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Film Study: LaFleur's Playbook - Smash/Mesh

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Film Study: LaFleur's Playbook - Smash/Mesh

This week, we're going to be talking about a concept I'm pretty excited about. To be honest with you, I have no idea what to call it. It's a kind of Smash/Mesh combo. Everyone cool if I call it a Smesh? Alright. Let's talk about Smesh.

Before we get there, let's talk about each of those concepts.

Smash

This is a fun little combo. Its invention is often credited to former Packers Head Coach Lindy Infante, but Infante himself has said that he thinks he picked it up from the 49ers. Tracking down the history of concepts is notoriously tricky business.

Smash is a two man concept, designed to stretch the zone vertically. Put another way, it makes the defense pick their poison, and it's very hard for them to be right.

It's basically a curl route under a corner route. If you're looking at two defenders, the read is easy: if the shallow cornerback drops under the corner, hit the curl. If the shallow cornerback stays on the curl, there's plenty of room behind for the corner route.

Mesh

Developed by LaVell Edwards at BYU and later run to perfection in Hall Mumme's Air Raid system. In that system, Mesh wasn't just a concept: it was a way of life. Mumme and Mike Leach used to give teams fits with this.

It's a horizontal stretch with a bit of a vertical push - especially if you put an option on the dueling drag mesh routes to attack the seams as coverage dictate - and it was absolutely lethal. The version you see above is pretty close to what BYU was running. The mesh point of the drags was something BYU put a huge emphasis on: always at 6 yards, always close enough to where the receivers could give each other a high five upon crossing. A lot of teams have taken this concept and have tinkered with a bit. The version Green Bay has run recently has looked a bit like this:

You've still got those horizontal releases on the edges, but the receiver on the outside drags over the top and curls over the mesh point. The idea of the meshing receivers is this:
Against man coverage, this helps create confusion and provides a natural rub. The quarterback will wait for a defender to get knocked off - or catch one taking a wider route to avoid the rub - and hit that man.
Against zone coverage, zone defenders will sit back to avoid a collision and wait to pick up their assignment on the other side. This could help to create a natural void in the middle of the field, directly where the curling receiver is heading.

Smesh

You can see the concepts we just talked about in play here. Sure, it's not exactly what we looked at, but the core concepts are there, if a bit offset. You can see some of the mesh working on the left, with the release to the flat by the running back to the drag/dig dueling routes. It's not a true mesh - LaVell Edwards would be yelling about the lack of a high-five for sure - but it's close enough to put it in the Mesh family. For me, anyway.

On the right, we've got Smash. Again, not exactly what we looked at, but the idea is there: a corner route over a route that starts driving down field before cutting short. In this case, we've got a pivot route in place of a curl.

Like all great concepts, this can work on multiple levels. If you watch Marcus Mariota's head, you can see him work the reads. He's looking to the Smash first. The defense falls back on the corner and the linebacker stays home on the pivot. That's dead.

Then the drag, which is picked up well. Also dead.

But those things tell him what he needs to know. With the safety dropping deep, the linebacker staying home on the pivot and the other linebacker and safety pursuing the drag, that means the middle is open.

You can see how everything works to clear out that entire middle. Mariota goes through his reads quickly, which means he's able to hit the dig right on time. The timing has to be right, but everything has worked together to keep that middle open. Three reads in a hurry - corner, pivot, drag - then come back to the dig. If the dig isn't open, the checkdown is there.

I've got one more point to make about the progressions. The first read is basically two reads (corner/pivot), so that's quick. His second read allows him to either follow the drag receiver across the formation or look to the area the drag receiver is heading to and linger there (the latter is the approach Mariota uses here). Either way, the result is the same: it can draw eyes to the edges and away from the middle. It also allows for intersecting reads: by looking at the drag, he can see the middle of the field, read the area the drag is heading, then follow the dig back to the middle of the field, knowing what the coverage looks like.

The drag read sets up the open middle. I love that.

