The Passing Chronicles: 2020 Divisional Round

Dusty breaks down some passing concepts int he Packers Divisional Round victory over the Rams

After taking an opportunity last week to look ahead to the Rams, I'm back at it this week talking about what the Packers did on offense in their Divisional Round victory.

A Divisional Round victory! In Lambeau! Setting up the NFC Championship Game in Lambeau! It's all so exciting, man. 

So today, let's dig into 8 plays from the Packers win over the #1 ranked defense of the Rams. It was a good week, so let's dig right in. (If you're interested in the touchdown to Allen Lazard - and I know you are - I wrote about that play and how the Packers set it up right here.)

Play 1: 3rd & 7, 9:54 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

I wanted to start off with this play from the Packers first drive. I'll apologize in advance for the abrupt start of this play. You see, Aaron Rodgers [12] decided to snap the ball before the All 22 camera operator was ready to start filming the play. Pretty rude if you ask me.

Of course, the play was snapped quickly to catch the defense with 12 men on the field (which they did). But there's a larger point I want to bring up in this: even if you don't catch the defense trying to sub someone out, snapping the ball quickly can catch the defense off-guard, causing them to simplify their defense and also cause some miscommunications. You are dictating the speed of the game, and they may not always be ready to react.

This play is a good example. The defense falls into their shell - looks like Quarter Quarter Half, more commonly called Cover 6 - with zone underneath. The defenders seems out-of-sorts from the jump, with two dropping into the flat and one spot-dropping to the middle.

The defense is so concerned with just getting to their spots that they're late dianosing the play.

The Packers send two routes deep up the boundary and Equanimeous St. Brown [19] right up the middle. With the boundary routes drawing the defense wide and the linebacker not able to recognize the route of St. Brown in time to carry him up the field, it's a relatively easy throw for Rodgers.

This angle allows us to see a little earlier in the play. Not only can you see Rodgers looking at the man trying to get off the field, but you can also see just how discombobulated the Rams defense is as the ball is snapped. Everyone is running around and desperately trying to communicate where they should be lined up.

The other fun thing about this play is watching Rodgers throw. I said it was a relatively easy throw, but that's because St. Brown was so open. Rodgers has his feet pointing to the left, sees St. Brown late and is able to generate enough torque with his hips to drive the ball downfield.

Play 2: 1st & 10, 2:32 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 3-3

We've covered PA Boot here a lot, so I don't want to take a ton of time with this one. I just wanted to show how the Rams were looking to defend it.

The general mechanics are the same we've seen a lot of this year. Play action one way, bootleg the other to find 2-3 routes running parallel to the bootleg on different levels. The Packers will usually bring a receiver under the line and releasing into the flat on the boot side. On this play, they release Robert Tonyan [85] into the flat after initially blocking on the bootleg side. 

The Rams were not content with letting Rodgers roll out freely. That's not really a surprise: we've seen them defend this play like this in the past. The defensive end reads it immediately and crashes off the end, closing fast on Rodgers as soon as Rodgers turns.

There's no panic. Rodgers sees Tonyan and gets the ball out quickly.

Play 3: 1st & 10, 1:20 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 3-3

I really like this one. We have 2 routes parallel to the movement of the quarterback, but the mesh point of quarterback and running back looks more read-option than true handoff. It allows Rodgers to keep his eyes up. Against a team that likes to disguise things post-snap while the QB's back is turned on play action, this is a good way to use play action while not allowing the defense to change the picture while your back is turned.

In addition to that, we've got a wheel off jet motion. It's jet wheel under a post with the quarterback rolling after a fake give to the running back.

Jalen Ramsey [20] passes off the post nicely, allowing him to fall back under the wheel from Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83]. Rodgers sees the coverage and also has Leonard Floyd [58] crashing down on him, so he takes the throw to Tonyan for 9 yards.

Floyd does a good job defending this, too. Slides off the edge to attack if it is a handoff, then drifts under Tonyan in the flat to pass-off to the next defender. When that's done, he closes on Rodgers. Nicely done by Floyd, but this is tough to defend.

