The Passing Chronicles: Variations on The Vitale Wheel

Dusty breaks down how the Packers are using the threat of Danny Vitale getting vertical to open up underneath passing routes

Welcome to a very special edition of The Passing Chronicles. I'll have my normal article up on Thursday exploring a handful of plays, but I got entirely too excited around some of the ways Matt LaFleur is running the  offense off sending Danny Vitale deep, and I needed the world to see it sooner rather than later. So let's look at a few plays and talk about it, shall we?

Play 1

This play took place in Week 3 against the Broncos. I broke it down in that article, but let's quickly run it back because it's important. The Packers are lined up in I-formation, with Danny Vitale [45] as the up-back. They had been running plays out of I-formation with Vitale as the lead blocker in that game, which is what the Broncos were looking for on this play. This time, he burst through the hole and broke downfield on a vertical route and Aaron Rodgers [12] hits him in stride for a big gain. (I go into more depth in the previous article, so if you want more details, that's where you can find them.)

That was great! I love this play. You know what else I love? The Packers taking that idea and running things off of it. There were a couple plays from this past week that stuck out to me.

Play 2

The alignment is slightly different than in the first play, but only slightly. Instead of a receiver motioning in, Vitale shifts before the snap, giving the backfield an offset I-formation look. That shift also does something else: it allows Vitale to sell the wheel to the outside. Against Denver, the release through the middle of the line helped to open up the vertical route. But here, the Packers are wanting the Cowboys to play the wheel route. You can see the defender starting to drift up the field before Vitale even makes his break.

(Just so we're all on the same page, a wheel route is when a receiver runs to the flat, then "wheels" up the field on a vertical route.)

On top of that, Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83] clears out the edge with a vertical route - just like he did against Denver - and Marcedes Lewis [89] runs a deep crossing route under Valdes-Scantling. He runs it directly at the linebackers dropping in the middle.

So what does that give us? Valdes-Scantling clears out the boundary, the wheel from Vitale pulls a defender out of the middle and up the field, and the crosser from Lewis holds the linebackers in the middle.

The Cowboys are looking for the wheel and play it accordingly. The Packers set all of this up specifically to sell the wheel, then counter with a screen pass to Aaron Jones [33]. The blockers can't beat the Cowboys linebackers, but Jones has some nifty moves and breaks one of them out to elude Jaylon Smith [54] and beat Leighton Vander Esch [55] to the sideline. Packers pick up 11 yards on 2nd & 10.

Play 3

Same look, man. The same exact look. Vitale shifts pre-snap to an offset I-formation look, while Valdes-Scantling clears out the edge by streaking down the field and the tight end - Jimmy Graham [80] in this case - runs a crosser directly at the linebackers. 

The Packers ran a screen the last time, but Vitale ran a wheel to sell the screen, so Xavier Woods [25] is respecting that. He doesn't break in anticipation, but he doesn't crash the out route from Vitale. Woods has the wheel route on his mind, so he gives Vitale a pretty big cushion, putting himself in a good position to run up the sideline with the wheel route.

Instead, Rodgers throws the out route and Vitale muscles his way to a few more yards. It isn't a huge gain, but it picked up 9 yards on 1st & 10. It's incredibly important to stay on schedule and not find yourselves in 2nd or 3rd and long situations, so picking up 90% of the yards you need on 1st down is huge. Beyond that, 2nd & 1 is a great place to take a shot down the field, knowing you'll still have at least one more chance to pick up a yard.  


Neither of these were huge gains, but that doesn't matter. They showed a look with Vitale, got defenses thinking about it, then ran counter to that. In this game alone, they ran two plays out of the same look and played off what they had shown previously to pick up a decent gain. Beyond that, they have now shown two shorter concepts out of this look and personnel grouping (all 3 plays featured the 21 personnel grouping: 2 running backs, 1 tight end, 2 wide receivers). Now they can roll this out there, get defenses looking to jump something short, and hit them over the top. 

When you are able to run multiple plays with the same personnel grouping out of the same formation, defenses can't key in on what you may do. It's such a huge weapon for an offense to have, and the Packers are starting to show their ability to do it with each passing week. It's tremendously exciting. 


Album listened to: Angel Olsen - All Mirrors

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Dusty Evely is a film analyst for Cheesehead TV. He can be heard talking about the Packers on Pack to the Future or Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter at @DustyEvely or @All22Talk or email at [email protected].

