The Passing Chronicles: 2019 Divisional Round

You know what feels good? Writing about a Divisional Round win. The Packers showed a lot of fun stuff this past weekend from a passing perspective. A lot of concepts that may have looked familiar to ones we've seen all season, but with a slight twist to them. This was a tremendously fun week.

We're going to start out today with two plays that don't seem overly connected, but they kind of are. Let's go.

Play 1: 1st & 10, 15:00 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 7-3

We've got Jake Kumerow [16] on the jet sweep motion before the snap, then Aaron Rodgers [12] rolls out on his right on a bootleg. It's a two-man levels route, but the person to pay attention to here is Davante Adams [17]. He starts on the left side and runs under the line, releasing out the other side. Play action draws the boundary defender up-and-over, allowing Adams a free release. Defender is leaning, Adams is at full speed and the Packers pick up an easy 18 yards.

Play 2: 1st & 10, 14:24 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 7-3

Three man route, with two deep curls and a flat underneath to draw the defenders up. Adams is running a curl in the middle from a stack look. He fires up the middle and curls. Both safeties are sitting back and the defense has been drawn up by a combination of play action and looking to cover receivers out of the backfield. (One defender picks up Aaron Jones [33] while another is looking to pick up Robert Tonyan [85], but Tonyan never releases.)

Rodgers sees all the open space and fires to Adams over the middle. (Just take a quick second and pay attention to how quick Rodgers releases the ball.)

Both of these plays are fairly standard, so why am I bringing them up? Throughout this season, both of these routes - the release from under the line and the mid-curl - have been run by tight ends more often than not. The Packers aren't doing anything crazy here: they're just swapping personnel in terms of these routes. Out of those formations, they're not looking for Adams to run those routes, mainly because he hasn't done much of it this year. Just a tiny little wrinkle I really appreciated.

Play 3: 1st & 10, 13:45 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

You all have heard of the Mesh concept, right? I mean, it's not like I talk about it every week or anything.

The central concept of Mesh is to have dueling drags cross each other in the middle of the field. It forces the defense to react, and you can take advantage of some of the commotion. The Packers are using the threat of Mesh to try to open up a vertical-breaking route. I've seen them run this before, but they don't do it very often.

Geronimo Allison [81] is running a drag from the left while Jimmy Graham [80] is running a drag from the right. Instead of continuing across the field, they break off their routes as they reach the defenders. Graham pulls up on a curl while Allison drifts over the top. Seattle doesn't bite, but if they are caught switching on the coverage, this could have led to a big play. 

Like I said, we don't see this look often, but I'm always happy when it pops up.

Play 4: 1st & 10, 3:17 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 14-3

I don't have anything to say about the routes on this one - I didn't even draw them up - but I wanted to just take a minute and talk about Green Bay shifting a running back out wide. On this play, it's Tyler Ervin [32].

A lot has been made since the Kansas City game about how defenses have been covering the Packers running backs with defensive backs when they split out wide. That is absolutely, 100% true, but it doesn't mean that's the end.

Look at this play. Ervin starts in the backfield and sprints out wide-left for pre-snap motion. That forces the Seahawks to adjust quickly on coverage to that side. The cornerback on that side was originally lined up across from Jace Sternberger [87]. When Ervin motions wide, the cornerback follows Ervin to the boundary and motions for a linebacker to pick up Sternberger.

Ervin on a cornerback isn't really a mismatch, but Sternberger man-to-man with a linebacker could be. While the play ends with a Rodgers scramble, I'm sure this is something they noticed and will likely come back to. You have to create your mismatches where you can. If the defense has to account for the running back, it's likely a mismatch is opening up somewhere.

Play 5: 2nd & 6, 7:21 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 21-10

This play works off a concept you all should be very familiar with by now: play action bootleg. We have actually seen this variation this year, but they don't run it very often so defenses aren't exactly keying in on it.

The Packers do run play action bootleg a lot, though. The central idea is to use play action, then bootleg out to one side and have the receivers run in the same direction. In this case, it looks like Rodgers is rolling right, so the secondary rolls right with him, following the flow of the routes.

Instead of rolling, Rodgers pulls up and looks left. At that same time, Adams changes direction, breaking off the post route and running a corner. The defense has been flowing with the bootleg, so the Adams counter catches them off guard. Rodgers chucks it, Adams catches it with plenty of room, then switches direction back to the middle to pick up the touchdown after the catch.

It's a really nice shot play and follows the central rule we've been harping on all season. Set your tendencies. Run them into the ground. Get the defense leaning on those tendencies, then run something counter to it and hit something big. Really nice call here.

We're going to end with two plays from this past weekend. Both plays delivered huge on 3rd down.

Play 6: 3rd & 8, 12:51 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

Graham and Allison are in a stack look on the left, with Allison as the up-man. Allison runs a dig route, but really it's more of a clear-out. He pushes hard at the inside shoulder of his defender, helping to clear room for the drag from Graham. 

Let's talk about the concept itself for a second. The drag/dig pairing is the Drive concept, a West Coast Offense concept created by the late, great Bill Walsh. The idea is to put the middle of the defense in a bind. If the defense drops back on the dig route, hit the drag underneath it. If they pull up on the drag, hit the dig behind it.

