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Film Study: LaFleur's Playbook - Spacing

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Film Study: LaFleur's Playbook - Spacing

Over the last 10 weeks, we've looked at a lot of different concepts. Some of them have been a deep(ish) dive into the history of some West Coast concepts, while others have focused more on a general idea of how some routes are run. I have tended to focus on route combinations that have led to opening something up down the field, because opening up deep passes is awesome. Everyone digs the deep ball, after all. 

What I haven't done much work on have been quick-hitting concepts designed to pick up 5-7 yards. We're talking three-to-five step drops and get the ball out. We're not looking at anything that takes shots downfield (although we'll get into a bit of that when we start talking about variations). For now, we're looking at some quick-hitting fun, designed to attack soft zone defenses and put the offense in favorable situations. 

There are a lot of ways you can look at passing offenses, but, boiled down to its most basic element, we're talking about putting as much stress on the defense as possible. I've talked a lot about stressing a defense vertically; I've not talked much about a focus on stressing them horizontally. I've had times where I have talked about doing both, but it hasn't been a point of emphasis. With Spacing, we'll be talking about stressing a defense horizontally. For horizontal stress, the emphasis on getting the ball out quickly is key. You're attempting to create small pockets of room in the defense, and hitting them before the window closes. Reading a defense and delivering on-time is a huge component to making this kind of concept work.

We've basically got three curl routes, all breaking around the 5 yard mark, combined with two running backs releasing out of the backfield in the flat. 

Marcus Mariota [8] is a bit slow on the trigger here, so it doesn't end particularly well. He's looking at the left slot receiver longer than he should be. By the time he comes back to the right, the defense is all set up and the linebacker breaks on the pass, narrowly missing an interception. 

But you can see the idea here. If you watch route-running across concepts, you'll see a lot of speed changes. Start slow, then run hard out of the break, or something like that. Changing speeds is a great way to keep the defense off-balance. That's not the goal here, though. The goal here is to get up on the defender as fast as possible. To that point, watch the routes on the curls; they're all sprinting out of the gate and breaking hard back toward the quarterback. Get up on the defense quick, get them on their heels, break hard and have the quarterback get the ball out quickly.

Again, this isn't meant to be a huge hard-gainer. It's meant to pick up 5-7 yards. As much as anything, this play hinges a ton on pre-snap (and immediate post-snap) reads. Look at the defense before the snap to determine who looks to be the best option. Watch the movement of linebackers after the snap and shift your gaze if you don't like how it looks. If the first option isn't open, it's dangerous to tarry any longer. Check the first read. If you don't like it, look to the flats. If you don't like that, either scramble or throw it away.

If Mariota goes with the right slot receiver as his first read, it's complete. But he delays the throw, and by the time he comes back to the middle, it's too late. I don't say all of this to say anything negative about Mariota, but more to highlight what this play needs to do to be successful. Everything is confined to such a tight space. A quick throw can beat the defense, but if you allow them to set up and read the routes, it becomes easier for them to figure out what is going on.

It sounds tight, and that's because it is. But if the reads are right and the timing is right, it's an easy play for a few yards. It can help to get the quarterback in a rhythm. When the quarterback is in a rhythm, the defense can start reading that rhythm, then you hit them over the top.

One more point about this. All the routes sprinting towards the middle pinches the defense inside, which helps open the edges. The defense drops to the left flat, taking away that throw, but the right flat is wide open. If the defense doesn't pinch in, some of those inside routes open up. That's why the initial post-snap read is crucial to this play. If the first option isn't open, you need to know what the initial moves from the defense was. That helps to inform where you need to go with the ball if the first read isn't open.

What Could This Look Like In Green Bay

Wide receivers: Davante Adams [17] and Equanimeous St. Brown [19]. I like Adams on the outside because of what he can do on the edge in some of the variations. 

Tight ends: Jimmy Graham [80]. I like the possibility of Graham isolated on one side, specifically in the Red Zone.

Running backs: Aaron Jones [33] and Jamaal Williams [30]. When using 2 running backs in the past, I've gone with Danny Vitale as my second back, since that helps sell the possibility of a power run and also allowing us to use Vitale's skills as a pass catcher in passing situations. For this one, I really like the idea of getting the two main backs on the field at the same time. Jones' receiving ability has been well-documented, but Williams is better in that phase of the game than he gets credit for. This way also gets Williams superior pass protection back there for longer developing passes, and it opens up the threat of the run from either side of the formation, with either back.

What Could the Packers Do With This

Variation 1

This doesn't look all that different from the original play, but if you look at the route of Adams, you'll see the difference. The idea is a quick-hitter, but I'm not the biggest fan of how tightly-packed those two routes are. By slightly widening the route of Adams, we still get the quick-hitting ability and keep the edge open, while proving a little more space between those two curls. It makes it more difficult for the defender from one of the routes to jump under the route of another. It buys the offense an extra beat, which could make a big difference. 

Variation 2

The releases for Jones and Adams are the same, but then we hit the defense where they're leaning. We get Aaron Rodgers to pump fake to Adams. Have an eager defender looking to jump that curl? Not only does Adams cut to the edge and away from the curl, but Jones cuts up the field directly past that zone. Defender breaks hard, Adams cuts outside and Jones streaks into the part of the field the defender just vacated.

If we've got one safety to that side, it also puts him in a bind. Based on the traffic created, I believe he would drop wide to pick up Adams, leaving room for Jones up the seam.

Variation 3

Alright, let's push it a little. We're keeping the curl from St. Brown, but we're running it slightly shallower and more across the field. If that draws up the defense, Graham can get open on the post over the top. We also have Adams attacking the safety on his corner pattern, which should open up room underneath for Jones to operate in the flat.

Variation 4

Last but not least, we've got Graham running a fade from his isolated spot on the right. We've got the spacing on the right, but we're switching things up on the left. Graham is on the fade while Williams runs to the flat and cuts back towards the middle. Same general idea on that as we had on Variation 2 with Jones. This route doesn't even really depend on the defender biting. Just have the defender fall back slightly under Graham and Williams is available to be hit on the angle route. 

On this play, I'm wanting to hit Graham, but that's depending on the pre-snap read. If it's not favorable, I'm glancing to the left immediately post-snap to check coverage on Graham to determine whether Williams will be open. After that, I'm looking to St. Brown and Adams. If coverage is favorable on either of them, I'm getting rid of the ball quickly. If those routes aren't open, I'm using the information gathered from my initial look left to determine my next move. If it looked good, I'm looking to Williams. If it didn't, I'm looking to Jones.


Albums listened to: Anathallo - A Holiday At The Sea; The Black Keys - Let's Rock; The Head and The Heart - Living Mirage; James Blake - Assume Form

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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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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (5) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bearmeat's picture

Great stuff. Thanks!

Lare's picture

Thanks Dusty.

PatrickGB's picture

I think that any route that Adams or Graham runs this close to the end zone is going to get the attention of the safeties. That alone can help the others get open.

ejr450's picture

Thanks Dusty. I'm glad you made it through at least one variation before you were looking downfield. Don Coryell would be proud.

Dusty Evely's picture

All I'm trying to do every day is to make Don Coryell proud.

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