The Passing Chronicles: 2020 Week 15

Dusty breaks down some passing concepts that didn't work - and some that did - in the Packers victory over the Panthers

I don't know if you all are aware, but this past week's game against the Panthers went from a cakewalk to a nailbiter with a quickness. The Packers seemed to be fully in control, scoring TDs on their first three drives. They didn't enter the Red (Gold?) Zone after that. Starting with 3:28 remaining in the 2nd quarter, the Packers punted on 5 straight drives. That's not great. 

A while ago, someone in the comments said something to the effect of, "You should show plays that didn't work along with the ones that did work." When I'm looking at a game, I'm looking at the process more than the result. "What was the thought process here? What were they attacking and how did the defense react?" Still, I probably do focus more on the positive than the negative. There are three very good reasons for that:

1. The Packers do a lot of cool stuff every week from a scheme perspective and I tend to speak highly of that.
2. I'm a relatively positive person by nature.
3. As a general rule, people are more interested in reading about good things than bad things.

But this week, I thought I'd dive into some things that didn't work and talk a bit about why it didn't work. We are so often focused on the Packers side of the ball that we forget to give credit to the other side. The Packers certainly had their shortcomings in this game, but the Panthers came in with a great gameplan and executed it extremely well. Hats off to them.

Although, being the positive person I am, I don't want to start and end on a bad note. So we're going to kick things off with a fun play and close it out with a fun play. Let's do it.

Play 1: 1st & goal, 9:58 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83] goes in motion before the snap & a defender follows. Not only does that signal man coverage, but it also clears the boundary. The Packers are pushing Allen Lazard [13] up the field and running Robert Tonyan [85] in the flat underneath him. The Panthers defense is pulled up on that side, with the defenders to that side even with each other on the line. Since the Packers know they're in man coverage, it's an easy read: the route from Lazard is going to force Tonyan's defender over that route, giving Tonyan a free release in the flat and a relatively easy path to the end zone.

It works like a dream. The route from Lazard forces Juston Burris [31] to take a wide path to Tonyan. By the time Burris can get over the top, Tonyan has picked up his 10th touchdown of the year.

Play 2: 1st & 10, 13:37 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

Alright. We've got a fun play out of the way. Let's get to the rest of it.

Like I said, the Panthers came in with a good gameplan and executed it extremely well. The Panthers came into the game 27th in the league per Football Outsiders' DVOA (30th in the league against the deep pass), and were one of the worst tackling teams in the league. You wouldn't know that from this past weekend. They played relatively soft to take away the deep passes and rallied to anything underneath. When they rallied, they were sure tacklers. 

But it wasn't just their play on the back end that worked for them. They were able to get pressure with 4 man rushes throughout the course of the game. Looking back, we should have known the Packers were in trouble from their first pass attempt. The Panthers show 5 men near the line, with 2 of them backing off pre-snap. Sure enough, the Panthers rushed 3 and dropped 8. 

The Packers came out with a Smash Fade variation. Smash Fade is a concept we've talked about a lot this season (I covered it extensively in the Packers Week 11 loss to the Colts). It's a take on an old West Coast concept. Basically, the outside receiver runs a curl route while the inside receiver runs a fade route over the top. It's something the Packers have run a lot of this year, and they're trying to take advantage of that here. Get the defense reading the fade route from the slot, then run a curl while the defender is backpedaling.

The Panthers appear to be in Quarters, but it's an aggressive Quarters. The middle two defenders are dropping deep, while the boundary defenders are dropping deep and crashing on the short routes. The two deep-dropping defenders are looking for the fade, while the curl routes are being taken away by the linebackers dropping underneath them in zone. 

The Smash Fade variant is covered up by the dropping defenders, and Aaron Rodgers [12] is never able to extend the play due to the pressure applied by the rush. Three-man rush is a dirty word in Green Bay - as well it should be - but the Panthers are able to pressure Rodgers with a simple three-man rush. The pass falls incomplete. And, while the Packers would end up scoring a touchdown on the drive, this was a pretty telling play for the game as a whole.

Play 3: 1st & 10, 7:29 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 14-0

This is another good example of the gamplan the Panthers brought. They were able to pressure up front and played relatively soft on the back-end, but they also made a point not to bite on play action. That may have bit them in their rush defense in the first half, but it paid off with their defense against play action.

The Packers are running something we've seen quite a bit from them this year: a deep curl under a deep route over the top. The Panthers are shifting before the snap, but they settle into a Cover 3 look just before the snap. The idea behind this idea can specifically attack this type of coverage: run a deep curl from the boundary and across the face of that defender to draw him up, then run a route over the top from the opposite side. With the deep boundary defender drawn up by the curl, the deep route is able to work with inside leverage against the deep defender, giving the quarterback a nice throw.

This play hinges on play action. You want to draw the linebackers up. Drawing the linebackers up opens the middle, which would allow the curl to run free to the middle. That free run triggers the boundary defender, which opens up the deep route. All things are tied together.

But the Panthers don't bite. Instead of being drawn up to the line, they hold their ground. That drop into the middle of the field by the linebackers covers up the curl, allowing the boundary defender to fall under the deep crossing route from Valdes-Scantling. With the deep crosser gone and pressure breaking through, Rodgers breaks contain and runs for 5 yards. 

