The Passing Chronicles: 2021 Week 17

Dusty takes a look at 6 plays from the Packers week 17 victory over the Vikings

I typed "Week 17" in the title and had the feeling that the season was over. After all, there are 17 weeks in the NFL season, right? Old habits die hard, I suppose.

I guess the Packers didn't care for the 18 week season either, so they just decided to get it over with in week 17. With some much-appreciated help from the Cardinals, the Packers clinched the #1 seed in the NFC with a week to spare. They now go into their Week 18 match-up with the Lions with absolutely nothing to play for. It looks like they'll be treating it as an exhibition game in terms of snap counts. I know I very much look forward to a nice, stress-free day of football before the playoffs kick off.

But enough about next week. We're not here to talk about next week. No, in this space we dwell on the past. So let's take a look at some concepts the Packers used in their win over the Vikings.

Play 1: 3rd & 3, 13:19 remaining in the 1st quarter

Let's just kick things off with the throw, because it's a beautiful throw.

So...how, ya know? Just how?

The concept is Smash Fade. It's something the Packers ran a lot last year, but the rise of two-high safety alignments across the league kind of killed it. You need room over the top to operate, but a split-safety look puts a cap on that room. So the Packers have reverted more to the classic Smash concept this year (a corner route over a hitch route).

On this play, the Packers are in a 3X2 look, with Davante Adams [17] in the slot to the trips side. The Vikings have a single-high safety, shaded to trips. Marquez Valdes-Scantling [83] is the receiver aligned inside of Adams, while Josiah Deguara [81] is the outside receiver. MVS runs a crosser to the middle of the field, which is picked up by the safety. Deguara runs a hitch and Adams runs the fade over the top. With no safety capping the route, it's man-to-man coverage, and Adams beats his man off the line.

Rodgers hits his back foot, hops and lays this ball perfectly over the top. Adams hauls it in for a 30 yard gain and poses for the crowd.

Play 2: 2nd & 8, 10:11 remaining in the 2nd quarter

There are many things I love in this world. The laughter of my children. The ocean breeze. Creative ways to get to a middle screen. You know. All the usual stuff.

The Packers have slant/flat on the right with Adams and AJ Dillon [28], then release Deguara under the line after chipping the edge. The left side of the play - jet wheel & vertical release - is window dressing, meant to push the defense back and set up some downfield blocks. But the slant/flat concept is not. This is a pass-pass option. 

Rodgers looks at the slant/flat first. With the timing of a screen and linemen releasing downfield, it has to be a quick decision. If he likes the initial look, he'll fire to the slant/flat concept. If he doesn't like it, he'll come back to the screen. Harrison Smith [22] is lurking under the slant. He's in the process of breaking on the flat, which would open the slant window, but waiting for that window to clear is just a beat too long, so Rodgers comes back to the screen.

Deguara wasn't able to get disengaged cleanly from his block, so Rodgers has to open a sliver of space. He steps slightly into the pressure - as if he might be taking off to run - which leads the rusher away from the middle. With the sliver of space created, Rodgers is able to flip the ball to Deguara in the middle.

It only ends up picking up 4 yards, but I like the idea behind it and the options it gives.

Play 3: 1st & 10, 2:00 remaining in the 2nd quarter

We're going to look at a couple instances of the Packers running a vertical Divide concept, and the different ways Rodgers read it. The concept itself is one that the Packers have really been showing a lot of in the last half of the season. Two receivers will follow each other up the field - often merging into the same release path - then part ways 10-20 yards down the field, with one receiver running a corner route while the other runs a post. They'll run a route underneath it as well, generally a flat route or a drag underneath. Sometimes both.

To the best of my recollection, Rodgers has yet to target one of the deep receivers on this concept. The defense tends to umbrella the vertical routes, which takes those away but opens a lot of space for the underneath routes. 

Packers run Divide on the right with MVS and Adams. Lazard is running a vertical route on the left. Deguara (left) and Aaron Jones [33] (right) are giving chip help then releasing to the flat.

Rodgers reads this left-to-right. The Vikings drop into two-high, which would usually rule out Lazard, but there seems to be space on the outside as MVS breaks to the inside from the opposite side. Rodgers lingers but eventually decides to move over to Divide.

The defense is all over it which takes away the deep routes, but gives Jones the ball with roughly 20 yards of space, so Rodgers checks it down to Jones.

Unfortunately, Jones slips twice while trying to get upfield, giving the defense time to converge on him. Could've been better, but you could do worse than 8 yards on 1st & 10.

Play 4: 2nd & 3, 1:13 remaining in the 2nd quarter

Just a few plays later, the Packers come back to this concept. The divide isn't quite as stark, because the routes are run parallel to each other, as opposed to one receiver directly following the other up the field.

They also put two short routes underneath the Divide, with Deguara running a drag under and Jones releasing to the flat. That gives the Packers a 4X1 (Quads) look, with 4 eligible receivers to the left and one receiver to the right. That one receiver? You guessed it: Frank Stallone. (Or Davante Adams.) 

The Vikings are showing a single-high safety early in the pre-snap process, with that safety shaded to the Quads side. Before the snap, Harrison Smith buzzes out from his position at the line and reveals the defense to be a two-high look. Much like Lazard on the previous play, Adams is running a vertical route as the isolated receiver.

Let's look at the throw real quick.

Quite simply, this should not be.

As I mentioned, Smith falls out from his place on the line to work as the high safety to Adams' side. The cornerback over Adams gets beat off the line, but falls into trail technique behind Adams up the field. To recap:

Adams is running a vertical route.
The ball can't be thrown over the top, because there is a safety capping the route.
The ball can't be thrown behind the receiver, because the cornerback is in trail technique.

