The Passing Chronicles: 2019 Week 16

Dusty breaks down some passing concepts in the Packers Week 16, NFC North clinching victory over the Vikings

The numbers for Aaron Rodgers aren't eye-popping: 26/40 (65%) for 216 yards (5.4 yards per attempt), 0 TDs and 1 INT for a QB Rating of 68.3. In fact, looking at them right now, they look pretty bad. But when I rewatched the game, I saw a quarterback who seemed to be in complete control. His accuracy was off on a few throws, but, for the most part, he was quick with his reads and decisive in his throws. He targeted Davante Adams a lot (16 targets, accounting for 40% of his throws) and he targeted the short area of the field, but that was all by design. The Vikings came into the game ranked 22nd at defending #1 wide receivers (per Football Outsiders), so Rodgers went to Adams early and often. He didn't take a ton of shots downfield, instead focusing on the true West Coast mindset: move the ball down the field with the short passing game.

Were it not for the turnovers in the first half, this game would not have been nearly as close as the final score indicated. The final numbers don't look great, but Rodgers carried out the gameplan extremely well. Let's dig into a handful of plays that I really liked.

Play 1: 2nd & 10, 0:52 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers trailing 6-10

I kicked off last week's article by talking a lot about the Mesh concept, and how the Packers had been looking to combine the LaVell Edwards Mesh with the Hal Mumme Mesh. They did that by cheating on some of the core concept in order to help stretch the field vertically a little more. This game saw the Packers going back-to-basics on a lot of their passing concepts. Last week saw the Packers running 4 variations of Mesh. On those, Aaron Rodgers [12] went 1/4 for 1 yard. This week saw them running Mesh once, and it was more along the lines of the traditional Mumme Mesh. Rodgers went 1/1 for 16 yards. 

You can see the core of the Mesh concept right there: two drags running against each other and a curl over the mesh point. Rodgers can look down the middle of the field and read the defenders at that mesh point. Depending on how they react, he can quickly decide whether he wants to throw to the drag running left, the drag running right or the curl over the top. 

On this play, Eric Wilson [50] sits in the middle. Because of that, Jimmy Graham [80] runs right by him and into open space. Rodgers sees it and quickly gets the ball out.

One quick note on the route from Graham:

Play 2: 3rd & 6, 12:47 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers trailing 9-10

The Packers ran this concept - or a variation of this concept - a handful of times this past week. It's a follow-slant concept. The basic idea is to have the inner-most slant clear room for the slant behind it. The Vikings are in a man coverage look, so Rodgers knows the defender over Geronimo Allison [81] will be running with Allison. That leaves Allen Lazard [13] to run the slant from the slot. He needs to beat his man to the inside to run the slant. 

Allison going in motion changes defensive coverage assignments a bit. After the shift, Trae Waynes [26] is lined up over Allison while Mackensie Alexander [20] is lined up over Lazard.

We've got the concept, we've got the assignments. You ready for something fun?

Rodgers wants to ensure Eric Wilson will not be in the middle of the field to fall under the follow-slant from Lazard. With it being 3rd & 6, Wilson could be looking to jump something short. So Rodgers starts the play by looking to his right, knowing full well he is never actually going to throw that way. Wilson clears and Rodgers immediately comes back to his left to throw the follow slant. Absolutely masterful.

The great Dan Orlovsky has another take on why Rodgers looks to his right on a similar play. And, to be fair, he's probably right, because he has played quarterback in the NFL and is very, very good at what he does.

I show this because it's something I always have in my mind: unless we are in the locker room and huddle, there's no way to know for sure. I am interpreting the movements of others, based on concepts and similar plays I've seen. 

But we can also say that both of us agree on this: Aaron Rodgers is still very good and very smart. What I am saying is that Dan Orlovsky and I are basically the same person and we should be best friends.

Play 3: 2nd & 11, 10:53 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers trailing 0-3

On the left side, we have Davante Adams running a slant under two go routes. Check out what that does to the defense. They rotate back under the go routes, leaving Adams matched-up on a linebacker with room to run in the middle. If the Vikings play man coverage, the boundary corner would have had to fight through the receivers/defenders on the go routes. Not ideal in either situation.

Rodgers hits the top of his drop and fires to Adams in-stride. Adams rumbles for 18 yards.

Play 4: 3rd & 3, 2:09 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers trailing 0-3

The Packers were targeting the middle of the field quite a bit in this game, riding that follow-slant concept to some easy yards. They were also working off of that concept.

We've got the familiar follow-slant look from the left. The Vikings play that, then the Packers run a screen with Aaron Jones [33] behind it.

The slants work as a natural rub for Eric Kendricks [54], who is working across the field to pick up Jones. It all works beautifully, until it doesn't. The throw is a tad high and Jones doesn't come down with it. 

