Why do the Packers Throw Deep on 3rd and Short?

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Jordy Nelson
The Packers’ Jordy Nelson and Aaron Rodgers like going deep on 3rd and short.

Because the Packers have the personnel and talent to do it. That’s the simple answer.

But it still seems to drive people nuts whenever Aaron Rodgers launches a pass downfield on 3rd and short. It doesn’t drive me nuts, and never will as long as Rodgers is the quarterback and the Packers receivers remain one of the better groups in the NFL.

Opposing teams spend the entire week trying to figure out how to stop the Packers offense, which means they spend a good part of that week scheming against the Packers deep passing attack. Mike McCarthy’s best shot at creating a mismatch downfield often comes on 3rd and short, and it’d be silly for him to not take advantage.

Obviously, the bomb on 3rd and short isn’t always the right call. But I trust McCarthy and Rodgers to figure out when it should be called and when it shouldn’t. I thought the bomb to Jordy Nelson on 3rd and short during the opening drive of the second half on Sunday was an excellent call.

The Packers struggled to get over the top of the 49ers defense in the first half and needed to take a shot. That was as good a time as any to try and get single coverage downfield. Unfortunately for the Packers, the 49ers weren’t fooled. Both defensive backs took one look at Rodgers’ play-fake, pointed and laughed, then dropped back to double Nelson. “Hahaha! That’s cute, McCarthy,” the defensive backs said. “Fake like you’re going to run the ball. Hilarious. Like we care if you hand the ball off against our amazing front-seven. Go ahead. Good luck. We’re going to hang back here and prevent this 50-yard touchdown you’re trying to sneak past us.”

This poses a problem for the Packers. The surprise factor might not be there on 3rd and short bombs like it used to be. Other teams might not bite on the play-action like they usually do. I never could figure out why other team’s bit on Packers’ play-actions anyway, but they often do.

Even if the Packers running game improves, giving teams a reason to bite on play-action, perhaps other teams will just say the heck with it, let the Packers pick up two yards and a first down, and live to fight another series. That’s a lot better scenario than selling out on the run, leaving the deep part of the field open, and watching Rodgers connect on a game-changing bomb.

I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s wrap this up: Rodgers is an MVP quarterback with a great group of receivers. Don’t whine when he launches one downfield on 3rd and short. If you do whine, you’re not allowed to celebrate when it works for a touchdown. Because it does work (see video below).

However, the Packers might have to adjust if teams are figuring out their intentions to go long on 3rd and short. Maybe that means more conservative plays. Maybe that means coming up with some different ways to attack deep. Either way, the surprise element might not be there like it usually is.


Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .


33 thoughts on “Why do the Packers Throw Deep on 3rd and Short?

  1. I am one of the people who’s not a fan of going deep on 3rd & short. It has to do with the probability of gaining those yards. 1 yard should be easy to pick up. Of course if you never ever go deep on 3rd & 1, then 1 yard is harder to pick up than average. So yes the Packers should go deep from time to time in that situation to keep the defense defending the entire field.

    But in that situation, down two scores. I think it was a really low percentage play when they needed to keep the ball and score.

    Of course I defer to MM and AR. They are allowed to drive me a little nuts from time to time.

    1. I agree. I wish that MM would run more screen plays, line up Kuhn in the back field or even run a reverse with Cobb. Down two scores and the best defense in the league you have to play the percentages and keep Rodgers on the field.

      1. How was playing the percentages and methodically marching down the field working out for the Packers up to that point?

        1. Not good but better than throwing deep into double coverage. Problem isn’t idea of taking a shot, it is forcing it into double coverage with not much happening underneath.

            1. Right, that is why ARod should have dumped it off to one of two wide-open checkdowns instead of making that throw. I think most of us are fine with goint for it once in awhile, but unless the clock is running out, not into double coverage. And on that play ARod had plenty of time to look off Nelson and go elsewhere. ARod forced it whn he shouldn’t have, but then his decision making was below his standards for the 49er game anyway.

