The Passing Chronicles: 2022 Week 18

Dusty takes a look at the Packers passing game in their Week 18 loss to the Lions

I usually lead these things off with a bit of a recap about the game that just happened. A one-paragraph summary or something like that. But, with a season-ending loss and countless words already written about it, I feel like no one wants to read more of it. So we’re just going to move straight into the passing game. Cool? Cool.

This is such an odd chart, although not entirely unexpected. The middle of the field is vacant, aside from one completion between the numbers at 4 yards. (There are reasons for that, which we’ll get into in the film portion.) I say it’s not unexpected because this is the kind of chart we’ve come to expect when the Packers play the Lions. The Lions traditionally play a lot of single high coverage (Man Free/Cover 1 and Cover 3), and the weak points in those coverages are up the sideline.

Even as the rest of the league looks to play more two-high looks, the Lions still lean heavily into their single-high defense. As has it always been, as will it ever be, forever and always, Amen.

Except for this day.

The Lions went against their seasons-long tendencies this week, leaning into a two-high look more than they typically do. Beyond that, they made a point of taking away the intermediate middle of the field, an area Rodgers had been thriving in over the last few weeks. They did this by having one of their linebackers (typically Alex Anzalone) focus less on the run and more on dropping back into the middle of the field. It’s something we saw the 49ers do against them in the 2021 Divisional Round and the Lions were able to do the same thing here, to great effect.

That’s not to say that the passing game was shut down. No, Aaron Rodgers numbers don’t look good. He ended the day 17/27 (63%), 205 yards (7.6 YPA), 1 TD and 1 INT (83.1 QB Rating). However, PFF has the Packers with 4 drops (19% drop percentage) on the day, bringing his adjusted completion % up to 80.8%. 

Much like last week, Rodgers found nice success in the short game (0-9 yards), going 10/13 for 69 yards. There were two drops in this area, bringing his adjusted completion percentage to 92.3%. The big thing to note was his average time to throw. Against the Vikings, his average time to throw in the 0-9 yard range was 1.91 seconds. That indicates that he was able to get a clean read on his initial drop and get the ball out on-time. 

This week? Not so much. This week his average time to throw in this area was 2.82 seconds. That indicates that a lot of these targets were less the result of a successful quick-game and more the result of needing to move to his second/third/fourth/fifth read. Less quick-game success, more checkdowns late in the play.

As I indicated, after finding success in the intermediate (10-19 yards) area of the field in recent weeks, the Packers simply couldn’t get anything going this week. Only 2 of Rodgers attempts went to that area. He was 1/2 for 20 yards. He did have a drop in that area (bringing his adjusted completion percentage to 100%), but it was not a productive day in that area of the field. Their passing game was a combination of short stuff and bombs.

When targeting 20+ yards down the field, Rodgers was 3/7 for 85 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. The interception was bad - partially a result of a blown blitz pick-up - but it was far from his only error. PFF has charted Rodgers with 3 turnover worthy plays on the day, and all 3 came in this area. 

If we want to bring this to a close (and we do), we can summarize the passing game as this: the Lions switched up their defensive tendencies and forced the Packers passing game to be a little more precise, and the Packers were not able to be precise enough.

This 2022 Packers team was a team that operated within thin margins if they wanted to be successful. They were not able to operate within those margins against the Lions and it bit them. It’s not quite as simple as that, but it also kind of is.

Alright. Let’s get to some plays.

Play 1: 1st & 10, 8:00 remaining in the 3rd quarter

We’re going to spend our time today looking at a concept that should be extremely familiar to you all by now, as we’ve covered it multiple times. As with all concepts, it’s one that goes by many names. I had known it as PA Bang Dig. Kyle Shanahan calls it Drift. Matt LaFleur calls it Strike.

It’s a play action concept, designed to attack the middle of the field. It’s a wide zone blocking scheme, paired with a quick turn off play action. It’s designed to initially look like a wide zone run, with a quick-pivot from the QB to attack the middle while the defense is still recovering from the play action. 

For all intents and purposes, Strike is a one-man concept but a two-man route. The receiver to the play action side runs a vertical route, while the receiver on the opposite side of the line runs a dig route. The vertical route works as a clear out, and the QB looks to target the dig route in the middle of the field. Hit the defense while the linebackers are still pulled up to the line.

