The Passing Chronicles: 2023 Wild Card

Dusty takes a look at the passing game from the Packers Wild Card victory over the Cowboys

Well, that was certainly fun. Heading into Jerry World as 7.5 point underdogs and absolutely housing the Cowboys. It’s not often you find yourself saying, “That game wasn’t as close as the final 48-32 score would have you believe,” but it’s absolutely true. The Packers were in complete control for the bulk of the game, then got a little lax on defense in the 4th quarter and allowed a couple Cowboys scores to make the score slightly more respectable.  One of the main complaints of the Packers 2nd half offense is that they scored their touchdowns too fast and didn’t bleed enough time off the clock. If that’s the main complaint, I’d say the offense had a pretty good day.

Before we get to the passing chart, let’s talk about Aaron Jones, the offensive line and the running game. On the day, Jones rushed for 118 yards on 21 carries (5.6 YPA) and 3 TDs (because if there’s one thing we know for sure in this life, it’s that Jones will score multiple TDs in Dallas). Here’s the fun part: per PFF, 54 of Jones’ 118 yards came before he was contacted. That’s an average of 2.6 yards that Jones averaged per carry before he was contacted by a single defender. The league average in 2023 was 1.2 yards before contact.

That’s an offensive line stat. If a RB is picking up 2.6 yards before being contacted, that means the offensive line is creating movement and lanes up front. And Jones was his usual, special self this past weekend, finding the creases and cutback lanes, hitting them quickly and refusing to go down. This was a great game from Jones, but also a great game from the Packers offensive line. Those have been more and more common as the season has gone on.

Enough about the running game. To the passing chart!

Between some quick scoring drives and Aaron Jones & the offensive line tearing the Cowboys to shreds, Jordan Love did his damage on limited dropbacks. Love played 53 snaps but only had 21 dropbacks. Love had 17 dropbacks in the 1st half. The lack of dropbacks in the 2nd half is partially due to the Packers being up big and leaning on the run a bit, but it’s also due to the Packers picking up huge chunks on those runs, but also huge gains on the passes.

Let’s just talk about the 3rd quarter, because it’s hilarious. Love had 2 attempts in the 3rd quarter, both taking place on 1st & 10. On those 2 attempts, Love was 2/2 for 84 yards and a TD (the Leak TD to Luke Musgrave). 

But the run game was also doing numbers. Aaron Jones had 6 rush attempts in the 3rd quarter. Those 6 carries went for 66 yards (11 YPA) and 1 TD. The shortest run in the 3rd quarter was a 4 yard run on 2nd & 2, so it still went down as a successful run. Every other run went for at least 8 yards. 

Over the course of the 3rd quarter, the Packers ran 8 plays. On those 8 plays they gained 150 yards and scored 2 TDs. All that without facing a single 3rd down. They only faced two 2nd downs, and both of those were 2nd & 2. 

That’s a lot of words to say, “Packers offense good.”

Back to the chart for a second. Love targeted every portion of the field and he did so effectively. A couple throws that went slightly wide, but Love really showed off his command of the offense and his ability to make throws from any platform. 

He also - once again - showed how far he has come since Kansas City blitzed the living daylights out of him in 2021. In this game, Love was blitzed on 38.1% of his dropbacks. On those dropbacks he was 6/8 (75%) for 129 yards (16.1 YPA) and 2 TDs. We’ve seen his ADOT (Average Distance of Target) fluctuate a bit, but his ADOT when blitzed is typically ~6.5 yards. In this game, he put up an ADOT of 14.3 yards when blitzed. The Packers had a good protection plan (aided by Love’s ability to adjust protection based on what the defense is showing) and good enough execution to allow Love to chuck the ball downfield. 

Overall, a really fun game. I’m sure I will be coming back to this one quite often.

Let’s take a look at a couple plays that point out Love’s performance against the blitz.

Play 1: 3rd & 7, 3:28 remaining in the 2nd quarter

The first play we’re going to look at is the touchdown to Dontayvion Wicks to push the score to 21-0 late in the 1st half. The Packers are at the Cowboys 20 yard line and running an empty shotgun look out of 11 personnel. It looks like they have a TE on either side of the line, but the in-line player on the left is Patrick Taylor [27].

The Cowboys don’t have anyone deep pre-snap, but they could easily rotate back into something post-snap. Love uses his cadence to sniff out what the Cowboys are doing, and it gives him the exact information he needs. The Cowboys show their two blitzers in the middle, telling Love that the Cowboys are bringing heat and playing man-to-man on the back. In other words, Cover 0.

With that information, Love steps up to make some protection changes. Tucker Kraft [85] shifts to an in-line position on the right and Love checks with Elgton Jenkins [74] to make sure he knows the plan.

The Packers are running 3 receivers on routes, while Taylor and Kraft are chipping-and-releasing. Romeo Doubs [87] is running a deep corner route, while Jayden Reed [11] and Dontayvion Wicks [13] are running a double-post variant. Reed works as the initial post route (more like a deep crosser, but the effect is the same), while Wicks is running the follow-post with a Dino route (push vertical, give a shake, hit the post).

Markquese Bell [14] is coming through the line on a twist, but it takes him a minute to get there and the rest of the protection holds up enough for the route to develop. 

Love hesitates, gives a pump fake to get Bell airborne, then hits Wicks with a fadeaway dime. I know I am not only speaking for myself when I say that I lost my mind when this happened.

Great job by Love to get the defense to show their hand, make the needed adjustments to the protection, then finish it off with a stellar throw.

Play 2: 1st & 10, 8:01 remaining in the 3rd quarter

This is a much less dramatic blitz, but the Cowboys send 5 and play some games at the line, so it fits into that category. Honestly, this one looked like it was doomed to fail, yet somehow ended up with a 46 yard gain. Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes, well, he eats you. Tonight, the Packers ate the bear (or the cowboy or whatever). 

