Quality Control: Explosive Passing Plays in 2021

Dusty takes a look at the top 5 concepts the Packers used to create explosive plays in the passing game in 2021

With the draft firmly in the rear view mirror and nothing but the inky blackness of the offseason stretching before us, I thought it was time for me to crawl out from the cave I slithered into and continue the series I kicked off a little over a month ago. So join me as we continue our journey through the Packers offensive concepts in 2021.

My initial plan was to look at the Packers use of the Stick concept in 2021, but I was listening to an episode of Blue 58 (with the ever erudite Jon Meerdink at the helm) and he was talking about the Packers explosive plays in 2021, and what that part of the offense could look like in 2022. Today, we’ll be looking at the top 5 most used Packers concepts that produced an explosive play. Next week, we’ll be looking at how the approach may change in 2022.

So first, let’s define explosive passes in terms of what we’re looking at today.

Throughout the course of trying to learn about football, I’ve read a lot of books. While every book I’ve read has taught me something, some have taught me more than others. One of the books that has taught me the most is Brian Billick’s Developing an Offensive Game Plan.

Billick states that, while the NFL measures explosive plays as gains of 20+ yards:

A more detailed analysis shows a more valid measure being runs of 12 yards or more and passes of 16 yards or more. These levels of production proved to be more significant as to what is needed to constitute and gain the effects of an “explosion.” This variable showed that a team with a +2 or greater advantage in explosives won the game between 80-85% of the time.

He goes on to state that those plays don’t necessarily need to lead to a score to be productive. “Huge changes in field position can also positively change the profile of a game.”

I used that study as my guiding hand. At some point we may dig into the runs, but for now, we’re looking at the passes. I wanted to find out what concepts were most successful at creating explosive plays through the air, but also I wanted to look back at some cool plays. Hope you’re all down for that.

By my count, the Packers had 32 different concepts that led to explosive plays. Obviously that’s too much to look at here, so we’ll focus on the top 5 most used concepts that led to an explosive play.

PA Boot (11 explosives, 22.2 YPC)

We did a deep dive into the PA Boot concept in my last article, so we don’t need to spend a ton of time here. PA Boot is the key passing concept in any wide zone rushing offense, because it plays off the movement of that rushing attack. The Packers are a wide zone rushing team, so PA Boot is a concept Packers fans should be well-versed in.

As such, it’s unsurprising to see this at the top of the list.

The core concept itself accounted for 8 of the explosives (21.0 YPA), but not a single one of these throws went to the deep Sail route. The key to getting explosives off this core concept mainly revolved around getting the ball out quickly to the shallow receiver in space and allow him room to work for nice YAC opportunities.

Their corner/post variation accounted for 2 of the explosives (23.5 YPA). On this variation, the deep Sail route starts breaking to the corner, then reverses back to the post. The idea is to get the defense leaning toward the sideline, then break against the grain.

The second play – the TD to Aaron Jones – is one of my favorite plays from the 2021 season.

The Leak variation accounted for 1 explosive (29.0 YPA), and it’s criminal that it wasn’t run more. It’s my only gripe with this offense, honestly. In a wide zone system, run Leak 4-5 times a year. Minimum. I feel very strongly about this.

Dagger (10 explosives, 24.6 YPC)

Dagger is a concept the Packers have had good success with over the years, and 2021 was no different. Dagger is a two-man concept, with the inside receiver running a vertical route and the outside receiver running a dig and working into the space created underneath the vertical route.

The Packers will often have the vertical route be a Middle Read route, where that receiver will read the drop of the safeties post-snap and either run a post (splitting a two-high look) or a deep crosser (running across the face of a single-high safety). Pairing the middle read route with Dagger can make this an extremely powerful concept, capable of winning against multiple coverages on the back end.

The throw didn’t always go to the Dagger concept, but that’s the core concept in all of these (even if the way Dagger is run changes slightly). The clip below shows 2 explosives that hit the backside concept.

Drift (8 explosives, 21.8 YPC)

When this works, it’s such a beautiful concept. On its face, it sounds similar to Dagger: two-man concept with a vertical route and a dig route, designed to attack the middle of the field. There are two key things that differentiate this concept from Dagger:

  1. Dagger has these routes run from the same side of the formation, while Drift typically runs them from opposite sides of the formation.
  2. Drift is exclusively a play action concept, while Dagger can be run from either dropback or play action.