As I've talked about a lot, we're looking at the process over the results. The process is great: work the middle of the field, then work a concept that works counter to that. The failed execution does not mean it's a bad play. It's a perfectly lovely play.

Play 5: 3rd & 8. 8:49 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers trailing 0-3

Smash fade! This falls incomplete, but I like the idea. More than the idea, I like what this shows. First things first: a quick refresher on the Smash Fade concept. Smash is a popular West Coast concept, featuring a corner route run over a short-breaking route (traditionally a curl route). Teams started jumping that, so in comes Smash Fade. It's the same general idea, but with the inside receiver now running a deep breaking route over the short-breaking route. Sometimes you'll get the fake to the corner route from the slot receiver to sell it, but sometimes you'll just have them running the straight fade down the field, which is what we have here.

Davante Adams is running the curl route from the outside while Allen Lazard is running the fade route from the slot. The Vikings have their safeties pulled up and Allison is running a crossing route from the left, which draws the attention of the safety. So what do we have? From that three-man look to the left, it gives Rodgers a two-man read, assuming the safety runs with Allison. If the boundary cornerback falls back under the fade from Lazard, throw the curl to Adams. If the boundary cornerback stays with Adams, Lazard is one-on-one with the slot cornerback down the field, fading away from the middle.

The boundary corner stays and Rodgers doesn't hesitate to throw to Lazard. They don't connect, so why do I love it?

Trust has been a huge talking point when it comes to Rodgers and his young receivers. Instead of trying to force something to Adams or hang too long in the pocket in the hopes that something else opens up, he trusts the system and his reads and fires at the top of his drop.

Lazard was targeted 9 times in this game, the highest number of targets in his career (his previous high was 6 targets in the Week 10 win over the Panthers). The numbers weren't there - Lazard finished with 5 catches for 45 yards - but Rodgers trusted his receiver to be where he was supposed to be and fired. To me, that shows a level of comfort and trust that has been missing at times.

Play 6: 3rd & 2, 4:17 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers trailing 9-10

I don't really have anything grand to say here: I just wanted to show a simple example of a play that the Packers were running all day. This one is just a quick curl to Adams on the outside. 

Rodgers hits the top of his drop and fires before Adams is out of his break. Quick. Simple. Effective. The Packers were killing the Vikings with quick-hitters all day. It has been a while since we've seen the offense look like this for an entire game, and I was absolutely thrilled to see it.


Albums listened to: Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler - This is Christmas; Sufjan Stevens - Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas

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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 (18)

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pacman's picture

December 26, 2019 at 03:46 pm

So did MLF save this move the chains plan for a big game late in the season or did it take him this long to get around to trying it? If he would just read this board, we could have saved him a lot of time!

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DustyEvely's picture

December 27, 2019 at 11:11 pm

I have a long, drawn-out theory that I won't totally get into here, but the basis is this: they had a string of games against inferior opponents that they kind of used as a testing ground. They were running advanced variations of concepts without running the core concepts. They were seeing what worked & gauging where they were with them in a gametime setting. They've got a good idea of it, so it's back to basics and only working in some of those variations in big moments. And now they know what they're most comfortable with.

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Packers2020's picture

December 26, 2019 at 04:35 pm

Thank you, Dusty!

For all those fans that rip on AR and say he is having a bad season, this proves he is not. He is working within the system.

Has AR lost some accuracy? Yes. Has he lost some arm strength? Yes. Is his release a tweak slower than it used to be? Yes, but he is still a top 5 QB.

Father Time always wins but AR is still a QB I want on my team on how he read defenses and understands the game.

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fastmoving's picture

December 27, 2019 at 07:10 am

not near the top 5...….. not even in the top 10.....
but hey, every fan of every team believes that.

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edp1959's picture

December 27, 2019 at 07:51 am

Your opinion, others say you are wrong.

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jlc1's picture

December 27, 2019 at 05:00 pm

Ok. Name the top 10 and however many more you think are ahead of Rodgers.

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Turophile's picture

December 26, 2019 at 04:57 pm

Loved the breakdown Dusty, especially I liked the Orlovsky clip you added that showed how fast Aaron was processing stuff.

I did wonder (before this was posted) whether Aaron was slowing down in his processing speed, on account of the cumulative effects of damage over the years (he has been sacked a lot in his career). Very pleased to the see that processing speed there.

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Bearmeat's picture

December 27, 2019 at 06:56 am

While watching the game, I thought to myself that this was the best offensive showing GB had put together all year - considering the quality of the opponent. I've looked at several film break downs now. It holds true. Without those turnovers, we blow those guys out. What was most encouraging to me was that we were moving the chains throughout the game. That's going to lead to more points in the long run. It's like hitting a lot of singles in MLB. Give me moving the chains all day over an occasional big play.

