The Passing Chronicles: 2021 Week 16

Dusty takes a look back at 6 plays from the Packers Christmas Day victory over the Browns

When you win the turnover battle 4-0, I would hope the margin of victory would be greater than a 2 point nail-biter. But ugly wins are still ugly wins. I fully buy into the DVOA/Pythagorean wins as being more predictive of future success than actual win/loss, but all of that can be a bit dicey in-season. For now, bank wins, get the #1 seed and continue to work on your issues. I certainly have my concerns about this team, but an opportunistic defense and an MVP quarterback will always give you leeway to outperform your peripheral numbers.

There's time for all that discussion later. Say, during Wild Card week when the Packers are on their bye. Today? Today we look back at some plays from the Packers Christmas Day win over the Cleveland Browns.

Play 1: 2nd & 6, 7:55 remaining in the 1st quarter

We'll kick things off with a twist on an old friend. It looks like the Packers are running Stick on the left side, with a flat underneath. Instead, it's a dual Stick-Nod look, with both receivers breaking vertically up the field after the initial break to the outside. It's something we've seen from them quite a few times this year.

The Packers are in a compressed formation, but they are in a 3X1 formation, with 3 receivers to the left side, AJ Dillon [28] as the lone running back and Davante Adams [17] isolated on the right side. The Browns are showing a single-high look, shaded to the 3 receiver side. That leaves Adams man-to-man with Denzel Ward [21], with Ward playing tight coverage.

We're going to look at this with other plays this week as well, but this is one of those times where the core concept doesn't matter. Getting Adams isolated wide gives Aaron Rodgers [12] a nice pre-snap read. He has the option of looking to Stick-Nod and going through that concept, or he can take the isolated Davante Adams. He trusts Adams to win this one-on-one match-up, so Stick-Nod never gets the time of day.

Adams takes a step to the outside & Ward angles his body inside to take away the slant, so Adams releases on a go route to the outside.

Rodgers has talked about this kind of throw - The Transition Go - as his favorite type of throw, and you can see the mechanics of it here. This was how Rodgers talked about that throw during his appearance on 10 Questions with Kyle Brandt:

If you look at the way a lot of go balls are thrown on the outside, they're taught - especially in the West Coast - it's 42-44 yards on the red line, 5 yards from the sideline...If you have a guy that can beat a guy at the line of scrimmage, the defensive back's first order of business is to get back at the hip. So a lot of times, they're just trying to get even with a receiver and then look up for the ball. When a lot of times I can throw the ball a little lower.

Let's rewatch the clips without all my doodles.

You can see Ward looking at Adams and trying to get back at his hip. With Ward still in recovery mode, Rodgers lays this ball beautifully over the top.

When you have Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, a lot of things are on the menu offensively that aren't necessarily available for other teams.

Play 2: 3rd & 5, 5:19 remaining in the 1st quarter

We just talked about Stick-Nod, so let's move to Stick and the play that led to Rodgers breaking Brett Favre's record for most passing TDs as a Green Bay Packer.

This particular instance is two-man Stick, with a vertical route on the outside to work as an alert/shot, but the main purpose is to clear the boundary for the two inside routes. The Packers run this concept a handful of different ways, but this is far-and-away the most common way they run it.

Josiah Deguara [81] is the #1 receiver running the vertical, Allen Lazard [13] is the #2 receiver running the quick out, and Equanimeous St. Brown [19] is the #3 receiver running the quick out.

The boundary defender runs with Deguara and two defenders converge on St. Brown, giving Lazard a one-on-one look against a backpedaling defender.

Rodgers hits the top of his drop and fires to Lazard. Lazard gets the corner, knocks the pylon over with the ball, and Rodgers gets another football to add to his trophy case.

Play 3: 1st & goal, 10:58 remaining in the 2nd quarter

I really like this look. It plays out as a vertical RPO, targeting the box safety or linebacker, with the receiver running a glance route. Off an RPO, the quarterback reads the defender. If he breaks up to defend the run, throw the glance behind him. If he stays back against the pass, hand off.

