The Passing Chronicles: Self-Scouting on the Bye Week

Dusty takes the bye week to look at some of the major passing concepts the Packers leaned on in 2021

Hello! Apologies for the delay this week. As you know, the Packers had a bye week, which means I had a tougher time kicking myself into gear for writing than I had anticipated. But we’re here now, and that’s all that matters.

Since Week 3 this year (the 49ers game), I’ve been charting every passing dropback and noting the general concept the Packers used. This week, we’re diving into weeks 3-12 and seeing what worked, what didn’t, and what that could mean going forward. (For those asking “why not all 12 weeks,” it’s because I didn’t really start charting this way until week 3 and I haven’t had the time to chart the first 2 weeks. Please forgive me.)

Let’s get rolling.

I’ve got entirely too much data and not all of it feels compelling enough to write about. Who wants to see all the plays that were run once but weren’t successful? Maybe it’s you, but that feels like a reach. So instead we’re going to look at some of the concepts the Packers have really leaned on this year and see how they did with them.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, RPO reigns supreme. They have thrown the ball on RPOs 2.3 times per game, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt. And, while I haven’t charted the specific kind of RPO, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that they are all off the bubble WR screen variety.

An average of 4.6 yards per play doesn’t seem like much, but in a year with both Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon averaging 4.2 yards per carry, it’s picking up more yards than a run, and it’s as close to a sure thing as you can get.

Stick & The Quick Game

The next 3 concepts – Stick, PA Boot and Dragon – don’t shock me too much, either. Stick and Dragon (aka Slant/Flat) are quick-game concepts that the Packers lean on heavily. With Stick specifically, they really lean into Adams’ ability to win out of the slot. The slot receiver in Stick typically has a three-way option for release: a quick out, a slant or a curl/stick route. With Adams’ ability to win off the line and get his defender moving, he’s able to set up his defender and break away from the lean of the defender. The completion percentage on Stick is slightly lower than I would have anticipated, but they do tend to take shots on the go route off of this concept.

Dagger

The Dagger concept has been a big one for the Packers this year. It’s a deeper concept, pairing a vertical route from the inside with a deep dig route from the outside. The Packers will typically have the slot receiver run a read route that breaks to the post against two-high coverages and breaks on a crosser against single-high defenses. The vertical route can push the safeties deep, opening up the middle for the dig route from the outside. They’ve used this in a lot of high-leverage situations – the big gain to set up the game-winning field goal against the 49ers immediately springs to mind – and they’ve been extremely effective when running it. Given that it’s a deeper concept, it’s a little shocking to see the high completion percentage, but they also completed 74.4% of their passes off this concept in the 2020 regular season, so I guess it shouldn’t be too shocking. Last season, the Packers ran this concept an average of 2.7 times per game and averaged 5.6 yards per play. So they’ve dialed it down slightly this year, but have been more explosive with it.

Smash/China

The last one I’ll bring up here is Smash/China. I recently recorded a short video on this. The reemergence of the Smash/China concept has been really fun. Against single-high defenses, the Smash Fade variant – where the slot receiver releases on a vertical fade up the sideline – has been run far more often than Smash. Against two-high looks, the split-safeties are capping that fade route, so they go back to having that slot receiver run a corner route. It doesn’t have the big play potential that Smash Fade does, but it’s effective against two-high looks. That’s why it was designed in the first place: to attack the split-safety looks in the 80s. Smash was said to have been created by the late Packers coach Lindy Infante. And now here we are in 2021 talking about the rise of Smash. A time to be born, a time to die. A time to plant, a time to reap.

Nicest surprise: Portland

Most of the concepts on the list are short-to-mid concepts: three-step and five-step drop concepts. Portland is a shot concept that goes back at least as far as the West Coast Offense. It was born out of the Mills concept (Fox 2 XY Hook in Bill Walsh’s playbooks) and was built to give the quarterback two deep curls, with a shot option of a post over the top. The post was merely an alert; something to be looked at only when all the conditions were absolutely, 100% perfect. Steve Spurrier saw it, started having his QB sling to the post regardless and it picked up the name Mills (in honor of Ernie Mills, the Florida WR who caught a lot of those post routes).

