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Film Study: LaFleur's Play Action Rollout

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Film Study: LaFleur's Play Action Rollout

Welcome to some offseason film study! Going forward, we'll be looking at a different play from the 2018 Tenneessee Titans passing offense, breaking it down a bit and talking about how that play could look going forward in Green Bay. Are you hyped? I'm hyped.

Let's start with something LaFleur really likes: play action rollout to levels. If you don't know what that means now, don't worry. We're going to tackle this together. We're going to be looking at two plays today, both taken from the Titans' Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

On this play, we're seeing play action to the running back, who will continue to the flat. Two receivers on the right side will block down before releasing to the rollside flat, while the other two receivers roll with the quarterback. Each of them is running on a different plane, or "level". When you hear the term "Levels," this the idea. Generally you have one or two receivers in the same area, spaced apart on different planes and on slightly delayed releases. It makes for an easy read for the quarterback, since one glance can tell you what is going on with a few of your receivers.

Watch the front 7 of the Dolphins to see what the play action does on this play: it pulls them up and over, opening some throwing lanes on the rollside. On this particular play, the edge defender stays home and is able to rush Marcus Mariota [8] on the throw. Mariota checks to one of the flat receivers. It doesn't end up well in this instance, but it's a good look.

Let's look at the next play.

This is a different package and a different look, but the original idea looks the same: we've got an exterior defender blocking down then releasing to the flat, while two other receivers set up levels to the rollside. But there's a difference:

The running back still releases to the flat, but the other receiver in-line on the right feigns a block down before releasing down the line and up the field on a wheel. 

The Titans have already shown this look earlier in the game - and the Rams ran this a ton when LaFleur was there in 2017 - so you can see the Dolphins react much the same way they did in the first play. They bite up-and-over on the play action, then a couple linebackers drop wide to pick up the flat route to the rollside. The other tight end simply slips off his block and gets lost in the shuffle. The running back releasing to the flat holds a defender for a beat, but the rest of the defense is just trying to drop back onto defender after the play action is complete. No one is looking for the tight end to release out the other side.

This is beautifully executed and gets a receiver wide open down the field.

Why do I love this?

When LaFleur talks about "the illusion of complexity," this is it. It's the ability to line up in multiple fronts while giving the same look post-snap, while also having dozens of different versions of plays that can be run out of it.

The PA Rollout Levels concept is a staple of LaFleur's offense. In this space, we looked at two different pre-snap looks doing slightly different things, but there are a lot of variations that could be run off of this pretty easily. Throw a couple options on these routes and it's extremely difficult to stop. If a linebacker drops wide to take away the flat route, keep running across the formation and up the sideline. If the linebacker flows to the sideline, cut back and find an empty space to sit. everything flows with the play action, level routes are open. 

All that without even mentioning the run game. If the defense is sitting back on the pass, you've got all the pieces in place for a successful running play behind zone blocking. The possibilities may not exactly be endless, but you can do a lot of damage with this look. The Packers are no strangers to running plays out of this look, but I would imagine LaFleur will be seriously expanding what the Packers are able to do.

What can the Packers do with this?

Anything and everything!

I drew up a series of plays that works with this idea. I decided to roll with 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR).
RB: Aaron Jones [33]
TE: Marcedes Lewis [89], Robert Tonyan [85]
WR: Davante Adams [17], Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83]

I don't know that I need to explain my choice at RB or WR, but I did want to address the TE position. This is a concept that thrives on the ability to run multiple plays out of the same look, but also the ability to run the same play out of multiple fronts. So I wanted a grouping that could be versatile. A group that could run the ball down your throat just as easily as they could push routes downfield. 

I feel like Lewis and Tonyan give me that versatility. Lewis is a tremendous blocker and an underrated receiver. Tonyan was a bit raw in limited action last year, but he is a talented receiver and spent the offseason learning more about the position from George Kittle, the breakout star from the 2018 49ers. I'm banking on Tonyan taking a step up from last season and becoming a better blocker. I'm taking the promise of improved blocking from Tonyan over the known bad blocking from Graham. On top of that, Tonyan is a faster option than Graham at this point, so that really helps with the ability to stretch the field.

Let's look at some plays I drew up with that personnel grouping, working within this concept.

