The Passing Chronicles: 2023 Preseason Week 2

Dusty talks about the nuance in the Slam route from the Packers second preseason game

I burned my good preseason opening last week, so I can’t use that again.So, instead of coming up with something relatively clever, let’s just jump into this.

The day after the Patriots game, I walked through all 9 of Jordan Love’s dropbacks (that video will be embedded below if you want to take a little journey). The idea is to try to assess his decision-making by taking into account what the concept is designed to do, how the coverage impacts that, etc. It’s an interesting exercise for me, at least.

In that breakdown this week, a single thing seemed to jump out to a handful of people, so I thought I would explore it a little more in this space. It was the third pass attempt of the night, and would go down in the books as an incomplete pass to Luke Musgrave on 2nd & 7. “The throw looked a little bit behind him,” was about the extent of the analysis on TV. And, to be clear, it was behind Musgrave. But there’s a lot to tease out on this play, so let’s dig in.

The concept is Play Action Bootleg to a Sail concept, with a Slam route off the line. It’s something we’ve seen a thousand times since LaFleur came to town. It’s one of the core passing concepts in this offense, even if the regular season effectiveness has declined over the past year (something we will no doubt explore this season). 

It plays off the wide zone run: specifically wide zone slice, where the TE to the run side releases under the line to block the backside of the run. The linemen all release horizontally down their track to the run side, then the QB boots out the other side to find a flood concept (made up of a deep corner/”Sail” route, a deep crosser and a flat route, courtesy of the slicing TE). 

The overall idea, of course, is to get the defense pulled up on the run to one direction, then have the passing offense flooding the other side of the field. It was a trick the whole time! A ruse!

Defenses have caught on and made adjustments, so the concept has many different variations. The Slam tag is a small, fun little addition. It involves the TE to the boot side flowing down the line as if he’s blocking on the run, then peeling off and looking for an open space, sifting through the flotsam and jetsam of defenders looking to defend against the pass. It’s less a defined route and more of a feel route. Look for some empty space and just kinda float in it, making yourself a target for the QB.

The QB is typically trying to hit the crosser as the first read, the flat as the second, and the slam as the third. Technically the Sail route is the first read, but that’s really more of a clear-out route. An alert more than an actual part of the progression. It’s rarely thrown, so I just kind of leave it out when thinking about what the QB is looking to accomplish on this concept.

Now, for the play itself. It’s PA Boot Sail w/Slam, with the run fake to the right and the boot to the left. Christian Watson [9] is on the Sail route, Romeo Doubs [87] is on the deep crosser, Tucker Kraft [85] is on the slice/flat route and Luke Musgrave [88] is on the Slam route. 

Jordan Love boots out to find Watson covered (no surprise), but Doubs - the #1 read on this - appears to be open. He’s being trailed by a couple defenders, but he’s got a couple yards of separation. The boundary DB is starting to look back from his coverage on the flat, but there’s a pretty good sized window there. This is where Love wants to throw, and it’s not a bad option.

The issue? The Slam route. Musgrave starts his fake down the line, then releases to the boot side on a line, in a way that puts him directly in the path of Doubs. 

From this angle it looks like Love should have thrown to Doubs. And maybe there’s a case to be made there, but it’s muddled at best. You can get a better sense of it from the other angle.

So now Love has a decision. “Do I try to fit this to Doubs?” If he puts it on a line, you risk Musgrave thinking the throw is for him, getting a hand on it and popping it up into the air. If you put a little air under it to loft it over Musgrave, you give the defense a chance to make up ground.

Instead of getting it to Doubs, he throws to Musgrave, but he can’t lead Musgrave because of that boundary DB that is peeking back. Love throws to Musgrave’s back hip: the only place he can safely fit it. The ball falls incomplete and we move to 3rd & 7.

If you want to see how the Slam route is intended to look, we don’t even need to go back that far. Just look at how Jayden Reed [11] did it against the Bengals in the first preseason game.

Just slow-play the release and drift around in some space. Perfectly done.

Walk with me for a minute into a couple alternate dimensions. We’re going to engage in some of my least favorite type of analysis: screenshot analysis, combined with a hypothetical. But, since we’ve got a pretty good sense of the situation up to this point, I’m going to give myself a pass. How gracious of me.

In this first alternate dimension, Musgrave releases from the slam route and hangs back, but the defensive lineman hangs back with him. That gives Love a nice, clear lane to hit Doubs on the crosser.

In the second alternate dimension, Musgrave hangs back but the defensive lineman isn’t paying attention to him at all and continues down the line. Now we have two options. If the lineman is slow, we may still have our throwing lane to Doubs.

If we don’t like that option, then we’ve got Musgrave hanging out behind all the action. Pop a throw his way - behind where the defense is flowing - and now you’ve got Musgrave in space and behind the main focus of the defense.

It’s a little nuance of that route within this concept. I don’t say any of this to paint Musgrave in a negative light: by all accounts he’s been lighting it up at practice and has been a big part of the offense through the first two preseason games. It’s tough to come in as a rookie TE and make a big difference, but I think the sky is the limit for him this year.

That being said, there are so many nuances to the position that we can’t expect him to be a master of all of them from day 1. This is something I’m sure they’ll be working on to improve on.