One additional point regarding reads: you'll notice that Mariota starts this sequence by staring directly down the middle of the field. This is a technique used when reading the field. Staring down the middle of the field can give you a decent picture of how coverage is breaking. It gives you a view of the safeties and the inside linebackers. Did the defense show a Cover 2 look pre-snap only to have one of them sneak down immediately after the snap, turning into Cover 1 Robber? That's important information to know. Join that with the peripheral vision and it gives the quarterback a kind of an initial snapshot into what the defense is doing.

What Could This Look Like In Green Bay

This is the personnel I've got. Based on what I need, I'm going with a receiving-heavy group. I want to stretch the defense, and I need speed and receiving threats to do that. 

For wide receivers, I went with Davante Adams [17], Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83] and Equanimeous St. Brown [19]. I want the dig open and I'm assuming slightly more attention will be paid to Adams than anyone else, so I've got Valdes-Scantling on the dig. This also gives Adams a chance to get off the line from the slot and beat his man to the inside, which could cause big problems for the defense.

For tight ends, I've got Robert Tonyan [85]. I originally had Jimmy Graham, but opted for the younger, quicker Tonyan. He's not as polished, but his speed can help stretch the defense. 

For running backs I've got Aaron Jones [33], because he's the best running back in Green Bay and a good receiving option.

What Could the Packers Do With This

Variation 1

The left side looks the exact same, but we're messing with the Smash, essentially switching the roles of the wide receivers. Tonyan starts with the same release, but he never breaks downfield. I'm keeping him in the flat. I've got St. Brown with the same release as he does in the original play, but instead of pivoting back to the middle of the field, he wheels upfield. Get the defense looking to jump the flat then hit them over the top.

Variation 2

What we've got here is more of a traditional Mesh with Adams, Valdes-Scantling and Jones. We've still got the Smash on the right, but we're pushing upfield with the Mesh. I've got the receivers cutting upfield immediately after crossing each other. I also have Jones pushing up the field instead of staying in the flat. On this action, I specifically have it in mind to put stress on that left side of the defense. Adams pushing up the field will put strain on the safety, which should open room underneath for Jones. If a defender to that side comes up on Jones, Adams has an option to either cut inside the safety downfield or cut off his route and head to the sideline. 

Of course, the two deep routes to the right should also stress the defense on that side. Without knowing the exact defense they'll be facing, it's impossible to predict just how much this will strain them, but I could see this causing problems for single-high and double-high alignments.

Variation 3

Now we're cooking with gas. We've still got the Mesh, and we've still got it pushing upfield, but we've switched the players. St. Brown is now running the drag while Adams is dropping under the line and emerging out the other side with a head full of steam and a heart full of promise. To further mess with the defense, we've got Jones starting his initial route to the flat before coming back to the middle on an angle route. To make this even more fun, we're giving Jones an option to push upfield if he needs to. Let's say we're looking at a two-deep look and a linebacker camping in the middle. The drags cutting up the field - along with the corner route - tie up the safeties while Jones splits everything in the middle.

Let me talk about the thought behind the Jones/Adams combo. I'm hoping to get the defender leaning to the outside to pick up Jones, before taking a step back in on the angle. Then, suddenly, Adams is coming off the edge at full speed, pushing to the boundary. The boundary corner to that side has a tough decision: stay with Adams or sag back on St. Brown. That combo could very well give us Jones on a linebacker and Adams on a cornerback with an impossible decision. 

This play stretches the defense horizontally and vertically. I'm not lying when I say it's one of my favorite things I've ever drawn up.

Variation 4

We're pushing it all downfield now, buddy. Same thought as the last time with Adams under the line, but we've got everyone else pushing. Think of this as an Air Raid Frankenstein Monster: Mesh meets 4 Verts. Dramatic upfield cuts after the mesh point for those receivers. Tonyan and Jones both have outside releases before cutting up the field. True to the spirit of 4 Verts. we've got a heaping of options, depending on how the defense reacts. We're stressing the secondary from all angles. We're setting fire to the establishment. And, just to add insult to injury, we've got Adams as our checkdown option. Why is that?