        2. The Packers offense at the time was not clicking, we agree. However, we must also agree that with AR and his receiving core, it could be tunred on like a light bulb. Therefore we needed to keep AR on the field, and a short pass would do do. It was our defense that cost us the game, not our offense. P.S. I’m trying my best NOT to comment about Jermichael (no stess over dropped balls) Finley. Oops, I guess I just did.

        3. On their scoring drive in the 2nd quarter, the Packers went 80 yards in 10 plays, taking 6:30 off the clock.

    2. Why do the packers throw deep ? Open your eyes. Where else are they going to throw it ? Finley sucks! He couldn’t catch a cold. If he has kids call child protective services. He is sure to drop them too! Benson needs GPS because he can’t find his way out of the backfield. We would’ve been better off with Mr. Benson.

  2. Couldn’t disagree with this any more. I understand Jordy going deep route on third and short and throw there if coverage is right. That’s not the case though. Throwing into double coverage on the play I’d the concerning part. There wasn’t much for short routes on the play either. Also the timing of the call was weird. I get if tied or slight lead to put boot on throat, but needed a score there.

  3. How about because they have no running game and they can’t pick up 3 yards on a run except by luck or missed tackles?

    And I agree… EVERY team should just point and laugh at a Packers plat action pass attempt.

  4. For me, it’s all about the situation. Up by 3 scores with 3 minutes left in the first half–no big deal.

    I don’t mind a vast majority of these calls. And I know this sounds like a loser’s lament, but I wasn’t really happy about the call in that particular situation. Down a score, that late in the game, when we needed to keep the Niners offense off the field and have a sustained drive?

    Not so much.

    I know–it’s a gamble, and if that play scores a TD, it’s a whole different game. Still…

  5. I’ll use an old military axium to explain my view. “Retreat today and live to fight another day.” When trying to score and catch up you have to try to keep the ball – #1 priority. SF’s cover two had the long pass game shut down all day. Add to that the Oline was as soft as I’ve ever seen them. AR didn’t have the time to set that play up. Cobb would have been a much better option then.

    1. Forgot to add: SF never had to play their safeties in the box. This was due to the abysmal run blocking throughout the game.

  6. Sorry,you’re comparing totally different game situations and previous performance.

    This was a bad call and and an unsuccessful one when a dink and dunk drive(see Cobb) was in order to loosen up their coverage and get a score which could have changed the flow altogether.That was a desperation play call when we have seen they weren’t giving anything away in the pass department.

    I’ll whine when I feel it’s wrong and celebrate even more still when I’m shown to be wrong with a successful play.

    Should I not whine about the poor play of cement shoes Nick Perry(yes I watched him on every play)I didn’t want him in the draft and so far I’m right but if he has a big game I’ll celebrate as is my right as a fan of Green Bay.

    Rose colored glasses aren’t and never were my stlye, no excuses..we got ass kicked.

  7. I think I am greatly outnumbered in this debate. I might have to retreat for cover myself and live to fight another day.

    That’s fine if you don’t like the call, but everyone is acting like the Packers were marching up and down the field and scoring at will using short passes and extending drives. They weren’t. They couldn’t run. Short throws were tight all day. And Finley was juggling the ball.

    The Packers are not a grind it out team. Give them some time and maybe they’ll morph into one, but they aren’t now and sure weren’t on Sunday. The Packers are home run hitters, and need to go for the home run when they feel the time is right.

    I still think the time was (mostly) right to go deep to Nelson on that 3rd and 1. Perhaps they could’ve been a little more imaginative in the play call, but I agreed with the concept.

  8. On the first drive of the second half we had a third & short. AR rolled out to his right, Kuhn momentarily blocked, then disengaged & went 3-4 upfield. The defense went with him & AR could have crawled for the first down but chose to throw deep to nelson with the safety sitting in the deep zone. I know that we don’t want AR running alot, but in this situation he had plenty of time to get on the ground after picking up the first down.

  9. The Packers offense needs to stay 311(3Wr/1TE/RB) or even more spread in a 4WR 1 RB or TE set and spread out the D and their LBs throw throw throw or let Rodgers be th eone to run and slide for ground yardage. That is what worked last year and in 2010.

