Quality Control: PA Boot

Dusty takes a look at the Packers use of one of their core passing concepts in 2021

If you made it to this article, congrats! That means you either survived the 2,000+ word look at RPOs, or just ignored it entirely. Both paths are defensible.

Today, we continue our series of looking at the 2021 Packers offense by digging into a key play: PA Boot. To properly talk about PA Boot, let’s touch on some basics of the wild world of the Wide Zone run concept.

Though zone blocking can be tracked down to the earliest days of football, the modern day zone blocking scheme is generally attributed to Howard Mudd in Cleveland in the mid-80s. To hear Mudd tell it, the thinking was relatively simplistic. “Let’s cover up their color with our color and then encourage the ballcarrier to run toward the defense and then go where they aren’t going. Hit ‘em where they ain’t, you could say.” [Blood, Sweat & Chalk]

In 1986, Bengals offensive line coach Jim McNally would introduce the world to the drop & bucket steps in zone blocking, where the lineman would take a step back before releasing to block laterally down the line. Here’s how Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz described zone blocking:

If you’re man blocking, you’ve got this guy across from you. Your job is to block him. That’s your man. Zone blocking, you’re on a track, like a railroad track, with your buddy, or all your buddies on the offensive line. If a defensive lineman or a linebacker crosses onto the track, your job is to take him and move him.

It doesn’t matter what the defense is doing. You can use your strength and your power to your advantage. You can say, ‘Let’s not see where the defense wants to move to; let’s dictate where they go by where we move along that track and then use their movement against them to create seams’.

(The above passages were taken from Tim Layden’s excellent book, Blood, Sweat & Chalk.)

Here are the main points in the wide zone rushing attack:

  1. Offensive line pushes horizontally, blocking a “zone” rather than a man
  2. The quarterback will release from under center and run to the mesh point for the handoff at a 45 degree angle. To get to the mesh point, the quarterback will usually have to fully extend his arm.
  3. The running back will release with the flow of the offensive line, aiming at the point where the tackle was initially aligned. He will flow with the line and look for seams, either with the flow or as a cutback.

Typically, I tag run plays by looking at the first couple steps of the offensive line and the initial aiming point of the RB. For Wide Zone, I’m looking for lateral movement by the line and an aiming point at the run-side tackle.

Now we all have a good feel for the wide zone rushing attack. Why did we do that? Because the PA Boot concept plays off of that action. Everything looks exactly like a wide zone rush, right up until the quarterback pulls the ball away from the running back and boots out the other direction.

There are a lot of different things you can do with this, but the most common concept paired with the boot action is Sail. Sail is a three-level flood concept: a shallow route, an intermediate route and a deep route, all to the same side of the field. These are the most common ways the Packers get to those levels:

Deep: Sail/go route from the boot side
Intermediate: Crossing route from the run side
Shallow: Flat route from a slicer under the line

The Packers ran the core PA Boot concept 38 times in 2021 and averaged 6.6 YPA. They had their best luck with it on 1st down, where they averaged 9.7 YPA on 26 calls. It was all downhill from there.

My favorite little twist on the core concept is the addition of the Slam route on the boot side. This is when the TE/WR blocker on the boot side blocks down on the edge, then releases to the flat, behind the initial flat receiver. It’s a nice way to have a receiver work in the defensive void created by the first flat receiver. On the below play, the Slam route is run by Equanimeous St. Brown on the right side of the line.

When you run a concept this often, teams will obviously be looking for ways to better defend it. They’ll make adjustments. They’ll start leaning. That’s where this really gets fun. The Packers showed some nice variations to this concept in 2021. And, even though they didn’t run them very often, they had success when they did. By my count, the Packers ran variations to PA Boot 11 times, averaging 10.2 YPA. Here are some of my favorite ones. They were more successful with their variations on 2nd down, but small sample caveats apply.

Reverse/Throwback (23.5 YPA on 2 attempts)

This is a half-boot variation. Everything looks the same initially, but the deep route turns into a post/deep-crosser and the running back releases to the flat away from the book. The quarterback pulls up on a half-boot and looks to hit the deep receiver down the field. If that route isn’t open, he’ll look to the flat.

On the second play in this cut-up, Aaron Jones releases to the flat then ends up bending his route up the field. When I saw this play initially, I screamed. I actually screamed.

Screen (12.0 YPA on 1 attempt)

The downfield routes on this look a lot like the previous variation, but there is never an intention to hit the downfield receiver. While the quarterback starts his boot motion, the backside of the line leaks out to set up a screen. On the above play, the spacing on the screen isn’t very good, but Jones is still able to pick up 12 yards. Really nice look.

Leak (29.0 YPA on 1 attempt)

Of course, I couldn’t leave here without my absolute favorite. I’ve been waiting for LaFleur to dial this up since the second he signed with the Packers. He made us all wait until a meaningless Week 18 game in his 3rd season, but he did dial it up, so we can be thankful.

Leak works by simply sneaking the bootside blocker down the line after the snap, then releasing on a vertical route away from the bootleg. The quarterback pulls up on a half-boot and (hopefully) finds the leaking receiver matched-up on a linebacker.

When it works, there’s not much more beautiful in the world.

Even with defenses adjusting how they defend this, it’s still a highly successful concept for the Packers (due in part to the ability of Rodgers to make accurate, off-platform throws with a man in his face off the edge). They’re able to keep it varied enough to keep defenses on their toes. I’d like to see them work in some more variations – or at least lean a little heavier on ones they’ve already shown – but that’s picking nits.

In looking at the numbers, the core concept is really only successful on 1st down when the playbook is a little more open and teams are keying in on the run a little more. It'd be really easy to say, "Just don't run it outside of 1st down," but you can't be quite so black and white in your tendencies. Stop running it on 2nd & 3rd down altogether and you're likely looking at a situation where your variations - which worked better on 2nd down than on 1st down - aren't as effective, either. Defenses seem to be more effective crashing the edge on 2nd down, which can hinder the core concept but works well into the half-boot variations. If I'm in the Packers offensive meetings (I am not and never will be), I'm taking a long hard look at the best way to play off the aggressiveness of 2nd & 3rd down defenses and use it as an opportunity to introduce more half-boot concepts into those downs. Lean heavier into the variations as the downs progress.

Overall, this is a solid concept for the Packers, but there is some room for improvement.

If you missed my piece last week on the Packers use of RPOs - or simply want to subject yourself to it again - please free to click this link right here. I found it to be an interesting look at a huge piece of the Packers offense, so I hope you all learn half as much reading it as I did writing it.

Albums listened to: David Bowie – Hunky Dory; Kraftwerk – Computer World; Deanna Petcoff – To Hell With You, I Love You; The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang; Orville Peck – Bronco


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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wildbill's picture

April 13, 2022 at 04:20 pm

Very nice breakdown, as usual. Thanks

5 points
Matt Gonzales's picture

April 13, 2022 at 05:04 pm

Love these cutups, Dusty.

All of this underscores the power of the running game.

Based on what you've seen from GB and other teams, I am curious - do you prefer this wide zone look, or the stretch/boot concept?

3 points
DTowleJr's picture

April 13, 2022 at 05:22 pm

In the immortal words of one Aaron Nagler, "Just run the damn ball"

1 points
PatrickGB's picture

April 14, 2022 at 08:34 am

Damn, that’s a great explanation! Thanks!

2 points
Spock's picture

April 14, 2022 at 09:43 am

Dusty, I'm always amazed at how you spot all this variations and love your cut-ups and explanations. Thanks!

0 points