Even with the cornerback in trail, Rodgers throws back-shoulder to Adams, because Rodgers and Adams are locked-in to an insane degree right now. But instead of throwing a simple back shoulder throw, Rodgers throws high-and-away, to a spot only Adams can make a play on it.

Tremendous throw and catch from Rodgers and Adams. It's not something you want to see every drive, but if it's something you're capable of, why not show off every now and then?

Play 5: 1st & 10, 5:44 remaining in the 2nd quarter

We're going to close out by looking at two instances of the Packers running the Drift concept. Drift is exclusively a play action concept, designed to work in the space vacated by the linebackers. A lot of times you'll see it from under center, with the initial movement by the offense looking like it's a play action bootleg call, before the quarterback whips around and finds the middle of the field. Over the past few weeks, the Packers have been running this out of shotgun quite a bit.

I love the Pony Package stuff they run, with both Jones and Dillon in the backfield. Jones goes in orbit motion pre-snap, then Dillon works across the face of Rodgers for the playfake post-snap. The Vikings have 3 LBs in the middle of the field. One follows Jones to the flat, leaving two in the middle. Rodgers puts the ball in Dillon's stomach and keeps his eyes up. By the time the linebackers see that a pass has been declared, they're too far up and Rodgers has a clean window and a lot of room in the middle of the field.

In addition to the action in the backfield, the line sells the lateral zone-blocking well. Dennis Kelly [79] kicks out, the rest of the line works some double-teams and Dominque Dafney [49] works as the split blocker under the line to seal the backside. For the linebackers, that action helps trigger the run-blocking keys, which draws them up. It's not just the playfake itself; offensive line keys are huge to selling play action, and they do a really nice job here.

Play 6: 1st & 10, 14:55 remaining in the 4th quarter

Same idea this time, only from under center with Dillon as the lone running back. Rodgers sells the handoff then whips around to find Adams in the middle of the field. The throw isn't there this time, thanks to Harrison Smith recognizing the fake and using ROBOT techique to turn and fall under the route from Adams.

Rodgers sees Smith so he holds off on throwing the ball and works to Dillon, who leaked out into the flat after completing the playfake. With the left boundary defender following Adams inside, Dillon has a little room to work (even after getting a little hung-up on his release off the line).

Good recognition from Smith to take away the primary throw, and good job by Rodgers to see it and calmly find his next option for 11 yards.


Thanks for following along during this season! I know I've learned a lot and I hope you have as well. I assume the Packers are either going super vanilla next week or throwing out a bunch of stuff to put on film, so it's either going to be an extremely boring column next week or a really fun one. Looking forward to digging into that, then covering some playoff football!


Albums listened to: The Bones of J.R. Jones - Spirit's Furnace; The Casket Girls - True Love Kills the Fairy Tale; Doug Burr - O Ye Devastator; Paper Route - Paper Route; Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape; Hem - Departure and Farewell; Karen O & Danger Mouse - Lux Prima; Efterklang - Piramida

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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].

13 points

Comments (11)

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Ya_tittle's picture

January 05, 2022 at 03:56 pm

My take is that year Rodgers has been better at taking what the D gives him, and you have some plays here that are evidence of that. Thanks.

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PeteK's picture

January 05, 2022 at 07:16 pm

Agree, and also getting rid of the ball quicker.

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LeotisHarris's picture

January 05, 2022 at 04:10 pm

Frank Stallone? I literally laughed out loud. Thanks for that, and another week of great content.

Interesting newsletter piece on ROBOT technique. Once again, I learned something, and it's always a pleasure to see someone correct the blowhole that is Warren Sapp. Well done.

Looking forward to next week and the playoffs!

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Savage57's picture

January 05, 2022 at 04:51 pm

Said it before, will say it again - Some of the best, tightest content in the pro football blogosphere.

Madden would have been proud, Dusty.

7 points
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pacman's picture

January 05, 2022 at 04:56 pm

On plays 1 & 4, I think most people would say that Adams is NOT open. That's all AR and perfect placement. I wonder why he sometimes doesn't take those throws. If defender is any closer, he's probably going to get the PI. To be fair, he doesn't always make that throw.

OTOH, on play 3, he looks left to Lazard who has plenty of space and doesn't take that throw but turns back to Adams on the right but doesn't throw to him and goes for the open dump off, which is fine too.
But, in the end, by looking right, the defender shades even more to that side and Lazard is wide open for the TD.

So AR, if you're listening, set that up again with a pump fake right, and then go left to the wide open guy.

If AR is making those tight throws to Adams, it is unstopable. But it does bother me that we won all the games with Adams out because AR was forced to find the open guy.

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MarkinMadison's picture

January 05, 2022 at 08:10 pm

I think sometimes he has taken those throws in the past, and me and a few other folks have howled about throwing to guys that are not open instead of taking the check-down.

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PeteK's picture

January 05, 2022 at 07:10 pm

Rogers the epitome of touch. That drift misdirection is a thing of beauty.

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PeteK's picture

January 05, 2022 at 07:13 pm

Rogers is the epitome of touch. That drift misdirection is a thing of beauty.

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MarkinMadison's picture

January 05, 2022 at 08:18 pm

Great stuff as usual. Read the linked article. Signed up for your newsletter. In all honesty. I have no idea who Warren Sharpe is - I don't twitter, sorry.

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Fabio's picture

January 06, 2022 at 05:20 am

Thanks 1000 Dusty.
As far as I'm concerned you are always a fixed point to learn something new.
It may seem impossible to you, but in some games I was able to predict the outcome of the game by reminding me of your examples that you showed !!
I hope you never interrupt this daily column which I always look forward to with attention
Greetings from Italy
GPG

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croatpackfan's picture

January 06, 2022 at 02:13 pm

Thank you Prof. Dusty! I'm thankfull for your lessons.

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