If we can get juuuust a touch more from the passing game and the defense can stay in the same ball park they have been in for the last month, we absolutely could grab Lombardi #5.

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PeteK's picture

December 26, 2019 at 05:33 pm

It looked like the offense of old especially in the second half against a tough D. We turned a few 1st downs when we were near our end zone which really helped win the field position battle.

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packergal's picture

December 26, 2019 at 05:41 pm

Thank you, Dusty!

I completely agree with your comment: "...The Packers were killing the Vikings with quick-hitters all day. It has been a while since we've seen the offense look like this for an entire game, and I was absolutely thrilled to see it"....

In fact, your Passing Chronicles is one of my favorite "reads", largely because you illustrate the route concepts and how close the Pack comes to executing the concepts or failing.

As a result when post Vikings game, people commented about how poorly Rodgers played, I asked myself : "Did they watch the same game I did"?

I thought that despite the drops by Lazard, Davante, Jones and Kumerow; and despite the final stats, this was Rodgers best game. He was quick, decisive and repeatedly on target.

If Rodgers plays like this and the Defense plays as well, Pack will go far!
GO PACK!

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 26, 2019 at 08:54 pm

He can execute any version of the WCO. The deep ball to Lazard is a TD if Alan takes the route to the outside
with the CB playing his inside. He will learn the quick move off the top of the route to free up and continue to be a factor in the playoff hunt. JAmes Jones type of guy when he puts it all together.

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Packer_Fan's picture

December 26, 2019 at 07:07 pm

I enjoy these articles very much, I like pass number 4. So close to making a big play. I am looking forward to seeing this play run more often.

I thought the offense was doing well. The turnovers and like pass number 4 failed execution took points off the board. It should have been 17 to 3 at half.

I think the Packers are peaking at the best time. Just a bit more for the offense. Need a win to get that bye week.

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ShooterMcGee's picture

December 26, 2019 at 07:28 pm

Once again a great article from Dusty. I learn so much from these. The offense looked very efficient despite the turnovers. Both Jones and Williams were finding running room while Rodgers was throwing the ball in rhythm. I'd like to see more production out of the tight ends, however, they do a great job run blocking, especially Mercedes Lewis. I'm not a big fan when they have a TE pass protecting 1 on 1 against a DE. This resulted in one of the sacks.

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ShooterMcGee's picture

December 26, 2019 at 07:34 pm

Also I loved how the introduced Tyler Ervin into the offense. His jet motion catch for 7 yards was sweet. I really liked him back when he was drafted by Houston and so happy he is a Packer. I hope there are plans to sign him for next year and beyond. Having a depth piece at rb who is our returner as well is great. Better than using a roster spot on a 7th wr who can only play special teams, ie Trevor Davis.

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DustyEvely's picture

December 27, 2019 at 11:13 pm

I was absolutely THRILLED to see Ervin out there. When they signed him, that's the kind of thing I was hoping he would be used for. Certainly hoping for a little more this week to see what they feel comfortable with heading into the playoffs.

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Lphill's picture

December 26, 2019 at 08:02 pm

Great job Dusty, I also understand why Rodgers let’s the clock get to 1 before the snap because he is watching the defense to figure out their next move, the quick slants and curls are all we need to convert those third and shorts, I felt that against the Vikings he was looking for long shots on first down then maybe a run in 2 Nd which was working pretty good, Rodgers said today after practice I don’t have to throw 40 t d’s to win we have a team.

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Alsupra's picture

December 26, 2019 at 11:54 pm

Love your chalkboard style explanations of pass plays and coverage! I only wish we got to see more of this during Broadcast replays. Networks use those expensive long lenses for great closeups, but never show much wide so fans can see and understand pass coverage. AR was terrific as a leader of the offense, taking what the defense was giving, good balance of run/pass. He an MLF are obviously on the same page, great game plan. Ball control like this wins championships! Time of possession was amazing. I even think AR looked a little like Starr, not glamorous but winning by leading the team to perform. GoPackGo!

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Philarod's picture

December 27, 2019 at 03:55 am

I won't say this was AR's best game of the season (Oakland, KC and even versus the Eagles come to mind for me) but he looked to be in synch with the game plan and he played much better than the stat line would indicate.

These articles are enjoyable, and educational football-wise.

I agree with another poster on Play #5, Lazard had great leverage to beat the d-back to the outside, and it could have been a 6 points there if he didn't turn to the inside.

Per Jimmy Graham, I just can't watch him anymore...what the heck was he doing?

Also, some of these quick-rhythm slants should lead to more YAC. Rodgers never gets much help from his guys there, other than Aaron Jones (we need more of those) out of the backfield on occasion, and once in a while Davante. Some of these need to break open!
Credit the Vikings also for tackling well.

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