Film Study: LaFleur's Playbook - Slant/Wheel

Last week we dug deep(ish) into the Smash and Mesh concepts, staples of West Coast/Air Raid offenses. This week we're going to dial it back a notch and just look at the play at hand. And oh what a play it is.

The first thing to note is the formation. The Titans are aligned in a Full House Pistol formation, which is something that makes me happy just typing it. They pull the TE on the left for a run block, then show play action to the RB. Those two movements - the pull block and the play action - help sell the run, which collapses the defense to the middle. 

Something else that helps collapse the defense to the middle are the two slant routes. You'll notice the depths of the slants are different, but that's for a very good reason: the goal on both of these is for the receiver to get up into the defender's kitchen before cutting. That push-up on the defender not only serves to put the defender on their heels: it also puts their focus on the receiver in front of them, forcing them to commit and not seeing anything else.

So we're looking at a tight formation with four different movements turning the focus of the defense to the inside. And then we have the wheel, which operates in the space on the edges.

You can see how the defense reacts to the play action and the blocking look from the backfield; collapse in on the middle, opening the edges. The big part of this is the wheel. It's tough to see exactly what is happening from this angle, so let's look at it another way.

Here is what the Chargers think they're seeing. The line is blocking down, while the tight ends kick out to the other side. From this angle, it's easier to understand how it affects the defense. Adrian Phillips [31] is looking to attack the running back, knowing it's very likely he'll need to deal with the block from Jonnu Smith [81] crossing under the formation. Desmond King [20] is looking at facing a block from Luke Stocker [88].

That's not what happens, though. Again, it's tough to see from the first angle, but you can see it here. Look at Stocker running the wheel. It's a subtle route and he sells it perfectly. He is slow to the outside, selling a block. Immediately before he is set to engage, he fires up the field, catching King flat-footed.

Here is the moment Stocker turns upfield. King is still looking to play the run.

King eventually recovers, but Stocker is already past him and wide open. By the time this screenshot was taken, Marcus Mariota [8] has already thrown to Corey Davis [84] on the slant from the left, but the ball is wide and ultimately falls incomplete. The action on the right works beautifully, though.

Why does it work? Matt LaFleur has talked a lot about the marriage of the running game and the passing game. This action works because the Titans show a power-run look and sell the run. When we think of play action, the consensus is that what makes it work is the defense looking at the running back and quarterback and getting pulled up by the fake. That's partially true, but different defenders have different reads. Desmond King is looking at the formation and the fake from Mariota, but he's also looking at the blocking. Stocker running at him and selling a block helps to sell the whole thing. King's mind moves to attacking the rush and taking on his blocker, when suddenly the blocker is past him.

What Could This Look Like in Green Bay

Look at me, going 22 personnel (2 running backs, 2 tight ends, 1 wide receiver). I swear it all makes sense in my head.

Running Backs: Aaron Jones [33] and a rare Danny Vitale [45] sighting. I'm going with Jones because he's the best running back on the roster, and I'm going with Vitale because I'm trying to sell the run action. Putting a fullback in your Full House look inside the 5 will get the defense looking to crash the run. On top of that, based on what he did in college, Vitale is a legitimate receiving option. That'll be important as we get into the variations.

Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham [80] and Jace Sternberger [87]. I expect to see Sternberger involved in the red zone package, so he fits perfectly here. As I said when the Packers drafted him, he hasn't shown himself to be a particularly good blocker, but he seems to be a willing one, and that's all I need. I need someone who shows that they're willing block and able to sell the block. Honestly, on this one particular play, Marcedes Lewis probably makes more sense, but I'm throwing in with Sternberger for his receiving ability. Graham was an easy inclusion in that he is a good red zone threat, but also has a lot of experience playing the receiver role. He's a big body with the ability to win a jump-ball. Since we're starting him isolated on the left, that's important. There's a decent chance a safety shades that direction, which takes him away from the wheel. That's what I want.

Wide Receiver: Davante Adams [17]. I've got him to the wheel side because it helps spring the wheel. Between looking for the run and the extra attention paid to Adams as a receiver, that helps give Sternberger the room he needs.

What Could the Packers Do With This

Variation 1

Same alignment, but the only route we're truly carrying over is the slant from Graham. Yes, we're carrying over the wheel as well, but it's wider. Let's talk about it, you and I.

We're still kind of operating under the same idea here: draw attention to the middle and attack the middle, while still creating enough space in the middle to be able to use it as a viable option. Instead of running a slant, Adams is running a skinny post, which creates enough room for the angle route underneath. Not only does it help create space, the angle route puts the linebacker in a bit of a dilemma: attack the angle from Jones or fall back under the skinny post of Adams? One look from the quarterback in one direction will tell him a lot about his possible options.

We've got Vitale releasing from the backfield and running a flat under the slant from Graham. Attacking the edges.