More than anything, this rep - this single play from the 1st quarter of a preseason game - helped me reinforce something I know but don’t always remember: there is a lot going on in every single play, most of which will go unseen and unnoticed by the vast majority of us. We may know the drop but not the ocean.

This beautiful little Slam route - this route that is barely a route - is more of a “feel” thing than a defined line on the chalkboard. Everything else is written in defined ink, while this route is half-scribbled in pencil.

It's a beautiful bit of chaos in the order. It's a bandleader telling his band not to play the “weird notes,” then operating within those “weird notes” himself. It's a meticulously planned and crafted pop masterpiece, but the orchestra is merely told where to start and where to end, without the precise instructions for how to get there. It's thundering, precision drumming with a guitar nearly veering out of control.

Football is beautiful, isn’t it?

As I mentioned at the top, I spent a bit of time this week walking through all 9 of Love’s dropbacks. 

I also took a few minutes to walk through a vertical RPO we saw from the Packers this past weekend. It’s something I’ve been hoping to see for the last couple of years, so here’s to hoping we see it a little more this season.

Albums listened to: Lanterns on the Lake - Versions of Us; Thelonious Monk - Brilliant Corners; The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band; Jimi Hendrix - Band of Gypsys


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].

3 points

Comments (10)

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jont's picture

August 23, 2023 at 05:24 pm

"There are so many nuances to the position that we can’t expect him to be a master of all of them from day 1."

Or even after year 1. We hear so often about the film study, experience, comfort level, and decision making of the good veteran QBs. There is simply no substitute for time, reps, and lessons learned.

Several here have written that Love should be judged on week to week growth; there will be highs and lows-- a 3 TD game and then a 3 INT game-- but we should look at the body of work as the games go by.

2 points
LeotisHarris's picture

August 23, 2023 at 06:01 pm

Beautifully written, Dusty, and as always, wonderful brain food. I appreciate your focus on details that can be easily missed with so many moving parts. Because of my ignorance, and also the manner in which the live NFL games are presented to us visually, it can be difficult to see what truly influenced the outcome on any given play. Pair that with the narrative Talking Head and Color Commentator have decided is most important and we get the reality TV broadcasts that are NFL games.

It's great to be able to come here and get your knowledgeable perspective. Thanks.

3 points
DustyEvely's picture

August 24, 2023 at 12:20 am

Thanks man! I really appreciate that.

2 points
ImaPayne's picture

August 23, 2023 at 06:29 pm

Whoever drew up that play expected someone on the other team to be faked out of their jock straps and obviously they werent. I still dont understand why this team is run run run and has a full back to boot.
I agree with an analyst who said teams that are run first and play power football usually are on the losing side because the run game requires a lof of good plays in a row down the field and teams learn quickly how to bottle up the run game.
Second run teams dont put up the points passing teams do so the defence is up against the wall to stop the quick scoring of a passing teams.

-5 points
LLCHESTY's picture

August 23, 2023 at 06:53 pm

The article I about a pass play based on a run look and you complain about run run run? Stick to a Vikings site for awhile,your troll game has gotten weak.

3 points
DustyEvely's picture

August 24, 2023 at 12:20 am

I mean...the first option is open if Musgrave doesn't find his way into the throwing lane.
It's not about "faking people out of their jock straps." It's about making the run and the pass off the run look the same to stress where the defense allocates its assets. You have to honor the run, which makes it tough to bring those dudes back to the other side on the boot. The Slam route - the route I'm talking about here - was an addition to this concept specifically to stress the defense in another way. If they commit to the run then overcommit to take away the pass, you can catch them with a little route that plays behind their momentum.

There are a ton of little variations to this concept, so a defense can never truly fully commit to what's coming. They have to keep a safety back because if they don't, the offense dials up a half-boot variation where the corner route turns into a corner/post and he's wide open. The linebackers can't blindly run to the crosser or the offense will dial up a play where the TE blocking down the line leaks out across the formation.

This core concept is one that is not run a ton every game. The offense has been distilled down to its most basic parts in the preseason. Jordan Love has run this 5 times in 2 games, and Clifford has run it even more. During the regular season? They'll maybe dial it up twice in a game, but even then they throw other tweaks on it to take advantage of where the defense is leaning.

The effectiveness of this concept has waned a bit over the years, but it's still a solid concept in this offense, for all the reasons detailed above. You can say that the defense wasn't fooled on this play, but if Musgrave slow-plays the release, you've got the crosser for an easy 7-12 yards.

3 points
Rebecca's picture

August 23, 2023 at 06:33 pm

Excellent Dusty! I’m gonna be watching for that PA Boot Sail w/Slam play Saturday.

3 points
DustyEvely's picture

August 23, 2023 at 11:09 pm

I'm sure we'll see it!

2 points
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

August 23, 2023 at 11:23 pm

I can't even remember the name, lol. I love seeing his breakdowns though

2 points
croatpackfan's picture

August 24, 2023 at 04:28 am

Dusty is back!

Folks it is the time to learn! I can not wait your analyses of Packers season games and passing concept and execution from QB and WR, TE and RB. It will be a lot of fun.

For this particular play, it is hard to see from TV what really went wrong, but, yes, you explained it very logical. It is pitty that timing of all players was not quite right. But concept is interesting.

1 points