The Packers are in 12 personnel, with Aaron Jones [33] as the lone back and Tucker Kraft [85] & Josiah Deguara [81] as the tight ends. Deguara motions before the snap in a kind of yo-yo/escort motion. He starts as a jet under the line, then sticks his foot in the ground and winds back to block the backside end. 

There are two problems with that motion. For starters, it goes a little further across the line than it’s supposed to, but Deguara also slips as he’s trying to reverse back across the line. That’s not great in general, but it’s especially not great when the man you need to block is Micah Parsons [11], who is about as quick off the edge as anyone. With all that, Deguara is a touch slow getting to his spot and is further hampered by Rasheed Walker [63] retreating back into his pass drop. All that leads to a bad angle and a free rush off the edge by Parsons.

The other issue is the mesh point between Love and Jones. This is meant to be a play action off a wide zone look, which means an angled dropback from Love and a full extension of his arm to fake the handoff to Jones. Jones is meant to carry out the fake then get into pass protection. The problem is that Zach Tom [50] gets beat by a mean move by DeMarcus Lawrence [90] and is immediately in the backfield. That puts Jones immediately into pass protector mode. Jones and Jon Runyan Jr. [76] get that cleared up, but it leads to an awkward moment at the mesh point. Love is able to pull the ball back and avoid a collision with Jones, which saved the play.

But he still has Parsons screaming off the edge.

For the concept, the Packers are playing off something they had seen from Stephon Gilmore [21]. When he’s tight to the line and covering a crosser, Gilmore had shown that he’ll fall underneath and look to undercut, sometimes losing site of the route. The Packers run Doubs on a deep crosser against Gilmore. Then, right where the crossing route would generally level out, Doubs puts on the brakes and reverses the route. Love has just enough time to float this ball to Doubs off his back foot before being crushed by Parsons.

Seriously. Look at where Doubs is when Love releases this ball and where the ball ends up. (I circled the rough area the ball ends up in the roughly-drawn red circle, because I am a professional.) I have no idea how anyone ever completes a pass in the NFL.

Even with the play breaking down, Love is calm and trusts his guy is going to be where he’s supposed to be. 

The early half of this season - often marred by mistakes by the receivers - feels like a lifetime ago.

As I do every week, I got a chance to talk with John Kuhn about some plays from the Packers win. We usually try to limit to 3-4 plays, but, with such a huge win, we couldn't hold ourselves back. We talked about 9 plays, ending with the two play sequence that ended with the Musgrave TD. Really fun week.

Albums listened to: The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band; The Appleseed Cast - Mare Vitalis; Lewis - Even So; The Gloria Record - Start Here; Eisley - Room Noises; Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga; Taylor Swift - evermore




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].


4 points

Comments (6)

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JerseyAl's picture

January 17, 2024 at 04:25 pm

This had to be the most fun you've ever had doing one of these! Also, Eisley fan here...

3 points
DustyEvely's picture

January 17, 2024 at 10:45 pm

They're all fun. But yes, this one in particular was a blast.

Man, I've been with Eisley since their Mos Eisley days. They have brought me so much joy over the years.

2 points
relleum61's picture

January 17, 2024 at 06:55 pm

Lately, the tape has had to be a lot of fun to go through. I cannot remember receivers (over the last 4 weeks) being this wide open on a consistent basis. Credit has to be given to the entire offensive staff for coordinating the run game, the OL play and the receiver/TE routes. That said, it takes a triggerman (JL) to make it all work. JLove has done that on just an insane level. I thought Farve was a ray of hope in his first year as a starter. I thought Rodgers was very good in his first year as a starter. Love has absorbed the lessons of Farve & Rodgers and has taken what we hope for/expect from a GBQB to another lever.

That is my amateur observation...Nick Bosa says it way better than I could..."Love is "a quarterback who does exactly what he's coached to do," Bosa said, per KNBR. "Aaron Rodgers is a Hall of Famer and unbelievable, but he kinda went outside of the realm of coaching. And sometimes it's good when you have a guy who does what he's coached to do."

We know how the last playoff game against the 49ers ended. Win or lose, I can't wait to see how Love performs against a similar 49er defense.

5 points
Swisch's picture

January 17, 2024 at 08:13 pm

On the TD pass to Wicks, as was I think noted during the broadcast, the motion by Reed also factors into this successful play -- although I'm not saying I fully understand why.
It does appear to me that Reed motioning toward the middle of the field and behind Wicks causes the Cowboy defensive backs to switch their assignments on the two -- and that in the process Wicks starts off his route with his defender on the outside, which may help Wicks in getting an advantage for going over the middle.
I'm glad for other takes from other fans.

2 points
T7Steve's picture

January 18, 2024 at 07:42 am

Just like last week when it was Jones, on the first TD play shown, Taylor was wide open underneath, if Love had to check down for an emergency situation or the others were all covered. Seems like there's another open on almost every passing play. I guess that will happen if you only drop back 21 times in a game.

Thanks again, Dusty. That was so much fun and informing.

If we can keep getting all these open looks with pressure in Love's face, I think the 9ers are in for a tough matchup. Seems when it needs to, the pass is opening up the run. Which I didn't think would happen this season at all.

0 points
murf7777's picture

January 18, 2024 at 09:37 am

Great stuff Dusty….another good film study is Chase Daniels on Love in this game. He is very high on Love’s potential.

My concern is that SF defense knows this offense inside and out and won’t get tricked like Dallas as easy. That’s because SF and GB’s offenses are very similar. Also, think SF’s front 7 are better. My belief is the only way we win this game is if we keep SF under 20 because I think this game will be more challenging to score.

3 points