Quality Control: Dagger in 2021

Dusty takes a look at how the Packers fared with the Dagger concept in 2021

After taking a one week break, we’re back! In our last piece, we looked at the Packers use of the Stick concept in 2021. Today we’ll be looking at Dagger. Where Stick is a three-step ball control concept, Dagger seeks to push the ball down the field a little more. In addition to that, it’s a concept that can work extremely well against defenses playing out of a two-high safety look; a look that is becoming more popular over the past couple of years.

Today, we’ll look at the core Dagger concept, then look at a few different ways the Packers ran it in 2021. Like we have with the rest of this series, we’ll only be looking at plays where Aaron Rodgers was the QB, as that more accurately reflects how they like to run it.

Dagger (9 dropbacks, 8.7 YPA, 2 explosives)

The core Dagger concept is pretty simple. It’s a two-man concept. The inside receiver runs a vertical route, while the outside receiver runs a dig route underneath. The idea is to push the safety down the field with the vertical route, then have the dig route break underneath and operate in all the space provided by the vertical.

As you may have guessed, the target on this concept is the dig receiver. However, the Packers didn’t hit that receiver very often on this concept in 2021. The most memorable play in this bunch is the first clip in the cut-up – the big completion to Davante Adams over Fred Warner in the Week 3 win over the 49ers – but the rest of the completions either went to a hot-adjusting receiver (the 2nd clip), late checkdowns, or in the flat of a backside concept (the last clip).

The incompletions are a mixed bag. With 4 incompletions on this core concept, it’s an extremely small sample size and there aren’t really any big takeaways. We have Rodgers looking to Adams as the isolated backside receiver and Adams not getting out of his break cleanly (clip 1), a 3rd & 12 where Rodgers takes a shot on the vertical option because a defender is sitting in the lane of the dig (clip 2), Rodgers double-clutching and forcing a ball to the dig late and into the teeth of the defense (clip 3) and the pass rush hitting home before the routes break (clip 4). 

As the core concept, 8.7 YPA and 2 explosive plays (22.2% explosive rating) is nothing to sneeze at, but I’ll bet we can do better.

Middle Read Dagger (16 dropbacks, 10.4 YPA, 5 explosives)

While Dagger is the core concept, the Middle Read variant is the Packers weapon of choice. They run it more often and have a higher YPA while running it.

If you have a decent grasp on Dagger, the Middle Read variant should be easy to understand. It all hinges on the vertical route. Instead of running down the field in a straight line like they do in Dagger, this version allows them to read the position of the safeties and adjust their route. If the defense is in a two-high look, the vertical route turns into a post and splits the safeties in the middle. If the defense is in a single-high look, the vertical route turns into a deep dig (or crossing) route, crossing in front of the safety.

It makes the concept more powerful. Instead of simply using the vertical route to clear space for the dig, the vertical route is now a weapon to attack the defense, and it can be effective regardless of the post-snap safety alignment.

These two clips do a good job of illustrating the different approaches. In the first clip, Randall Cobb is running the vertical route from the left slot against a two-high look. He bends the route to split the safeties, and Rodgers hits him in the middle of the field for a 25 yard gain on 3rd & 7.

In the second clip, Allen Lazard is running the vertical route from the left slot. The Bengals rotate their safeties post-snap, but are still showing a single-high look. Lazard runs a deep crossing route across the face of the safety. Lazard draws enough attention from the middle of the defense to open up room for Adams on the dig behind him. Packers pick up 15 yards on 3rd & 5.

In this next clip – the only TD off this concept in 2021 – the Steelers are playing a split-safety look, but the safety over Cobb is playing shallow and lurking right at the break point. Cobb doesn’t have room to split the middle, so he cuts hard across the face and Rodgers ends up finding him for a TD.

The Packers were absolutely lethal with this concept on 3rd down. When they dialed this up on 3rd down, they needed an average of 9.1 yards to convert, and they averaged 15.1 yards per play. That’s not the result of one big play skewing the results or anything, either. The Packers called this play 8 times on 3rd down in 2021, and they picked up enough to convert the 1st down 7 times. With this concept on 3rd down. Rodgers was 7/7 for 106 yards (15.1 YPA) and 1 TD for a perfect 158.3 QB Rating. It also produced 4 explosives in those 8 dropbacks, which is a pretty nice 50% explosive rating.

The only pass attempt that didn’t convert came on 3rd & 14 against the Bears, when the pass rush had Rodgers escaping the pocket as soon as he hit the top of his drop.

The one dropback that didn’t end with Rodgers throwing the ball saw him picking up 15 yards with his legs on 3rd & 11.

Cross Country Dagger (4 dropbacks, 13.3 YPA, 1 explosive)

We’ll end with Cross Country Dagger. It’s something that can look an awful lot like Middle Read Dagger against single-high, in that it revolves around the inside receiver running a deep crossing route, while the outside receiver runs a dig behind it.

The main difference is how that vertical route is run. In Middle Read, the initial route stem is vertical and straight down the field and the route adjusts at the top of the stem. In Cross Country, the route is a crossing route from the very first step; angled across the field and working horizontally across the field, while pushing vertically.

In the Air Raid system, you’ll find something that looks a lot like this tagged as Y-Cross:

It’s basically the same thing; just a matter of terminology and what the underneath routes are doing. In Y-Cross, the read goes:

  1. Backside receiver (X)
  2. Crosser (Y)
  3. Shallow receiver under crosser (H)
  4. Dig (Z)
  5. Checkdown (F)

The Packers do not run a straight Air Raid system and don’t want to get Aaron Rodgers killed, so they don’t always send out 5 receivers. As with most of these concepts, the read depends on what the defense is doing, both pre-snap and post-snap. On this concept, Rodgers’ first check is the isolated backside receiver. If he doesn’t like that match-up, he’ll rule it out pre-snap and never even look that way.

From there, he works the middle. He’ll start with the crossing route, then work back to the dig route if he doesn’t like the crosser.

That’ll do it for our look at the Packers use of Dagger in 2021. Hope you enjoyed this look as much as I did. I’m not entirely sure what concept we’ll be tackling next. If we’re following my super-sexy spreadsheet, we’ll be looking at either the Dragon concept or Mesh. Or maybe a detailed look at the Packers offense without Davante in the LaFleur era. Who knows!

So, ya know, get excited.

If you want to go back through the rest of our series so far, we have:

Deep dive into the Packers RPO game
A look at the mechanics of PA Boot and the key variations
How the Packers generated explosive passes in 2021
How the Packers may look to generate explosive passes in 2022
A few top TD concepts from the Packers in the High Red Zone
A few top TD concepts from the Packers in the Low Red Zone
A look at how the Packers ran the Stick concept in 2021

Albums listened to: Metric – Formentera; Leem of Earth – Leem of Earth; Massage – Still Life; The Heavy Heavy – Life and Life Only; Tim Heidecker – High School; Brian Fallon - Night Divine


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 (3)

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NickPerry's picture

July 14, 2022 at 06:08 am

Thanks Dusty...I always appreciate these extensive looks at these you provide for us! Awesome work!

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Since'61's picture

July 14, 2022 at 07:39 am

I second Nick’s post! Great work Dusty.
Thanks, Sunce’61

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PatrickGB's picture

July 14, 2022 at 10:20 am

Thanks for helping me understand the concept better.

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