The Passing Chronicles Bye Week

Dusty takes a look back at the first 4 games of the season and discusses LaFleur's growth as a playcaller & gameplanner

Happy bye week everyone! Like some very important Packers, I hope you all have been able to recharge and get healthy for the rest of the season.

With only 4 weeks to reflect on, I was unsure what to do in this space this week. Not enough has been set up yet to fully get into variations on core concepts. However, I noticed something over the first four weeks and I thought it might be fun to explore a bit here.

I had the pleasure of being on Pack's What She Said this past weekend and one of the things I mentioned was how Matt LaFleur has been grouping his core concepts this season into games. Typically you'll see a team running some version of their core concepts over the course of several weeks. That's certainly what I'm used to seeing. So far this season, LaFleur has been heavily featuring specific concepts on a week-to-week basis. Instead of running 2-3 versions of Mesh every week for 4 weeks, he ran Mesh 6-7 times in one game. It has allowed me to be able to attach themes to each game this year. Today, we're taking a look at those themes.

Week 1: Jet Sweep

Pretty much every team uses jet sweep motion on occasion - and has been for years - and the Packers are no different. Over the last couple of years we saw Geronimo Allison in that role far too often. This season has been nicer in that regard: instead of Allison, we've seen Tyler Ervin and Allen Lazard running that type of motion more often than not. Jet motion helps to set up a lot of what the Packers are trying to do, so having some speed in that role is huge.

Something else that is huge is getting the defense to respect the fact that the Packers may give the ball to the jet sweep man. If they don't believe he's a threat to get the ball, they don't have to pay attention to the motion. The touches by the jet sweep man don't necessarily have to be successful in order to get the defense to respect him: the offense just needs to show they're willing to give the ball to that man. It's about showing tendencies, not necessarily being successful.

We've got Tyler Ervin [32] going in motion in front of Aaron Rodgers [12] before the snap. There are two blockers on the edge and a little criss-cross motion with the play action to Aaron Jones [33]. At the snap, Rodgers fakes the hand-off to Jones and gets the ball to Ervin on a touch-pass. The play fake draws the defense up-and-over to the play action side, while the defensive end crashes on Jones.

That gives Ervin a nice release to the outside and under the blocking on the boundary. 

The play picks up 6 yards, but, like I said, the yardage itself almost doesn't matter. They showed that they were willing to do this. Not only did they give the ball to the jet sweep man on this play: they did it multiple times in Week 1. Now defenses have to respect that motion, which can open up a number of different things. With the defense moving horizontally, holes will open behind those defenders for some short-to-mid routes. If the defense is too aggressive trying to bottle it up, the hand-off to the other side would see the RB running counter to the motion they have set-up.

Week 2: Mesh

I've talked about Mesh at length in this space before, so I won't get too deep into it here. Mesh is a staple in most NFL offenses, and the Packers are no different. They tend to run a variation of it a couple times per week. Against the Lions, that number was closer to 6 times. It made sense: the Lions play a lot of man coverage and Mesh can be extremely effective against man coverage, as the dueling drags in the middle of the field can help create a natural rub.

Both of these are versions of Mesh, but they are also quite a bit different from how they're run. The first one is run out of a spread look with trips to the right. The non-drag routes are all pushing vertical.

The second one is run out of a bunch look on the left, with Jones running a wheel up the sideline from the backfield.

Though they ran Mesh multiple times in this game, they were never exactly the same, either in pre-snap look or post-snap routes. 

Week 3: PA Bootleg

This is another staple in offenses around the league. We've seen LaFleur be a heavy user of PA Bootleg throughout his career. They decided to put the hammer down and really feature it against the Saints, and they did great work with it.

The mechanics are simple: play fake to the running back one way, bootleg the other way and run 2-4 routes to the bootleg side.

We're starting to see these things build already, aren't we? This run of PA Boot features jet sweep motion from Ervin. You can see how the defense steps up and over to account for that, giving Rodgers a free release on the bootleg and the receivers able to work counter to the initial flow of the defense.

Same concept, slightly different run. I'm a big fan of the "Slam" route from Marcedes Lewis [89] on the left, blocking down initially before releasing to the flat. Lewis is working in a little pocket of space created by the horizontal stretch of the jet sweep motion.

No jet sweep motion this time, but the core idea is the same: play fake to one side, roll to the other. On this one, the defensive end crashes, giving Jace Sternberger [87] a free release underneath the line and plenty of room to work.

