The Passing Chronicles: 2021 Divisional Round

Dusty breaks down a few plays from the Packers loss to the 49ers in the 2021 Divisional Round

Sure would have been cool to write one of these for a Super Bowl. One day, man. Maybe next year! I can dream. We can all dream.

I know not everyone gets their jollies by revisiting plays from a crushing playoff defeat, so this will be a slightly abbreviated version of The Passing Chronicles. We're going to look at a few plays and get out of here. Deal? Deal.

Play 1: 3rd & 5, 10:11 remaining in the 2nd quarter

We'll kick things off with Stick. Stick is a concept that has been around since the time of the dinosaurs and it's something you'll see by pretty much every team across the league on a week-to-week basis. It's a quick game staple, designed to pick up a few yards when you need them and get the QB in rhythm. You can run a one-version or a two-man version. The Packers will mix it up, but they're running two-man stick on this play.

In times like this - needing to keep the sticks moving on 3rd & 5 in a 7-0 game in the playoffs - you'll often see teams showing you what they're most comfortable with. When you just need a handful of yards, what's your play? What is your identity? For the Packers, Stick is one of their core concepts, so it's not a surprise to see them break it out in this moment. 

It's no surprise why they like it: they have the perfect personnel for it. They have a QB with a quick release and a receiver capable of winning off the line at will. 

Allen Lazard [13] runs a vertical route from the outside while Davante Adams [17] and Randall Cobb [18] push 5 yards up field, turn to the sideline and look for the ball. Aaron Rodgers [12] is reading this outside-in. The vertical route clears the boundary, so Rodgers reads the leverage of the slot defender over Adams. He starts the play over the outside shoulder of Adams, but is on his heels once Adams breaks. And that's all it takes.

Adams regains outside leverage, Rodgers fires to the outside and the Packers pick up 8 yards on 3rd & 5.

The Packers did well with Stick in this game. It was the concept they used the most in the passing game. It's not really a concept that is given to explosive plays (unless you hit the vertical route), so it's usually a pure ball control concept. As Vince Lombardi once said about his fabled Sweep: "there's nothing spectacular about it; it's just a yard gainer." The Packers called this play 5 times against the 49ers. On those plays, Rodgers was 4/5 for 26 yards (5.2 YPA).

Play 2: 2nd & 9, 15:00 remaining in the 4th quarter

There are times when you wonder how anyone stops Stick. Well, this is one way we've seen teams defend it. Sometimes you'll see defenses play trap coverage on the outside, where the boundary defender will release like he's covering the vertical route before dropping back quickly to the outside. This is not that, but it's the same general effect.

This is a one-man stick, with Adams in the slot and Cobb on the outside. Cobb is running a stutter-and-go while Adams is running a quick out. On this one-man concept, Adams often has the freedom to release wherever he wants, depending on leverage. He can run an out, a slant or a stop route. On this rep, he breaks down the defender and takes the out. Rodgers hits his back foot and throws the out, but the boundary defender is looking into the backfield. As soon as Rodgers starts his throwing motion, the boundary defender peels off and lights up Adams as he's turning upfield.

It picks up 5 yards and makes for a manageable 3rd down, but certainly makes you think about throwing it again.

Play 3: 3rd & 3, 0:40 remaining in the 2nd quarter

We'll end this portion with the Packers biggest gain of the day. It's a concept I have professed my love for time-and-time again, but ended up naming it my Most Disappointing concept in my Self-Scouting article. Through that point in the season, it had been a disaster. And, while they did score a pretty nice touchdown on it against the Ravens... hasn't been a consistently productive concept for them this year. "Scrap it," I scream, J. Jonah Jameson style. "Scrap it all." I should have known better.

The Packers are backed up in the shadow of their own goalposts, facing 3rd & 3 with 40 seconds left on the clock. They need a first down or they'll have to punt it back to the 49ers. Punting bad.

It's a slightly different version of Mesh than what I've seen in the past. That's good. If you're going to run a concept that hasn't been working, at least try to switch it up a bit. Adams runs a shallow drag from the left, while Marcedes Lewis [89] and Lazard cross from the right. Lewis works as the mesh crosser - crossing 3+ yards over Adams, as opposed to the tight routes we normally see - while Lazard works the stop route over the mesh point. Cobb is running the vertical route - a corner route - on the left side. Finally, Aaron Jones is running a flat route. 