If everything gets pushed downfield, an easy throw gives us Adams in space. If the defense sags a bit on Adams, we can go over the top to that side. We can't lose. You know why? Because we are so very pretty. We're just too pretty for God to let us lose.


Let's recap for a second what we looked at. We looked at 4 variations of Smesh, all from the same pre-snap look, featuring the same personnel grouping. In some cases, featuring the same initial route releases. Even working with that static look/personnel, we've got a lot of different options, any of which could be dangerous. Throw in some motion, varied alignments and sets? We're gonna set fire to the world.


Albums listened to: Tyler, The Creator - Igor; Ex Hex - It's Real; Koushik - Out My Window; ionnalee - Remember the Future; Starflyer 59 - Young in My Head; Charly Bliss - Young Enough; Chad Lawson - Dark Conclusions: The Lore Variations

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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 (16) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Samson's picture

Smesh...nice. --- As usual, Dusty, good job with real innovative football analysis. -- These are the type of articles that make readers come back to read & view again & again to fully understand the gist.

freddisch's picture

Dusty. Love your work

Lare's picture

I can't really scroll through the pages anymore (it's jumping around too much) but I think it was a pretty nice article Dusty.

Dusty Evely's picture

Thanks man. Truly appreciated.

Coldworld's picture

I really appreciate these explanations and insights. I always feel a little wiser for reading them. Thank you for sharing these.

Now I just need some football to see if I can recognize these concepts in real time ...

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I get giddy now every time I see that Dusty has posted an article.

porupack's picture

love the variations, and you're enthusiasm in setting fire to the establishment, and air raid Frankenstein. That ought to be copyrighted.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I love how on the Smesh play the FS gets totally fooled and is pretty much out of the coverage.

ejr450's picture

Dusty - bang up job as always. You’re no one’s last banana.

Dusty Evely's picture

And everyone's top banana.

I am Gute's picture

These are fun to see and read. I wonder how long the oline needs to hold for these to develop.

Dusty Evely's picture

Not long. Most of the keys are pretty quick reads. Even on the last one where everything is pushing upfield, those aren't all long-developing routes. We're not going for long-developing shot plays: these are pushing upfield, but it's all relatively quick.

I'd say there's a good chance to get the ball out under the 2.5 second mark on all of these.

Since '61's picture

Good job Dusty. Keep it coming. Are you planning to do a few running plays at some point? Maybe some defense as well? Thanks, Since ‘61

Dusty Evely's picture

I am not. Back in the day, I used to look at a little big of everything, but I've really decided to hone in on one aspect of the game over the past year or so. I went with the passing game, since that's what interests me the most. I've got limited time, so paring down to focus on one area has given me focus, and has also allowed me to really dig deep into one aspect of the game, instead of spreading out and covering a little bit of everything without much depth. I still follow everything else, but following and writing are two entirely different things from a time perspective. Ideally I would be able to dig deep into all phases of the game, but having a full time job really holds me back. Stupid money.

ILPackerBacker's picture

Well this is a great break down, interesting and informative.

But the shark in the tank is nobody and by that I mean no DC or defender in the NFL is going to approach playing Rodgers with playing the big double "M".

Nobody.

To much coverage shown that will not be used v Rodgers

Community Guy's picture

thank you.. more please.. love these.

second comment: with your variations, i noted that they all have more downfield options.. especially after variation 1. i can see Rodgers' preferring these downfield variations as it seems like most of his career he likes to push the ball downfield and also give his WRs a chance for YAC. the Tennessee clip that you posted, although a clearly successful play, offered little in terms of YAC. one of the many things i will be looking for with the new offense is how WRs will be used. i feel that all of the current Packers WRs offer good-excellent YAC potential.

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