Again, they ran this concept 6-7 times against the Saints. Not only did they have a lot of success with it, it also helped to establish the core concept, which can open up counters down the road.

In fact, we saw a counter to that core concept - specifically the version with the Slam route - the very next week.

Instead of blocking down and releasing into the flat, Robert Tonyan [85] continues over the line and leaks out the other side. Likewise, Rodgers alters his motion. Instead of continuing on the bootleg, Rodgers pulls up and hits Tonyan.

Week 4: Slant/Flat

Finally, in week 4, we saw the Packers feature a lot of Slant/Flat. The concept itself is a staple of West Coast influenced teams - that is to say, pretty much all of them - and it's something we've seen from the Packers for as far back as the vast majority of us can remember.

The play has been flipped, but that's the only difference. Both plays feature 2X1 alignment, with the slant/curl run to the side with an in-line TE. The slant is run by the outside receiver, the curl is run from the in-line receiver and the flat route is run underneath. They ran this exact look multiple times against the Falcons.

What does all of this mean? Like I said at the top, you will normally see coaches spread their core concepts out a bit more. You're still setting up your tendencies, but you're doing it gradually.

So why does the grouping happen? It could be for a lot of reasons. It could be because LaFleur really just wants to get his core concepts out of the way. I don't believe that's the reason, though. 

Part of it has to do with gameplanning. I touched on it with Mesh, but I'll bring it up again here. If you know a defense is going to give a certain look that can be exploited with one of your core concepts, it makes sense to gameplan for that. "The Lions are in man coverage, so let's run our core concepts that take advantage of that."

The other part of it has to do with in-game playcalling. The initial run of these concepts were all pretty early in the game, and they had success with them. When they saw how the defense was reacting, LaFleur just decided to keep going back to the well.

For me, seeing these "themes" speaks to the gameplanning and LaFleur's growth as a playcaller. As an added bonus, it helps to set up some really fun variations down the line. I can't wait to see what he does in the rest of the season. It's shaping up to be an absolute blast.

Albums listened to: TV On The Radio - Seeds; Richard Edwards - The Soft Ache and the Moon


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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7 points

Comments (7)

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

October 14, 2020 at 07:09 pm

Just love these weekly posts.

It's schemes and players. Something that our previous coach (what's his name again?) didn't seem to understand.

2 points
Stroh's picture

October 14, 2020 at 08:59 pm

Your a tool! That previous HC brought a Lombardi Trophy home! You need to thank him.

BTW his offense was revolutionary from '00 thru '16, til the NFL caught up to it. Thst happens to every scheme. Give the man the credit he's due!

-5 points
Coldworld's picture

October 15, 2020 at 09:21 am

Well there is some truth in both comments. MM started as a flexible coach. I’m not sure I’d call him a strategist type, but he built to strengths and built a really good offense that should have won two Lombardi trophies.

That said, in line with roster decline perhaps, later MM, even by 2016, had come to see the formula (his vision) as the cause of his success in my opinion. As such, he ceased to adapt and focused on players being better at what they were asked to do not what they were good at and became rigid in his game planning. Facing dimi shift returns he paired the system back to help players grasp it. That made it predictable to a whole new extent and in fact made the players tasks harder.

MM was a very good coach. He lost his way later on. I’ve often wondered if a healthy Ted would have kept MM more grounded.

3 points
jannes bjornson's picture

October 15, 2020 at 03:47 am

More of a Walsh west coast now. Toss in some Lavell Edwards.

3 points
Lphill's picture

October 14, 2020 at 07:23 pm

Thanks Dusty I'm just happy not to see the famous McCarthy side toss that went nowhere multiple times a game !

4 points
Bearmeat's picture

October 15, 2020 at 06:22 am

Thanks for these, Dusty. I always learn something. Regarding the Shanahan style core concepts: At some point could you speak a little about how other styles of offense might set up and/or counter their tendencies? It would be nice to see how the Packers are doing things, compared to say, the Chiefs, or MM's Cowboys. (That still feels weird).

Basically, how different is MLF and the offense here?

2 points
Coldworld's picture

October 15, 2020 at 09:25 am

This year is now not a good comparative due to injuries, but I’d be really interested not so much in a comparison to Shanahan but to what the 49ers were doing last year. Yes they are derived from Shanahan but LaFleur seems much closer in philosophy to what they do when healthy.

1 points

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