Portland takes that concept and puts a dig running under the post route from the opposite side of the line. It’s a concept that can work well against two-high defenses, because one of the middle safeties will drive on the dig, opening room for the post over the top. They’re running Portland roughly once per game and averaging 11.6 yards per play off 57.1% completion. It does have the highest sack total in this batch, but that’s to be expected when a shot play falls in among the quick-game. I love the Portland concept and was thrilled to see it show up here.

Most Disappointing: Mesh

I am shattered to pieces. If you know me, you know I love this concept. I’ve written about it a lot. But this year? It’s not working, man. They run it 1.3 times per game, are completing a downright embarrassing 38.5% of their passes for 1.8 yards per attempt. Their longest gain is 8 yards. Last year during the regular season, they ran Mesh 30 times (1.9 times per game), completed 75% of their passes, averaged 8.7 yards per play and had a long gain of 49 yards. The Bucs started crashing the drag routes in the NFC Championship Game, and it hasn’t been the same since.

Part of that is how defenses are playing now. More defense are starting in a two-high shell pre-snap. After the snap, they’re either spinning to a single-high look – putting one safety in the deep middle and the other down toward the line – or they’re keeping the look and playing a split-safety defense. When they spin, defenses are firing a safety down in the area where one of the drag routes of the mesh will release. When they drop back into split-safety, dropping outside of where the drag routes will release, but they’re at a depth that will allow them to recognize the releases and fire down on it.

So what do we do with Mesh? The first answer is that it needs to be put on ice for a bit. I’m not saying it’s unsalvageable, but it hasn’t worked so far this year. I could see using it as-is in the low red zone (inside the 10 yard line) because there’s still some potential there, but anywhere else? Put it away until it’s fixed.

Between weeks 10-12, they dialed up Mesh 6 times. On those 6 plays, the Packers gained 17 yards (2.8). That’s bad by itself, but 11 of those yards came off of QB scrambles after no one was open. When actually throwing, Rodgers was 1/4 for 6 yards. It’s time to put it away.

The funny thing is that the only TD off Mesh was one of the most memorable plays of the season: a scramble that ended with Rodgers declaring his ownership over the Bears. Even then, the play ended up being successful in spite of the fact that it was completely covered up by the defense.

There is one little solution that I’d be up for toying with. With the safeties driving on the drag area, just bend those routes up a bit after they cross. If you catch the safeties crashing, there’s open space behind the linebackers.


Albums listened to: FUR – When You Walk Away; Taylor Swift – All Too Well (Sad Girl Autumn Version); The War on Drugs - I Don't Live Here Anymore; Marissa Nadler – The Path of the Clouds

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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 (4)

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Ya_tittle's picture

December 09, 2021 at 05:05 pm

First rate work, as usual. Worth the wait. Thanks.

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MarkinMadison's picture

December 10, 2021 at 05:24 am

Thanks for the Smash/Fade video. Very nicely done.

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Brockrice99's picture

December 10, 2021 at 09:03 am

I love so many of these MLF, Hackett, Rodgers pass designs. But on the goal line, we need to just feed it to AJ he will get you a yard or two almost every time, and he is definitely not getting stopped two times in a row on short yard plays like that. Stop passing at the 1.

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LeotisHarris's picture

December 10, 2021 at 03:12 pm

Oh, yeah? Well. McMumbles was *fat* and blathered on and on about pad level, and unless you start recognizing that it's Aaron Charles Rodgers who is the leader of this team and hasn't received one iota of help in the last 15 years, and Gute is so stupid that he traded UP to draft Love, and TT had a head full of sawdust and drafted Kevin King instead of TJ Watt, and the Packers should have won at least 5 more Super Bowls in the last 10 years, and, erm, ah, oh, never mind. Sorry, wrong thread.

Thanks once again for an informative, interesting and fun read, Dusty. Where the hell is TGR to drool over your spreadsheet? Certainly a drool-worthy display of data, if you ask me.

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