The Passing Chronicles: 2020 Week 14

Dusty breaks down some passing concepts in the Packers victory over the Lions

Did we really just finish Week 14? I believe it was a poet that mused, "Time keeps on slipping slipping slipping into the future." Another, more accurate poet shouted that it isn't time itself that is slipping away. "The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older." 

Whatever the reason, this season is going by in a blink. But it's a good blink. With this past win, the Packers clinched the NFC North crown for the second straight year and are currently sitting in the driver's seat for the highly coveted #1 seed. This week, we're riding high.

And we've got some fun stuff to break down! As the season goes on, we're seeing more and more wrinkles in this offense. With the playoffs fast approaching, they're throwing more wrinkles - more variations - at opponents every week. Not only are they tuning up, they're also setting up counters to their counters. It's a really fun time, so let's dive in.

Play 1: 1st & 10, 8:10 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers trailing 0-7

We'll kick things off in style, with Davante Adams' [17] 56 yard touchdown to open the scoring for the Packers. The touchdown came off a Transition Go throw, which Aaron Rodgers [12] has said is his favorite throw. It's throw I've been tracking since Rodgers talked about it this past offseason, mainly because it's really easy to spot. The general idea is that, if your guy can beat his defender off the line, the "go" ball - typically taught to be thrown around 40+ yards - can be thrown earlier, and with a lower trajectory. 

Transition Go is typically a quick 2-3 step drop, a gather step and a drive over the shoulder of the defensive back who was burned at the line. Of course, Rodgers has more ways to throw this. If he likes the match-up and the defender is playing over the top and to the inside, he'll throw the back-shoulder.

On this play, Rodgers likes the match-up of Adams on Amani Oruwariye [24] on the outside. Oruwariye plays over the top and inside, so Rodgers throws behind him. It's not a back-shoulder throw, as those are thrown to the sideline. This is thrown up the field but behind Oruwariye. 

Adams makes a terrific adjustment on the catch. With Oruwariye out of position after the catch, all Adams has to do is beat Will Harris [25]. Harris flattens toward the sideline, so Adams just gives him a quick step to the outside before cutting inside.

Plenty of room to roam and the Packers tie it up on a big play. 

I typically like to go in chronological order, but I wanted to group some concepts together in this article to show how they play off each other. So get ready for some concept groupings. Try to contain your excitement.

Smash Fade

Play 2: 1st & 10, 1:22 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers tied 14-14

We talk about Smash Fade a lot, so I won't get too deep into the core idea, but I did want to show an example of it. On the right side, we have Robert Tonyan [85] running a curl out from the outside and Adams running a fade route over the curl. It's a two-man game: if the boundary defender drops under the fade route, throw the curl. If the boundary defender drops down on the curl, throw the fade. It's an evolution of an old West Coast concept.

On this play, the boundary defender starts deep and drops under the fade route, so Rodgers throws to Tonyan on the curl. Even with Justin Coleman [27] dropping off the fade, it's an easy completion for 8 yards and it allows Tonyan to get out of bounds.

That's the core idea and the Packers run it a lot, so defenses are looking for it.

Play 3: 1st & 10, 1:00 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers tied 14-14

With that in mind, we'll move to this play. It looks like the same releases from the right, with the role reversed: Adams is running a curl route from the outside while Tonyan looks to be running a fade from the slot. However, instead of running a fade, Tonyan cuts on a dig over the middle.

They're looking to get the deep defender biting on the fade, allowing Tonyan to get open on the dig. The deep defender is looking for the fade, but the Lions drop a linebacker into coverage under the dig, taking away Tonyan. 

It didn't work out here, but now this is on tape and gives defenses just one more thing to think about.


Play 4: 2nd & 9, 14:18 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers tied 7-7

If you've been reading this series at all over the last couple of years, you know my love of Mesh. Furthermore, I just assume that you all have now fallen madly, deeply in love with the concept as well. How could you not?

For the uninitiated, Mesh was born out of the West Coast offense (specifically LaVell Edwards' system at BYU) and ended up becoming the centerpiece of Hal Mumme's Air Raid system. It revolves around the mesh of receivers in the middle, running drags at each other from opposite ends of the field, crossing in the middle of the field. You will often see a route over the mesh area - typically a curl or dig route - to take advantage of the chaos caused by the mesh point. There is also usually a vertical route and a route in the flat.

We have all of that here. I love the release from Tonyan as the curl route over the mesh: he follows the drag of Marcedes Lewis [89] on the hip as they both drive to the middle of the field.

