NFL 101: Breaking Down the Basics of Packaged Plays

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterJune 6, 2014

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler hands the ball off to running back Matt Forte during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

In today’s installment of the “NFL 101” series at Bleacher Report, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen breaks down the basics of packaged plays to give you a better understanding of scheme and execution at the pro level.

Click here for a breakdown of the read-option.

Click here for a breakdown of the zone-running game.


Over the last two weeks, we have looked at the zone-running game and the read-option in the NFL with a focus on blocking technique, the vision/cutback ability at the running back position and the initial “read” for the quarterback in the option game (unblocked edge defender).

Today, let’s talk about the “packaged” plays that give the quarterback multiple options within the same concept to attack the defense in both the run and pass game.

Nov 3, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA;  Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) hands off to  running back LeSean McCoy (25) during the second quarter against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Often executed from no-huddle, uptempo playbooks, packaged plays present multiple issues for opposing defenses with their initial run/pass keys, as the offensive line is run-blocking while the quarterback has the option of throwing quick passes based on his “reads” (bubble screen, slant, hitch, tight end seam, etc.).

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The next step in the evolution of the read-option, these packaged plays will show up on the tape with the Eagles, Bears, Bills, Seahawks, Packers, etc. out of traditional pro-style formations (sight adjust read) or from spread sets (read-option principles) that allow the quarterback to make quick decisions with the ball.  

Using the All-22 coaches tape, let’s break down some examples of the packaged plays at the pro level to highlight the multiple reads at the quarterback position while taking a look at the stress these run/pass combinations put on the defensive side of the ball.

Bears vs. Redskins: Inside Zone Give

Let’s start with Marc Trestman’s offense in Chicago to get a feel for the variety of reads at the quarterback position with the Bears in a 3x1 Doubles Slot formation out of Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB) versus the Redskins.

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As you can see here from the pre-snap look, quarterback Josh McCown has five reads built into this one single play from a shotgun alignment: (1) inside zone, (2) QB “keep,” (3) wide receiver bubble screen, (4) tight end seam and (5) backside slant to the “X” receiver based off the pre-snap alignment of the defense and the numbers in the box.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

With the Bears facing a seven-man run box, McCown reads the middle linebacker versus the tight end (pass read) and the initial path of the unblocked edge defender (outside linebacker) to the closed side of the formation (run read).

Does the middle linebacker attack downhill or carry the tight end vertically? If the linebacker sinks, does the edge defender stay up the field (QB) or crash inside (RB) through the mesh point to limit the dive?

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With the middle linebacker now occupied by the vertical release of the tight end (run/pass key), and the edge defender staying up the field through the mesh, McCown hands off to Matt Forte on the inside zone.

This allows the Bears running back to press the hole and work to the second level of the defense on his way to an explosive run for a touchdown off the packaged play.


Bears vs. Redskins: Tight End Seam 

Now let’s focus on the pass read (tight end seam) for the Bears and McCown in the same packaged play that we looked at above inside of the deep red zone.

Here’s a look at the read for McCown on his touchdown pass to tight end Martellus Bennett off the mesh point.

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With the Redskins showing a “Red 2” shell (plays like “Quarters” coverage in the red zone), McCown can ride Forte through the mesh point with the slot receiver on the “bubble” screen and the backside “X” on the one-step slant.

The key, however, is the drop of the middle linebacker versus the tight end.  

In the packaged play we just broke down, the Mike 'backer carries Bennett on the inside seam. But in this situation, the linebacker “squats” in his run/pass read (settles his feet) and has to recover with both safeties overlapping to the middle of the field late.

And because the Redskins have numbers versus the “bubble” screen (three-on-two), McCown will read inside.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Remember, these are quick reads for the quarterback—and that means the ball comes out hot.

That’s what we see here as the safeties have no chance to overlap the throw as Bennett beats the linebacker once he settles his feet.

Yet another example of the impact of packaged plays as they create issues for opposing defenses in their run/pass keys.

Eagles vs. Vikings: QB Keep

Using the All-22 tape from the Eagles-Vikings matchup, here’s a look at the quarterback “keep” with Ace/12 personnel (2WR-2TE-1RB) on the field for Philadelphia in a Doubles Slot “Orange” formation (all receivers removed from the core of the formation).