Five yards on 1st & 10 is perfectly fine, but this showed that the Panthers weren't being drawn up by play action. This wasn't a one-time occurence, either.

Play 4: 1st & 10, 0:55 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Packers leading 21-3

Drive concept off the right side, with a drag/curl under a dig route. With the vertical routes from the other side helping to open the middle, Valdes-Scantling is wide open in the middle of the field.

Rodgers is looking to the left first. When he gets to the top of his drop, it's clear that isn't open, so he works back to the middle, where MVS is setting up camp.

However, Rodgers never gets a chance to find MVS in the middle. Lucas Patrick [62] gives way to Derrick Brown [95] off the line. By the time Rodgers hits the top of his drop, Brown is already in his face.

Play 5: 3rd & 2, 9:58 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 21-3

Mesh is usually my happy place. By my count, the Packers ran Mesh twice against the Panthers - both taking place on 3rd down - and neither of them ended well. I don't know what to believe in anymore.

The Packers come out running something close to the original LaVell Edwards Mesh: mesh point in the middle with drags, and a high-low corner/flat read to one side. It's missing the vertical route from the other side, but it's close enough to fit into the Edwards category.

Rodgers reads the middle first. This is for three reasons:
1. A lot of quarterbacks will start their read in the middle of the field, to give themselves an immediate post-snap snapshot of the defense. They have their initial pre-snap read, then look down the middle post-snap to read the movement of the middle of the defense and see the other movement on their periphery.
2. Starting a play by looking down the middle of the field doesn't give the defense an immediate key. They can't crash on a route/receiver if the quarterback isn't giving it away.
3. On Mesh specifically, it allows them to read the mesh point, which will often contain three of the five receivers.

On the inital read, it looks like Valdes-Scantling is covered up, but Adams will have a sliver of space. There is a defender waiting to crash, but the Packers only need 2 yards and Adams would be able to pick that up. 

The problem is that Brian Burns [53] beats David Bakhtiari [69] clean off the edge. Rodgers hits the top of his drop and immediately feels Burns grabbing his shoulder. Rodgers steps up, only to find that Derrick Brown has absolutely destroyed Patrick. Rodgers never has a chance. He is taken down for a loss of 9 and the Packers punt it away.

Play 6: 3rd & 4, 3:22 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 21-10

Another Mesh. With the dig over the mesh point, this fits more in line with the Hal Mumme mesh. On the broadcast, it looked like Lazard was wide open on the drag from right-to-left. That's because he was! But, as always, there's more to it than that.

Lazard and Valdes-Scantling are on the drag routes. Between the defender over him, the defender in the middle and the defender over Lazard, Valdes-Scantling ends up taking out three defenders. Lazard springs free over the middle, but Rodgers ends up throwing to Jones on the swing pass out of the backfield, where he is tackled by Shaq Thompson [54]. Let's explore the Jones route for a minute, because it's important.

Lazard is followed pre-snap in his motion, signaling man coverage. In that case, both Thompson and Jeremy Chinn [21] appear to be the likely options on covering Jones out of the backfield. At the snap, Chinn drops in coverage on Tonyan while Thompson crashes the line. By that movement, it looks like Thompson is blitzing while Chinn is falling off in coverage, which would mean that Jones is open on the swing as a checkdown option.

After crashing the line, Thompson releases to the flat and over Jones. Rodgers throws to Jones, who gets taken down for a loss of 2.

So why didn't Rodgers throw to Lazard? The answer is Brian Burns. 

Burns lines up between Bakhtiari and Patrick pre-snap, then drops off to the middle after the snap, reading the eyes of Rodgers. He's looking to take away anything shallow, and Rodgers sees him. So Rodgers tries to bait him. Based on the movement of the deep middle defender, he knows Lazard will be open on the drag; it's just a matter of being able to wait it out. With Burns in the middle and under the route, Rodgers has to look him off. He checks Burns, looks to the right to try to move him, then checks him again. Burns doesn't bite and starts to rush through the middle of the field.

With his internal clock ticking and Burns starting his rush through the middle, Rodgers moves off of Lazard and back to Jones (who, again, he assumes is open on the swing pass).

It's a nice disicplined play from Burns to hold his ground, and a tremendous play from Thompson to be able to crash the line and recover to take away Jones.

For me, this is a great example of how little we can see from the broadcast. The question after this play was, "Why didn't he throw to Lazard?" You can certainly make an argument that he still should have, but after looking at all the factors involved - Burns spying and holding ground, Panthers pass rush generating pressure all day, Thompson crashing initially - I understand the decision-making process that led to Rodgers moving off Lazard. It's not that he missed a read: it's that he saw the receiver, tried to look him open, then went with another option when the throw to Lazard was deemed to be too high-risk.

Play 7: 3rd & 7, 6:03 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers leading 21-13

We started on a fun note and we end on a fun note. Thems the rules.

