Packers Xs and Os Film Session: For the Naysayers

Photo credit: Rex Arbogast/AP

Last Sunday, the Green Bay Packers thoroughly beat down their rival Chicago Bears 38-17. In doing so, they built up much needed morale, but also silenced many of the naysayers.

In the last week, following a very disappointing offensive performance against the Detroit Lions, I read and heard several complaints about the Packers’ offense, including:

  • Aaron Rodgers lost his mojo.
  • The Packers only play in the 11 personnel (1 RB and 1 TE) and are too predictable out of it.
  • The Packers don’t have a tight end that can stretch the field.
  • Mike McCarthy can’t game plan and doesn’t have any creative looks.

I’m sure there are more, but on the Packers’ third play of their opening drive, they simultaneously provided evidence that the naysayers were incorrect. That’s right, one play.

The play in the GIF below was Aaron Rodgers throwing a deep ball to a wide open Richard Rodgers for 43 yards. Richard Rodgers is supposedly a slow tight end who can’t stretch the field.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Overall, it was a nice play. Let’s take a look at what went in to it all. See the GIF below and my description that follows.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

First, you’ll notice that the Packers came out in their 12 personnel, which hasn’t been something they have done much this year.

Next, the Packers clearly did their scouting homework. Mel Tucker is the Bears’ defensive coordinator, and he doesn’t run the old Bears Tampa 2 defense as much as their former coach Lovie Smith did. Tucker has shown his tendency to play cover 1 and cover 3 over derivatives of a cover 2. So, the Packers put in a play that is very good at beating a cover 1 or cover 3.

The play call was a double tight end streak to challenge the free safety in the middle of the field. The high-low concept kept the wide receivers low to occupy the cornerbacks. The streaking tight ends would would challenge the single safety who would be present in a cover 1 or cover 3.

Defenses adapt on the fly, so seeing two streaking tight ends would require a linebacker or the strong safety to carry one of the tight ends vertically while the deep safety covers the other vertical. This would be true in either a cover 1 or a cover 3.

However, the Packers had the perfect play call to beat the Bears’ defense.

They called a play action pass. The fake hand off to Eddie Lacy would influence the linebackers and strong safety to draw them in, giving the tight ends just enough time for the tight ends to streak deep without any appreciable coverage.

In the first GIF above, you can see how one of the linebackers attempted to re-route Andrew Quarless to his help, but that failed and Quarless was able to run free down the hash mark.

The other tight end, Richard Rodgers, was also uncovered as he ran freely down the hash mark. He had no linebacker or strong safety carrying him vertically. Maybe this was a busted coverage.

At this point, there are two verticals attacking a single safety. The advantage goes to the offense.

The play was aided by Aaron Rodgers’ mobility because he had to break the pocket. When he did, the scramble drill was on, and Richard Rodgers changed his route away from the middle off the field and moved towards the sideline. Early in the route, Richard Rodgers was expecting the ball along the hash mark, but broke the route when Rodgers broke the pocket. When he did that, he created more space between himself and Andrew Quarless, making an impossible coverage scenario for the deep safety with no other vertical help.

So, in one play, the Packers were able to silence the critics. They did have offensive creativity that was executed by tight ends bringing a vertical threat. Aaron Rodgers threw a pinpoint accurate throw off his back foot while under pressure, which takes a lot of mojo to do. McCarthy still has a few tricks up his sleeve and can call some creative plays. Maybe Richard Rodgers will be okay as the starting tight end after all.

I believe the GIFs embedded above to be fair use under the premise of being short clips of the original broadcast that are transformative for news reporting, commentary, critique, illustration, and teaching purposes.


Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for and

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.


32 thoughts on “Packers Xs and Os Film Session: For the Naysayers

  1. No one doubts this stuff is in the playbook. The problem has been that McCarthy has not been using it, a point you just made.

  2. Let’s see. Pass protection breaks down, Rodgers scrambles for his life uses his strong arm to flick a desperation pass to a ‘scramble-play’ open Rodgers. Yep, just as McCarthy drew up. You give McCarthy too much credit on a broken play that Rodgers kept alive. Let’s face it, our offense worked against a rebuilding Chicago defense without starters. Sorry, this play never happens against Seattle, San Fran or Cincy.

      1. I agree that it’s a nice play call, and I’m a fan of the double TE sets in general. But I think we have to admit that it was DEFINITELY a busted coverage as well. Having two TEs running free against a single high safety is never the way that it’s drawn up (at least from the defensive point of view).

        1. Rodgers was open on his first look, though… It’s just that the QB had his eyes elsewhere.

        2. It was a cover 3, so the double TE streak was a good call to attack it–that’s exactly how you attack it. If there was a bust, it was they failed to rotate the coverage to account for two verticals in the deep middle.

          1. I can’t really tell if we are agreeing or not. Essentially, I am agreeing with statement that you made in the article: “two streaking tight ends would require a linebacker or the strong safety to carry one of the tight ends vertically while the deep safety covers the other vertical. This would be true in either a cover 1 or a cover 3.”