Oh, and of course, the play ends with Tonyan just putting his head down and running someone over. 

Play 4: 3rd & 1, 11:40 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers tied 3-3

Just a little fun against man coverage at the goal line. Adams goes in motion before the snap and Ramsey follows, signaling man coverage. He motions back across the line quickly before the snap, to the right. Allen Lazard [13] is functioning as the in-line TE on that side, Valdes-Scantling is in a condensed split and Jamaal Williams is aligned on that side out of shotgun. 

All of those bodies means there are more defenders to that side. Normally the defense would be spaced out a little more, but they don't have that luxury in the confines of the low red zone. As a result, they're stacked on top of each other. So, while Adams can motion under the formation in a straight line, Ramsey has to run over the top of those stacked defenders.

It looks like Ramsey is expecting that second line of defenders to step back, which would give him a clearer path. They don't, which means he is forced to add depth to his pursuit, which gives him no chance to pick up Adams.

Nice job of the Packers to use the condensed area of the red zone to their advantage.

Play 5: 2nd & 9, 8:50 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 10-3

This play is just one that led me to wonder if we would have seen this from Rodgers last year.

The Rams are showing a Quarters look pre-snap, which would leave the middle of the field open. On the left, the Packers have Adams running a post over a curl from Tonyan. On the right, Valdes-Scantling is running a go route on the outside while Lazard runs a drag underneath. Finally, Jones releases as a checkdown out of the backfield.

After the snap, the defender over Tonyan bites down on the curl route, showing the Rams in a kind of Quarter Robber look (with the defender crashing on the curl as the Robber). The other three defenders still appear to be in Quarters, with the deepest safety on the field staying in his zone and not drifting back as the single-high.

That leaves a window to fit the ball to Adams. It's not a huge window - the ball would have to be in the air for a while and the defender would have a chance to track it down in the air - but there is a window. Last year, maybe he holds onto it for another beat, waiting to see what the defender does in that time, then chuck it over the top. Or, if pressure is breaking through at that point, break the pocket and throw it away.

This year? With the way the coverage has shifted, he knows he has Jones open in space on the checkdown. Instead of waiting to see if it opens up, he takes the easy throw to Jones, who picks up 14 yards. 

Now, that's not to say that Rodgers never checked the ball down last year, because he absolutely did. But he's more willing to take it this year, and he's quicker to make that decision as well. Get the ball out, pick up what you can, and live to fight another down. I absolutely love it.

Play 6: 3rd & 6, 0:52 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 25-18

Every offense needs some bread-and-butter plays. When you absolutely need a few yards, what concepts are you relying on? Something you could run in your sleep if you have to? 

The Packers have a few of those. One of those is running a shallow crosser out of a bunch look. The two inner-most receivers in the bunch will push out at the snap to clear room, while the outer-most man in the bunch will release under on a crossing route. It has been tremendously effective for them this year.

And here they are, facing 3rd & 6, leading by 7 near the end of the 3rd quarter. So they roll out bunch, looking to spring Lazard on the crossing route.

Based on the defensive alignment, there are three possible ways the Rams could defend this:

1. They're in man coverage, so the boundary defender has to run through the initial routes and track down Lazard across the field.
2. They're in zone coverage, which would see the rolled-down safety (John Johnson [43]) picking up Lazard after the break.
3. The defender mugging at the line drops back from his spot at the line into a shallow zone.

In option 1, Lazard springs open because the boundary defender won't be able to fight through the traffic in time.

In option 2, Lazard will have a head of steam across the field and will be picked up by a defender who isn't the strongest coverage defender.

In option 3, Rodgers would be forced to hold onto the ball until Lazard clears. If the linebacker is able to run with Lazard, that becomes an even longer wait.

It is option 2. The Rams are in zone and the mugging LB is drawn up to the line, leaving Lazard alone with Johnson. Lazard pushes up to drive him further downfield, then cuts on the drag. 

