The Passing Chronicles: 2020 Week 1

Dusty goes to the tape and breaks down some passing concepts in the Packers Week 1 victory over the Vikings

We did it. We made it. Not only did we just watch week 1 of the NFL season, but we got to see the Packers beat the Vikings 43-34. After an offseason of complaints about their draft and articles about how they were the worst 13-3 team of all time, we got to see them take the field in year 2 of the Matt LaFleur offense and absolutely throttle a divisional rival. 

So join me as we break down a few passing concepts from this past weekend. 

This week will be a little different. Like the vast majority of writers, I get the All 22 film from GamePass. It is normally available the day after the game is played, but it wasn't available until late Wednesday night this week. That sees this article posted a day later than normal and with fewer plays. Going forward, I'm hoping it gets posted closer to the regular time and we can get this thing back to normal. For this week, thank you for your patience and understanding. 

Let's get to it.

Play 1: 1st & 10, 13:24 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

This was the first passing play of the game. The Packers opened up with 2 runs to Aaron Jones [33] for 6 yards, then drew a Neutral Zone Infraction on the Vikings to pick up the 1st down. On the broadcast, the graphics for this play read 3rd & 9, which was confusing to say the least.

The Packers come out firing with a HB Sail concept, with a slight twist on how they've run it in the past. The twist is that, instead of running a go route on the outside to occupy the boundary, they occupy the boundary by running a leading wheel route from the in-line tight end. Why did they do this? Because Matt LaFleur loves me very much and only wants me to be happy.

Davante Adams [17] runs through the middle of the field to occupy the middle, while Marcedes Lewis [89] runs a wheel route to the boundary. That creates a nice lane for the wheel up the seam from Josiah Deguara [81] out of his upback position. 

The Vikings have two high safeties, and that's what kills the wheel route up the seam from Deguara. The linebacker passes him off, but the safety is over the top.

This is one of my favorite recent concepts and I absolutely love how the Packers ran it here. But here's something else I love about this specific play: Aaron Rodgers [12] reads the field, doesn't like what he's seeing, then immediately checks it down to Jones in space. He was quick and decisive on the first pass play of the game, and that told us all we needed to know about his approach on the day. 

Play 2: 2nd & 5, 10:38 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers trailing 5-7

It's everyone's favorite concept: Mesh! Without going too deep down the rabbit hole, Mesh is an old West Coast concept - run to perfection by LaVell Edwards at BYU - which was then adopted and tweaked a bit by Hal Mumme and became a staple of the Air Raid system. Pretty much every team runs at least some variation of Mesh. You'll see the Packers running some version of it at least once per game.

The Vikings are in man coverage, which is where the heart of Mesh - the drag routes running at each other from each side of the line - can really shine. Against man coverage, those drags work well as a kind of natural rub. If they're run tight enough to each other, the defenders will risk getting picked off, so at least one defender needs to either go over the other defender or try to fight his way under. If he goes over, the wide receiver is open under the coverage. If the defender fights under, he's trailing the receiver while the receiver picks up speed through the middle of the field. Either way, the idea is the same: the receiver is now open for an easy completion and room to run.

The mesh isn't super tight here, but it's enough to get the defender to dip under the crossing route from Allen Lazard [13], if only a little. 

Even without that dip, Adams beats his man to the inside and outruns him across the field, With the boundary cleared by a go route, Adams gets the ball in his hands on the move and has plenty of room to work. A nice, easy throw leads to an 18 yard gain.

Play 3: 1st & 10, 4:21 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 8-7

The Packers had a concept they ran quite a few times with Danny Vitale last season. And, while the name itself wasn't entirely accurate, it was impossibly catchy. It was dubbed The Cheese Wheel, though it was technically not a wheel. Nevertheless, it was a really fun concept and the Packers are now running it with Josiah Deguara.

There are a lot of variations to the kind of route Vitale ran, but the set-up was pretty simple: he would be in the FB role and would start in I formation. Sometimes he would motion to an offset I formation pre-snap and sometimes he wouldn't. Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83] would be the outside receiver to the side they were running it, and Valdes-Scantling would run a go route, angled across the middle of the field.

