The Passing Chronicles: 2019 Week 5

Dusty breaks down some passing plays the Packers used in their Week 5 victory over the Dallas Cowboys

It may be strange to say about a game where we saw Aaron Rodgers complete 64.7% of his passes for less than 250 yards and precisely zero touchdowns, but I was pretty excited by what we saw from the passing game against Dallas this past weekend. There is still room for improvement, but we're starting to see the playbook open up a bit more every week. Beyond that, we're starting to see LaFleur dial up some counters to things he has already shown this year. Purely from an interest in seeing the evolution of the passing offense, this week was a ton of fun and gives us a lot of dream on in terms of what else we may see this season.

One of those counters we saw was working behind the Vitale Vertical routes we've seen - now officially dubbed The Cheese Wheel - and I wrote about it earlier this week on this very website. You can check that out here. It's really exciting.

Play 1: 1st & 10, 5:07 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 24-3

I generally post these plays in order of when they happened in the game, but I was entirely too excited about this play so I wanted to make sure it was the first thing you all saw.

This builds off a look the Packers have given a lot of times already this year. Have the line block to the right and bring the tight end under the line to block the backside. In a run situation the tight end will block, while in a play action situation Aaron Rodgers [12] will bootleg to the left and the tight end will leak into the flat. 

What the offensive line does so well here is sell the run. David Bakhtiari [69] and Elgton Jenkins [74] release late to block for the screen, but the entire line really sells the stretch run to the right. You can see how the defense flows to pick that up. For his part, Marcedes Lewis [89] does a good job selling the block by pulling up at the end of the line briefly before turning around for the pass.

A couple Cowboys defenders see the screen starting to take shape, but Bakhtiari makes sure it doesn't become a problem.

Great job selling the run by the line and great execution led to a 15 yard gain.

Play 2: 3rd & 2, 2:25 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 14-0

This is one of my favorite passing concepts inside the 5 yard line. As the offense gets closer to the end zone, the field shrinks, making it more difficult to find open room. This is a concept that helps create some space.

Geronimo Allison [81] is aligned on the outside with Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83] in the slot. There are two defenders on that side and they're playing with their feet square to the receiver. That typically indicates man coverage, which is perfect for the natural rub created by this concept.

At the snap, Valdes-Scantling fires up the field while Allison runs a slant underneath. This creates a barrier that Allison's man can't run through and makes a nice, open lane for Allison to run to the end zone after making the catch.

On this play, Robert Quinn [58] comes screaming off the edge and jumps in the path off the pass, knocking it away. That prevents this play from being a touchdown, but it's still a nice concept. 

Play 3: 1st & 10, 0:40 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 17-0

When the Air Raid system comes up, I believe the first play to pop into people's minds is Four Verticals. Hal Mumme & Mike Leach simply called it "6". Why? Because every time they ran it, they believed they would score a touchdown and put 6 points on the board.

But Four Verticals - or Four Verts - is more than just sending everyone deep, stretching the defense vertically and chucking the ball down the field. At its core, Four Verts is simple, but it requires the quarterback and the receivers to see the same thing in the defense and react the same way. There are a lot of options on these routes, depending on a number of different factors: safety depth, linebacker depth, cornerback leverage, etc. When run well, Four Verts puts stress on all areas of the field. It's beautiful.

None of that has much to do with this specific play, of course, but if I see Four Verts I'm going to talk about Four Verts. I'm a simple man, you understand.

On this play, Four Verts creates a breakdown in coverage. The Packers send 4 receivers deep against Cover 3. The single high safety is looking to the right while a receiver breaks free up the left seam.

Unfortunately, pressure hits and forces Rodgers out of the pocket to the opposite side of the field before he can complete his progression. By the time Rodgers has broken contain, the safety is closing on the seam route and forces the idea of even attempting that throw out of Rodgers' head. 

Just because it didn't work here doesn't mean it's a bad idea. 

Play 4: 3rd & 4, 11:54 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 17-0

I absolutely love this. The Packers split Aaron Jones [33] out wide and Jaylon Smith [54] follows him. This does a couple different things:

1. It gets Jones matched-up on a linebacker.
2. It tells Rodgers that the Cowboys are in man coverage.

Let's tackle #1 first. Smith is a very good linebacker, but Jones is a fast and shifty running back. Running a slant from the outside gives Jones a lot of field to work with, and it allows him to get separation from Smith as he gets closer to the quarterback. Also, the crossing route off the end of the line helps to clear out the middle of the field into the zone Jones is running.

Now for #2. Jones is running his slant under a vertical pushing route from the slot. Knowing the Cowboys are in man coverage means knowing the vertical pushing route will work as an obstacle for Smith to deal with. He'll either have to go underneath and allow Jones to get even more separation, or work over the top and allow Jones to be able to catch the ball with plenty of room to move. 

This gives Rodgers a clear read: if no one drops off the line and under the route, he knows he'll have Jones open on the slant. 

No one drops under the slant and Smith has to go over the rub route. Jones juggles the pass a bit, but he has plenty of room to secure it and get up the field. A simple pitch-and-catch leads to 12 yards and a 1st down. 

Play 5: 2nd & 10, 11:05 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 17-0

As I mentioned at the top, earlier this week I wrote about how the Packers are using the threat of Danny Vitale vertical routes to create space underneath. This works off of that same idea; show a vertical-pushing route you've shown before, push the defense downfield then throw underneath into the space created by that.

In this case, it's a post-wheel concept. It's something we've seen from the Packers before and it's always something I get irrationally excited about. Or maybe it is actually rational, because it's a fun concept.