I really like the release from both Graham and Allison here. Graham cuts tightly under Allison, making it tough to cover him on the drag. Rodgers sets and hits Graham on the drag for 13 yards and a 1st down.

This took place on the Packers first offensive possession. Picking up the 1st down allowed the offense to stay on the field, and they scored a touchdown 3 plays later to open the game 7-0.

Play 7: 3rd & 9, 2:00 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers leading 28-23

Up 5 at the 2 minute warning, the Packers need 9 yards to ice the game. So what do they do? Flip the play and run it back.

Allison and Graham are in a stack look on the right, with Allison as the up-man. Allison pushes hard at the inside shoulder of his man, driving him down the field. The release isn't quite as clean from Allison, forcing Graham to slightly adjust his angle. Because of that, the routes aren't quite as tight as they were the last time around, which allows Graham's defender to shoot the gap between the receivers and make the tackle directly after the catch.

Graham wasn't looking when Rodgers was initially ready to throw it, so he briefly pulls it down before hitting Graham across the field. Rodgers gets the ball away just before he gets hit.

Same general idea - clear room for the drag - on two big 3rd downs. One helped to open the game with the Packers on top, and the other one ended the game. 

I was lucky enough to be able to attend this game in person. It was my first ever playoff game, and it did not disappoint. In addition to the game itself, I got to meet up with Andy Herman, Maggie Loney, Peter Bukowski, Jersey Al, Fred Thurston, Sanjay Murthy, Andrew Mertig, CD Angeli, and more! I didn't get pictures with everyone, but I had an absolute blast meeting up with every single person. 

I've always heard that the atmosphere is different in the playoffs, and it really was. I showed up early, left late, and still felt like I didn't spend enough time.

I have some more stuff running around out there this week as well. I recorded a video for the Cheesehead TV channel on the first Davante Adams touchdown: a variation of the familiar slant/flat concept.

I also put up a thread on Twitter of a bunch of passing concepts I didn't end up writing about here. Not as much depth as I do here, but still a lot of fun.

Albums listened to: Poppy - I Disagree; The Big Moon - Walking Like We Do; Alexandra Savior - The Archer; Postcards - The Good Soldier; Billie Eilish - Live at Third Man Records; Ben Featherstone - Prisoner to the Wind; Microwave - Death is a Warm Blanket


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].

8 points

Comments (11)

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ShooterMcGee's picture

January 16, 2020 at 04:03 pm

This may be the best thing going here on Cheeseheadtv. Thanks Dusty for all your work and insight into the Packers passing game.

10 points
Lphill's picture

January 16, 2020 at 05:42 pm

Packers might just catch the 49 ers sleeping.

2 points
PeteK's picture

January 16, 2020 at 07:31 pm

Excellent film work, it's like being in a team meeting reviewing the game. I think we can handle the Niner offense ,but beating the defense will be a challenge.

4 points
Sol's picture

January 16, 2020 at 07:32 pm

Dusty thank for all your wonderful insight. Made me think of my playing days. Any time you can get the guy guarding you to cross his legs while trying to guard you, Your automatically open by cutting hard and going the other way. Works in football, basketball, soccer and maybe not baseball. Basically any sport were a goal is being defended. That is one of the things Richard Sherman does very well, even though he is now an older vet and definitely lost a step he almost never crosses his legs until he is sure the direction the receiver is going. He is all about long arms and redirection, once you know that he can be exploited for lack of speed with plays designed to take advantage of that. I sure our fearless leader Matt L. is already dreaming something up to take advantage of this.

Go Pack

3 points
Bearmeat's picture

January 16, 2020 at 10:28 pm

Dusty. Thanks for all the hard work this past year. I've learned a lot reading your columns. I was also at the game and agree with your assessment. First playoff game and vibe was completely different. So much fun!

4 points
Philarod's picture

January 17, 2020 at 04:45 am

Great work, Dusty.
The dilemma in play design, I guess is:
a. Do you go with your bread-and-butter
b. Vary things, so that you're not overly predictable.

Of course, neither of these is an absolute philosophy, but which approach do you lean to?

I don't think the Packers have the personnel advantage to just say, "You and I both know what we're doing, but I dare you to stop it. ". As we all know, they still need more speed and talent to have a consistently high-performing offense.

What's encouraging is that MLF and company seem to be designing better plays now, as they have a better feel for what they can reasonably do. I think that we need a lot of different looks to beat SF, and as this analysis shows, we have to win the chess game of creating space and mismatches with motion, misdirection and newish wrinkles.

2 points
jlc1's picture

January 17, 2020 at 07:21 am

More fantastic analysis, thanks. On the route with Sternberger covered by a linebacker it looked to me like he in fact, on that call, was an option for Rodgers but never got open. Not sure how many times in the season that has happened, that he has a favorable matchup but can't take advantage of it.

0 points
ILPackerBacker's picture

January 17, 2020 at 12:21 pm

Can not agree more with the descriptions of your work and thanks for your effort Dusty!

0 points
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