The Passing Chronicles: 2020 Week 16

Dusty breaks down some passing concepts from the Packers Week 16 victory over the Titans

I know I was not the only one who had this game circled on their calendar as a tough game. The Packers have not been known as the greatest rushing defense over the past few years, and they would be facing the bruising Derrick Henry and a Titans offense that is more than willing to feed him. I still had it pegged as a Packers win - because I'm painfully optimistic leading up to a game and also because the Titans defense is terrible - but I figured it would be a tight game with a lot of energy spent cursing Derrick Henry.

I certainly didn't expect it to be a 40-14 Packers victory against a snowy backdrop, but I'll take it.

Even in the snow, the Packers passing offense looked terrific against a less-than-great Titans defense. After the second-half slog against the Panthers last week, it was nice to see the offense coming out and firing on all cylinders. 

I don't have a ton of plays to look at today, but that's because I wanted to dig into some of these a bit more than normal. I didn't notice the Packers doing anything too crazy this week, but they did some fun things. So let's get to it!

Play 1: 3rd & 1, 15:00 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 6-0

Let's kick things off with the touchdown to Equanimeous St. Brown [19]. It's a three-man concept against a single-high look. Davante Adams [17] is running a go route on the outside, Allen Lazard [13] releases through the right side of the line to run a drag route, and St. Brown runs a deep crossing route across the face of the safety from the slot.

It's 3rd & 1 and the Titans are stacking the box with 8 men. The Packers are in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR), but they show a heavy line and only two split-out wide receivers. Lazard is aligned under the tight end, and is a good enough blocker to stone a defender on a running play. AJ Dillon [28] is the single-back, and, while he hadn't done a ton at this point, he had picked up 17 yards on his 4 carries of this possession. The Packers handing the ball to Dillon and having him ram his way for a single yard certainly was not out of the question.

Aaron Rodgers [12] uses play action to draw the linebackers toward the line. The single-high safety is aligned to the two receiver side, and ends up fading over the route of Adams. All of that leaves St. Brown man-to-man with Desmond King [33] in the slot, running away from the safety. All St. Brown has to do is get inside position and run away from King.

A hard initial push at the outside shoulder of King gets St. Brown inside position and he just runs away from King to the end zone. 

The safety is likely going to fade towards Adams anyway, but Rodgers sets his feet towards Adams the entire way, then opens up and whips a perfect pass to St. Brown the other way.

Fun fact: Rodgers is 3 years younger than I am. He made this throw look effortless. I hurt my back the other day because I shifted on the couch.

Play 2: 1st & 10, 9:01 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 19-0

The Packers have been increasing their use of 11 personnel lately. Through Week 10, they had been using 11 personnel 44% of the time. In Weeks 11-16, they've been using 11 personnel 71% of the time. That's a huge shift. A lot of that has come at the expense of their 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR). Through Week 10, they had been using 21 personnel 24% of the time. In Weeks 11-16, they've only been using it 2% of the time. Their two-back "Pony Package" has given way to more 3WR sets. It's been an interesting shift to watch.

All that to say, the Packers are in 11 personnel here and they're running a high-cross with Marquez Valdes-Scanting [83] and Davante Adams, with Tavon Austin [16] as the jet motion man.

Marcedes Lewis [89] shifts in to an in-line position before the snap. The Titans defense shifts with it, leaving the widest defender on that side with Valdes-Scantling. Adams is the up-man in the stack on the right, but when Austin goes in motion a defender runs with him. That signals man coverage, but also puts the widest defender on that side over Adams. The Titans have a single-high safety.

With the single-high safety against a compressed look, the goal of the boundary defenders is to try to funnel the receivers to the middle, so you'll see them angle out and shadow the outside shoulder of the receiver to try to guide them to the middle.

Valdes-Scantling pushes higher than Adams, which puts him running across the face of the safety. The safety doesn't fade with Valdes-Scantling, but he does retreat to the deep middle of the field. With the linebackers pulled up on the play action, all Adams has to do is get inside position and run across the field, which is pretty easy since the defender is playing with outside leverage.

With the safety out of the picture, Adams has a lot of room to run into, and Rodgers hits him for a gain of 23.

The throw is a little behind, but Adams gracefully spins back to make the catch.

Play 3: 2nd & 8, 10:33 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 19-14

Let's keep the run rolling and look at another touchdown, this one to Davante Adams. The Packers have two routes off the end of the line that attack the outside after blocking, and Adams as the single receiver attacking the middle of the field. The Titans come out with a single-high safety drifting to the middle of the field. Adams gets an inside release against his defender and ends up in the vicinity of the safety. The safety picks up Adams in the middle of the field, and Adams ends up bracketed.

With this looking like a one-man route, the Packers have a lot of bodies back to protect, so Rodgers has all day to sit back. Once Adams finds himself bracked in the middle, he cuts back and runs away from the defenders.

Rodgers sees him running away from the defenders and lofts it over the spot-dropping linebacker for a touchdown.

