Photo credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers completed a remarkable fourth quarter comeback to beat the Miami Dolphins 27-24 with only 3 seconds remaining on the clock.
The final drive was certainly high drama, including crucial 3rd and 4th down conversions, TJ Lang’s game-saving fumble recovery, a fake spike clock play, and a touchdown with almost no time remaining on the clock.
The Packers were facing 1st and goal with 6 seconds remaining in the game. A field goal would do no good, so they had to get into the end zone. Everything was on the line.
When teams have everything on the line, they really show their true colors. They choose a play they like and think will be successful. They let their playmakers go out and make plays without any leashes or restrictions.
I’m sure by now that you’ve seen the game-winning pass from Aaron Rodgers to Andrew Quarless several times. But, let’s take a closer look at it because it really shows a lot, especially excellent clock management, play calling strategy, and play making ability. It shows trust cascaded from coach to quarterback to tight end.
The GIF below shows the touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless. Exciting stuff! I still get some shivers while watching it.
At first, it seems like a simple quick completion. However, there’s so much more to it.
Six seconds on the clock is enough time to run two plays if the first play ends quickly. Essentially, the quarterback has to quickly scan the field, find an open receiver, and zip him the ball. If the look isn’t there, or if the receiver isn’t open, quickly throw the ball away before the clock expires to get one more play.
That’s a lot to get done in less than 6 seconds. But, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers know what they’re doing. They can design a play to give them the bulk of this information pre-snap and while the clock isn’t running.
So, what goes into an endgame strategy? How is the information collected pre-snap? Well, if a team is good at clock management and has the killer instinct, the following do:
1) The quarterback has to know first and foremost if the defense is playing man-to-man coverage or zone. This will dictate which routes will work and who will be open. Many times, the quarterback drops back and watches the routes develop, and how they’re covered, to make the coverage reads. Defenses often disguise their coverage pre-snap, so the best way to tell is watch the routes unfold. However, the Packers didn’t have this amount of time. So, they sent a tight end split out wide to see if the defense was in man-to-man or zone. If the defense was in zone, the widest cornerback would cover the tight end because he was the widest receiver. If they are in man-to-man, the Sam linebacker would split out wide. When the Packers split Andrew Quarless out wide, they had their answer: the Dolphins were playing man-to-man because the linebacker followed. More importantly, they got their answer while the clock wasn’t running.
2) After Aaron Rodgers got his coverage information, he called a play at the line of scrimmage that would work against man-to-man. However, it had to be a very quick play to preserve time for another play if this one didn’t work. The route concepts were quick-hitters, with three of the four receivers making their breaks on the goal line. The shorter the routes, the less time comes off the clock for the play to develop. If the pass was knocked down by a defender or dropped, there would be time remaining. If the pass was caught, it would be a touchdown.
3) Based on the man-to-man coverage match ups, Aaron Rodgers determined pre-snap where he was going with the ball. He didn’t have time to sit back and scan the field to see who was open. He had time to make one read and throw the ball. He’d either throw the ball to the receiver to make a play, or throw it away over the receiver to stop the clock. Either way, it had to be quick. Rodgers determined he was going to throw the ball to Andrew Quarless regardless. The route concepts on the boundary side were in-and-out breaks, with the widest receiver breaking out. Quarless had been “in Rodgers’ ear” all game about how he could beat the Sam linebacker in coverage. So, Rodgers decided to let Quarless make a play while the game was on the line by throwing him a back shoulder fade. Either Quarless would catch the ball for a touchdown, or the Sam linebacker would knock the ball down for an incompletion with time remaining on the clock. It was a high percentage play.
The next GIF shows the play design. It was an excellent play call for an endgame scenario. And, as you can see, it worked perfectly with the game-sealing touchdown.
The play also only took 3 seconds off the clock, so they had plenty of time to execute another play if this one didn’t work.
The next picture is also very telling. It shows just how quickly Aaron Rodgers had to get rid of the ball to save on time. He didn’t waste time to get the laces right, so he threw the ball without the aid of the laces. (Also note that he was so R-E-L-A-X-E-D that he didn’t even bother to buckle his chin strap.
In the end, this was an excellent play design and play call. It worked to perfection, not only because they scored the necessary touchdown, but they also had time on the clock for another try if they needed one.
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.——————