The Passing Chronicles: Play Action Bootleg & 4th Down

Dusty goes to the film to explain the playcall on 4th & 1

My regular article came out yesterday. I covered the Packers use of Smash against the Colts, and how that helped set up the bomb to MVS late in the game. But I still had another concept I wanted to get into, so I thought I'd write up something about it. Today, we're getting into the incomplete pass on 4th down with 3:11 remaining in the game and the Packers down 28-31. In Pro Football Reference's play-by-play of the game, the play simply goes down as "Aaron Rodgers pass incomplete short left intended for Jamaal Williams." That's true, but as with all things, there is more to it than that. 

If you need a refresher, here's the play from the broadcast.

I heard a lot of cries of "that was a terrible playcall," so I wanted to see what I thought about the playcall itself. What were they trying to do? That's always the central question, isn't it? 

To understand what they were trying to do, we need to go back to the 1st quarter and run through 5 plays. 

But first, a question. You all remember Play Action Bootleg (PA Boot)? Of course you do. It's a staple of Matt LaFleur's playbook. Really, it's a staple of any coach with a zone blocking scheme. The mechanics are simple: play fake one way, then have the quarterback roll back the other way and have 2-3 receivers rolling with him on different levels. That's basically all we're looking at today.

Unlike my regular articles, we're not going to spend a lot of time on each play. Honestly, for our purposes today, I'm not even overly concerned with the end result. I want us to get familiar with the concept itself. Then we can get to a place where we can at least understand what the Packers were going for on 4th & 1.

Play 1: 3rd & 1, 11:06 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

Play action to the right, boot to the left to find 3 receivers flooding that side of the field. Aaron Jones [33] carries out the fake and drifts into the flat away from the flood.

Play 2: 1st & 10, 10:29 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

Play action to the left, boot to the right to find 3 receivers flooding that side of the field. Jones carries out the fake, cuts through the line and drifts into the flat away from the flood.

Play 3: 2nd & 6, 9:48 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

Play action to the right, boot to the left to find 3 receivers flooding that side of the field. Jones carries out the fake and helps out with blocking away from the flood.

This all feeling pretty monotonous so far? Good. That means it's working.

Play 4: 1st & 10, 8:27 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 14-7

Play action to the left, boot to the right to find 2 receivers flooding that side of the field (plus Robert Tonyan [85] kind of meandering around in the middle, trying to drift into an empty zone). Jamaal Williams [30] carries out the fake and helps out with blocking away from the flood.

Play 5: 1st & 10, 1:54 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 28-25

Play action to the right, boot left to find 2 receivers flooding that side of the field (plus a stutter-and-go from Davante Adams [17] on the outside). Williams carries out the fake, cuts through the line and drifts into the flat away from the flood.

We just saw 5 examples of PA Boot. Sure, there were some differences between them - some had jet motion, the formations were different, etc. - but the main action and idea behind them is the same. Play action one way, boot the otehr way and find receivers flooding the zone.

Play 6: 4th & 1, 3:11 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers trailing 28-31

So we find ourselves looking at 4th &1 late in the game. Just as a refresher, let's look at that broadcast again.

Still doesn't look great, right? But we are now armed with knowledge and the All 22 angle. What does that show? I suspect you already know.

It's not exactly the same, but the core action is there, to an extent. You have a shallow crosser from Tonyan off the left side of the line and what appears to be a mid-crosser from Adams on the outside. The play action takes place away from the flood, just like all the plays we looked at. But instead of rolling with them, Aaron Rodgers [12] pulls up and looks to the backside of the play, where Adams is coming back to the sideline instead of continuing on his crossing route. We also have Williams drifting into the flat, just like we saw above.

The idea is to get the defense biting on what they've already seen 5 times in this game (and countless times on film). Get them reading PA Boot, then hit them with the counter. Rodgers is looking to go to Adams, and with an extra half-second he likely would have. But that route isn't quite ready to throw to yet, so he throws to Williams. The last time the Packers ran PA Boot, the backside linebacker left Williams alone on his release. This time, the linebacker plays it well and sticks with him.

One of the reasons it doesn't work is because Adams is walled off from the sideline by the defender. Ideally, he cuts back to the sideline as soon as Rodgers sets up behind the line. As soon as the defense sees Rodgers set up, they know it's not the PA Boot they're looking for. You can see Adams stutter a little to come back to the sideline, only to find the defender to that side. That forces him to take a wider path up the field. That wider path causes Rodgers to hold it, which allows pressure to break through, and so on. If you give a mouse a cookie, and all that.