The line is blocking for a split zone run, with Deguara working as the slicer underneath the line. They're looking to get the double-teams up front then climb to the next level. Because of that, the decision needs to be made quickly and the ball needs to be out quickly.

The funny thing about this play is that it has all the hallmarks of an RPO, but Rodgers never looks at the player he's basing the run/pass key from. That defender is inching into the box pre-snap and Rodgers looks at him, but from the time the ball is snapped, he doesn't look back to the right side until he turns to throw it.

He either already knows that defender is playing the run - likely based off film study - or he's gambling a bit. Or he has ESP. All options are on the table, really.

Last thing on this play: I love the easy transition in the footwork.

Play 4: 3rd & goal, 10:50 remaining in the 2nd quarter

The Packers are in the low red zone (0-10 yard line) and the Browns have 7 men tightly packing the box. With no defender in the middle, that leaves a lot of room behind them for the Packers to exploit. And exploit it they do! They've got Adams at the #3 running a stick-nod against his defender. He pushes hard at the backpedaling defender, takes one quick step to the outside then comes back inside. The defender puts his hands out, there's some contact, and Adams disengages to find the room in the middle.

The Browns are showing a lot of potential rushers at the line. The Packers line has 4 men sliding left while Dennis Kelly [79] kicks out on the right. Rodgers knows he's likely going to get a free rusher, so he has to get the ball out quickly.

At the snap, Aaron Jones [33] releases to the flat, dragging a defender with him (if Jones stays back in pass pro, that defender likely comes on the blitz as well; that technique is known as a Green Dog Blitz). That leaves Sione Takitaki [44] as the free rusher through the hole. He closes quickly, but Rodgers gets the ball out as soon as his back foot hits.

His feet appear to be set to throw the quick hitch to Lazard in the slot, but he's able to come back to Adams in the middle without the need to reset his feet.

Play 5: 1st & 10, 1:01 remaining in the 2nd quarter

I just wanted to point this one out because it's a play we've seen from Rodgers and Adams before, and they always make it look so easy.

The Packers are in a 2X2 shotgun set, with Lazard and Adams on the left. The Browns are showing a single-high safety, set deep. The defender over Adams is pulled up tight and squared over Adams. Adams can get whatever release he wants off of this, and he takes the outside release.

Unlike the Transition Go we looked at earlier, the defender is not scrambling to get back into position. He is able to stay over the top, which takes away the go ball, but opens up the back shoulder ball.

Rodgers takes two shuffle steps to his left to fade with the playfake, then throws a ball to the boundary. Adams turns and makes the catch. Nice and easy 12 yard gain.

It's a good thing Rodgers gets the ball out quickly, because Myles Garrett [95] easily beats Yosh Nijman [73] around the edge and was looking to take Rodgers' head off.

Like I said earlier: when you have Rodgers and Adams, things are available to you that are not available for other teams.

Play 6: 2nd & 4, 13:36 remaining in the 3rd quarter

I'll end with this play, which hammers home the "not always available for other teams" point. The Packers are running a Divide concept on the right, with Jones running a flat underneath. On this concept, the two receivers follow each other up the field before splitting in opposite directions. The Packers have run this concept a few times this year, and it usually ends with the ball in the hands of the flat receiver in space. It's been a nice concept for them, even if they haven't hit anything big off of it yet.

Much like Play 1, Rodgers never even looks to the concept side because he has Adams running a slant on the backside. The Browns are in a two-high look, with 2 linebackers shading away from Adams. At the snap, one of the linebackers shades to the concept side, making this easy for Rodgers. He knows Adams is going to win the slant, and now he knows no one is buzzing underneath. So he hits the back foot and fires the slant. 

Adams catches it in-stride and ends up picking up 17 yards.

Pretty nice when you have a receiver you know will win the vast majority of these match-ups.


Albums listened to: Griffin House - Homecoming; Girlpool - Powerplant; Lewis - Even So; Zookeeper - Pink Chalk; Ola Podrida - Belly of the Lion; The Appleseed Cast - Low Level Owl; Gleemer - Moving Away

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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].