Drift is a key constraint play to the PA Boot concept (which is, in itself, a constraint play to the wide zone rushing play). PA Boot gets the defense working to stop the wide zone rush, only to have the QB boot out the other side and have 3-4 receiving options. Drift starts exactly like PA Boot, but the QB pulls up before the bootleg and looks for the dig route in the middle of the field.

Get the defense flowing on wide zone, then hit them in the middle of the field as they’re recovering to pick up the crossing routes from PA Boot. When it works, it feels like stealing.

Smash/China (5 explosives, 29.0 YPC)

We’re going in a bit of reverse order here, as the next concept has more explosives than this one. But I made a choice because this concept builds on the next, and also because I’m in charge here.

Smash is a concept believed to have been created by the late Packers head coach Lindy Infante (Infante himself said that he got the concept from the 49ers, but he didn’t really provide any more information than that). It’s a two-man concept. The outside receiver runs a short route (usually a hitch, but the Packers paired this with a short, in-cutting route a lot this past season), while the inside receiver runs a corner route over the top. The idea is to make a simple high-low read for the quarterback; if the defender over the outside receiver falls under the corner route, throw the hitch. If he stays with the hitch, throw the corner route.

The base concept produced 4 explosives (26.5 YPA), even if one of them involved hitting the backside slant to EQ [19].

My favorite play in this bunch is the last play in this clip against the Rams. Lazard & MVS do a switch-release at the line out of a stack look, MVS pushes vertically and breaks off the defender at the top of the route. Beautifully done.

They ran a beautiful three-man Smash concept against the Vikings, with Davante Adams [17] on the initial corner route and Marquez Valdes-Scanting [83] on the second-level corner route. It was a really nice take on the concept that I only saw once, but provided a cool 39 yard gain.

Smash Fade (6 explosives, 31.3 YPC)

Smash Fade is the next phase of the Smash concept. It’s a way to attack single-high coverages with a slight tweak in the concept. It’s still a two-man concept and the outside receiver still runs a short route, but the slot receiver runs a fade route instead of a corner route. Since the fade route pushes vertically (and fades away from the safety), there’s a better chance of a big play when you connect on this.

When it works – as it does in all the videos in this cut-up – it’s beautiful. Rodgers is so good at this throw. At times it seems like there’s an Angels in the Outfield situation going on and the ball is just being handed perfectly to the receiver 20+ yards down the field.

The base concept produced 5 explosives (32.8 YPA).

Against the Ravens, Rodgers hit MVS on a middle-read route (a route the Packers like to pair with this concept) for 24 yards.

Like I said, we didn’t have the time, space (or, most likely, the interest) to talk about every concept that produced an explosive. I will likely post those somewhere in the next week or so, at which point you will be free to either dig in or ignore entirely.

Next week we’re going to continue this discussion and attempt to answer the question a lot of us are likely asking: how is the Packers offense going to consistently produce explosives without Davante Adams. We’ll build our package of plays that we believe will have the best chance of success. We’ll likely see some of the same concepts, but some new friends will also pop up. I’m really excited about it.

Here are the other articles in this Quality Control series:

The Packers use of their RPO game in 2021
A deep dive into the Wide Zone rushing scheme and how the PA Boot passing concept works off of that

Albums listened to: CHVRCHES – Screen Violence; The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention; Anna Calvi – Tommy; Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong; Arcade Fire – WE; Kevin Morby – This Is A Photograph; Melody’s Echo Chamber – Emotional Eternal


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].

5 points

Comments (5)

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

May 18, 2022 at 05:18 pm

Great stuff as always, Dusty! Thanks for all your time!

3 points
Galacticat's picture

May 18, 2022 at 06:37 pm

It’s going to take me a bit to get through all the videos, but *stellar* job demystifying these passing concepts, Dusty, I enjoy your work.

1 points
croatpackfan's picture

May 19, 2022 at 01:18 am

Dusty, I'm glad you are back, professor. Thank you for teaching me all those things, so it make easier for me to more enjoy in watching football.

One of my stars on this page...

0 points
Lphill's picture

May 19, 2022 at 05:24 am

Thank you Dusty , wonderful work!

0 points
PeteK's picture

May 19, 2022 at 11:10 am

Love all the movement and the slight variations in formations and personnel on the PA boot. Some teams were starting to cover up Tonyan early in the season however, it is very difficult to stop as other players open up. Great Job, Dusty!

0 points