The Passing Chronicles: Matt LaFleur's Screen Game

I spent this week looking at every sack of Aaron Rodgers in Week 12, but after going through all the passing offense, I had one other angle I really wanted to look at: Matt LaFleur's screen game.

Let's talk about the nature of the screen pass really quick. Traditionally, a screen pass is used to slow down a good pass rush. The idea is to have the offensive line block for a beat, then allow the defender they are blocking to get past them. Once the defender is past them and on their way to the quarterback, the linemen will release downfield and block for a running back who has leaked out of the backfield. The concept itself is simple: use the aggressiveness of the defense against them but letting them think they have a free run to the quarterback, then throwing behind them. The offense is essentially looking to remove all of the pass rushers from the equation. They're flipping the numbers.

We all know the game has a tendency to be a bit more complicated than that. You can't always just throw a screen: you have to disguise it a bit from time-to-time. Beyond that, screens are not just thrown to running backs anymore. A screen can be thrown to a wide receiver on the perimeter or a tight end off the end of the line. It's 2019, man. A screen can be thrown anywhere.

I wanted to take a look at three screen passes from Week 12 and show how LaFleur is mixing things up in the screen game.

Play 1: 2nd & 13, 7:49 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers trailing 0-7

Post/wheel is a really fun concept. I covered it in-depth here. If you don't feel like clicking that link, the basic idea is that the outside receiver runs a post route while another receiver - either from in-line, slot or backfield - runs a wheel route underneath it. You want the boundary defender to follow the post, then run the wheel behind it. Again, it's a really fun concept that can work really well.

The Packers are running that on the left side of the offense.

To add to that, they're also running a wide receiver screen on the right side, with the slot receiver running a quick out under a blocking wide receiver on the outside.

So let's put this together. The Packers are running a wide receiver screen on the right, post/wheel on the left, and a running back screen under the post/wheel. That's beautiful.

Here's what you can do out of this look:

1. Throw the wide receiver screen to the right (Aaron Rodgers' first read on this particular play).
2. Throw the screen to the right.
3. Throw quickly over the top on the post/wheel if you like one of the match-ups immediately.

The tricky thing with any pass play that involves offensive linemen releasing down the field (screen passes or RPOs are the two obvious examples) is that the ball needs to come out quickly or you risk drawing a penalty (either ineligible receiver downfield or offensive pass interference). So if you're throwing downfield, the ball needs to come out as quickly as possible.

The other thing this opens up is a shot on the post-wheel down the line. If you show this look enough, defenses may start to crash on the screen. If you dial up something that looks like a screen but ends up keeping the offensive line back in a pass-blocking scheme, you can take more time on the shot. Run the screen, get the defense leaning, then show them something that merely looks like the screen. Get the safety crashing on the screen and the post/wheel is open.

This specific play didn't end up working, but it's a really nice design and it could set up a big play down the line.

Play 2: 1st & 20, 9:01 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers trailing 0-10

Slant/flat is an old West Coast Offense principle. If you've read anything I've written in the past 6 years, you've likely seen this brought up. I covered it in-depth this past offseason, and you can read that right here. It's a simple design: an outside receiver runs a slant and an inside receiver runs a flat. It can cause confusion in zone coverage and can cause defenders to sit back in man coverage. Either way, you can find an opening for an easy 5-7 yards. 

But what of the double-slant flat? It's the same principle, but with a little more to it. In double-slant flat, you're looking at that inside slant route. If an inside defender doesn't fall underneath it, you can hit that route. The inside slant can also create space for the follow-slant. The inside slant can clear the middle of the defense, making space for the slant route behind it. The timing can often be tight, but it can be extremely effective.

The Packers are running that here. We've got a double-slant flat on the right side of the line, with a twist: they're running a screen underneath it. Get the defense falling under the slant look, then hit them behind that movement with a screen pass.

Much like Play 1, this one doesn't work, but I love the thought behind it.

Play 3: 2nd & 6, 11:48 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers trailing 0-23

We just talked about slant/flat, so we don't need to rehash it. This isn't playing off the double-slant flat: this is just the plain old slant/flat concept.

The Packers run slant/flat a lot. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I feel like it has been at least 3-5 times a game this season. We can probably expand that to say 3-5 times over the past 10 seasons. They run it a lot is my point.

The Packers know they run it a lot. Defenses know they run it a lot. Here's the cycle: the Packers run it a bunch, defenses start to jump it, the Packers run a variation and the cycle restarts itself. If the defense never jumps slant/flat it can be an easy 5-7 yards, if not more. If the defense jumps it and the offense runs something counter to it, they can get burned. That's the eternal question: get sliced up 5-7 yards at a time or risk giving up 50 yards? 

Over the years, the Packers have run a lot of fun variations to slant/flat. If I've seen this particular one, I don't remember it. The slot and outside receivers start the motion of running slant/flat, looking for the defense to react. Instead of running a straight flat route, the slot receiver peels off to block the outside defender, while the outside receiver falls back for a wide receiver screen. If the defense is looking for slant/flat, the defenders would be charging hard at the line. Throwing a wide receiver screen would catch them off guard and could lead to a big play.