9 points

Comments (8)

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LeotisHarris's picture

December 29, 2021 at 04:52 pm

Being able to learn from you weekly reinforces just how spoiled I've been as a fan during Rodgers' tenure. How many of us can take the time to consider what goes into each successful offensive play. From pre-snap reads to footwork to making difficult throws look routine. I know I've taken a lot for granted with 12 as a player.

And, whether you subscribe to Davantevision or not, when it's dialed in, it's a beautiful thing to watch. Two extraordinary athletes doing incredible things and making it all look effortless in conjunction with nine others. I'll miss that when it's gone.

Thanks for your work, Dusty.

11 points
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PeteK's picture

December 29, 2021 at 05:20 pm

Yes, fluid synchronicity. I saw it at times with Jennings/Nelson and in another era with Lofton.

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pacman's picture

December 29, 2021 at 05:18 pm

Noting:
Play 1 - Adams has tight 1 on 1 coverage with no deep help. AR is looking there the whole time. 95% of QBs don't attempt that throw as Adams isn't really open. But you can't defend a perfect throw unless you can get your hand in and knock it out after the catch. Completion
Meanwhile, Lazard is given 7 yds cushion all the way on the other side.

Play 2 - Adams on left has basically 3 guys covering him while play is to right with 4 defenders on 3 receivers. Completion to Lazard in space.

Play 3 - Lazard drops a ball he should have caught. Incomplete.

Play 4 - Adams has a few yds of cushion. AR is looking there the whole time. Completion

Play 5 - Adams has tight 1 on 1 coverage with no deep help. AR is looking there the whole time. Completion

Play 6 - Adams has tight 1 on 1 coverage with only very deep help. AR is looking there the whole time. Completion

Ravens weren't crazy for putting 2 guys on Adams. But AR is a big part of that team.
Will it be possible to keep AR & Adams together on Packers next year?

(To be fair, Adams dropped 2 passes at the end of the game to make it the nail biter it was).

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Handsback's picture

December 29, 2021 at 05:29 pm

Thanks Dusty for all your work. Agree with Pacman in that Rodgers is always looking for Adams and seems to make it happen. The problem is they have a hard time sustaining drives that eat the clock, make the defense vulnerable, and keep them honest. The best remedy (IMHO) is short passing game take what they give you, and a sustained running game.

The combo of Rodgers to Adams works during the season, but loses steam in the playoffs when teams have better and deeper set of DBs that make teams drive the length of the field.

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porupack's picture

December 29, 2021 at 06:22 pm

Thanks Dusty, I agree with Leotis above, great to see you pointing out these elements of a successful play for those of us who don't have the ability to study games afterward. Thanks!

ONe topic I hope is covered is a breakdown on what constitutes a "good route runner". TV analysts always mention some receiver being a good route runner, and another such as MVS not being a good route runner, or a raw one. What does that mean? Maybe a dumb question but would like a study on what a good one does that another doesn't such as Adams vs the MVS as a rookie.

6 points
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MarkinMadison's picture

December 29, 2021 at 10:27 pm

#3 Thanks for pointing out the footwork. Amazing clip when you stop and look at it.

#5 I noticed that Yosh struggled with a rusher lined up wide last week a well. On that play there were intervening O and D players to work around. This one was just a wounded Garret. Either way, he is struggling to kick-slide quickly enough to engage the wide rusher.

#6 Safety #22 was playing so deep, and he kept getting deeper while looking at Davante. I really feel like #22 made that play a success - if he plays it more neutrally it is maybe a 7-yard gain.

4 points
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flackcatcher's picture

January 01, 2022 at 02:01 pm

The Browns were mostly playing 1 high to comp for their blitz package. Gambling that Rodger's would continue to take the medium to deep shots. Giving that Green Bay's O-line could not sustain the run game, it was a reasonable gamble. Against Rodgers, who is in playoff mode, it's a crap shoot.

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croatpackfan's picture

December 30, 2021 at 06:52 am

What to say, except, THANK YOU DUSTY FOR THIS SCHOOL OF PASSING!

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