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Looking at the pre-snap read for quarterback Nick Foles, the Vikings have equal numbers to the trips side of the formation to defend wide receiver DeSean Jackson on the “bubble” screen.

However, this allows Foles to “read” the edge defender (closed side defensive end) versus a soft run front (six-man box) from the Vikings.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

In this situation, Foles reads the initial path of the defensive end through the mesh point and pulls the ball once the Vikings defender crashes inside on the dive. And the result is a positive play for the Eagles offense.

Eagles vs. Raiders: Bubble Screen

Now let’s look at the same packaged play from the Eagles with Foles throwing the “bubble” screen outside to wide receiver Riley Cooper versus the Raiders.

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Here, the Eagles have the numbers to the outside with Ace/12 personnel on the field as the closed side linebacker tightens his alignment and attacks inside (dive) versus the mesh-point exchange between Foles and running back LeSean McCoy.

That results in a positive matchup for the Eagles as both tight ends can work up the field to secure their blocks with Cooper on the “bubble” action and the free safety removed in the deep middle of the field (shading his alignment to Jackson on the open side of the formation).

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Because Foles identifies the positive matchup to the closed side (three-on-two), he quickly gets the ball out to give Cooper the opportunity to turn up the field.

And with both tight ends winning these one-for-one blocks, the result is a plus-40-yard explosive gain for Philadelphia off a simple packaged read.

Bears vs. Eagles: Buck Sweep/Bubble Screen

Last week, we looked at the Eagles’ Buck Sweep/Read versus the Redskins. Now, let’s break down the same “read” scheme with the Eagles sending Jackson on wide receiver “ghost” motion to create a packaged play off the sweep.

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As you can see from the tape, the Eagles are running the Buck Sweep to the closed side of the formation with the center and frontside guard pulling to the edge.

That forces the second-level linebackers to flow to the ball with the Eagles having the numbers advantage to the open side (three-on-two) on the “bubble” screen.

At the mesh point, Foles will read the initial path of defensive end Julius Peppers and keep the ball or throw to Jackson off the “ghost” motion (almost like a triple-option scheme).

And with Peppers staying up the field to the quarterback, Foles can dump this ball off to the “bubble” screen while forcing the free safety to run the alley, square up Jackson and make a tackle before the receiver gets into the end zone.

Packers vs. Ravens: Inside Slant

NFL teams will use packaged plays to throw the inside slant to the slot receiver when they identify a large cushion (distance between defensive back and wide receiver) or an open throwing lane based on alignment of the second-level linebackers.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

In this example, the Packers have the numbers in the box (six-man front) to run the inside zone off the mesh point to running back Eddie Lacy.

However, check out the initial cushion the Ravens give to wide receiver Randall Cobb (aligned as the No. 3 receiver to the closed side of the formation). This allows Cobb to convert inside to the slant route while creating an open throwing window for Aaron Rodgers.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Given the cushion versus Cobb (and the underneath linebackers flowing to the run action) this is a quick, easy read for Rodgers to throw the inside slant. And the result is a productive play that moves the sticks off the packaged read.

Bengals vs. Bears: Sight Adjust Slant

If you study Trestman’s offense on film, the Bears have multiple run/pass reads built into their system based off the pre-snap look from the defense.

If a run is called in the huddle (Lead Open, Inside Zone), the quarterback can throw the one-step slant (sight adjust read) if he identifies off-man coverage plus a throwing window based off the alignment of the second-level linebackers.

Here’s an example from the Bengals-Bears matchup with Regular/21 personnel (2WR-1TE-2RB) on the field in a Pro Set.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

The Bears have a run called in the huddle, but quarterback Jay Cutler identifies the Sam ‘backer stemming to a blitz alignment with the cornerback in an off-man position versus wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Whether through a pre-snap signal or game-plan-specific call, Jeffery will convert to the one-step slant with the offensive line run-blocking.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

With the Mike ‘backer reading his run/pass keys to attack/flow to the run (and the Sam 'backer blitzing off the edge), Cutler now has a clear window to target Jeffery on the one-step slant in front of the cornerback.

Up Next in the “NFL 101” Series: Cover 4

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. 

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