The Packers run crossers out of bunch a lot. It goes like this: the two inner-most receivers in the bunch will push vertically up the field before breaking in 10+ yards down the field. The back man in the bunch will release under those routes on a shallow crosser. Against man coverage, the first two routes create a wall that the outside defender has to go over to keep up with the underneath crosser. It has been a highly effective concept this year. But, like all concepts, it needs its tendency breakers.

This is small, but it works. Instead of the inner receivers running vertically to set a wall for the underneath receiver, Lazard simply releases under Tonyan from the front of the bunch and runs a shallow crosser. 

The defender over Lazard is up tight to the line, but Lazard has a really nice release under the route of Tonyan. Lazard's defender gets stuck and Lazard gets free across the field. Nice little wrinkle.


I usually post a thread of other passing concepts in this space, but I don't have any this week. It's a busy time of year. I'm sure you all understand. It's been a tough year, but I hope you have all been able to find a little peace during this time. Happy holidays to you all!


Albums Listened to: The Killers - Don't Waste Your Wishes; Tori Amos - Christmastide; Andrew Bird - HARK!; Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler - This is Christmas; Jessica Ripka - Manger Songs; The Violet Burning - Divine; Sixpence None the Richer - The Dawn of Grace; Poppy - A Very Poppy Christmas; Phoebe Bridgers - If We Make It Through December; 8-Bit Synthtown - A Very Chiptune Christmas; Low - Christmas; Kate Nash - Have Faith With Kate Nash This Christmas; Rosie Thomas - A Very Rosie Christmas; Monk - How Like a Winter; Mindy Gledhill - Winter Moon; Rush Coil - 8-Bit Christmas

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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].

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Comments (7)

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iciice's picture

December 23, 2020 at 04:16 pm

Thanks Dusty! It's really interesting to see a little bit of both. When it's all positive plays you review it's easy to wonder why we fail at times. Showing the reasons why something doesn't work (much of which we don't always catch on TV) really helps in understanding the cat and mouse game that's being played out.

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Lphill's picture

December 23, 2020 at 05:49 pm

Thank you Dusty , on several of the failed plays you can clearly see Patrick being bull rushed or knocked down, this was a poor offensive line combination hopefully it improves, Merry Christmas!

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Packer_Fan's picture

December 23, 2020 at 06:08 pm

Thanks for the analysis. Pressured quarterbacks make decisions and throws that are not always good. And Rodgers is no different is some respects. So what do other defenses do now? Copy what Carolina did? I think so. The key is to get pressure on Rodgers without blitzing. If they can do that, then don't bite on play action and dare the Packers to beat your with their running game. And they have a way to slow down the offense. And what do the Packers do? Run if the LB's are not biting. Run quicker crossers to get the ball out faster. GB won't play Carolina again, but they may well play Tampa Bay, New Orleans and perhaps the Rams who have good rushes. Plan to encounter these things and adjust during the game when things change. For the defense will not shut down teams with good QB's.

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Coldworld's picture

December 23, 2020 at 06:18 pm

So clearly the initial calls were foiled to some extent by the Panthers D. Seems logical that this pattern of behavior creates opportunities to exploit in the air and in the ground.

Of the concepts that should have worked, Patrick seems to have negated them almost single handedly, but what we were doing in the second half seems pretty similar if I read this right, other than running the ball, which those defensive behaviors seem to be susceptible to.

Bad play by Patrick and bad coaching?

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Since'61's picture

December 23, 2020 at 10:00 pm

Thanks Dusty and a very good job as usual. Seeing your breakdown of our pass plays, I have to wonder what happened to our 2TE sets. Why wasn’t Mercedes Lewis used as a blocker and as a receiver after a chip to slow down the pass rush.

Plus we should have run the ball more utilizing Dillon as a lead blocker plus give him a few more carries. If their LBs are holding their ground we should have been running at them and giving them some punishment. We need to play physical football versus physical opponents.

I don’t know if it would have changed the results but we might have saved Rodgers a sack or two and to me it would have been better than watching those horizontal passes to Adams that went nowhere. MLF, what were you watching??? Thanks, Since ‘61

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Packer_Fan's picture

December 24, 2020 at 11:32 am

Good questions. How many bad series or plays that get blown up before the calls are changed. The coaches had to know almost immediately that Carolina was not biting on the play action. Minnesota beat the Pack by running and shortening up the game. Two or three drives in a half. And hope their defense gets one or two stops. And take away the ability of Rodgers to get back in the game. One can lose a game or two during the regular season because the other team out schemes you, but not in the one and done playoff system. It will be interesting how the Pack treat the Titans, for they have the ability to shorten the game with Henry. If this happens, I would like to see if both the offense and defense can adjust mid game to counter a potential losing effort.

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PeteK's picture

December 24, 2020 at 11:08 am

Thanks, that was excellent !! I love the pos-neg-neg-pos plan on games when our offense struggles. Obviously, Patrick got destroyed by a very good rookie DT and Bak chipped in a bit. When a defense plays that well and the momentum swings, dropped passes that would have resulted in first downs and or pts make a big difference. We hung in and won the game. Defenses will try this again, but they will be in for a sad surprise when our team adjusts. It was better to learn from this now than in the playoffs. Dusty, have a great and restful holiday and thanks so much for the insightful articles.

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