I'll run it one more time so you don't have to scroll back up.

It's a fun idea and I love the sequencing, but the Colts play this well and are able to get pressure up the middle to force the issue. 

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but moments like these are why you set up your tendencies. Get the defense leaning. Get them thinking they know what's coming, then hit them with a counter. You have to create your own windows, and the Packers were looking to do that in a big moment.

You may still hate the call and that's fine, but I hope you at least understand the thought process behind it now. Why they ran it, how they set it up and why they thought it would be effective.

To end us on a high note, I thought I'd show what can happen when this is effective. Let's take it back to the 2019 Divisional Round game against the Seahawks.

See? There is beauty in this world.

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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].

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Comments (11)

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Fabio's picture

November 26, 2020 at 10:30 am

Excellent work as always Dusty. But I think that in the 4th and 1st PA Boot there is one small but equally big mistake by Williams. He does not immediately seek separation and delays that moment too long (the pocket gives way too quickly).
So I think Jones was more ideal to play unless (Williams hesitation makes me think) the game was just for Adams.
Happy Thanks Dusty. For those like me who are not very competent in footbal your articles are gold

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jlc1's picture

November 28, 2020 at 08:51 am

google translate definitely doing a better job Fabio! ;)

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missakriti's picture

November 26, 2020 at 10:42 am

Very interesting,good job and thanks for sharing such a good blog.your article is so convincing that I never stop myself to say something about it.You’re doing a great job.Keep it up if you guyz want Call Girls in patna than contact us

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Since'61's picture

November 26, 2020 at 10:52 am

Nice work Dusty. I noticed that in the PA boot from 2019 Rodgers does a better job of actually starting to roll to the right before throwing back to his left.

In the play from the Colts games I don’t think he takes a step to the right at all. Maybe it would not have mattered, but maybe it would have fooled the Colts just enough to work. Happy Thanksgiving to all at CHTV. Thanks, Since ‘61

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Coldworld's picture

November 26, 2020 at 11:18 am

Wasn’t their ILB flying straight at him this time?

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Philarod's picture

November 26, 2020 at 04:17 pm

Happy TG, all.
Yes, this may have simply been defended better, but I did not see any misdirection or counter on the 4th and 1 play. Adams did not beat his man on his release - not a great route - and while the throw to JW was doable, it was a deceptively tough one ...it needed to be softer with more air. (Note: I'm slightly criticizing, arguably, my favorite QB of all time.)

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Minniman's picture

November 26, 2020 at 11:16 am

Thanks again for the wonderful and detailed work Dusty, much appreciated.

In summary though, the Packers outsmarted themselves, as while they may have established their tendencies on early downs for that play type - this was 4th and 1.

As Fabio noted above, if the plan was to get 2 Packers 1 on 1 with a defender then Jones is probably the best for that.

RG Lucas Patrick also lets Jenkins get picked on by not assisting the stand in C - he actually works outside and triple teams a guy! Leaving a gap to be shot and Rodgers pressured into a bad throw.

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PhantomII's picture

November 26, 2020 at 11:51 am

I don't like the call. When Williams is overthrown on 4-1 our TE goes in motion to left bringing another defender to his side and only 2 players are available for a catch out of 4. I still say a half back pass a couple times a game would give another thing for the defense to think about after halftime so they can't adjust for it.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 26, 2020 at 05:58 pm

I love these articles, Dusty. They don't always get lots of comments, but I suspect a lot of readers make sure to read them.

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flackcatcher's picture

November 26, 2020 at 07:04 pm

Just here to concur with TGR Dusty. Fine recap of the thinking that goes into offensive play calling. But let's not forget that the Colts HC is a well regarded offensive mind in his own right, and no doubt spent time with his DC breaking down the Packers offensive tendencies. The other side gets a vote too.

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jlc1's picture

November 28, 2020 at 08:54 am

Dusty again delivers. One thing I take away from the failed 4th down and failed TD attempt is how a good defense delivers, in contrast to the GB defense too often. On both plays at the critical point in Adams' route the defender seemed to understand what Adams was doing and made sure he was in that path and forced Adams to adjust and that took just enough time to force the play elsewhere and for the rush to get closer.

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