We're keeping the wheel for Sternberger, but we're running it wider. That keeps the skinny post from Adams from being too crowded, while still allowing us to attack the space on the edge.

Variation 2

Same formation, but we're changing up the routes and introducing some motion to the mix. The wheel stays, because I am a man of conviction and taste. I also decided to move the starting point out of the red zone, to show what could be done with a little more real estate.

Jones goes in motion to the slot and ends up running a drag, which runs counter to the angle route run by Vitale. So we've got a little mesh action going in the middle, while the drag/dig combo introduces the Drive concept to the mix. 

Without getting too deep into it, Drive is a West Coast concept, giving a high-low read for the quarterback. He can read both receivers with one look, while looking at either one of the receivers can influence the defense. Looking at the shallow drag route can help draw up the linebackers and open up the dig route, while looking at the dig route can help drop the linebackers back and open up the drag route.

So we've got all that action happening. We also have Graham running a corner route, which helps to clear out the middle. And then, of course, we have Sternberger on the wheel, behind the dig from Adams. This has some quick-hitting options, as well as some nice downfield options.

Variation 3

Here's the good stuff. This is a concept that showed up on my radar a couple years ago while watching the Rams run it, but it is reported to have been created by North Dakota State. It was run to free up Chase Morlock - their running back - so I have heard this concept dubbed the Chase Morlock Wheel. If we don't want to call it that, we can call it something like Seam Wheel. In the grand scheme of things, the name isn't overly important (although I suspect it would be important to Chase Morlock). It's one of my favorite recent concepts, so I'm thrilled to be able to work it in here.

The idea is a lot of fun. Generally speaking, wheel routes are run to the outside and up the sideline. This one shifts the wheel up the seam. The outside is cleared by Adams, while the inside is occupied by the route from Sternberger out of the backfield. The combination motion/flat route from Vitale draws the linebackers up and over. All that leads to a nice, free bit of real estate for Jones to work his way into. If you're curious about digging into this concept a little deeper, I wrote about it here.

This concept works really well when paired with a jet sweep fake. The motion from Vitale is not as dramatic as all that, but I still believe it would work well enough to get Jones into some free space on the wheel.

Albums listened to: Tim Heidecker - What the Brokenhearted Do; Middle Kids - New Songs for Old Problems; S. Carey - Hundred Acres; Eliza Hardy Jones - Because Become; Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight; Chad Lawson - The Piano


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].

6 points

Comments (10)

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freddisch's picture

June 20, 2019 at 04:33 pm

Dusty. Great work. Thoroughly enjoyed

2 points
Roadrunner23's picture

June 20, 2019 at 05:47 pm

Good job dusty, really in depth, love it

2 points
Bure9620's picture

June 20, 2019 at 07:55 pm

In the eloquent words of Jay Z, RP to the IzzO, E to The Izzeh, Not guilty, Y'all got to feel me.

0 points
IceBowl's picture

June 20, 2019 at 08:07 pm

I can watch these all day. But prefer them now. :-)

1 points
jeremyjjbrown's picture

June 20, 2019 at 10:21 pm


They could just run iso routes all the time, audible out of any runs and never throw over the middle?

2 points
Matt Gonzales's picture

June 21, 2019 at 08:52 am

What doesn’t get mentioned here, and really excites me, is these are all also legitimate running packages. If the defense anticipates the pass and drops back to try to fill the throwing lanes, a delayed handoff should net an easy 5. Or, on variations 2-3, the backfield motion sets up run blockers for a QB carry to the outside.

You could also easily put someone like MVS in one of the backfield slots, or even Adams, who can pull the stutter step once he hits the middle and go straight out for the long ball.

Awesome analysis, and I look forward to seeing it all in action with the Packers.

0 points
flackcatcher's picture

June 21, 2019 at 09:26 am

McCarthy ran some of same routes with Adams and he who shall not be named (88) during their run in 2016. (Giants at Packers playoff 2016) Of course it helped that QB1 wasn't checking out of every RPO in the last 8 games of that season. Like anything in football, it comes down to personal and execution.

0 points
Big_Mel_75's picture

June 21, 2019 at 10:08 am

I am so ready for this new offense on the field!! I get excited about Xs and Os I think this team is going to be tough this year.

0 points
Hannahrm's picture

June 23, 2019 at 07:28 am

I definitely want to learn more about plays and strategy, but I can’t understand your terminology. Can you either use more regular words or else provide a glossary? Or a source that will teach me the meanings?

0 points
DustyEvely's picture

June 23, 2019 at 10:01 pm

I can! Is there something in particular in this article that was confusing to you? I've always tried to keep my articles easy to read for people who don't know a ton, although I believe I've drifted away from that a bit as I've gone on, so I apologize for that.

Whenever I use specific scheme terminology, I try to put a little more explanation behind it, but it's possible I'm missing other areas. If you let me know where you're getting lost, I can explain that a bit here, and also try to get better about that in the future.

0 points