Packers Xs and Os: What We Might See From McCarthy’s Up-Tempo Offense (Part 2)

Aaron Rodgers has been playing without his top weapons for two weeks and hasn't missed a beat.
Will Aaron Rodgers be leading an up-tempo or no huddle offense in 2014? (Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today).
Will Aaron Rodgers be leading an up-tempo or no huddle offense in 2014? (Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today).

Last week, we started to discuss some offensive concepts we might see rolled out this year if Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is true to his word about going up-tempo with three-down personnel.

This week, we’ll look at some basic passing route combinations I expect to see the Packers to use in an up-tempo, and possibly no huddle, game plan.

Of course, there is a huge combination of formations and routes an NFL offense can roll out to attack complex defenses. So, for this article, I’m making some very basic assumptions and this carries my standard disclaimer that this is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes only. Also, we’ll only look at some of the most common route combinations found in the west coast offense playbook.


  • The offense is in the 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers).
  • The offense is in a 2×2 alignment.
  • Even if a play is called in the huddle, sight adjustments at the line of scrimmage during the pre-snap read trump the huddle. The quarterback and receivers will adjust their routes to attack the coverage the defense is showing. This may be from a quarterback audible or automatic sight adjustments.
  • The defenses discussed here will only include man-to-man, man-to-man/blitz, cover 2, and cover 3.
  • Most of the route combinations will spread and attack the defense using the high/low principle to stress the cornerbacks.

Attack Keys

The quarterback and receivers must see the same thing in terms of how the defense is covering the field. Of utmost importance is reading the backpedal of the safeties. For simplicity sake, I’m assuming here that the quarterback and receivers have properly read that. Therefore, the keys of the routes will be reading and stressing the cornerbacks.

The route combinations described below are designed to attack the cornerbacks and make them make a decision and force them into a bad angle or coverage.

All-Purpose Route Combinations

It’s important that the offense has route packages that can attack any coverage the defense rolls out. Not only is the defense really good at disguising their coverage pre-snap, but sometimes the offense also wants to run a play before the defense can even align and get into a coverage. So, it’s good strategy to have route concepts that can attack either man-to-man coverage or zone coverage equally as effective.

One such combination is the “smash snag” combo. The weak side of the formation runs the smash combo and the strong side runs the snag combo.


How it attacks the cornerbacks: In either man-to-man or zone coverage, the cornerback needs to decide which routes are shallow and which are deep. This high/low concept challenges the cornerbacks to decide and honor their assignments.

The “smash snag” in the 11 personnel only works if the running back is free to run a route. If the defense blitzes, the offense will often keep the running back in for pass protection. This is one less route runner, so the “smash snag” will no longer work. However, the defense will be in man-to-man coverage over the blitz, so the offense can roll out standard 2×2 man-to-man/blitz beaters.


How it attacks the cornerbacks: The “double smash” is a very similar flavor to the “smash snag” and stresses the cornerbacks in the same high/low manner.

Another very popular quick-hitter in the west coast playbook against man-to-man/blitz is the “double weak slant.”


How it attacks the cornerbacks: The “double weak slant” is a fast-developing play that develops in front of the cornerbacks. If the receivers win their fist step, it’s nearly impossible to defend because the quarterback can quickly sling the ball in stride ahead of the blitz.

Cover 2 Route Combinations

In the cover 2, the safeties cover the deep half of the field and the cornerbacks cover the flats under most circumstances.

The most basic way to attack the cover 2 is to run “four verticals.”


How it attacks the cornerbacks: “Four verticals” sends four receivers into the deep half of the field, which is only covered by two defenders. This is an overload, or flooding, concept. In such cases, the cornerbacks need to carry two of the vertical routes into the deep half to help out the safeties. Communication between safeties and cornerbacks is essential. Any breakdown will lead to a big a gain.

Another cover 2 beater is the “post flat.”


How it attacks the cornerbacks: The “post flat” really stressed the cornerbacks because in the cover 2, he must guard the flat and also carry any 2×2 vertical routes to the safety help. This combination is very stressful in the high/low category.

Cover 3 Route Combinations

The cover 3 drops both cornerbacks and the free safety into the deep half of the field.

Other than running four verticals (four receivers dividing three deep defenders in a flood principle), the most basic and automatic sight adjustment to attack the cover 3 is to run a dig route or multiple dig routes.


How it attacks the cornerbacks: The cornerbacks have to backpedal quickly to achieve proper depth in the cover 3. Because they’re dropping deep, the flats are usually guarded by either linebackers or the strong safety (or maybe the nickel cornerback). By running a dig, the receiver is in the seam in front of the deep cornerbacks and behind the flat coverage. It’s a major exploitation. The cornerbacks need to stay deep and can’t jump the route because if the receiver runs a double move corner, it’s going to be a touchdown.

The other basic way to attack the cover 3 is the “curl flat.”



How it attacks the cornerbacks: The cornerback must remain deep to guard against the vertical routes and the double moves. The curl stresses the cornerback because he must give a cushion before driving downhill to the ball. Also, the flat defender must carry the curl vertically to the cornerback help, so the flat route also stresses him.


These are just a few of the most basic ways an offense can quickly read and attack a defense based on which coverage is rolled out. Of course this is a major oversimplification and only a fraction of what actually goes on, but they are the most common attack methods and ones you’re sure to see on Packers game days, especially if McCarthy does in fact unveil the up-tempo offense. The offense has to set quickly, read the defense, and decide how to attack the coverage. These are typically the ones the offense puts at the top of their quick-read coverage beaters.


Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for and

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.


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