Nice route by Lazard to create space. Rodgers puts it on him and the Packers pick up 9 yards and the 1st down.

Play 7: 2nd & 14, 6:16 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 10-3

Now we're going to revisit an old friend: All-Go HB Seam. This is a concept I've been tracking for a while, and you've certainly seen it in this space before. It's a really fun concept that can stress a defense horizontally and vertically. 

The clip above is how we've seen the Packers run it a lot this year. Have one receiver occupy the boundary, another the middle, then shoot a running back up the seam between them. They generally run it with jet motion. The motion man will stay in the flat as the underneath option (and also to help try to pull defenders up and open up a throw down the field). More often than not the routes downfield are covered up, so they take the throw to the flat.

They also typically have a slant or an out route attached to the backside of the play, though they rarely throw that. 

Rarely, but not never. The defense is shading to the field side, leaving Adams on an island against Ramsey on the backside of the play. Rodgers checks the linebacker in the middle, sees he's not buzzing under Adams, then fires the slant.

I love watching the footwork. Just watch how smooth that transition is. Start straight back to read the defense and not give anything away, then transition over to the slant, set and fire. 

Mesmerizing.

Play 8: 1st & 10, 0:10 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 25-18

We're going to end with the exact same thing. Packers running All-Go HB Seam. Rodgers in shotgun, flanked by Jones and AJ Dillon [28]. 

Adams is isolated at the top. With the linebackers shifting away from that side, all Adams has to do is win on the slant.

The play is the same, but the footwork is different. Instead of that smooth fade over to the slant, Rodgers steps as if he's going to fire to his left, then comes back to the right on a hop on the last step. Hits that foot and fires.

You can really see how that movement influences Troy Reeder [51] in the middle of the field. It's not just his feet: Rodgers shoulders are turned as if he's going to fire to his left the entire time.

It also messes with Aaron Donald [99] on the throw side. Donald tries to knock the ball down late, but he's too late to rise up because Rodgers doesn't look like he's throwing to the right.

Terrific work.


Albums listened to: Rose Blossom Punch - Ephemere; Maggie Rogers - Heard It In a Past Life; Autolux - Future Perfect; M83 - Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts; Charli XCX - How I'm Feeling Now; Johnny Cash - Johnny Cash & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Casper Clausen - Better Way; Pearl Charles - Magic Mirror; Stephen Malkmus - Traditional Techniques

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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 (5)

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Nordom's picture

January 20, 2021 at 10:51 pm

Watching plays 7 and 8 back-to-back was confusing because they look so similar, down to the linebacker initially going the opposite way and then coming back just to get cut up by Adams in the exact same manner - thought for a moment that you accidentally posted the same video twice.

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PatrickGB's picture

January 21, 2021 at 10:33 am

Different plays out of formations that look the same.

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CoachDino's picture

January 20, 2021 at 04:00 pm

You the man Dusty!!

I hope Jordan Love is watching closely and learning. AR is masterful running this offense. He is so calm to your point. Looking down field then quickly hitting his check down.

Really impressed with hitting the short man on the bootlegs quickly and taking those 5-9 yards on a consistent basis.

ML is really going to miss AR some day. Who else is going to run these thing like him...Soo Sick...

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Minniman's picture

January 20, 2021 at 04:14 pm

Fantastic work Dusty (as usual).

This is such a balanced Offense.

I truly feel that only errors and penalties will derail the Packers this week.

If they execute well, they win.

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tonys247's picture

January 21, 2021 at 10:40 am

Watch Packers vs. Buccaneers Game Live Online :2021 NFL Conference Championship

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The opponent? Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who won six Super Bowls with New England and has a chance to win a seventh for his new team.

One day after the Packers mostly dominated the Los Angeles Rams in a 32-18 victory, the Buccaneers punished the New Orleans Saints 30-20 at the Superdome. The same swarming defense that made life miserable for Rodgers and Co. in October produced four takeaways and made Drew Brees look like an old man.