The concept itself is simple: run a post route from the outside and a wheel route underneath it. Depending on where the wheel releases from, you could get a tight end or running back matched-up man-to-man with a linebacker, as the post route removes safety help over the top. Or, if you really run it in a perfect situation, the wheel route could be wide open.

Matt LaFleur has shown the post wheel concept before. The Packers have shown the post wheel concept before. They show it here. And, much like the plays off The Cheese Wheel, the Cowboys react exactly as the Packers want them to react. The Cowboys defenders carry both routes up the field, which clears out the left side of the field. The Packers have a nice screen pass set up underneath. And, while the blocks can't quite get out in front the way they should, Jones is slippery enough to pick up 8 yards.

Threaten down the field to open up concepts underneath. When the defense starts crashing the short stuff, hit them over the top.

Play 6: 3rd & 2, 10:17 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 17-0

I have talked at length about the Mesh concept. Have I talked about it too much? Dear Reader, I have not, because Mesh is perfect.

I'm not going to get into the history again, because we've certainly gone through that enough. I will show the core concept again, though, because it's important. (If you want to read a little more about the Mesh concept, I did a decent amount of writing about it here.)

Mesh hinges around the "Mesh" of the two receivers running dueling drags in the middle of the field. The idea of running the receiver on a curl over the top of the mesh point is to work a receiver into the space created by that action. Against man coverage, the mesh creates a natural rub and more than a bit of chaos in the middle of the field. Against zone, you'll see linebackers dropping wide to pick up their assignment on the other side of the mesh. Both of those actions can create space behind the mesh point to work with.

On this place, we get a little bit more. The deep crosser from Geronimo Allison [81] further helps to clear out the middle, while Darrius Shepherd [10] follows the crosser from Allison and curls over the mesh point. 

On this play, Allison gets a good angle on his defender and room is cleared underneath by the defense paying attention to Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83] on the mesh, so Rodgers connects with Allison for a 22 yard gain.

I don't think we've seen the last of this concept.


Albums listened to: Danny Brown - uknowwhatimsayin?; Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen, Wilco - Ode to Joy; Chromatics - Closer to Grey

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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 (7)

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pacman's picture

October 10, 2019 at 04:28 pm

Can you tell me why Allison runs to the left in the first example? That leads his man right into the screen. Did he forget to turn around and block?

Also, another great week to show examples of how/why nothing worked in the Q4.

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Dusty Evely's picture

October 10, 2019 at 11:53 pm

As to why Allison was running to the left: the Packers have done a lot of the original concept this year. Play action to the right, bootleg to the left with the receivers running a levels concept. So you'll have three receivers hitting the left side of the field, parallel to the line of scrimmage: one deep, one medium, one in the flat. Sometimes a follow route to the flat, but not always. It's imperative that this look the exact same as that concept initially, so Allison is running that mid-crosser. It leads him into the path of the screen, but it needs to be to sell the original concept. Allison kind of drifts downfield and isn't in a great spot to turn around and block by the time Lewis finally gets the ball. Not sure if that's designed or not. Seems like he should stay in front of his man in order to be in a spot to block.

As for your other question, some of that has to do with run/pass ratio, specifically on the early downs. They started out pass-heavy on 1st down but were trending to run more on 1st as the game went on. That makes sense, particularly in the 4th quarter: they're up by a lot and just trying to run the clock out. I don't love it, but it definitely puts the Cowboys in a bind. The 4th quarter saw them running their fewest total plays in a quarter, and definitely the fewest passes. Here are their attempts by down in the 4th quarter:
1st down: 5 runs, 1 pass
2nd down: 3 runs, 1 pass
3rd down: 0 runs, 2 passes

4 total passes in the 4th quarter. I could look into it a bit more, but, in this game where they were up big, the 4th quarter just kinds of screams of a team that wanted to run time off the clock and get home. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I can understand why they would do it.

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Turophile's picture

October 10, 2019 at 07:05 pm

Love seeing you explain the concepts as always, Dusty. I also like the enthusiasm.

On a completely different note, I recommend two albums for you to listen to. One is the very first, self-titled 'Hawkwind' album. The other is Tangerine Dream's 'Stratosfear'. Both are 70's (1970 and 1976) and both are strong all through the album. Now you have something to groove to, when you analyse the tape.

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Dusty Evely's picture

October 10, 2019 at 11:58 pm

Thanks man! Much appreciated.

I know a bit of Hawkwind and I'm familiar with Tangerine Dream through The Exorcist, but I don't know that I've ever listened to a full album. I'll give them a listen in the next couple weeks. Thanks for the recommendations!

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ShooterMcGee's picture

October 11, 2019 at 01:01 am

I really loved the Mercedes screen pass while watching the game live. It demonstrates how Lafleur can utilize all of his players which puts a lot of stress on the defense. We need to incorporate the young receivers into the offense as well to reach full potential. Thanks for the great work Dusty!

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Daren726's picture

October 11, 2019 at 05:52 am

Great work. Yes, with Davante our, we should start to see a lot of plays to the younger receivers. I’m looking forward to when Kumerow and Shepherd have lots of targets in addition to MVS and Geronimo. Can’t wait to see who emerges.

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LambeauPlain's picture

October 11, 2019 at 10:36 am

Nice article Dusty .

Simple complexity, as coach Matt likes to call it. Show defenses similar alignments then run multiple options out of them.

The screen to Lewis was an example of this. I am hoping Coach Matt sees Lewis as a secret weapon going forward.

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