    From there we can run between the tackles and make play action work later in games.

    This team is built to play from the lead. Get up early and make the other team have to score TDs to keep up.

    When you are a boxer with a reach advantage (Packers)you don’t get in close with a puncher (49ers). That is what frustrates me about MM coaching sometimes. This is like watching the 2009 team again trying to do stuff that doesn’t work until we just decided to be a pass first team.

    1. In addition, we aren’t going to force turnovers playing from behind, as we have by playing from ahead in the last couple of years. By not being a threat to hurt teams in the running game, LBers can get deep drops and keep everything in front of them. If you watch the NFL films episode of the Giants / Packers 2007 championship game (Favre’s last game). You can hear the Giants dfender’s & coaches on the sidelines telling the safties to not take a step towards the line of scrimmage on play fakes, because the Packers could not run the ball vs. the Giants front 7. Until we can make the LBers & Safties come up closer to the line of scrimmage, we aren’t going to make many big plays in the passing game. I just wonder why it took the rest of the league so long to figure this out!

  10. I would like to see MM get more creative in his packages in situations like this. Maybe a bunch formation w/nelson, crabtree, and cobb on one end and Finley on the other. Create one on one for Finley or dump off to cobb and have Nelson and Crabtree block(Me playing O coordinator.)

  11. The way the O-line played Sunday they might as well throw a hail mary every down and hope for the best. Put Rodgers back like a punt formation(so he has at least 2 seconds before the O-line collapses) bombs away……

  12. Defensive Coordinators are figuring out MM’s game plan. KC left a blue print on how to stop GB last year. There is no imagination in the running game at all. Really, yet another stretch play? Ever here of misdirection, counter plays or quick openers?

  13. I see jennings pulled his testicle again… good thing we kept Driver folks.
    Jennings will be hurt on/off all season. Contract years do funny things to players.

  14. Time and place. That’s the debate here and in my opinion, this was not the time and place. As mentioned earlier, we needed a sustained drive to keep SF from getting right back out offensively. The nature of the throw, 60 yards, with no other routes being run make it a 50/50 gamble, which again, I don’t think was the right time and place. Give the TE a 5 yard curl and move the chains and get some rhythm going offensively. That’s what I think would have been a better choice. GoPack!

  15. Mike Sherman was the worst GM in NFL history but a solid game coach. As a former O-Lineman when it was 3rd and short he won the matchup almost every time with Flanagan, Wahle, Rivera, Clifton, and Taucher. Like the Lombardi sweep, here it comes, can you stop it ? I am afraid because of NO commitment to the run from McCarthy whether the current O-Line can do this even though they think they can, there has to be doubt in their minds as well. Also, if this continues the next round of talk will be the loss of Wells and Philbin.

    1. Sherman’s coaching strength, by far, was the development of the running game. Alot of traps, pulls, counters, etc. I’ve never been a fan of the ZBS, don’t know why MM has stuck with it this long with average to below average results.We either don;’t know how to terach it, or don’t have the personel to run it.

  16. So, I went back and watched the 3rd-and-1 play again…

    Yes, Nelson was double-covered, but by the time the ball reaches him, he’s a step ahead of the safety, and the cornerback isn’t even a concern. If Rodgers places the ball better, that’s a catchable pass with little that the safety could do but make a tackle.

    It’s a high-risk play, and based on the way the team had been playing, it was clearly frustrating to give up another drive. However, the Packers were only down by 9 points, on the first drive of the half, and with 28.5 minutes left in regulation. Best time to take a shot in the second half if you ask me.

    1. Nelson has ran past double teams on that route before. I saw him do it live against Denver last season.

      Just sayin’…….

    2. Maybe it is worth the shot on First & Second downs, but being down 9 pts., the 49ers making a huge momentum play to end the half, needing to kep the ball away from them, a much wiser play would have beed for AR to safely run the ball for the first down (he could have crawled on his hands & knees & made it)& get down to give us 4 more plays

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