This is basically what we looked at above. I just wanted to provide a look this way. Play action rollout to the levels side. Both TE feign blocks down the line before releasing to the flat. The route by Tonyan [85] is slightly delayed. By holding that block a little longer and releasing late, it gets the defense to relax on him for a bit, then he can work back into some open space created by the flat route from Lewis [89].

This is the look at the second play. Once the defense starts sagging back and waiting on the flat release from Tonyan, he takes up on a wheel up the field.

Here's another levels/wheel concept, but out of a stack look. Instead of loading up all the receivers on the right side, we've got a 2X2 look and still running the same thing. It looks different on the pre-snap, but the end result is the same. The ability to run the same play out of multiple looks is a great power.

This version plays off the flat release from Lewis. The linebackers start dropping wide and looking for the flat release, but Lewis releases to a curl in the middle of the field. I've also got Tonyan taking off on a wheel route, because if the linebackers are dropping wide, might as well try to make them pay big.

The defense feels like they have this PA Rollout Levels thing figured out, so they don't bite heavy on the play action. Instead, they sag on the levels side. The receivers set up the levels the same as always, but the backside is a screen to Jones [33]. Catch the defense sagging to one side, hit them with a screen to the other. If you catch them right, there's some serious big-play potential here.

We've established the levels from this particular look. In this version, we have Tonyan feigning a downblock, only to release up the field. If the safety in that area reads the levels, there's a possibility of Tonyan slipping through that action and going up over the top.

This look also has Lewis releasing under the line on the wheel and Jones as one of the levels receivers, after hesitating slightly in the middle on the curl.

Last but not least, we have something that starts the same, but ends up completely different. On this play, Rodgers doesn't boot, but defense have seen the boot so much that they may leave some guys back on it. Instead, he drops back at an angle and looks for a shot. The RG circles back to clean up any backside rushers, but the rest of the line pushes down as they normally would on the PA Rollout. 

These are just a couple plays I drew up relatively quickly, but you get the idea. The possibilities go way beyond what I have here. The big part of what makes this so exciting is that the concept itself is simple, yet there are a ton of tiny variations that could make a big difference. If the defense gets leaning one way, you can make them pay with something else, all without altering the entire play. It can be run from multiple looks in a variety of different ways. To top it all off, the Packers have the personnel in place to make this absolutely lethal

Albums listened to: Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride; Marissa Nadler & Stephen Brodsky - Droneflower; Big Thief - U.F.O.F


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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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (58) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Tundraboy's picture

Going to need some more time to digest all this, but this is awesome

TheVOR's picture

So, to make this work, we need to be successful running the football. As Forrest Once said "that's all I have to say about that".. Um, the other Forrest, not Gregg

Dusty Evely's picture

The really interesting thing about play action is that recent studies have shown that you don't really have to be successful running the ball to be an effective play action team. It's something that is hard to wrap my head around because it goes against what I have believed all my life, but the evidence is hard to ignore.

Coldworld's picture

I think the general conclusion was that the opposing team must merely believe sufficiently that one intends to run and thus play to that.

Aplinal's picture

Which MM used to promote when he said, it's the number of attempts that matter just as much as the actual success in yards. (I'm paraphrasing).

PatrickGB's picture

Thanks for this study. I love to see La Flowers work this season. Good job!

Old School's picture

If I were the Defensive Coordinator, I'd instruct the DE or OLB who had containment to disregard the run to the other side and head right for the QB. As soon as the QB had completed the fake handoff he'd get drilled.

sschreiberWI's picture

LaFleur doesn't always have this as a naked boot. I've seen a few times where he uses this in conjunction with a H back sift block / slide wrinkle to put that BS edge defender in conflict.

Schonejl's picture

I also wonder if a blitzer is the way to attack and disrupt an unprotected qb.

ejr450's picture

Dusty, this is fantastic. I like the expectation for BBT to take a step with his blocking. I’m looking for Sternberger to be able to play that part as well. Hopefully the two of them can be TE 1/2 for the next few years.

One thought/worry. These look like they take some time to develop, and the first play from TEN you highlighted the DE blew it up. What’s the key to avoiding that? Being successful with the OZ run away in the first place?