At least, I believe it's going to be a curl. We never get a chance to see, because Rodgers liked the match-up to Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83] against poor Amani Oruwariye on the outside.

Much like the transition go we saw earlier, Oruwariye is playing inside and over the top, so Rodgers goes back-shoulder to MVS.

I like MVS, but this body control is not something we've seen a lot from him in the past. I love the trust Rodgers showed in MVS here, and I love that MVS was able to make the adjustment, go up with strong hands and secure the catch.

Play 5: 3rd & 3, 0:50 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers tied 14-14

I'll be honest with you: I don't know if this strictly fits into Mesh, but I think it's close enough to group it in here. After all, there are shallow dueling drags and a route over the top of the crossing point. The release points are different, but the underlying idea is close enough.

It's 3rd & 3 and the Packers are looking to spring Allen Lazard [13]. Lazard is running a crossing route from the right and they have two natural rubs set for him. Tonyan is pushing vertically off the end of the line and Lazard drives underneath him. That's pick #1, with Lazard's defender having to go over the top.

Pick #2 occurs when Aaron Jones [33] releases through the middle of the line and runs a route over the top of Lazard. That gives Lazard's defender yet another route to have to run over.

The crossing of Lazard and Jones makes a mesh point, and Adams is running a crossing route from the other side over the top. Again, maybe a stretch, but it's close enough.

Lazard does spring open, but there is a defender in the middle of the field - directly in front of Lazard - that is staring at Rodgers and the rush is breaking through. If Rodgers had half a second more, Lazard would be clear of the defender in the middle and it would be a relatively easy throw for a 1st down. Instead, he is forced to hold the ball and flee the pocket.

Play 6: 3rd & 3, 2:42 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 21-14

We've seen an offset Mesh and a more traditional Mesh, so now let's look at this fun variation to open up the middle of the field.

Initially, the middle of this play looks like a standard Mesh, with Valdes-Scantling and Adams crossing with drag routes and Tonyan running a curl over the top. We also have a post-corner route from Lazard on the right and a sluggo (slant-and-go) from Jones on the left. But Valdes-Scantling and Adams aren't running drag routes. They release to the middle as if they're running drags routes and the defenders believe that is what is what they're running, but they're actually running whip routes.

They both release to the middle and the two defenders in the middle are looking like they're ready to pass off the routes. When they break off into whip routes, those defenders widen to account for it, leaving a nice wide spot in the middle of the field that Tonyan is able to sit in.

Really nice concept to pick up 11 yards and the first down. 

Unless I'm mistaken, this is the second time this season we've seen this variation, the first time coming in Week 2...against the Lions.

PA Boot

Play 7: 3rd & 5, 1:40 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers leading 31-24

We're going to close out with PA Boot. I wanted to start by showing the basics of PA Boot as a reminder of the mechanics, while also highlighting a specific route that is not always a part of PA Boot.

The overall mechanics are simple: fake the handoff one way, bootleg back the other way and find 2-3 receivers running parallel to the quarterback on different planes. The Packers like to pair this look with their split-zone run game, so a lot of times the flat receiver runs under the line as if he's blocking the backside, then releases into the flat. That's exactly what Tonyan does here, and that's where Rodgers goes with the ball to pick up a big 1st down.

I want to also point out the route from Lazard off the end of the line. Lazard blocks down on the boot side, then releases back towards the boot. Sometimes you'll see that route release to the flat behind the other flat route (that route is called a Slam route). This time, Lazard looks like he's releasing, but he's really just turning and standing in place to hold a defender from crashing on Tonyan.

On this play, Tonyan gets free in space, catches the ball and makes a nice move to pick up the 1st down. Great call in a big moment, and a nice play by Tonyan to pick up the 1st down.

Let's keep Lazard in mind for these next two.

Play 8: 2nd & 1, 1:11 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 21-14

This looks like PA Boot - and the initial action of Lazard is the same as the last play we looked at - but instead of holding the block or releasing on the Slam route, Lazard leaks out the backside of the play. In a perfect world, he blocks down the line, releases, then runs parallel with the line of scrimmage for a few steps before wheeling up the opposite sideline. The defense should hopefully be reading PA Boot, so they'll be drifting to the bootleg side after the completion of the play fake, while Lazard would sneak through and release behind the drifting defense.

But there's more to it than that. In recent weeks, the Packers have been showing a common variant of PA Boot, where the deep receiver fakes a route shadowing the bootleg before cutting back the other way.