It’s a great concept and has done nice work for the Packers this year, but defenses can take it away if they commit to it. That means less support in the run game, but more defenses are trying to operate that way.

The Packers are in 12 personnel in shotgun, with Christian Watson [9] wide to the right and Allen Lazard [13] wide to the left. Lazard is running the go route and Watson is running the dig route.

At the snap, Lazard pushes vertically down the field, then angles slightly at the single-high safety. Watson pushes vertically then breaks on the dig. He gets nice separation doing this, but the Lions are content to give up the middle to Watson on this play, as Alex Anzalone [34] is dropping to the middle and underneath the dig.

It’s the same kind of thing we saw in Week 12 when Watson went for 63 for a big TD. On that play, Jordan Love was able to hit Watson, and the slight bend at the top of the route from Lazard meant the safety had to take a bad angle, and Watson erased the angle with ease on his way to the end zone.

The Packers did not have the same result this time.

This time, Rodgers isn’t able to hit Watson in the initial window and the rush gets home before he can wait for a second window throw. Rodgers ends up spiking the ball at the feet of AJ Dillon [28] in the flat.

So the Packers have tried to hit Strike and it did not go well. They can’t hold the linebackers at the line, which causes problems. But that doesn’t mean the concept itself is dead. There are other things that can be done.

Play 2: 1st & 10, 4:34 remaining in the 3rd quarter

Packers are in 12 personnel, starting with a stack to the left. They motion Josiah Deguara [81] to be the upback in I-formation. The defense shifts, but it doesn’t trigger any pre-snap safety movement, telling Aaron Rodgers that he’s looking at a single-high coverage, with the safety shading to the strong side of the formation; the strong side being the side away from Christian Watson. 

Rodgers is under center this time. When he flips back around after the play fake, he checks the drop of Anzalone, confirms that he’s dropping to take away the middle, then loads and fires to Watson.

It’s a perfect throw and Watson is able to haul in a pass even while being tackled as the ball is on the way down.

Play 3: 1st & 10, 5:49 remaining in the 4th quarter

You can’t rely on go balls, especially when the defense is showing a two-high look. But there are other ways to use the core of this concept to attack.

The Packers are in 21 personnel, with Aaron Jones [33] lined up in the left slot. He goes in jet motion pre-snap, which initially sees a safety creeping up to the line before eventually falling back to a two-high look.

Christian Watson is running the go/corner route on the right, while Romeo Doubs [87] is running the dig from the left.

After the snap, Rodgers checks and once again finds Anzalone dropping back into the middle of the field, taking away the dig. The Packers anticipated this and have altered Doubs' route as a result. Doubs initially breaks in on a dig route, then reverses course to run a corner route. The corner route is effective against a two-high look, and it looks like there’s a window to hit Doubs.

However, the Lions have a well-timed corner blitz called and that mucks things up. Rodgers is checking the safeties and ready to work over to Doubs when the blitz closes in. If the boundary defender - Amani Oruwariye [24] - is pulled up to Jones in the flat, Rodgers likely fires to Doubs. But the deep drop of Oruwariye makes that a difficult decision in the moment, so Rodgers opts to hit Jones on the checkdown in space.

Jones is able to pick up 8 yards on the play. Not bad, but a well-timed blitz and a deep drop from Oruwariye spoils what could have been a big play.

Thank you to everyone who has read any of these articles this year. I adjusted the format midstream and kind of stumbled my way through, but I feel like I learned a lot more about the overall passing game on a week-to-week basis than I generally do, so I hope you did as well. I’ve got some things planned for the offseason but I’m not entirely sure when those will be dropping, so I hope you check them out when I re-emerge from the cave I’m going to crawl into. 

Thanks for a really fun season. It may not have ended the way any of us wanted, but I had a lot of fun and learned a ton along the way. Thanks for coming along on the ride.

Albums listened to: Radiohead - The Bends; The Violet Burning - The Violet Burning; Toad the Wet Sprocket - Fear; The National - Trouble Will Find Me; Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV


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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6 points

Comments (13)

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

January 11, 2023 at 03:08 pm

Another great article!

3 completions over 10 yards against one of the worst defenses in the league, who had to start multiple backup CBs. Not how I expected that to play out.

