The 2022 Call Sheet: 3rd & long

Dusty talks about 4th down aggressiveness as he builds the 3rd & long section of his call sheet

Welcome back to the Call Sheet. After going through our 1st & 2nd down scenarios, we find ourselves looking at a bit of a different beast: 3rd & long (where “long” is 7 or more yards needed for a 1st down). 

I say it’s a different beast because we need to decide up front how aggressive we want to be on 4th down. Are we planning on punting if we don’t get the 1st down? If not, what’s our threshold for going for it on 4th? Are we going for it if we need 3 or fewer yards? Fewer? More?

That all ties into this portion of the call sheet. If we have decided that we’re going for it if we’re facing 4th & 3 or fewer, then our philosophy shifts with the playcall. Suddenly we’re not looking to get everything back on 3rd & long: we’re just looking to get back into a range we’re comfortable with on 4th down.

As I’m sure is the case with most of us, I’m going for a more aggressive approach on 4th down, because that is very easy to do from my desk and not actually having to watch it play out among thousands of screaming fans. That means I can roll with some more “conservative” options on 3rd down. They’re not all quick-hitters or anything like that, but there certainly are a couple of those present.

One thing you’re not going to find in this section are any runs or RPOs. That’s because, as an offense, the Packers didn’t really do that in 2022. For the season, they only had 3 runs, for a pass rate of 96.4% on 3rd & long (4th in the league).

Let’s look at how the Packers did in this situation in 2022, then build our call sheet.

The Packers faced 3rd & long 4.9 times per game in 2022, which had them 30th in the league. That’s good! The fewer situations per game you have in 3rd & long, the better you are at staying ahead of the sticks on 1st & 2nd down. For a little context, the top 4 teams in the league in terms of number of times facing this situation per game were the Jets (7.4), Broncos (7.3), Browns (6.6) and Texans (6.6). Meanwhile, the Packers were found with teams like the Chiefs (4.7), Bills (5.4) and 49ers (5.4). Not bad company.

As for how they performed? Fine, I guess. They ranked 30th in the league in terms of average yards needed on 3rd & long (10.5) and 20th in average yards gained on 3rd & long (5.2 YPA). That leads to them being 13th in success rate (on 3rd down, a successful play means one where you gained 100% of the yards needed for a 1st down.) For context, the Chiefs were the best team in the league this year with a 45% success rate, and the Bengals were 2nd with a 32.3% success rate. (The real takeaway here is that the Chiefs were real good. Groundbreaking stuff, I know)

We’ve got a little work to do, but we’re starting from a good point. The Packers didn’t face this situation all that often (relatively speaking), and they had some stuff that worked pretty well. So let’s build this thing out. 

Smash Fade (13.5 YPA)

If you’re thinking of a memorable vertical shot from the Packers in the Rodgers-era, chances are that shot came off this concept. It’s a take on an old West Coast concept, modified to take advantage of defenses playing with a single-high safety.

If the defense is in single-high, this becomes an isolation, one-on-one match-up. The Packers like to run this as a mirrored concept (running the same concept on both sides of the field). Mirrored concepts allow the QB to find his favorite match-up pre-snap, which allows him to get the ball out quicker post-snap. If the defense goes to a two-high look post-snap, they’ll have a TE running straight up the middle of the field on a LB, splitting the safeties. 

The WR room is a bit unproven coming into this year, but they have guys who can win those one-on-one match-ups. This has been an effective concept for years, so it makes sense to include it here.

Dagger (14.5 YPA)

There are a lot of little variations of this concept - which the Packers are extremely familiar with - but it all works off the same general principle as the core Dagger concept. It’s a two-man concept. The inside man runs a vertical route to clear space, and the outside man runs a dig route into that created space. It’s a concept that has provided some highlight moments.

In the case of Cross-Country Dagger (the example below), the inside man will run a deep crossing route to pull the coverage away from the middle, then replace it with a dig route. Again, same general mechanics, but that lead route is different.

With the vertical route stems involved, it’s a concept that can be incredibly effective with speed. And what do you know? The Packers have some of that now. 

Verts (10.5 YPA)

This is a concept that Hal Mumme - the man who popularized it with the Air Raid system - simply called “6”, because he expected to score a TD every time he ran it.

The concept is not as simple as “everybody run fast down the field,” although it can certainly be that. The idea behind this concept is to push vertically initially, then read the coverage/leverage and alter the routes based on that. Find the open space and attack it.

Sometimes that means a deep route. Sometimes that means a comeback. There needs to be trust behind the QB and WR that they’re seeing the same thing, or things can get ugly. 

Fortunately, Love played in an Air Raid system at Utah State, so it’s a concept he’ll be familiar with. Between that, offseason workouts and practices, I would feel good about having this one in the playbook.