That set up a made-for-TV showdown between two living legends. Rodgers and Brady will meet for only the fourth time in their illustrious careers. It will be by far the most important, with Green Bays infamous loss at Seattle in the 2014 NFC Championship Game robbing the world of a Rodgers vs. Brady matchup in the Super Bowl. Rodgers desperately wants to win a second Super Bowl. Brady desperately wants to win a Super Bowl without Bill Belichick.

We ve got to go beat a great football team. Aarons playing incredible. Were going to have to play great to beat them,” Brady told Foxs Erin Andrews after the game.

The early forecast for Sunday is a high of 23 with a chance of snow.

While they never would have admitted it, the Packers probably would have preferred a matchup against Brees and the Saints. Never mind that Green Bay won at New Orleans 37-30 in Week 3 but lost at Tampa Bay 38-10 in Week 6. Brees, who has spent all 20 seasons playing in the warmth of San Diego or the dome in New Orleans, played in only one game with a kickoff temperature of 25 or colder. Brady, meanwhile, is a resounding 15-3.

Almost exactly three months ago, the Packers were outclassed by the Bucs. Coming off its bye, Green Bay raced to a 10-0 lead but Rodgers threw a pick-six and an interception on back-to-back possessions. The Packers never crossed midfield over the final three quarters. They had nine first downs on their first two possessions and four in their final 10.

Might need to add an extra finger to the scotch, but I do feel good about the team,” Rodgers said after a miserable afternoon. Ive played for so long, youre going to have a couple stinkers. I think about the game at New York many years ago [2012] where I hit Jordy (Nelson) on an out-and-up to start the game, and we lost 38-10. Tonight kind of felt like that, unfortunately, where you kind of got off to a nice start and then just nothing. So, I feel really good about our squad. Weve had four really, really good weeks, being efficient, winning, offensively being very explosive, defensively coming up with timely stops.

This is, I believe, an anomaly, not the beginning of a trend. And weve got a chance to prove me right next week.”

Rodgers was proven right again and again. The Packers will enter Sundays championship game with seven consecutive wins.

In a heavyweight showdown on Saturday, Green Bays top-ranked scoring offense overwhelmed the Rams top-ranked scoring defense. It will be a similar challenge on Sunday.

Brees was 19-of-34 passing for just 134 yards. Premier receiver Michael Thomas was shut out on four targets.

Rodgers, of course, is a far better player than Brees at this point in his career. Hes the likely MVP after throwing 48 touchdown passes in the regular season and two more in the playoffs. He led the NFL in passer rating, touchdown passes, completion percentage, touchdown percentage and interception percentage.

Tampa Bays defense is legit. The Bucs finished eighth in points allowed and first against the run with 80.6 yards per game and 3.60 yards per carry. Linebacker Devin White, who had 11 tackles and one interception against the Saints, had 10 tackles, one sack and three tackles for losses against Green Bay. The Bucs had five sacks in the first meeting.

While the reality is it will be Rodgers facing that dominant defense and Green Bays defense contending with the legendary Brady and his deep list of weapons, the hype will be centered on Rodgers vs. Brady – arguably the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

When it comes to big picture and you guys writing your stories and telling that whole story, which I know is a part of it, its two older guys,” Rodgers said before the Week 6 game. Hes a little bit older than I am – hes got me by about six-and-a-half or seven years – but we havent played a lot because hes been in the AFC the majority of his career and Ive been over here.

Hes obviously done it at the highest of levels for so long. Hes been an icon at the position. Hes been somebody that weve all looked up to for so many years as the standard of excellence. I think theres a ton of admiration and respect for the way that hes played the game from so many of us, especially us guys whove been in the same era for so many years with him and gotten to compete with him every now and then being an NFC guy. I think its good that we just enjoy it for what it is, have respect and admiration for the way that we have played over this time, and enjoy where were at in our careers now.”

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