Dusty Evely's picture

I think it's a combination of things. The Packers had this concept - or, at least, versions of this concept - in their playbook, so it's not totally foreign. I think one of the main keys is picking your spots. They ran it quite a bit against the 49ers this past year, but they passed more often than not, so the DE just stayed home in the second half.
I don't think you necessarily need to be super successful with the run, but you do have to be willing to run it out of a variety of looks. The DE needs a reason to not stay at home. Either that or a chip from one of the down-blocking receivers to keep the action inside.
There are a variety of things you can do, but those are two quick ones off the top of my head.

dobber's picture

It's a variation of the old "waggle" play. I think just about everyone with a QB who can move a little has it in their repertoire...just a matter of if/when/how they use it.

Bure9620's picture

It will take Rodgers making quick decisions and getting the ball out on schedule. There WILL be a free rusher and Rodgers knows this. If you have a QB to decipher it quickly, great. If not, rollouts are an issue, he can't run around the Edge anymore.

4thand1's picture

He can't run around the edge anymore? Why would you think that? He still has more quickness than most QB's.

Bure9620's picture

He's not out running Edge players

dobber's picture

You could see last season when he was getting caught in the flat when he was extending plays that it was frustrating him. Whether it's because his knee was slowing him down or father time was, he's going to have to pay attention and learn from it. He's still dangerous with his legs, especially if the edge rush gets past him and he can break through the T gap.

Lare's picture

This will be new for all the offensive players, they should be excited to be doing something different for a change. The biggest question is how long it will take for them all to be on the same page.

Dusty Evely's picture

The core concept isn't new. The Packers had versions of this in their playbook. Some of the variations/routes will be different, so there's that, but it's not a massive departure. I imagine this play will be clicking pretty quickly for everyone.

Coldworld's picture

Which begs the question of what differentiates the LaFleur usage? Variety?

Packer Fan's picture

I like it. Thanks. Got a question, how does this compare the MM's old system.

Matt Gonzales's picture

MM was doing something similar with Eddie Lacy in his (Lacy’s) first couple years with the stretch play. This same sort of play design is what made the Texans able to compete well with Schaub at QB. This play design really isn’t new - MLF just seems to be using it more to open up the flat. With a strong and accurate QB the same play design is more dangerous as AR can potentially throw to any receiver at any level on either side of the field.

Dusty Evely's picture

This particular play compares well. I mean, the core concept is fairly basic, and McCarthy definitely had it in his arsenal.
I've said it many, MANY times before but it bears repeating: I didn't really have an issue with a lot of the concepts McCarthy was trotting out over the past year and a half: I had an issue with the sequencing/personnel used. When McCarthy said they took a lot of plays from the Shanahan/McVay playbooks, he wasn't lying. He just didn't seem like he always knew the best way to run them.

Packer Fan's picture

Thanks, I appreciate your response.

splitpea1's picture

Good job with the diagrams....makes things much easier to understand!

Dusty Evely's picture

That's what I'm going for! Glad it helps!

Old School's picture

There is a problem with rollouts. The field is 53 yards wide, and when you start rolling to your right, it cuts the field in half. Then the closer your receivers get to the sideline, the more the field shrinks.

I noticed back in 1999 that a disproportionate number of Favre's picks came on rollouts to the right. Since that time, I've come to understand why.

Additionally, this all depends on the play action being successful, and that means having a legitimate run threat. Tennessee was 9th in rushing attempts and 6th in yardage. The Packers ran the ball 123 less times than the Titans did.

If LaFleur can commit to making this a running team, I'll give him all props due. But I'm going to have to see it before I believe it. I find it hard to believe that an Aaron Rodgers offense is going to come anywhere close to the balance the Titans showed last year. (456 runs, 437 passes, 31st in the league).

ShanghaiKid's picture

Nailed it Old School.

Dusty Evely's picture

That's true, but these things don't happen in a vacuum. The idea of "using every inch of the field in the passing game" has been the cornerstone of pretty much every major passing innovation. But there is also an element of misdirection/zone-flooding that doesn't necessarily abide by those rules. I mean, it still does, but in a roundabout way. You're forced to cover every inch of the field, but things like this are designed to make some players useless. (It's a simplistic reading of this concept and others like it, but it's late and I'm tired so I'll take it.)