Rodgers checks the backside safety first and sees him dropping down instead of playing the deep half of the field. Rodgers then goes through the reads.

Typically this concept is read in 3 parts:

  1. Vertical route
  2. Mesh point (with stop route)
  3. Flat

Rodgers doesn't appear to look to the vertical route, which makes sense. Given the pre-snap alignment of the safety to that side - as well as the initial release of the backside safety - he reads it as a two-high coverage, which would have that corner route bracketed. The 49ers are showing a bit of a Tampa 2 look, with Fred Warner [54] dropping back into the middle, so those safeties are split even wider than you'll typically see in a standard Cover 2 look.

So Rodgers looks from the backside safety to the mass of humanity in the middle of the field. So many bodies, man. Just bodies all over the place. There's nowhere to go with the ball and the pass rush is starting to hit home, so Rodgers breaks contain.

Jones, meanwhile, initially leaks out to the flat, but he sees the boundary defender looking inside to trap Adams on the drag and adjusts his route. Instead of sitting in the flat, Jones wheels up the sideline and finds open space. 

Rodgers throws, Jones turns to make the catch and is off to the races.

Jones sees the safety closing and veers to the inside (away from the sideline) and is tackled in the field of play. It's a 75 yard gain, which is great! It's beautiful! I was so happy.

And since there may be children reading, I will not let you know the words that came out of my mouth a few plays later.

We'll close out with something a little different. I wanted to look at two instances of the Packers running the same concept against what appeared to be a similiar defensive alignment. I tried to write it up and couldn't quite get it right, so I decided to talk through it. One of these days I'll learn to be a little more succinct, but Dear Reader, today is not that day. So if you've got 7 minutes and want to listen to me talk through 2 instances of the Packers running Wolf and how the 49ers switched up their coverage to give them issues, here ya go.

This season didn't end at all the way we wanted it to, but I had a blast writing at Cheesehead TV for yet another season. I'm incredibly lucky to be able to write/shout football thoughts into the void and have a place like this to support me, and people like you to read it. I'm going to do what I normally do: take a little time off, get caught up on movies/TV/books, then regroup and re-emerge for an offseason project. I have a couple ideas I'm pretty excited about, so I hope to see you all when I come back up for air.

Thanks for everyone this season. The comments. The feedback. The kind words. I truly appreciate it all. Already looking forward to doing it against next season.

Albums listened to: Big Star - #1 Record; Spanish Love Songs - Brave Faces Everyone; Bright Eyes - Fevers and Mirrors; Eels - Electro-Shock Blues; Arklay Mountains - The Lamb Will Never Overcome; Tom Waits - Rain Dogs; Margot and the Nuclear So & So's - Sling Shot to Heaven; The Verve - Urban Hymns


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].

6 points

Comments (9)

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Coldworld's picture

January 26, 2022 at 03:06 pm

Thank you for all of these pieces. Certainly appreciate the information and perspectives.

3 points
MarkinMadison's picture

January 26, 2022 at 03:58 pm

Thanks Dusty!

2 points
LeotisHarris's picture

January 26, 2022 at 04:02 pm

Thanks for all your terrific insight, effective teaching, and easy manner this season, Dusty. It truly is a pleasure to read your work here, and in your newsletter. Be well.

4 points
croatpackfan's picture

January 26, 2022 at 04:29 pm

I'll be here to wait your future lessons. Stay wealthy, healthy and well until than.

1 points
Johnblood27's picture

January 26, 2022 at 05:14 pm

Au Revoir Dusty, looking forward to your next contribution already.

Take care.

2 points
PeteK's picture

January 26, 2022 at 07:05 pm

Thanks for the insight and music. Stay healthy and get ready for some Love .

1 points
Philarod's picture

January 26, 2022 at 11:12 pm

Thanks for all your great columns, Dusty.
Your knowledge and enthusiasm shine through.

1 points
scoonie_penn's picture

January 27, 2022 at 05:57 am

I'm a huge fan of A Jones but in the last two big games, he's had some major issues that have cost GB points. When your RB1 and QB both play poorly or make critical mistakes it's hard to over come them. There aren't any NFC North bottom feeders in the playoffs who help mask critical errors.

0 points
michael562's picture

January 28, 2022 at 10:16 am

Thanks for all your hard work, Dusty. I really appreciate it.

0 points