In the theme of this article, the 49ers don't bite and this play only picks up 7 yards. While 7 yards is better than 0 yards, it's still not quite what the Packers were looking for.

I just showed you 3 plays that gained a combined 6 yards. The longest gain was for 7 yards. I fully understand that none of these plays were overly successful. The 49ers have a very good defense and they put the clamps on the Packers this past Sunday, but these concepts themselves are a lot of fun and could lead to some big plays down the line. I wanted to show that, even in a loss, the Packers were running out some cool ideas, some of which are playing off tendencies they've been setting up all season. Just because they didn't work this past week doesn't mean they won't work going forward. Matt LaFleur is running some inventive plays, and I'm excited to see more of this going forward.

Albums listened to: Sarah Bethe Nelson - Weird Glow; Big Thieft - Two Hands


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].

4 points

Comments (10)

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ShooterMcGee's picture

November 29, 2019 at 05:07 pm

The bubble screens to Allison must stop. It's pathetic to watch just how slow and unelusive he is. I would like to see a TE screen once in awhile such as the play you once highlighted to Mercedes Lewis. In this play he comes accross the formation to block the defensive end, let's him go, then is in perfect position with blockers in front. Set it up for Tonyan, Sternberger, or even the fb Vitale. I know they may not be so elusive but they can run over a few people.

8 points
WestWi_Packfan's picture

November 29, 2019 at 06:56 pm

He looks awkward and off balance like he's falling on ice, he could make up for this with some great hands but he doesnt have that either as drops are common with him. Cant figure out why he's still getting snaps while Tonyan, Kumerow and Vitale aren't getting many touches. Dont see the Packers re-signing him next year so they need to get these other players more involved and relegate Geronimo to the bench.

0 points
Lphill's picture

November 29, 2019 at 07:34 pm

I think we see more Kumerow and Lazard for the rest of the season I think Rodgers is done with Allison.

0 points
Tundraboy's picture

November 29, 2019 at 09:53 pm

I hope so. I'm certainly done with seeing him for the foreseeable future.

0 points
albert999's picture

November 29, 2019 at 08:07 pm

Listening to Pettines press conference today
I think he is totally full of SHIT

-2 points
SterlingSharpe's picture

November 29, 2019 at 08:18 pm

I missed it.

Our screens.....we need to run a fake screen to Jones and then sneak someone deep. Maybe MVS since that's his forte.

1 points
porupack's picture

November 30, 2019 at 05:07 am

Dusty, high quality as usual, and my favorite posts on CHTV. Love the format, overlaying the route and optional route. Great for fans of all levels of knowledge and a great to increase interest in the fan base to appreciate nuance of the game. What a great service to packerdom.

On your first example, it strikes me; great plan, but executed lethargically and pro-forma. That wide receiver, if shifty and made a reverse cut slanting back toward the middle, could have exploited a huge bit of real estate. Is that just too much unscripted back yard improvisation?

On your second play, again, seems like great design, but Rodgers did not release immediately on the slant.

All this to say, your 3 examples have me rethinking my usual bias; to blame coaches and scheme, more than players talent. Now, you have me thinking that maybe the design is there, but players just failing to do that extra. I'm trying to imagine how Edelman, and other similar WRs (who aren't simply uber-talented) consistently make those plays.

Again kudos for your article if you can get a fan to rethink their biases.

5 points
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 30, 2019 at 04:25 pm

Over and over again, it is when the ball is thrown as much as to whom. AR can wait for Williams but since that looked out of sync from the get-go, the ball needed to come out pronto to the flat so as to allow that receiver room and time to gain yards with two blockers out front and 3 defenders, one of whom is 12 yards downfield. It was a first and twenty.

0 points
NJMagic's picture

November 30, 2019 at 05:24 pm

I don't know Dusty - at some point, great ideas that routinely fail may just not be great "enough" concepts. I too was excited for the potential of a modern offense, but when it doesn't translate, then whether It is the situation/timing of the call? The execution? The Defense keys? It's just not enough to have a concept in abstract.

We're far enough along, production matters ..m

0 points
DustyEvely's picture

November 30, 2019 at 09:44 pm

We're 11 games into a new regime and a new offense. Screens hinge so much on timing, execution and misdirection. This past week, the 49ers just weren't biting and some of them were just a bit off from a timing perspective. It happens.
Overall, I'm very encouraged by the early returns of LaFleur's system. The offense is run with a thought process we haven't seen before.
Production matters, that is true. But context also matters. LaFleur is a first time head coach and is trying to find the right balance between throwing to his #1 receiver and involving running backs in the passing game, as well as a thousand other things. On top of that, there are certain pieces that are needed to help the offense run as smoothly as possible - a second speed guy, preferably one with some quick-twitch to his game - and the Packers just don't have that. When a guy comes in with a new system, it can be hindered by who he has. Overall, I like what LaFleur has done with the pieces he has. Furthermore, he has shown an ability to adjust, which is a promising sign.
The concept is good. The schemes are good. It can just take a bit of time for everything to run exactly as it should. Don't give up on a guy or a scheme after 11 games, especially when there is clearly a thought of good and sound thinking that goes into it.

0 points