I stated in another comment, but you don't necessarily need to be successful in the run game to make the PA work. For this one, a willingness to run is helpful for getting rid of that backside DE, but I believe that an ability to run this out of multiple looks is just as important as run/pass balance. Probably not an overly popular take, but the more I dig in, the more I believe it. That being said, run/pass balance can't hurt. Rodgers threw the ball more than ever on a per-game basis last year, so I expect that to come down anyway. With LaFleur, I expect those numbers to be quite a bit closer together than they were last season, just because it's hard to envision them throwing the ball more.

Coldworld's picture

Old School hits on something that has puzzled me, the difference in the number of rushes between his team and LaFleurs was relatively small on a game by game basis.

Dusty is right though, in my opinion, in that it wasn’t the number as much as the how and when. MM in later years seemed to use run in a way that didn’t seem like it was integrated with the overall strategy. MM would use it in concentrated bursts and from specific formations and then go away from it completely, for example.

Other than options, I felt that much of the time a run or absence of one was predictable by formation, immediately preceding calls or the down. Maybe that’s the core difference in approach?

jannes bjornson's picture

Basic WCO principles. Run the edge, run screens,move the QB off play action, delayed crossing routes...Air Coryell with Bill Walsh. If they ignore the run Jones or Dexter Williams can take it to the house. Put some pressure on Barr so he can't freelance.

John30856's picture

with Aaron Rodgers we do not want the same balace either. Do agree more balance yes but still skewed towards pass

jannes bjornson's picture

Why deviate from your strength? The improved O line and a higher percentage of running plays will actually help the verticle game.

PeteK's picture

However, a rollout( as opposed to a straight sprint out) gives the offense an advantage because the QB opens up to the left after the snap which causes the D to either freeze or lean that way, giving the O a step advantage. There was balance in a Rogers offense when he had a legit RB, Lacy, and even a few times last season when Jones was healthy and the Gs actually blocked.

sschreiberWI's picture

It only narrows the field if all routes flood to opposite side of the play action. I've seen plenty of times where LaFleur/McVay will have the QB begin the boot, set their feet and throw back across the formation to a crosser. The big takeaway is the wrinkles LaFleur puts into this offense. I really like how "marrying the run and pass" in this scheme stretches defenses horizontally and vertically.

Handsback's picture

Good job Dusty. If you want to know how to stop the last SB. The difference in Green Bay is that the trigger man doesn't get rattled and knows how to make plays with his legs.

EddieLeeIvory's picture

To reach maximum effectiveness, you need the opponent's edge rusher to respect the run. If they have no fear/worry/concern with the running back, they won't respect the handoff, fake handoff. This results in that edge rusher (who is often unblocked) making a beeline for the QB.
How many times have we seen this the past 2 years and Rodgers fakes the handoff, turns to roll out, and immediately there's a free rusher right in his face. Busted play.

We need to make those edges pay for ignoring the RB.

Coldworld's picture

Ideally one also wants to get situations where the play caller puts the wrong players or alignment out there too, but I think you are spot on. Defenses seldom seemed uncertain by the end of MM’s tenure. It was all to often that they seemed to know exactly what was coming.

greengold's picture

YES! YES! YES! This right here is the key.

We will win the next Super Bowl by being dedicated to running the football. It will open everything else up in the passing game, and will help to keep Aaron upright.

We have the D, and now we finally have a HC who will call an effective O scheme. I cannot wait to see Packers RBs rip through our opponents and chew up the clock. Add that to what I now believe to be a highly potent Packers D, and we have the formula for success in achieving our ultimate goal: Win it all!

Lare's picture

The question is if the Packers have the OL that can effectively run & pass block. That hasn't been the case in the past.

jeremyjjbrown's picture


4thand1's picture

The rest of the NFCN will actually have to game plan for the Packers now.

dobber's picture

They 2014.

4thand1's picture

From what I've heard it was 2011

Matt Gonzales's picture

2011 interests me because for most of the year, nobody had a good answer for that vertical passing game. Once teams started dedicating all their attention to staying sticky on receivers the wheels fell off. 2014 was the most balanced offense GB had in a long time, and they used play designs like this with the stretch play and bootleg very successfully.

dobber's picture

So much of what they did in 2011 was predicated on quick slants and catch-and-run plays. It pulled the S up and opened up the deep routes for double moves and the like.