All of those things are the same here, only one of the names has changed. Deguara is in the FB role in I formation while Valdes-Scantling is the outside receiver, with a tight split to the line. Valdes-Scantling runs a deep route to the middle. That draws away the boundary defender and occupies the single high safety. Deguara then releases off-tackle and pushes vertically up the sideline.

It does not work this particular time for a couple reasons. For starters, Eric Kendricks [54] played like a man possessed on Sunday, and this play was no different. He wasn't fooled and does a great job carrying Deguara down the field.

The other reason is the way Deguara runs this route. Instead of running down the field and getting to his spot, he looks back at Rodgers almost immediately, which ensures he is not running as fast as he could be. I had originally thought that he was looking for an option. On this concept, we've seen the Packers mix in shorter, out-breaking route when the defense keys in on the vertical aspect. But, based on the way his body is facing, it doesn't look like there's a short option attached to this particular rep.

Rodgers throws deep to the boundary and Deguara just can't quite get there. Still, it's a nice concept and I'm glad they dusted it off in Week 1. Can't wait to see the little wrinkles they throw into it this year.

Play 4: 3rd & 6, 7:39 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 22-10

As the President of the MVS Fan Club, it brings me no joy to write about this one here. But I love the concept so I thought I'd stick my hand in the fire and get through it. 

Packers have a tight bunch on the left side, and the Vikings match it with a tight defensive formation of their own. Against this kind of offensive bunch, defenses will often have one man tight to the line and the two others spaced 3-7 yards down the field. This play is a good example for why a lot of defenses operate that way.

Lazard is the front-man in the bunch, and he pushes straight out off the line, while Valdes-Scantling and Robert Tonyan [85] run crossing routes underneath (with Valdes-Scantling releasing under Tonyan and running the shallow crosser). 

With the defense tight to the line, they all go down like bowling pins when Lazard fires out. Tonyan gets caught up in it as well, but Valdes-Scantling gets a clean release and a ton of space to roam. Rodgers hits him in stride, and he just drops it. It's a real shame, but it worked like a dream. right up until the split second it didn't. Process over results, man.

I wanted to touch on one more thing that wasn't clear on the broadcast view. When this happened, I thought this would have been a touchdown if MVS had simply held on and turned upfield. But, on this view, you can see the safety screaming down at him. If MVS catches this ball, I think he gets tackled as he turns upfield. That at least makes me feel a little better.

Play 5: 3rd & 7, 11:42 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers leading 29-18

This starts off with a nice pre-snap read and good coverage recognition by both Lazard and Rodgers. Lazard is uncovered at the snap, with Kendricks as the closest defender to him. And, while Kendricks is a good linebacker and did well on Deguara, he can't carry Lazard up the seam. That's the first thing Lazard and Rodgers noticed.

The Vikings are showing a two-high look before the snap, with the safety over Lazard playing closer to the line. That's the second thing Lazard and Rodgers noticed.

If the safety doesn't pick up Lazard up the field, the seam route is wide open.

Now, let's talk about the other routes to that side. Both Valdes-Scantling and Lewis are running in-breaking routes. We've seen this kind of concept from the Packers a lot. Based on those routes, I believe Lazard's initial route was a slant or a post. That route can work as a bit of a clear-out to make room for the routes behind it. When Lazard and Rodgers saw the pre-snap position of Kendricks, they knew the middle of the field was covered. So, instead of running the post, Lazard cut up the field on a seam route and threw up his hand. "The mailbox," as JT O'Sullivan calls it. Rodgers reads it, sees Lazard and throws over the top.

Beautifully done.


I've had a fun offseason looking back on the 2019 season, but there's nothing like writing about a game that just happened. I'm thrilled to be here, breaking down these passing concepts all year. If this first game was any indication, it's going to be a fun year.

In addition to this, I did a thread on Twitter with a little light analysis on some more passing concepts. LaFleur had a ton of really fun stuff this weekend, man.