            Right, but that clearly DIDN’T happen on this play. Both TEs were completely uncovered from the 35 yard line on, with no one but a single deep safety left to try and deal with both of them.

            So that’s a clear bust, no?

            1. Right, we are agreeing. The Packers attacked the “base” cover 3 per se with their route concepts, so the “base” cover 3 didn’t have any busts. But, we agree that the defense should have rotated or let someone else carry the other TE, so there was a bust in the rolling coverage, but not in the “base” cover 3. The Packers’ play worked perfectly against the cover 3, but the Bears failed to adapt on the fly.

              1. Gotchya, buddy. It’s stuff like this where I would love to be a fly on the wall in a team’s post game film session, to see how they were supposed to defend it and who they would assign the blame to. On the one hand, the LB looked totally lost – bit a little on the play fake, then tried to rush out and chuck Rodgers, then fell down, got up and shoved Lacy for no reason. Still, if I had to guess, I’d say it was probably the safety who should have had the primary responsibility to cover RR. He spent the play in no man’s land as well. Credit the “Jordy Nelson Factor.” You’ve got Jordy Nelson to your left and… uh…. Richard Rodgers? … to your right… I suppose it’s pretty easy to shade things Nelson’s way.

                Thanks for the article. I doubt it will convince the “naysayers”, but I agree that it was a nice play design and a good call.

      2. I think Rodgers benefits from the attention they’re paying to Jordy Nelson on that play, too. The LB on the far side holds up Quarless but Rodgers gets essentially a free release off the line.

  3. As is usually the case, the truth lies somewhere between the naysayers and the apologists……there is a whole lot of “gray” out there. GoPack!

  4. Great stuff Jay. I’d be very interested to see a similar film breakdown of the OL run blocking in 2014 vs late in 2013. Is it Eddie? the OL? What’s up?

    Also – is there ANY hope of fixing the run D?

    1. I haven’t formally broken down the running game of this year vs. last year, but my initial impressions are it’s a combination of slightly less efficient blocking and Eddie not hitting the hole fast enough. He seems to be a little more indecisive in his path.

      The run defense might be a schematic problem, but I think it’s just lack of beef up front. I was worried about that when Capers said he wanted to go lighter and quicker up front. That’s ok if you have good linebackers, but the Packers don’t.

      1. My big question:

        Eddie’s patience in the running game was a big plus last year. However, at what point does patience become indecisiveness/hesitation?

        1. Patience is good if you have confidence and decision. I think Eddie lacks all three at moment. It took him a while to come on last year, so there’s still time to turn it on. The concussion may have rattled some confidence.

      2. Yep. I’m no film junkie, but when I heard about the “we’re going lighter and quicker on the DL” thing last year my immediate thought was “NOOOOOO!” – for precisely the same reasons. Our ILBs suck. Hawk is slow. Jones is bad. Lattimore and Barrington are the definition of unproven.

        I do think we’ll still win the division, but barring an unheard of personnel upgrade at ILB/DT, this is NOT a SB winning team in any stretch of the imagination.

  5. A play that looks great in terms of the outcome, but as you watch it develop, I think most QBs under duress take the near sideline dump-off to Jordy Nelson on the comeback at the 36, making sure to throw it to the outside to avoid the inside defenders. ARod, with his talents, is able to flick the ball downfield to Rodgers…a pass that most QBs can’t make. So the question is: is this a great play by a gifted QB who trusts his abilities or a risky play by a QB who is trying to do too much?

    1. I agree. Also consider that Richard Rodgers was open down the hash mark almost immediately. Even though Aaron Rodgers ran the scramble drill very well, he may not have had to. If he got the ball out earlier, R. Rodgers would have had a decent gain. I think A. Rodgers was holding the hall longer because he knew if he was patient, he could gash the Bears for more yards because the safety was in big trouble.

        1. I think A. Rodgers trusts his ability too much, like you asked, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You want a QB with that confidence. He’s different in Favre in that regard–Favre trusted his arm to thread any needle, and that lead to plenty of INTs. Rodgers relies on his belief that he can hold the ball to hold out long enough to make a play happen. That gets him sacked. But, sometimes, the scramble drill works out well.

      1. I didn’t see this part of the thread because I was writing my long-winded post above, but it is part of my thought process. I won’t be offended by any DR;TL comments!.

  6. Always love your Xs and Os. I don’t agree that this play proves the naysayers incorrect for the most part.

    1) Rodgers lost his mojo: I think they were talking about a reluctance to run, but in any event I didn’t think he had lost his mojo. I thought he was zeroing in on Nelson too much. He looks at Nelson first: not open because he was doubled by the S who didn’t respect or carry R Rodgers’ vertical route. Then he looks to his left, where Adams is open for a modest gain with one CB to beat. Quarless seems wide open down the seam, but for it to be a TD or really long gain he might have to adjust to a ball thrown to the field side. Arod is still in the pocket when Quarless gets deeper than the LB’s zone area (the LBs dropped only about 8 yards where one LB bumps Quarless at the 35 yd line or so) and neither runs with him, but maybe Bakhtiari’s (?) man is starting to break free at that time – GIF is a bit choppy for me to say if A. Rodgers is distracted when Quarless breaks free about 12 yards down field. How long does it take Quarless to run 12 yards even with a bump? After a clean release, R. Rodgers is wide open once he gets 12 yards downfield.

