How the Green Bay Packers Manufacture Big Plays in the Passing Game

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2014

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers drops back to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)
Tom Lynn/Associated Press

Now five games into the year, Green Bay's passing offense looks like it's clicking on multiple levels. With All-World quarterback Aaron Rodgers in stride, the Packers are able to run multiple concepts, due to his arm talent and mental capacity.

With a decent sample size of 2014 behind us, there's now enough coaches' tape to study how exactly Rodgers moves the ball for big plays—either for touchdowns or explosive plays of 15 or more yards. Here's a look at the concepts that Mike McCarthy has installed and used in the offense for such plays this season.

Concept: Dagger

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On the play above, Green Bay is in 20 personnel against what looks to be either Cover 1 or Cover 3. Pre-snap, though, the cornerback at the bottom of the graphic begins to creep up deeper into the field, tipping off that it's actually Cover 2. The other five defensive players with coverage responsibilities lock up into man coverage, as the top corner, slotback and bottom linebacker all pick up targets running the deep routes.

How this ball is distributed is based on a key read on the safety hovering over the Y (Randall Cobb) and Z (Jordy Nelson) receivers. The X (Davante Adams) and Z targets should take the deep responsibilities of the two defensive backs playing the two high-zone coverages. If they do their jobs, the Y should be in man coverage about 13 yards deep with no one around him over the top.

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As the play develops, you see how the coverage looks about five yards into the routes. The five men in man coverages are just passing the 40-yard line. The cornerback at the bottom of the screen is clearly bailing into a high zone. The two linebackers in the center of the field are looking into the backfield, waiting to see if either the F (Eddie Lacy) or H (John Kuhn) come out on routes.

The read safety, at the top of the screen, hasn't yet made a move, which in itself is a move. With planted feet, he's not bailing into the center of the field, taking away the option of the deep In route. He's not in pursuit of going deep like his other partner in deep coverage.

What this means is that Rodgers has a man-to-man read on a Streak, but will need to be able put it in stride and between the cornerback and the sideline for a completion, a tough task.

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Connecting with his man at the 18 yard line, the duo comes down with a 33-yard gain.

Concept: Double Slant

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Green Bay is in 11 personnel against zone defense that effectively works as man coverage. This is a fairly common look in the red zone. With the outside receivers, the X (Nelson) and Z (Adams), running Fade routes, the H (Andrew Quarless) and Y (Cobb) are able to work the center of the defense.

This play works because it puts stress on the defensive player in coverage between the H and Y, who on this play is standing up at the bottom of the line for the New York Jets.

He has an option: He can either pick up the top leverage of the H or the bottom leverage of the Y. If he chooses the H, Rodgers can connect with Cobb for a touchdown in single coverage with no one between them. If he chooses the Y, Rodgers can throw the slant over the head of the single defender covering the H for a score.

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Choosing to bracket the H, Cobb, the Y receiver, is able to find space for an open touchdown, which Rodgers is able to execute on his end.

Concept: Flood

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Green Bay is in 11 personnel against Cover 1 in the red zone. With a play-action addition to this play, the H is lined up in the backfield. Essentially, what this play does is try to have some of the players in coverage bite on the run towards the line of scrimmage and to the left. The receiving targets are moving in the opposite direction, gaining depth to the right.

The run-pass conflict created by the play action is then exposed when Rodgers rolls right, hoping to pick apart the man defense if it bit.

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Instead of biting on the run, Rodgers finds a defender cheating in another way: biting on the route of the Y receiver (Cobb). Too far ahead of the route, Rodgers throws behind the defensive back for a score. Nelson, the X receiver, also looked to be open on the play.

Concept: Levels

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Coming out in 11 personnel again, the Packers this time split their H (Quarless) out as a receiver. Seattle is playing their Cover 3 defense, which they use significantly. On this play, Green Bay's boundary receivers run deep Curl routes, taking up two of the three deep-zone coverages. From there, the hi-lo read is based on how the defense reacts to the H and Y targets running nine-yard and 14-yard In routes.

With one high safety staying on top of the deepest In, the stress is put on the other safety, who is dropping into underneath coverage, and the linebackers. Will they try to stay just over the H, who cuts five yards sooner, or just over the Y? Unable to do both, the play should be open if the offensive line can avoid allowing pressure to ruin the play.