 


Albums listened to: Hum - Inlet; Richard Edwards - The Soft Ache and the Moon; Doves - The Universal Want; Haley Heynderickx - I Need to Start a Garden; Talk Talk - Laughing Stock

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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 (13)

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Coldworld's picture

September 17, 2020 at 05:14 pm

Great stuff. Thank you. Learn every time.

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Oppy's picture

September 17, 2020 at 05:29 pm

My favorite phrase of 2020 is going to be, 'Rodgers doesn't like what he sees, so he immediately throws to the check down option.'

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Jonathan Spader's picture

September 17, 2020 at 05:48 pm

Loved how fluid the offense looked in week 1. Rodgers has cleaned up his mechanics and embraced the MLF offense. It no loner looks like a MM MLF broken hybrid. Watching the Cowgirls lose made it even sweeter.

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Packer_Fan's picture

September 17, 2020 at 06:06 pm

It is good to see pass plays where the scheme ends up with open receivers. Been a long time. It will be more difficult when we face teams with good corners.

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Oppy's picture

September 18, 2020 at 05:24 pm

There have always been open receivers. There has been a lack of throwing the ball to them.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 17, 2020 at 06:44 pm

I love these articles, Dusty. I laughed at "Because Matt LaFleur loves me very much and only wants me to be happy."

The big thing I saw was AR getting those checkdowns out fast. On both passes to the RB above if the pass arrives a tick later the defender probably is able to make a sure tackle. Instead, the RBs made a little move and the defender had to attempt more of an open field tackle. I thought AR consistently waited too long to deliver the ball to WRs on shallow crossers last year, leaving them insufficient room to make a move and turn upfield: that is, AR waited so long that the sideline helped the defense contain plays. Better this year so far.

During the game I blamed Deguara for running a poor route on that cheese wheel route, but felt it would be churlish to point it out given his overall performance.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 17, 2020 at 08:11 pm

Sorry for going off-topic:

Kamara's new deal is listed at $15M AAV but it is nowhere near that in reality.

It's a 2 yr/$17.83M deal, just $8.915M AAV.
It's a 3 yr/$29.57M deal. Just $9.86M AAV.
It's a 4 yr, $46.57M deal, or $11.64M AAV. Prob never sees '23 $.
There isn't any chance of Kamara seeing $25M in cash in 2025.

Cook's deal is closer to the advertised $12.6M AAV.

It's a 2 yr/$18.425M deal ($9.21 AAV) but his dead $= 3 yr deal
It's a 3yr/$27.325M deal ($9.11 AAV), Dead = cap saving. Iffy
It's a 4yr/$38.325M deal ($9.58 AAV).

Both Kamara and Cook are extension and they will play for $2.1M in cash in 2021, just like Kenny Clark. Teams can do that on an extension but not on a new deal (or at least it's improbable).

It still is going to be difficult to keep the UFAs in 2021, but just pointing out that Kamara and Cook are closer to $9.5M AAV guys.

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ejr450's picture

September 17, 2020 at 08:41 pm

Dusty, on the play to Lazard, that coverage with Anthony Harris seems similar to the one he picked off last game in MIN. Dropping down late from 2 deep to cover an in breaker. Did you see any coverage trends & GB counters to them in this game that may bode well for the team going forward?

Love the work, glad you’re back on live reps. Say hey to Sarah and Steve for me!

EricRose4

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bodei1newbie1's picture

September 18, 2020 at 05:14 am

great job i'm knowing the system a lot better

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nostradanus's picture

September 18, 2020 at 07:04 am

Thank you Dusty for making us smarter fans :)

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murf7777's picture

September 18, 2020 at 08:59 am

Really good Dusty. It would be great to see some defensive plays as well. I watched the first half of All 22 yesterday and noticed Gary having 4 really good plays that is hard to recognize while watching live. The guy doesn’t give up. I’m on his bandwagon.

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Archie's picture

September 18, 2020 at 10:59 am

MLF is a great play designer & caller. Now if Pettine can get his scheme to function as well, dare we say it, think SB!

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nstewart1's picture

September 18, 2020 at 06:18 pm

Loved the write-up, keep them coming.

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