Nick Perry's picture

That was the season the receivers and Rodgers were on the cover of SI. That offense was so effective because of the sheer number of QUALITY WR MM could put on the field at once. There wasn't and still isn't a defense that could cover that group. IF the Packers had played the Giants 9 more timnes in the playoffs at Lambeau they'd have won 9 times.

That was the year Nelson REALLY broke out after tearing up Pittsburgh in the SB. Jennings was one of the games best WR already. James Jones was really the #4 option on the Packers after Jennings, Nelson, Finley but he would have been at worst #2 on most teams or even a #1 on some. Oh and BTW, we still had Donald Driver and a new guy named Cobb.

I KNOW this is a different offense by now BUT after Adams lets play WHAT IF just for fun. Obviously we have to use our imagination but if the current Packers could play at the levels of those 2011 Packers just WOW..

IF MVS becomes Jordy Nelson
IF EQ becomes Greg Jennings
IF Moore becomes James Jones
IF Graham becomes Finley

Now to boot the Packers actually DO have a running game... THIS is a better defense and one hell of a lot of "What If's"...Can you say SB?

greengold's picture

I'm just excited to have a HC in LaFleur who will actually RUN THE ROCK enough to make play action effective for the Packers.

This is great to see, Dusty. I cannot wait to see what LaFleur brings to our offense, with his own personal stamp. A balanced attack of run/pass will be most welcome, and ought to help Aaron Rodgers stay healthy. No more opposing front 7s pinning their ears back endlessly.

RCPackerFan's picture

All I know is I can't wait to see LaFleur's offense with Rodgers running it.

I can't wait to see what Jones does in this offense as well. I do think Dexter Williams could be a guy that emerges late in the year.

And I can't wait to see what our trio of 2nd year WR's look like. Especially in a new offense which maybe will be simpler to run compared to the last offense. Basically meaning that perhaps those WR's will get more in sync with Rodgers and allow their play making ability to shine.

I just can't wait!

dobber's picture

The other thing I see in this is that it's less QB dependent than the kind of plays we saw the Packers running with Hundley and Kizer the last two years. I think a backup with some feel should be able to run an offense of this sort more effectively (meaning the offense is not predicated on riding a QB and trying to force plays down the defense's throat).

RCPackerFan's picture

That is something that I have wondered about as well.
Perhaps the system will allow the backup QB to be better. Another reason why Kizer might be better. Under McCarthy the system it was essentially geared around Rodgers talents. Well to have someone else come and run it pretty much already puts them at a disadvantage because they aren't Rodgers. They didn't have his experience or talent.
With a new approach, perhaps it would allow a more average QB to at least have some success.

dobber's picture

Of course, over the last couple months, the question really has become whether the offense was geared around the talents of the QB, or whether the talented QB dictated the offense.

Still, watching Hundley and later Kizer play really made me wonder if MM had any ability to adjust a game plan to fit his players.

Coldworld's picture

I think he did originally. The problem is that at some point after 2011 he became locked into the belief in system over personnel. That any player must play to the design and win regardless of the physical attributes, level of experience or skill set the individual possessed. I don’t think QB was any different. The most he would do is limit the number of call options, which just made things more predictable not less Rodgers.

jannes bjornson's picture

"Next man up" mantra. We'll replace an ALL-PRO with a guy from the practice squad.

greengold's picture

McCarthy really was clueless.

x24's picture

Next up; "Green Right, Strong Slot, Spider 2, Y-Banana"

Since '61's picture

First, it is important to remember that this is only a piece of the new offense. There will other looks and other plays which will be run.

The concern I have with the levels is that it draws many defenders to one side of the field. The ball needs to be delivered perfectly or it could result in an easy pick for the defense.

The run game needs to be effective to get the defense to bite consistently. If not they will just rush the QB, especially in 2nd and 3rd and long situations. But if we can use the run game to get into 2nd or 3rd and short these types of plays become deadly.

Looking forward to the new offense.
Thanks, Since ‘61

albert999's picture

Really nice work Dusty!
Thank u

Fubared's picture

Still dont know why this guy would come to the Packers. Yes he wants to be a head coach but if he has a mantra and knows the kind of offense he likes better than othes, you cant do play action with a 37 year old QB who runs like he has a broom stick up his ass.
Makes no sense.

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