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Comments (14)

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Matt Gonzales's picture

October 08, 2019 at 01:09 pm

Love these breakdowns as always Dusty. Vitale getting used more as a pass catcher is going to create all sorts of issues for DCs going forward - I wouldn't at all be surprised to see Rodgers decide to play keeper on this play occasionally - the way the linebackers are crashing down on Jones, once AR climbs the pocket he has a good 5+ yards of daylight.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

October 08, 2019 at 01:13 pm

Great work again Dusty! This one was very clear and cohesive. I love it.

" 2nd & 1 is a great place to take a shot down the field" If MM comes back to coach let him know. because he rarely took shots on 2nd and short. It drove me nuts. They threw deep on 3rd and short all the damn time.

I'm really excited about the wheel routes and use of screens and bunch formations. That stuff has been underutilized for so long. MLF really seams to think out how one play sets up the next and once an expectation has been set he exploits it. It's awesome stuff and I am excited for this offense to really take off.

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Hawg Hanner's picture

October 08, 2019 at 01:48 pm

Is it fair to say Vitale is more versatile than Kuhn was? Great improvement as I see it.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

October 08, 2019 at 01:56 pm

Vitale offers a lot in the short passing game, but Kuhn and Rip were both strong enough in pass blocking to be the 3rd down and 4th quarter lead backs. I think it's a different skill set, and while Vitale could get there, I don't think you'll see too many instances of him being the sole back next to Rodgers on designed passes (yet).

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Leo Van Groll's picture

October 08, 2019 at 01:53 pm

What a breath of fresh air. I remember last year when Darius Slay from Detroit said they knew what routes would be run by the formation.

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freddisch's picture

October 08, 2019 at 02:35 pm

Dusty, great work as usual. Each week we see a new offensive look. By December we should be fully functional

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nostradanus's picture

October 08, 2019 at 02:49 pm

Nice work Dusty and nice work on locked on Packers.
It’s really great to see LaFleur’s offensive scheme being implemented piece by piece and one play setting up several more.
By the mid-season bye I expect the full offense should be humming along like a well oiled machine as the Packers make their push towards the playoffs!
With good health this could be a very dangerous Packers team come January!
Go Pack!

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Packer_Fan's picture

October 08, 2019 at 03:37 pm

It's taken 5 games to set up this alignment. Now they can keep using it to get first downs and get into a rhythm. And if the defense bites on the screen or out route, the wheel route is open for a big gain. Looking forward to seeing this evolve over the rest of the season.

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Cotreq's picture

October 08, 2019 at 03:50 pm

whats the status of Raven Greene ?

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Jared's picture

October 08, 2019 at 07:43 pm

Wasn’t he placed on IR?

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optimisticfan's picture

October 09, 2019 at 07:27 am

Current IR list:

1) Raven Greene (back by week 12-13?)
2) Lane Taylor (back by ? week 11)
3) Jace Sternberger
4) Curtis Bolton (ACL out for the year)

EQ went on IR before cut downs so he can not come back this year. Spriggs and Malcolm Johnson were released with injury settlements so technically they could be resigned (as could any unsigned player) but that is unlikely.

So... without further players going on IR it looks like Greene and Taylor are the players likely to be brought back from IR when healthy. Sternberger will have to wait till next year.

Ibraheim Campbell I think is eligible to return from PUP by week 7 against the Raiders. That will really help too depending on how Savage is doing,

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Slim11's picture

October 09, 2019 at 09:45 am

This is a great breakdown. While watching the game, I did notice Vitale getting more snaps on offense. I knew there would have to be some changes in the offensive game plan with Adams out. I didn't expect this but knew there would have to be something.

I like that GB now has a coach who understands adaptability. I expected someone would have to step up out of the WR or TE group. Graham, Lewis and Tonyan (until he was hurt) all contributed. My only disappointment is one out of the WR group didn't seize an opportunity. Maybe that is soon to come.

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Spock's picture

October 09, 2019 at 11:52 am

Dusty, I really love these breakdowns - especially the arrows before the video starts as they help me know what to be watching for. I'm loving MLF'S multiple plays from the same look offense. When this gets fully cooking - Watch Out! What is nice is that now defenses have enough film to confuse them, lol.

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CoachJV's picture

October 11, 2019 at 06:56 pm

I have always thought it sad that football has drifted away from Fullbacks. They can be so integral, and they don't have to be JUST blockers anymore. Remember Mike Alstott back when in the old NFC Central days? That dude WAS Tampa's offense.

We have had several good FB's too. Brent Fullwood in the late 80's was awesome. John Kuhn of course. William Henderson was good but under utilized. Dorsey Levens even occupied the position. I like a good FB.

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