The Passing Chronicles: 2020 Week 11 - Mirrored Smash

Dusty breaks down the Smash concept in the Packers OT loss to the Colts

I don't normally use this space to focus on a single concept, but that's because it's not super common to see the same concept rolled out 6+ times a game. But the Packers clearly saw something in the Colts defense this week that they liked in terms of this concept, so we saw it again and again.

The concept is Smash: an oldie but a goodie, with its roots firmly planted in Green Bay history. Like most concepts, no one knows exactly where Smash started, but we have a pretty good idea. It's an old West Coast concept, most commonly attributed to former Packers head coach Lindy Infante. For his part, Infante claims that he got the concept from the 49ers, although he couldn't remember the exact details. The specifics don't matter too much I guess, but let's go ahead and just give Infante this win.

The concept itself is a two-man concept: a curl on the outside and a corner route over the top. Against two-man coverage to the Smash side, it's an easy read. The deep defender is playing over the corner route, so it's just a matter of what the underneath defender is doing. If the defender pulls up on the curl, throw the corner route, as the receiver should have outside leverage against the deep defender. If the defender falls under the corner route, throw the curl. It has undergone a lot of tweaks and variations over the years, but the core concept is still widely used and remarkably effective.

Today, we'll be focusing on Mirrored Smash, which is exactly what it sounds like: both sides of the field are running Smash, with the routes breaking around the same depth. The overall idea behind mirrored concepts is that the quarterback can read the defense pre-snap - or immediately post-snap - and pick which side he likes better based on that information. If it's the same concept on both sides, he is able to pick what he believes is the best match-up. It allows the field to be cut in half and just focus on the side that he believes has the best chance of success.

On most of these, there is another route up the middle of the field that we'll be looking at, but that's not a part of the mirror.

Before I get started, I will say that Smash - and the variations of it - were wildly successful overall. I counted versions of Smash being run 7 times this past weekend. On those plays, Aaron Rodgers was 6/7 for 127 yards (18.1 YPA) and a touchdown, for a QB Rating of 118.8.

With that, let's dive into the wonderful world of Smash.

Play 1: 1st & 10, 14:55 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

We set up Smash, so now let's talk about a popular variation. Smash Fade takes the concept of Smash and has the slot receiver run a fade route over the top of the curl on the outside instead of a corner route. From what I've seen, the Packers run far more Smash Fade than they run Smash these days, which is true of a lot of teams.

This is the first offensive snap of the game. The Packers run Mirrored Smash Fade, with a deep vertical route to the middle. The curl route to Davante Adams' [17] side is deeper than the curl on the other side and Adams takes a delayed outside release against press coverage. Due to those factors, the routes are much tighter than you typically see them, with Adams running the fade off the hip of the curl.

Aaron Rodgers [12] sees man coverage and the single-high safety staying in place, so he throws the fade to Adams away from the safety.

Beautiful throw over the top for 33 yards.

Play 2: 1st & 10, 9:41 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers leading 14-7

Here's another Smash Fade. Same concept, different outcome.

The boundary defender falls under the fade route, so Rodgers hits his back foot and throws the curl.

Play 3: 2nd & 10, 6:41 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers trailing 28-31

The previous play was early in the 1st quarter. We didn't see Smash show up again until late in the 4th quarter with the Packers down by 3.

This has the same result as the previous play, but it takes a different path to get there. The boundary defender runs with the fade, but the underneath defenders fall into zone, leaving the boundary open. On the initial coverage look, it's not obvious that they're falling into an underneath zone away from the boundary, so Rodgers holds the ball for an extra beat.

Pressure forces Rodgers up-and-out, where he finds Aaron Jones [33] sitting on the boundary by himself.

Play 4: 3rd & 8, 3:17 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers trailing 28-31

We've got a mirrored(ish) Smash look here. I say "ish" because the shorter route on the right is more of an out than a curl, but it's still close enough.

This is the first time we've seen the traditional Smash in this game. On the left side, Adams is running a corner route over a curl route from Robert Tonyan [85].

As you can see, the boundary defender falls under the corner route, so Rodgers takes the curl route.

Play 5: 3rd & 10, 1:17 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers trailing 28-31

This is a big one. Down by 3, facing 3rd & 10 on their own 6 yard line with time winding down, the Packers come back to the Mirrored Smash with a vertical route from the inside receiver on the trips side.

