacated zone and throw "hot" to the slot receiver. The safety rotates down to crash the slot receiver, looking to catch the quarterback throwing hot and make a big play.

Rodgers reads that and doesn't bite, instead throwing to the outside curl against the retreating defensive back. Step-step throw.

Wide Receiver Screens and Smoke

What we looked at is a sampling of some of the quick-hitting concepts the Packers ran. They also ran a lot of shallow concepts that can fit into this category. Let's talk briefly about the difference between these.

A wide receiver screen is a called play. The ball is thrown quickly to a wide receiver, while blocking is set up downfield.

Smoke is not a called play. It is a quick throw from quarterback to receiver, based on coverage. If a defender is playing far enough off, the quarterback will just rise up and get the ball out quickly to that receiver in space.

Both are quick throws, which is why I'm putting them together here.

Wide receiver screen to the right. Step-throw.

Smoke to the right. Rodgers doesn't even really take a step; he just kind of falls back after taking the snap and fires a laser over to Nelson on the edge.

Screen to the left against off coverage. Step-throw.

Smoke to the right. Rodgers just kind of pivots from his position under center and lets it fly to Nelson on the edge.

All of those plays are rise-up-and-throw plays. Pre-determined before the ball is snapped and just get the ball out as quickly as possible.

What Can That Open Up

Adams is lined up on the outside and is running a sluggo (slant-and-go). The safety starts down in the box and is looking for something quick. He's looking for something out of the backfield, but his path takes him under the slant route from Adams. 

When Adams shakes his defender, there's no one deep to cover over the top. The defense has been pulled up by the quick throws, which helps to open up the deep portion of the field. There are a couple more things I absolutely love about this play.

The throw is incredible, but I also love watching Rodgers navigate the pocket. He bounces around while going through his reads. He's always in a position to throw. And, while the pocket is pushing in on him, he never seems like he's in any danger. He's in complete control. And, of course, he unleashes a perfect throw over the shoulder of Adams.

I'm also a huge fan of the release from Adams. He breaks hard on the slant to get inside his defender. When he heads upfield, he has a great angle to beat his defender and he knows it, immediately throwing his hand up. 


Time and time again, Rodgers saw something pre-snap, combined that knowledge with the immediate post-snap reaction, and got the ball out on time. On the majority of these plays, the Eagles were beat before the ball was even snapped: they just didn't know it yet. Rodgers put on an absolute clinic, and Packers ended up reeling of 6 straight wins to get them into the playoffs.

As I said at the top, I'm not showing this to say that Rodgers can do this. I know he can do this. Rather, it's to highlight just how dangerous he can be when he's in an offense that thrives on getting the ball out quickly. Putting Rodgers in a system that uses motion and thrives on creating mismatches for quick reads will allow him to get into this mode more often than we've seen as of late. 

I hope you enjoyed this little blast from the past. Pretty soon we'll be talking about current football, and I could not be more thrilled.


Albums listened to: Rosie Thomas - When We Were Small; Angie McMahon - Salt; Black Milk - Dive; Russian Circles - Blood Year; Damon & Naomi - In the 21st Century; Pedro the Lion - Phoenix

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Dusty Evely is a film analyst for Cheesehead TV. He can be heard talking about the Packers on Pack to the Future or Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter at @DustyEvely or @All22Talk or email at [email protected].

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Comments (11)

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Coldworld's picture

August 05, 2019 at 08:01 pm

This is a great piece! Thank you. I have always felt that Rodgers is among the best at getting the ball out quickly to exploit a defense. He reads the field so quickly both pre and post snap.

For me that just makes it all the more difficult to understand why MM increasingly refused to use a scheme that presented Defenses with uncertainties.

Predictability in routes and usage surely minimizes the opportunity for this type of play while increasing the chance of effective initial coverage, leading to extended plays?

Thanks again and I am curious to see if you agree that there is a relationship.

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Bearmeat's picture

August 05, 2019 at 08:34 pm

I think MM never recovered from 2014. He was tired, but wouldn't admit it. Meanwhile, TT had some type of health thing going on. The talent went to seed and ARod had to do more and more with less and less. Thus, 2018.

The Packers WRs were the slowest in the league from 2015-2017 IIRC. And the RT position when Bulaga's been hurt, and both OG's have been bad... Kinda tough to throw on a timing route when everyone is squatting on routes, when everyone in the NFL has caught up to the MM route trees, and the OL can't hold up to a good pass rush.

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Coldworld's picture

August 05, 2019 at 09:14 pm

I think that we are on the same page. That’s how it seems to me but i’d be interested in Dusty’s take.

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Mark Gaedtke's picture

August 06, 2019 at 06:47 am

I don't always agree with your take, but I think you nailed it here. Our problems in a nutshell. I also believe it had to get that bad before any changes would be made. Yours was as good a breakdown as I've seen anywhere.

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DustyEvely's picture

August 06, 2019 at 09:37 am

Absolutely. I mean, if the defense has a pretty good idea of initial reads, they can jam those lanes and make it extremely difficult to get rid of the ball quickly. Introducing uncertainty via different concepts, more play action and pre-snap movement should absolutely help on that front.

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flackcatcher's picture

August 06, 2019 at 06:29 pm

Actually, QB 1 told Jason Wilde just before mid season that the Packers were changing their offensive scheme. The return of Bulgua and finally getting Jason Cook back on the field opened the middle. Packers after the Eagles game when to a 2-back on 50% of their sets and Rodgers cut down on RPO calls at the line. That was the updated (2011) version of the west coast offense. And Rodgers played out of his mind lifting the play of the Packers with him. But for the second time in three years, McCarthy junked most of his 1 back sets, returned to basics, and won the division and was one game away from the Superbowl in three years.

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kevgk's picture

August 05, 2019 at 08:56 pm

Incredible work. Film study is why I come to this site (for the most part), and I only hope you get the appreciation you deserve for the amount of work you put into this article

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DustyEvely's picture

August 06, 2019 at 09:51 am

Thanks man! Very much appreciated.

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kevgk's picture

August 05, 2019 at 11:38 pm

I thought the Packers and Rodgers were hot this year when he did dink and dunk with the no huddle. There were drives agains the bears (twice), rams, jets, and falcons that were in rhythm and driving the ball down the field effectively. Be it Rodgers or McCarthy that got away from that, it coincided with the offense stalling.
I hope LaFleur can incorporate the best of Rodgers out of the pistol into the offense, but also more condensed formations and effective running out of the pistol too to prevent greedy defenses. Imagine this kind of play but Aaron Jones running the wheel routes, and big bodies like Graham and Tonyan running sticks and seams in the middle too. Motion Adams across the line and catch a defender lagging with a quick slant or something. Very exciting.

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jlc1's picture

August 06, 2019 at 06:46 pm

Yes, great work explained really clearly for simple folk like me. Best part is is that it reminds me that ARod can do this, that he has had and may still have the ability to pilot this team into the post-season. Thanks for the boost.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 08, 2019 at 12:23 pm

The less time the ball is in Rodgers hands, the better the offense will be. I've been saying that for a year. More running, less passing, and quicker releases on passes .

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