Film Study: LaFleur's Playbook - Delay Middle

We're here today to talk about a fun little play that highlights a larger point of what Matt LaFleur loves to do in the passing game: a delayed release.

To start with, I really like the idea behind this entire play. From a condensed formation, everyone fans out, attacking the edges of the defense. We've got a chip on the left side of the line to help with Jadeveon Clowney [90] before heading out to the flat, but Jonnu Smith [81] - the right TE - is different. It starts off looking like a block, but ends up being a delayed release to the middle.

With the routes attacking the edge, the middle is completely open. We've also got some man coverage on the back end, which leads to a lot of people having their backs turned to the play. When the ball is dumped down to Smith in the middle, there's simply no one there. By attacking the edges, they forced the defense out of the middle of the field. 

But the delayed release...ah buddy...that's what helps sell the whole thing. Let's take a look at what that helps to do.

We can see here exactly why the middle is so open. Tyrann Mathieu [32] and Benardrick McKinney [55] are the only defenders paying attention to the short middle/offensive right. McKinney is crashing on Derrick Henry [22] in the flat, leaving Mathieu as the only one who could conceivably pick up Smith. At this exact moment, Mathieu has started to bail to pick up the WR on the right. It's hard to determine precisely why that is, but I have a pretty good idea.

Mathieu is coming straight at the line, looking like he is locked onto Smith. If he was going to be attacking the flat, his angle would be wider. I believe Mathieu is set to pick up Smith. But, at the crucial moment, Smith is still holding up his block. In a perfect bit of timing, Mathieu peels off just as Smith is disengaging from the block. 

By delaying the release, you introduce some pockets of uncertainty within the defense. What is Mathieu to do there? If he sticks with Smith and Smith does nothing than block, it's a wasted snap. If he bails like he does here, Smith is open in the middle. By holding a block and delaying the release, you force the defense to move to their secondary assignment. It doesn't take much - Smith doesn't hold the block for long - but sometimes a split second of selling the block and delaying the release is all you need.

LaFleur loves his delayed releases. It doesn't always happen out of this formation/concept, but it's certainly something to keep an eye on.

How Will This Look in Green Bay

Feel free to disagree with me (you will) but I drew this play and put in Green Bay personnel.

I've got Aaron Jones [33] as my running back, because he's Aaron Jones. I don't feel I need to explain this any further.

I've got Davante Adams [17] and Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83] as my wide receivers, because Adams is amazing and I have a feeling Valdes-Scantling is going to break out in a big way this season. I've got Adams on the right side because he's the clear-cut WR1 and the tight end release is coming off the right side. I want more attention drawn to that side of the field to distract from the action in the middle. I figure Adams deep and Jones shallow gives me what I need.

I've got Jace Sternberger [87] and Marcedes Lewis [89] as my tight ends, with Lewis as the target. With Sternberger likely getting limited snaps and being primarily in for his receiving this season, I want attention drawn to him in terms of a passing threat, especially since he's only chipping the end before heading out. Lewis is better known as a blocking TE, and, on top of that, he has been in the league longer. I need that craftiness and his reputation to sell the block before leaking out into the middle. 

What Can the Packers Do With This

Variation 1

One thing I like to think about in terms of any given play is if the same, basic concept could be run with the same personnel but from a different pre-snap look. In this version, I have put that personnel grouping in shotgun, which means I've got Aaron Jones in the right slot. I still think it works - I'm a big fan of Jones' receiving ability - but I think this would work even better with Equanimeous St. Brown in the slot. Still, putting Jones in the slot works, which means we can run this concept effectively from a slightly different look. I'll take it.

Variation 2

Same general idea - attack the edges to open the middle - but with someone else working the middle. Lewis feints inside before cutting back to the outside, while Jones runs an angle route to the open space in the middle. I don't assume the middle will always be as open as it was in the play we looked at, so I'm planning for a defender sitting in that area. To work around that, I've built an option into Jones' route. If the defender is sitting back, cut off the angle route and work underneath. If the defender is playing shallow, cut up the field and go over the top.