    2) Yes, it’s 12, not 11, personnel. Only took MM to the 4th game to use it this effectively. Maybe there were prior good plays using it?

    3) This play does not show that either TE can stretch the field. It is against a zone. Quarless, after he passes the LB level, doesn’t seem to be sprinting. He is not beating anyone with his speed or size. Rogers is open on busted coverage and finds the soft spot in the zone and then nicely breaks it off due to the scramble. Good stuff, but it isn’t the TEs ability to stretch the field that results in the big gain; rather it is the right play against this defense (credit MM) + busted coverage? R. Rodgers is still learning to run block, but this showed some good instincts. So yes, the TEs can run verticals, but can they stress the defense when the play call is not perfect for the defense used?

    4) I will give MM credit for game planning. Agree that he recognized Chicago’s tendency to play Cover 3 and installed this play to attack it. Not so sure this play out of 12 personnel is new, creative, or provides an un-scouted look. I reviewed your June 9, 2014, article on cover 3. (Please, if I sound even remotely anything like Stroh in the comments to that article, please accept my abject apology in advance. I don’t mean to challenge you about Xs & Os.)

    Running a 2×2 formation on of 12 personnel struck a chord in my memory. I saw an article back in August on another site that suggests using the play concept you diagrammed above in a 2×2 formation, having the outside receivers (TEs) run curls and the inside slot receivers (WRs) run seam routes. It advocates using 2 WRs in the slot and moving 2 TEs split wide to each side with the TEs running curls short to draw up the CBs on each side and having the slot receivers run seam routes, putting the FS in the bind you describe (used in Superbowl 45 on Jennings’ 1st TD). It did not mention play action passing, though, so that’s a nice touch. Here, the WRs are split wide and run the curls, and the TEs are on the line, so it is a little different. Maybe keeping the TEs on the line disguises the intent and is creative and/or the run fake make it creative or an un-scouted look?

    1. I respect your opinion and actually agree with a lot of what you say. I did break down this play to highlight a few key points for they naysayers. But, I also attempted to use a little literary irony. The naysayers based their claims on a few games. So, I based my discrediting evidence on a similar body of work. Although, I never believed the naysayers in the first place, so there’s that.

      1. I’m not sure if you are the most civil commenter (and author) or if Since ’61 still holds the title. I am interested in Xs & Os, but in fact know little about it. Feel free to brutally contradict any observation I make using pretty direct language!

        1. Football isn’t as complicated and some people would like to believe, and breaking down Xs and Os isn’t some privilege reserved for some elite aristocracy. Based on the comments you write, you know a lot more than you give yourself credit for.

  7. Could someone provide me with a list of these naysayers? Personally I’d like to know who they are.

    1. Define naysayers. The article deals with naysayers regarding A. Rodgers’ mojo, TEs, and MM. I don’t question Rodgers’ courage or willingness to run, just think he locked onto Nelson too much. Bostick might be able to stretch a defense, but the other two can’t, and none of them can block. Rodgers might learn to do so and has the physical tools.

      I am a bit of naysayer on MM. I have some issues with No Huddle mania, 70% in one personnel grouping, and the lack of screens, RBs in the flat, FB or H-back lead blocking sometimes, misdirection, etc. MM is far too stubborn – I think we both agree that Pennel should have been given an opportunity far sooner (not sure: Does that makes you a naysayer too?). Lattimore too, although I don’t hate a healthy B. Jones. And I am tired of slow starts every year. Don’t understand why Starks doesn’t get 8 – 10 touches per game, more if he’s hot (but I still like Lacy). Despite the above, I have never suggested that MM should be fired, just nudged a bit.

      1. lol.. Reynoldo, I was just having a little fun with that. Didn’t mean to piss off or disrespect anyone. It was just a joke. I really don’t want to see any list. If there was a list, yes, I would be on that as well since as you said Pennel should have been given an opportunity sooner.
        Just one thought on Starks. I think it’s possible they purposely held him out for that game because of the quick turnaround on Thursday so would not be shocked to see MM give more carries to Starks in this game than Lacy. It honestly looks like Lacy could use a little time off anyway. He’s taken a lot of hits already.

        1. Not to worry, I assumed you were just joking. Never worry too much about disrespecting my opinion. I have developed a pretty thick skin by having teenagers in the house for the last 8 years, with 5 more years to go. I estimate that I might be considered smart again in the year 2025!

          1. lol.. that was funny Reynoldo. I am new here and trying to feel people out. I’ve known you from CHTV so we are not total strangers. I find this place a breath of fresh air. I look forward to talking Packers football in peace for the first time in almost a decade.

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