Middle Screen (13.5 YPA)

This is where our overall philosophy on 4th down aggressiveness comes into play. Those first 3 concepts are all more of the vertical nature: you’re hunting for a 1st down, or to at least target a WR in the vicinity of the sticks. These last two concepts certainly could pick up the 1st down, but the throws are much shorter of the sticks than what we’ve been looking at so far.

This concept specifically is designed to get the ball quickly into the hands of a playmaker and have him try to get as many yards as he can. This is a one-man route: the rest of the skill position players get out to block, the target runs a quick slant to the middle of the field and follows the blockers up the middle of the field.

It’s a simple little play that takes advantage of the defense playing soft in the middle on 3rd & long, and it can get you within our target striking distance of 4th & short.

Stick (Two-Man) (12.5 YPA)

A quick-game staple that gives the QB a couple easy reads with one look. Run off the boundary defender with a go route, then read outside-in for the short, (typically) out-breaking routes (#2 receiver first, #3 receiver second). 

Rodgers loved this concept (and was very good at it), but I would imagine we’ll see a reduction in use in the offense as a whole. But, on 3rd & long, it can still be an effective way to get the ball out quickly to space, so we’ll keep it in our 3rd & long section. 

If you haven’t already - or if you have and feel like revisiting, anyway - you’re in luck! Here are those links.


The Introduction
1st & 10
2nd & long
2nd & medium
2nd & short


Albums listened to: Pearl Jam - Yield; Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland, Esben And The Witch - Hold Sacred; Alison Goldfrapp - The Love Invention

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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].

6 points
 

Comments (12)

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SoCalJim's picture

May 17, 2023 at 04:02 pm

Excellent article as always, Dusty! Thanks!

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Since'61's picture

May 17, 2023 at 04:47 pm

Great job again as usual Dusty. Thanks, Since '61

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LeotisHarris's picture

May 17, 2023 at 06:39 pm

Thanks for another entertaining and informative piece, Dusty. Much appreciated.

Hearing Given to Fly always makes me think of Steve Gleason:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgkQU32XSFQ

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Leatherhead's picture

May 17, 2023 at 07:36 pm

Hmmmm. All those good offenses had the most 3rd and longs? I have to ponder that a little. It seems a little counterintuitive.

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T7Steve's picture

May 18, 2023 at 10:11 am

Long as you don't start making me add again. LOL

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packerbackerjim's picture

May 18, 2023 at 08:28 am

Not a when they throw short of the sticks on 3rd/4th down. Not too many guys capable of breaking tackles consistently.

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croatpackfan's picture

May 18, 2023 at 09:05 am

Interesting stuff, Dusty.

I can not thank you enough for these lectures. You are the Man.

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T7Steve's picture

May 18, 2023 at 09:24 am

Thanks Dusty.

You have me wondering how many times in those situations we had a penalty and how that ranked league wise. We were pretty good penalty wise I think, but those are sure heartbreakers when they happen.

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jont's picture

May 18, 2023 at 10:02 am

More good stuff; it's informative and opens up more investigation. It's easy to see how playbooks get so big.

On third and long every announcer tells us to expect a pass, but as you noted well, not all 3rd & longs are the same.

Your essay really invites a dive into deeper data on runs in long yardage situations. "For the season, (GB) only had 3 runs, for a pass rate of 96.4% on 3rd & long," you note. Half of the people who comment here believe this is because Rodgers' ego drove him to pad his stats to the detriment of team, but, putting aside the mind reading, it's pretty clear that the score, TOP, momentum, simple confidence, and the human emotion to which not even coaches and players are immune all influence decision making under pressure. To say nothing of the strengths of the O-line, match ups, the tendencies of the defenses.... So film study adds another critical dimension to the data. Does this defensive end ignore play action in long yardage situations and can our guard get to the second level? And on and on; the variables are many.

Professional football is the most complicated team sport in the world, and I appreciate your effort to help us understand what we're seeing.

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ReaganRulz's picture

May 18, 2023 at 11:56 am

Just when I thought I knew a little bit about football…you remind me that I don’t know squat!! :). Really great article and appreciate your deep analysis!!

4 points
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T7Steve's picture

May 18, 2023 at 02:20 pm

Yah hey! (Can't remember the last time I heard that.)

Oh, to be back in the UP in spring.......

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

May 20, 2023 at 10:04 pm

Dusty, I thoroughly enjoy your breakdowns! Also, just looking at what worked is a very optimistic approach. I wonder if the coaching staff is this upbeat? It makes me think they can't lose.

I don't know that excessive losses are solely attributable to hero balls called from the LOS, and DC preventing talent from doing what they do. It's an idea.

If our O line can dominate, everything comes together. That'd be nice. So would developing the rest of our O linemen who aren't expected to be first string.

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