With the deep safety away from the trips side fading toward the boundary with the corner route from Adams, the middle of the field is wide open. A linebacker carries Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83] up the middle and the safety on the other side plays over the top, but Rodgers is able to drop the ball over the top for a 47 yard gain.

Did Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers anticipate the safety away from the trips side to shade over Adams? Buddy, they certainly did.

Play 6: 2nd & 10, 0:57 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers trailing 28-31

Here we find ourselves with a variation. The Packers are sitting at the 33 yard line, down 3 points with less than a minute remaining in the game. We have now seen 5 examples of Smash being run in this game, including 2 examples in this same quarter. The defense is looking for it, especially with the curl routes on the outside. 

We do have Smash Fade on the left, but the right side sees Davante Adams sticking his foot in the ground and cutting to the middle and over the second level of the defense.

The Colts are in a two-high look. The safety to Adams' side fades over the top of Adams, anticipating the corner or fade route. With the middle cleared out by the go route from the left, Rodgers waits for Adams to clear the linebacker then fires to the middle for 18 yards.

You can see the look from Rodgers is enough to anchor the linebacker to that spot, allowing Adams the space to get past him to the middle of the field.

Play 7: 3rd & 3, 0:12 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers trailing 28-31

It has all been building to this; an incomplete pass to Davante Adams in the end zone on 3rd down that saw the field goal unit come out to tie it up on the next play. On the broadcast, they showed a wide open Robert Tonyan in the end zone on the other side. After that shot, I saw a lot of people saying that Rodgers missed a read. The truth, as always, is not quite so simple.

We've spent this entire article looking at variations of Smash, so you should feel like an expert at this point. What we have here is Mirrored Smash. If you remember at the top, I spoke on the idea of a mirrored concept: it allows the quarterback to pick the side of the field he likes the match-up the best and cut down on the reads/processing he is doing. So what do we have here?

The left side has Adams running a corner route over the curl from Valdes-Scantling, while the right side sees Tonyan running a corner route over the curl from Allen Lazard [13]. The right side also sees Jamaal Williams [30] running a flat route from the backfield. There is a single-high safety, stationed in the middle of the field. For Smash, that's perfect: the corner routes are running away from the middle of the field, so you only need to worry about coverage on the outside.

Here is where we get into reads. With a mirrored concept and single-high safety, Rodgers is able to pick his side pre-snap. We already know which side he picks: he goes with Adams. This isn't a case of staring down Adams the entire play. Rodgers liked the match-up and was looking for Adams to win the match-up out of the slot in the red zone (or, if you prefer, The Gold Zone). Traditionally, that has been a win for Adams. 

Adams gets an inside release and tries to veer over the top. There is a slight stutter at the top of the route to attempt to create a little more separation. It doesn't work and Adams is driven deeper into the end zone than they would have liked for him to be. The throw is to the back pylon, but Adams can't get the angle he needs to get there.

Let's talk about the right side. The Tonyan Side. With Williams in the flat, that gives them an additional route to influence the defense. You can see that happening a bit, and that's what helps to spring Tonyan. There are two defenders on the right and three routes. The inside defender initially drifts to Lazard on the curl, but then drifts to the flat zone to pick up Williams. When he does that, the outside defender - who had been floating under Tonyan - picks up Lazard.

It's that switch that springs Tonyan. Tonyan plays a bit of the slow route before picking up steam out of the break. Because of that, Tonyan doesn't get open until late. He is open, but it's not like he was running free the entire time. He had coverage drifting underneath and it wasn't apparent that he would be open until the outside defender crashed on Lazard. There's also pressure in his face, as Billy Turner [77] is beat pretty quickly. With mirrored concepts, the field can be cut in half. Even if it wasn't, Rodgers wouldn't have had time to work over to Tonyan if the reads started on the left.

Saying something like "Rodgers missed the read," doesn't mean anything if you don't know what the reads are or what he's looking for conceptually. Why didn't Rodgers throw to Tonyan? Because it's a mirrored concept and he threw his hat in with Adams beating Kenny Moore [23] on a corner route out of the slot. That has been a pretty good decision historically; it just didn't work out this time.