This led to my favorite screenshot from the day:

Play 4: 1st & 10, 9:23 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 26-14

This has turned into the Davante Adams show, which really shouldn't be a surprise. When a single receiver accounts for 48% of the quarterback's targets, a column covering the passing game is bound to lean heavier on that receiver. So this wasn't really by design; it's just the nature of Adams being an absolute monster.

Right now, we're going back to something we've seen a decent amount of this year: a good ol' backside slant. Packers have Rodgers in shotgun and a split backfield, with Dillon on his right and Dominique Dafney [49] on his left. 

The left side of the field is cleared out by the vertical route from Valdes-Scantling. Play action pulls the second level linebackers up to the line, and Rodgers fires to Adams out of the break.

The backside linebacker drops into a zone and reads Rodgers after initially reacting to the playfake. Rodgers sets up like he's throwing to the outside, then whips a throw to Adams to the inside.

Play 5: 2nd & 16, 13:19 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers leading 33-14

We've got ourselves a little Y-Cross look here. Y-Cross is a staple of the Air Raid system. In fact, here it is from Hal Mumme's playbook from his time at Kentucky.

The play we're looking at isn't the exact same at this, but it's close enough to fall into the Y-Cross camp. 

The Packers are going up against a two-high safety look. They have Lazard running a go route on the left, Adams with a deep post on the right and St. Brown on the deep crossing route between them. The idea is to occupy the deep safeties with the routes on the outside, then attack the vacated middle with St. Brown. Dillon releases to the left flat as both a checkdown option and a way to draw a defender up and not allow them to fall under the route of St. Brown ("flat control").

Unfortunately, it doesn't work out here. St. Brown is passed off in the middle of the field and carried on the crossing route. Rodgers checks down to Dillon, but the boundary defender has already passed off Lazard and comes down to make the tackle. Not the greatest result, but I love the concept against that look, and a 5 yard gain is better than nothing.

Also, this seems like a good time to bring up one of my favorite instances of the Packers running Y-Cross:

Play 6: 3rd & 10, 4:01 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers leading 33-14

3rd & 10 and the Titans are desperate. Down 19 points with 4 minutes left in the game means chances of a comeback are slim-to-none, but they need to make a big play happen to even be able to get into that "slim" category. They have 1 down lineman and 6 other men standing up and milling around before the snap. It's impossible to know how many men are coming on the rush. They look to either be sending the house or rushing 2-3 and ropping everyone else back into coverage. 

The Packers are running Smash Fade on the right, with Tonyan running a vertical route from his in-line position. Adams is running a go route from his isolated position on the left side.

Rodgers has to be ready for the Titans to bring the house, so he needs a quick option to throw the ball. With the Titans showing a two-high look, Rodgers is keying on the safety to Adams' side if he sees the blitz coming. If the Titans bring the house and that safety falls over the top of Adams, Tonyan would be open on the hot route on the right. If he rotates to the middle, he's got Adams on a man-to-man on the outside.

The Titans bring the house and the Titans are playing man coverage on the back, with the safety to Adams' side rotating over to pick up Tonyan. 

That movement is all Rodgers needed. He hits his back foot and floats a beautiful pass over the top to Adams before the rush can hit home.

Gorgeous throw and amazing catch.

Also, don't sleep on the blitz pick up from Dillon. He absolutely stones Rashaan Evans [54] in the hole.


If you need more passing concepts, you're in luck! I dumped a bunch into a Twitter thread.


Albums listened to: Poor Old Lu - Sin; The Prayer Chain - Mercury; Luxury - Luxury; Joni Mitchell - Blue; Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy; Susan Enan - Plainsong; Englishman - Unsafe & Sound; Steve Reich - Drumming; Philip Glass - Glassworks; The Lassie Foundation - Pacifico

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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].

15 points

Comments (7)

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PatrickGB's picture

December 30, 2020 at 03:36 pm

Very nice choice of plays. Thanks!

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michael562's picture

December 30, 2020 at 04:45 pm

Thanks Dusty, I always look forward to your presentations.

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LeotisHarris's picture

December 30, 2020 at 05:58 pm

Thanks, Dusty. Remember to do some core work and to stretch. Be a shame to see you on IR with a back injury with the playoffs just around the corner.

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Lphill's picture

December 30, 2020 at 06:38 pm

Great job Dusty , thanks

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

December 30, 2020 at 10:27 pm

Even with more 11 personell than earlier in the season they still seem to have a lot of variety. Thanks again Dusty. I enjoy these immensely.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

December 31, 2020 at 04:01 am

Glad to see the stats on the change to 11 personnel. I wrote an article about more 11 personnel and started tracking it in the snap count articles. Moreover, the 11 Personnel package seems to have been quite effective based on this snapshots.

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PeteK's picture

December 31, 2020 at 08:26 am

The ability to change and not be predictable is what makes this offense very difficult to stop. Many teams attempt to change , but are not successful. Kudos to the coaching and players. I wonder if Rogers has the option of letting the RB keep the ball if he sees the lbs go into coverage. I have seen them all, except for Hudson, but none had the concentration and hands of Adams. Lofton came close. Dusty, always look forward to your article, have a great New year!

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