Green Bay Packers: Masters Of the Play Action

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Green Bay Packers: Masters Of the Play Action
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

In this article I am supposed to list and decipher the top five plays the Packers used last year.

Well, the Packers went 6-10 for a reason. They didn't have five effective plays last year.

So instead of lying to you, I will break down the one successful play the Packers used last year, and its five options.

Packers fans know exactly which play I am talking about. The play action bootleg.

Aaron Rodgers is a young Brett Favre, is mobile, and can fire a bomb down field. It is for this reason head coach Mike McCarthy uses the play action so much, mostly in the form of bootlegs.

The Play Action Bootleg

For this particular play, the Packers usually come out in a single back set. Sometimes, McCarthy has the fullback in an offset position. This is usually done if the play is made for Rodgers to get rid of the ball quicker than usual.

The wide receivers can be in different positions, depending on field position. For my particular example, there will be a three wide set with the X receiver lined up to the far sideline and the slot receiver lined up on the same side as the Z receiver. Finally, the tight end is lined up on the line of scrimmage, but is motioned by Rodgers to the opposite side.

When Rodgers snaps the ball, the play will run just like a running play and flow to the opposite side of the actual play.

After Rodgers has successfully completed the play action, he begins to run the bootleg and this is where the play breaks into five options.

1) Go Deep to the Z Receiver

This is the most common decision made by Rodgers, as he often sells the play action to perfection.

The Z receiver, often Greg Jennings, but sometimes Donald Driver, runs either a post or a flag route. Rodgers looks here first since it's usually available to him.

When watching highlights of the 2008 Packers, this play is seen most often.

This route is usually 25-plus yards.

2) Short Pass to Tight End

Rodgers didn't exercise this option too often in 2008, but with the improvement of the tight ends, look for him to use it more in 2009.

In this play the tight end usually provides blocking for the first second or two of the play, and he'll often stay if there is a blitz.

Once the play action has been completed, and if there is no blitz, the tight end slips into the linebackers and mirrors Rodgers' movement.

If Rodgers gets in trouble, the tight end has the responsibility of coming back to help.

This route is usually five to 10 yards.

3) Outside Slant to Slot Receiver

The slot receiver has one of the most important roles in the play action bootleg. He must gain separation from his corner faster than everyone else because he is the most effective route on the field.

James Jones or Jordy Nelson are usually lined up here. They are deceptively quick and  very good at losing their man.

If Rodgers has time, and doesn't have the deep ball, he will often fire a pass to the sideline for the slot receiver.

This route is usually 10 to 15 yards.

4) Deep Ball to X Receiver

The most unused option by Rodgers in the 2008 season. Mostly because his other three options were open.

The X receiver runs a deep post route. In the event the defense is running a cover two, this receiver is almost always open. Rodgers has been known to force the deep ball on this option a few times, but not penalized often.

This route is often 15 to 30 yards.

5) Tuck It and Run

Granted, it is likely the Packers have specific play actions in which this is the first option for Rodgers, rather than last. However, for this example we will assume it is the last option.

If nothing is open and he has room, Rodgers will take off and get as many yards as he can.

Other Variations Of the Play Action

While the bootleg is the most effective play action for the Packers, McCarthy also implements a number of different plays that found success in 2008.

For example, in one such variation the offense lines up in an offset "I" formation with an X and Z receiver on both sides of the field.

Rodgers runs a quick play action and either passes to the Z receiver which is running a quick slant, or he passes to the X receiver who is running a hook route.

McCarthy loves to put motion in his play action plays, which is why the majority of the play action plays have motion. Often it involves a receiver spreading the secondary thin, or a tight end forcing the linebackers to move in.

The motion is often very effective in getting Rodgers' options open.

The Quarterback Sneak

I wrestled with the decision to include this play, but I suppose the Packers had lots of success with this play in short yardage situations.

The Packers quarterback sneak is not your average quarterback sneak. Rodgers often calls a tight end or H-back in motion to the side he will be diving.

Rodgers then follows the left guard into the end zone or wherever the play was designed to go.

Given that the quarterback sneak is starting to see diminished success all around the football world, it is comforting to see the Packers have developed a play with a very high success rate.

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