One last thing on this: you could say, "Well, he should have gone to the side with three options over the side with two," and maybe that's fair, but it's also looking at it with hindsight and knowing how the defense reacted with Rodgers looking the left the entire time. Does the defense play this even slightly differently if he's looking to the right the entire time? Maybe they do, maybe they don't.

The question I was attempting to answer when I was looking at this was, "Why did Rodgers throw to Adams instead of Tonyan?" After looking at all the times they ran Smash in this game - and looking at the pre-snap alignment of this play - I have an answer that satisfies me. 

After I wrote this all up, Rodgers addressed this specific play on The Pat McAfee Show. He said that he went to Adams because he saw him win on a similar route concept on a play earlier in the game. So I just decided to smash those together.

Play 8: 2nd & 9, 8:26 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

Play 7 ended our look at Smash, but I wanted to throw a bonus play at the end of this article, mainly because it's such a beautiful design that I felt dumping it on Twitter would be doing it a disservice.

The Packers come out in a compressed formation, with Adams as the only receiver lined-up off the line. The Colts are in a single-high look pre-snap, but it turns to Quarters immediately after the snap. Jace Sternberger [87] is running a deep corner off the right, with Tonyan aligned underneath and veering slightly outside before coming back to the middle. Jones is running a sit route out of the backfield. 

The slight veer to the outside from Tonyan is important. With the Colts in Quarters, that veer draws the attention of the boundary defender, who looks to pick him up. The safety to the inside of him picks up Sternberger on the deep corner. At that time, their assignments are set, so when Tonyan comes back to the middle of the field he is no longer the responsibility of the boundary defender. 

With the defenders on the left tied up with Adams and the defense in the middle pulled up on the route from Jones, Tonyan has a nice path through the middle of the defense.

Rodgers finds him over the top for a touchdown. It's a beautiful design that works perfectly against that specific defense.

Albums listened to: Phoebe Bridgers - Copycat Killer EP; Lissie - Thank You to the Flowers EP; Pearl Jam - Yield; The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely; Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile to the Surface; The Promise Ring - Wood/Water; My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall II




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].


5 points

Comments (8)

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LeotisHarris's picture

November 25, 2020 at 04:16 pm

Great stuff as always, Dusty. Some might even call it smashing (sorry). Thanks.

Since Sunday's loss, an old friend, and fellow Packers fan, has been texting me to tell me just how open Big Bob was in the end zone. Some texts have been more clever, than others; everything from a simple "WIDE OPEN" to "so open Helen Keller would have seen him." Once again, what we see and judge in real time is only a piece of the play. I appreciate your explanation that Aaron saw a match-up he liked in a mirrored concept.

4 points
Fabio's picture

November 25, 2020 at 04:36 pm

Hi Dusty. Congratulations on your usual very competent job. I agree with you about Rodgers going to Adams and not Tonyan. I wonder if it is possible, with all the variations of smash that we have done, to make a variation on the short as the colts did on the 4th and 4th of the 4th quarter. I'd love to know what you think. Greetings from Italy

1 points
egbertsouse's picture

November 25, 2020 at 05:37 pm

Yeah, I get it. You’re living in Italy and I’m stuck in friggin’ Minnesota! Where I won’t see the sun for four months! Please, just stop! You’re killing me, man!

1 points
Fabio's picture

November 26, 2020 at 02:34 am

I didn't want to be offensive to anyone. I'm sorry
However, even here there is no sun all year round .....

0 points
PeteK's picture

November 26, 2020 at 09:17 am

I believe he was just kidding with an actual compliment.

0 points
Fabio's picture

November 26, 2020 at 09:42 am

Thanks Petek and see you soon Egbertsouse .... I'm using google translate .... I'm not very good with the American language

0 points
Packer_Fan's picture

November 25, 2020 at 09:00 pm

Good thoughts. The last play in regulation did not work because of the pressure on Rodgers. Tonyan was just breaking open when Rodgers threw the ball. They needed to call a play with a rollout to give Rodgers more time. Just bad luck. Also perhaps Rodgers was focusing on Adams to win his route. Didn't happen.

3 points
PeteK's picture

November 26, 2020 at 09:38 am

A big thanks to the lead up and analysis of that all important last play because when watching on TV we don't see the whole field.

0 points