9 points
LeotisHarris's picture

January 11, 2023 at 03:31 pm

Thanks for all your great work this season, Dusty; always an enjoyable and informative read.

You really can't go wrong with When the Levee Breaks cranked up to 11 while in your cave. Now I'm going to have to dial up a 2014 version of Don't Swallow the Cap from Sydney, and I thank you for that, too.

5 points
croatpackfan's picture

January 11, 2023 at 04:05 pm

Another gem. Thank you.

Just one small remark, on that sheet with location of the throws, you are missing one incompletion. Total number of spots are 26, not 27. All 17 cought passes are there, 1 incompletion missing.

1 points
PeteK's picture

January 11, 2023 at 04:55 pm

I still believe some quicker throws would have beat that LB in deep coverage. However, O line did not help in this game especially the left side. thanks again for all the weekly breakdowns.

6 points
CheesedDeadHead's picture

January 11, 2023 at 08:31 pm

"The middle of the field is vacant"

It's not really surprising that it seems our receivers can't get separation when you cede so much of the field to the defense they have a much smaller area to defend.

Do NextGen Stats also have "on target" or some metric for measuring the accuracy of each of those passes? It seems that this year Rodgers has little accuracy on the long balls and seems to have an arm to match Crosby's leg (just can't get the distance anymore).

6 points
Since'61's picture

January 11, 2023 at 08:50 pm

Great works all season Dusty. Thanks, Since '61

4 points
NickPerry's picture

January 12, 2023 at 06:31 am

Thanks Dusty...I love these articles from you. I always learn something after watching/reading one of these.

1 points
Johnblood27's picture

January 12, 2023 at 06:49 am

Thanks for all of your "labor of love" posts Dusty.

How about a season recap with the Next Gen chart for the entire season? I would like to see things from a strategic POV taking individual defenses week to week blended together to perhaps see some offensive strategic philosophies revealed.

Sounds like a cave assignment to me!

2 points
Tundraboy's picture

January 12, 2023 at 08:29 am

Thanks again. Certainly upgrades my understanding of the game within the game. This week left me thinking we need some larger tougher,quicker and stronger Oline men. Asap.

Absolutely has to be the priority in this year's drafts. And another Watson type WR. Oh and a TE ..... But all kidding aside that would solve a whole bunch of problems. Tired of this team getting pushed around and equally tired of MLFs line decisions each week and especially right before THE big game!.

In short This team needs to go back to its roots and I'm not exactly calling for the Sweep again but that's always my point of reference

On to the off-season

5 points
T7Steve's picture

January 12, 2023 at 08:38 am

Thanks for the whole year, Dusty. Love when you're dissecting plays for me.

If he hadn't had to slow down for the ball Watson should have had a touchdown.

Douds sure looked open for a long time on his dig/corner rout. Rodgers could have hit him anywhere from just before the dig and the next 7 yards after he went back out before anyone was around him.

I can't believe with the Lions playing 2 high and dropping the LB into the middle we couldn't make them pay for it with some delayed draws or other runs. I thought the line was just coming into its own (by week 18???), but they really let me down.

Have to demote Stanovich back to the O-line coach job and find a good OC. I know MLF likes to keep consistency in the coaching, but consistently bad isn't a good thing, is it?

4 points
Packer_Fan's picture

January 12, 2023 at 08:48 am

Ok, the Lions changed up their tendencies. Where was Lafluer's adjustment? Instead of the offense opening up in the second half if LaFluer adjusted, the offense went dead. Because the Lions adjusted to what the Packers were doing.

To me this is the weakness of LaFluer and the Pack as a whole. Another season fizzled to Packers weaknesses and tendencies that other teams exploit in playoff games. And this past game was a playoff game.

4 points
jannes bjornson's picture

January 12, 2023 at 02:06 pm

Well, we know his tendency to panic, or follow AI recommendations from 'Analytics for dummies" resulting in Failures on 4th and inches, 4th and one, FG attempts as the temps drop @Lambeau, going for first down on 4th, deep in Your Own territory. Is this guy placing side bets in Vegas?

2 points
BirdDogUni's picture

January 12, 2023 at 03:47 pm

If he did, I'm sure he lost. SMH

0 points