Variation 3

Generally the same premise as the original play, but with more of a mind to attack the right in the event the defense is leaning towards the middle. I've got Jones faking a flat for a couple steps before pushing up and over on a (hopefully) crashing defender. I have an option on the route of Adams. If he finds himself man-to-man, he can run an out if the defender is on his heels, or a corner route if he is stepping up a bit. Of course, we also have the route of Lewis in the middle, in the event of a blitz or a vacated middle of the field.

Variation 4

This is the exact same play as Variation 3, but with a wheel route from the backfield, because if I can make a wheel happen on a play, I'm gonna make it happen. As a great poet once said, "If you believe in yourself enough and know what you want, you're gonna make it happen." As it so happens, I believe in myself and wheel routes.

This works under the same idea as Variation 3, right down to taking advantage of a crashing linebacker to the flat. But in this case, we're really going for it. No half measures. If we're hitting, we're hitting big. We're gonna make it happen. Oh yeah.


Albums listened to: Interpol - A Fine Mess; Miley Cyrus - She Is Coming; American Football - American Football [LP3]; Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center

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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 (20)

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packerbackerjim's picture

June 06, 2019 at 04:38 pm

Thanks Dusty! I think we might see AR working the middle of the field just a little bit more this year. Call it a hunch.

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kevgk's picture

June 06, 2019 at 06:11 pm

especially backs or TEs coming into the middle or flats on a delay are great for letting him make his reads on deep shots, and making safe and easy completions underneath if they arent open or if there is a free rusher

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Handsback's picture

June 06, 2019 at 05:10 pm

Delayed releases aren't new to the Packer playbook. I think the one subtle difference is that MM hardly ever used it with Graham over the middle. (I'm saying that w/o looking at a ton of film,) In fact MM didn't used the TE over the middle very much after shouting it's praise every day in the off-season.
Also in variation 3 and 4...I would have the RB going straight down the seam. 89 and 17 will suck defenders away from the middle and a huge hole could appear.

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jannes bjornson's picture

June 06, 2019 at 08:31 pm

Correct HB, basics of the WCO that Big Mac seemed to misplace from
Paul Hackett's schemes. The next Hackett will bring back the delayed release, TE/RB interplay.

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Bearmeat's picture

June 06, 2019 at 05:24 pm

Hey! Look at that! 15 different plays out of 1 concept. Simplicity masked as complexity! A 21st century NFL offense! Amazing!

PS: I don't know if Mike McCarthy ever gets another NFL head coaching job. I think he'll get the Brian Billick/Mike Sherman treatment.

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Lare's picture

June 06, 2019 at 07:02 pm

Mike McCarthy was a very successful NFL head coach, if you don't believe that just ask him.

MM's problem is he didn't change with the times, he kept running the same old plays over and over again, year after year. His future as a HC depends on whether or not he can admit that and change accordingly.

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Bearmeat's picture

June 06, 2019 at 07:57 pm

Agreed 100%

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croatpackfan's picture

June 07, 2019 at 03:13 am

We will never know who was actually calling plays that did not worked - MM or Aaron Rodgers. So, blaming anybody (either MM or Aaron) because lack of knowledge looks very cheap...

Just saying...

Also, what is with Joe Philbin? Has he any responsibility over "bad" game plans?

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GB Pick 6's picture

June 07, 2019 at 05:55 am

How many times have we seen the Packers run the ball up the middle on 3rd and long? That seemed to be the most predictable play call for them over the years. I guarantee that wasn’t Rodgers, and that had been done for years before Philbin returned. The measure of success for a coach isn’t wins and loses, it’s championships. In 13 years McCarthy won 1 Super Bowl with a team that was arguably one of the 5 most talented each year. The only thing bigger than his stomach was his ego.