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As you can see, the safeties are reacting according to plan. One is sitting much higher than any route being run, and the other is dropping to cover an In route, the choice being the H. Several yards away from his break, the Y receiver can already anticipate being open. In two yards, he'll run past the linebacker in his deep drop, hitting a 10-yard window between the high safety and linebacker where Rodgers can hit him on a pass.

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Able to do so, Cobb and Rodgers connect on a 23-yard gain.

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Against Detroit, the Packers ran another Levels play with a Streak route as opposed to two deep boundary Curl routes. This play resulted in an 18-yard gain.

Concept: Arrow Slant

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This play is again in 11 personnel, which is clearly Green Bay's best way of getting explosive plays. The New York Jets play the offense in Cover 1, leaving just about everyone in man coverage other than the blitzing slotback, the safety dropping down to take his man and the high safety.

The read is based on the relationship between the defenders covering the H (Quarless) and Z (Adams). The H is running what most call an Arrow route, a shallow slant. The Z is running a Slant inside whenever the cornerback gives up underneath leverage to stay on top of the route. This could be at the line of scrimmage on some plays, but here, it's about five yards deep.

When this play is run in the red zone, near the goal line, the cornerbacks are usually closer to the receivers. Some may even compare the play to a pick play in that situation.

If the defender covering the H stays, taking the underneath leverage of the Z, then the pass goes to the H. The H would be in open space, as the Z drove the cornerback off the ball to the point of giving up underneath leverage. If the defender over the H follows the H, the Z is open on an inside Slant.

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With the defender choosing the H, Rodgers finds Adams on the Slant route in the open field. The result of Adams with green grass in every direction was a 24-yard gain.

Concept: Smash

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Smash is slightly similar to Arrow Slant due to the nature of the read. In 11 personnel, the Packers again face Cover 1, just like the diagrammed explosive play for Arrow Slant. With man across the board, Rodgers looks to the X (Adams) and Y (Cobb) receivers on this play.

This play depends on the relationship between the two defensive backs covering those receivers. If the cornerback over the X takes the underneath leverage on Cobb's Corner route, the ball goes to an open Adams on an easy Curl completion. If the corner stays on Adams, Cobb, with underneath leverage on his man, should be open for a score.

The only way this play could be stopped in Cover 1, if everyone does their job correctly, is if the single high safety darted to cover the top of the Corner and the slotback bracketed the underneath coverage of the route. In that situation, though, the back-side post run by the Z (Nelson) would be open right where the vacated safety was standing.

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With the boundary cornerback not giving up the easy Curl, Rodgers throws the Corner for a score.

Concept: Switch Verticals

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A classic Cover 3 breaker, the Packers could have used their Switch Verticals concept earlier than in the fourth quarter against the Seahawks. In 11 personnel, the key to this play is the H and Z targets at the bottom of the screen.

Covering the Z is Richard Sherman, in charge of the bottom third of the screen. Over the H (Quarless) is a linebacker, a mismatch going deep. The issue is assuring that the H-linebacker matchup is the one taking the deep route. Luckily, in Cover 3, it's fairly simple to create that.

With the Z receiver first breaking slightly left, then back up, he creates room between the numbers and the sideline for a deep target to slip in. The H goes about two yards deep, then goes flat towards the sideline, in an effort to also get his linebacker in coverage to turn his shoulders to the sideline instead of gaining depth in coverage.

When he cuts upfield, the linebacker, still going flat, is lost behind him. This is the beauty of a Wheel route and the Switch concept.

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As you can see, there's clearly space for the H to move on the play, with the corner taking his man by the numbers, and the linebacker steps behind the target.

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Able to hit his man, Rodgers connects with Quarless for a 31-yard gain. Unfortunately for Green Bay, the play was called back for holding on an offensive lineman.

Final Thoughts

Green Bay has run many, many concepts for big plays to this point in the season. Against Cover 1, Cover 2 and Cover 3, the Packers have proven their ability to call and execute deep plays based on coverage. In the red zone, the Packers have managed to have success in the air, taking advantage of man coverage.

Continuing through 2014, it will be interesting to note if Green Bay's trends continue, such as heavy Levels influence between the 20s and Arrow Slant concepts near the end zone.