They've been running that look more and more over the last couple weeks, so defenses are starting to look for it. One of the ways we've seen that route be accounted for is for the backside safety on the play to kind of bracket that deep receiver from the backside. So if that route cuts back, that safety is able to easily fall back with it. 

But now you've created another weakness. You're taking the backside safety and drifting him with the deep receiver, which can leave that deep backside zone vacated. Leak is meant to attack that zone. It's a tendency breaker for a tendency breaker; a wrinkle in a variation. 

Lazard gets tied up releasing from his block and isn't able to release out the backside of the line. The safety isn't crashing the middle hard anyway, so it may not have worked even if he stayed on his feet. Still, this works as a good example of what the Packers are doing. They're adding wrinkles into variations of well-worn concepts, and they're ramping all of that up as the season goes along. There is a grand plan; not just on a game-by-game basis, but for the season as well.

Play 9: 1st & goal, 12:07 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers leading 21-14

That previous play was Leak. I think that is only the second time I've seen it this year. But the Packers are cranking this sucker to 11, so let's run it again.

Now, I should say, there are some differences between these two plays. For starters, this one takes place in the Red (Gold?) Zone, so we're working with less space. Where Leak is generally a shot play, this one is more short-area misdirection. We also have another route over the top. And, to finish us off, Rodgers doesn't really bootleg after the playfake. So yes, there are differences, but the mechanics are similar enough to group these together. Lazard runs a drag from the left side while Adams releases under the line on the split-zone look. 

This time we have Tonyan blocking down from the playfake side. Like Lazard, he drives down the line on the block, then simply releases into the flat. 

With that side of the defense getting pulled up by the threat of the run and the drag from Lazard, Tonyan slips out the backside with ease and Rodgers hits him in the flat for a touchdown.

One other thing on this play: be sure to note Jamaal Williams. He doesn't carry out the fake, because his #1 job is to make sure Rodgers has time to throw this. With Tonyan releasing after his block, that leaves his man with a free rush on Rodgers. Williams cuts him down, which provides Rodgers with the time he needs.

I really, really love this offense.

As I do pretty much every week, I mark up more plays than I need, so I end up just posting them on Twitter with a quick rundown. If you need more passing concepts in your life, here is that thread for this week:


Albums listened to: Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon III: The Chosen; The Avalanches - We Will Always Love You; Taylor Swift - evermore; Paul McCartney - McCartney III; Coco Reilly - Coco Reilly; M. Ward - Think of Spring; Dreamend - Dreamend


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].

8 points

Comments (9)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
jeremyjjbrown's picture

December 16, 2020 at 04:00 pm

I can only take in about half of one of these at a time before zoning out, so I have to come back a few times to take it all in. I can only imagine what this weeks prep is like for the Panthers DBs.

Thanks again Dusty for this awesome stuff.

4 points
PeteK's picture

December 16, 2020 at 05:23 pm

PA boot is my favorite because it has so many options and miss directions. I believe they used it much more against Chicago than Detroit. That's what makes this offense so great, unpredictability and variety.

1 points
Lphill's picture

December 16, 2020 at 06:33 pm

Thank you Dusty , the game was not on in my market , that was better than highlights on ESPN .

2 points
LeotisHarris's picture

December 16, 2020 at 07:11 pm

Thanks, Dusty. Like jjb, I enjoy your weekly offerings in installments. For me that's the best way to appreciate your work, and understand the offense.

Your parents had good taste in music, and it's cool to see you carry that forward. I have to give a nod to the poet we lost this year, though. "Time don't fly, it bounds and leaps."

2 points
LeotisHarris's picture

December 16, 2020 at 07:11 pm

double comment

0 points
fortworthclearinternet's picture

December 16, 2020 at 11:40 pm

The game is played by both mind and body. You have to do proper practice before playing any game.

0 points
bodei1newbie1's picture

December 17, 2020 at 03:44 am

thanks Dusty i learn so much from your films

1 points
Rebecca's picture

December 17, 2020 at 11:06 am

I love your film analysis and I know do much more from you than I could imagine. Give me a mesh with a pa boot! Let’s take this show to the Super Bowl.

1 points
jlc1's picture

December 17, 2020 at 02:40 pm

Interesting thing on the Adams TD run. As he starts down the field it looks like he is exaggerating his side to side shoulder movement. This looks like it slows him down a bit but I wonder if he does it so that the defenders can't zero in on his route, or takes their eyes off his hips which is what they probably should look at. It may also give him a little more momentum to work with when he does commit to one side or the other and then just legs it into the end zone, the shoulders not dipping at all. Nifty moves I think.

1 points