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DustyEvely's picture

June 07, 2019 at 11:23 pm

I'll disagree with you there. If you look at some of the stuff McCarthy was running over the past couple years, there's some fun concepts to look at. I think he got a little more creative - or felt a little more freedom to steal - after Rodgers went down. I've said it a thousand times: just looking at some of the concepts, McCarthy was adapting.
The issue was that there's more than just the concepts. There's putting the right players in those concepts. There's building. There's changing the speed with which you run the offense and the pre-snap looks you give while running some of the same plays. A lot of that was missing. His offense itself wasn't perfect, but he showed an ability to change. He just wasn't quite there, and I'm not convinced he would have been able to make the rest of that leap in Green Bay.

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Packers2019's picture

June 07, 2019 at 08:34 am

Bearmeat,

I tend to agree. If he does, I don't think he lasts 3 years somewhere.

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Adorabelle's picture

June 06, 2019 at 06:43 pm

The only thing I hope is they get the right players out there. LaFleurs team last season spent 5/6 of the season with a terrible offense and then figured out hey what if we gave the ball a lot to this guy and then suddenly they took off. Lets hope we don't have any of that here. This team has like 86 different receivers and 24 different tight ends to choose from and a couple running backs who have looked decent in small doses. Making the right starting decisions will be key.

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Lare's picture

June 06, 2019 at 07:01 pm

The Titans offensive problems last year stemmed from the fact that they had a QB with an injured throwing arm.

The Packers will have 1-3 WRs, 1-3 TEs and 1-3 RBs in on any given play. Depending on who they are and what the play is they should be able to keep opposing defenses guessing,

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IceBowl's picture

June 06, 2019 at 07:23 pm

Dusty,

I enjoy your breakdowns. Good info. But all teams have that info, as do you. They just deploy it differently.

I really think the (secret) best use of the offense is to use pre-snap movement. All the plays you have showcased are in play (and more to come I imagine) but rearranging the offense just before the snap does the most to confuse the D and give the called play the best chance of winning.

As you have shown, here and before, the same formation is best used multiple ways, and rearranging the formation, pre-snap, adds multiple layers of confusion.

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DustyEvely's picture

June 07, 2019 at 11:27 pm

Pre-snap movement and changing the tempo of the offense, for sure. The ability to run the same play and make it look like multiple plays is huge, and that can certainly be accomplished by motion, changing alignments and tempo. So much of what I look at from a personnel perspective is how you can exploit match-ups if you go no-huddle. Not that LaFleur needs to run the 90s Bills K-Gun offense or anything, but when you have your right pieces against their wrong pieces, are you willing to go up-tempo and exploit that.
My big piece in that is Aaron Jones. I love his receiving ability. If you can get a package that can go "spread" or power run and get Jones matched-up on a linebacker, up-tempo and motion can give you some absolutely lethal plays.

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GB Pick 6's picture

June 06, 2019 at 08:24 pm

Does anyone else picture McCarthy in his lazy boy, bean dip all over his gut, spitting out chips, saying why didn’t I think of that?

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IceBowl's picture

June 06, 2019 at 09:03 pm

No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

June 07, 2019 at 08:39 am

Man, that Texans D with the wide open middle reminds me of something. Just can’t put my finger on it, but I’ve seen it somewhere before.

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IceBowl's picture

June 07, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Doug_In_Sandpoint,

4th and 30???

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LambeauPlain's picture

June 08, 2019 at 10:03 am

This was a nice tutorial by Dusty on MLs strategy to show Ds a similar alignment presnap and run multiple plays out of it.

Increasingly MM was getting very predictable in alignments and likely play coming at the snap. And he was not very good identifying strengths of his team and run an O to maximize them.

ML showed last year in TN his ability to that. His passing game was running on fumes so he fed his RBs and just missed the playoffs.

MM was dedicated to his “chunk play” perimeter pass game even though he was staffed with many new receivers and poor pass blockers at G. I read he passed to the perimeter 44% of the time....next closest team did it 33%. However his run game was very productive and he used it just 30% of the time.

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