We finished up our look at how the Packers generated explosive passes a few weeks ago, but I wanted to keep the train rolling with some situational football before we move back into our deep-dive into specific concepts. So today we’ll be looking at the Packers Red Zone passing attack: specifically, their High Red Zone concepts.
Hey man. What’s High Red Zone? There’s no such thing as the High Red Zone Channel. Idiot.
Excellent point. Well-articulated. When looking at the Red Zone, we split it up into 10 yard zones. The High Red Zone is defined as the 11-20, while the Low Red Zone is defined as the 0-10. You can break up the Low Red Zone a little more if you want to, but we won’t be doing that here.
So our High Red Zone look will be focused on plays that had the line of scrimmage between the 11-20 yard line. Cool?
Yeah, that makes sense. Sorry I called you an idiot.
Thank you, but you probably weren’t wrong.
So let’s get into it. I’ll be providing the Yards Per Average (YPA) because it’s relevant here in the High Red Zone (certainly more relevant than it will be in the Low Red Zone), but there’s still a limit on your yardage here. After all, the maximum amount of yards you can gain on one play here is 20.
In this part of the field, we’ll still see some deeper concepts, but they’ll stick to 3-5 step drops, mainly because there’s not enough field to accommodate a concept that needs a 7 step drop to develop.
Today, we’ll be looking at some of the top concepts the Packers used in the High Red Zone. Next week, we’ll do the same for the Low Red Zone.
Dragon (7 attempts, 10.0 YPA, 4 TDs)
Dragon (aka Slant/Flat) is a concept as old as time itself. Archaeologists have found the diagram scribbled on cave walls. It wasn’t until the modern passing game was formed that anyone knew what it meant.
Packers fans have had a somewhat complicated relationship with this concept, mainly stemming from the Mike McCarthy era. When I say “Packers fans” I mean that I, myself, came very close to writing multiple letters to the editor if McCarthy didn’t stop releasing Richard Rodgers on the flat route. (No offense to Richard Rodgers: it just wasn’t the best use of his skillset.)
The concept itself is a solid, ball-control concept, with the ability to hit the occasional big play on the slant. My favorite example of the Packers use of Dragon in the high red zone in 2021 was this touchdown to Marquez Valdes-Scantling against the Ravens in Week 15.
MVS is the outside WR on the 2WR side, with Josiah Deguara as the in-line TE to that side. The Ravens are shading a safety over Davante Adams as the isolated WR on the opposite side and the defenders are all playing head-up, signaling man coverage. Aaron Rodgers reads the flat defender. As Rodgers hits the back foot of his last step, the flat defender is turned toward the flat and the “deep” defender to that side is playing Deguara, so Rodgers lets a throw rip to MVS on the slant, leading him up the field.
MVS has a nice snag and is able to stay up and pick up the TD.
Hang it in the Louvre. pic.twitter.com/QBeFdpnOTI
— Dusty (@DustyEvely) December 20, 2021
If the flat defender is otherwise occupied – as he is in this next clip – the throw can go quickly to the flat and let him work in space.
Of course, being in the high red zone, there’s enough room for a vertical tag. This TD ends up going to Robert Tonyan on a corner route away from the Dragon side – Tonyan one-on-one with a LB makes this an easy ready for Rodgers – but the Packers are running my favorite Dragon variation on the other side.
Adams sells the slant convincingly and ends up spinning his man like a top. The throw doesn’t go that way, but it very well would have. It’s such a beautiful variation of a concept the Packers run a lot. They’ve had some nice success with it in the past, and I always get hyped to see it.
Smash (7 attempts, 5.1 YPA, 2 TDs)
On its face, this is a concept that seems tailor-made for this exact area of the field. A high-low read concept that doesn’t need to be a home run, so you can just hit the underneath route in space every single time if the coverage gives it to you.
Though they did score 2 TDs off of this – tying it for the 2nd most TDs in the high red zone on a single concept in 2021 – the Packers didn’t have the consistent success with this concept that I expected them to have. For the most part, the 4 incompletions were all a result of the initial read being covered up, and the rush breaking through the line before Rodgers could find another option.
What I love about the completions is that they all went to different routes. In the first clip, it goes to Adams on the short route, running a whip route from the outside. In the second clip, it goes to Allen Lazard on the corner route for the TD. In the third clip, the Packers run Smash out of Trips, and Adams gets loose on a slant/hesitation route from the slot.
Double China/Dusty (2 attempts, 13.0 YPA, 1 TD)
Double China (or “Dusty”, as I’ve seen it called) is a close cousin to Smash. Maybe more like a sibling. The concept itself is basically the same, but, instead of having one short route, there are two in-breaking routes under the corner route. The Packers ran this twice in the high red zone in 2021, with both of those coming against the 49ers in Week 3. In the first clip Rodgers is forced to move off the concept and finds Adams late. In the second clip, the defense is aligned slightly different so he’s able to rifle in a throw to MVS on the corner route for a touchdown (one of my favorite throws of the year).
No lie, this is the greatest throw I’ve ever caught in my life. pic.twitter.com/8qyrNBodPO
— Marquez V-S (@MVS__11) September 27, 2021
Stick (7 attempts, 5.0 YPA, 2 TDs, 1 INT)
Stick is a staple concept in the Packers quick game, and Rodgers is an expert at it. The Packers will run this as both a one-man and two-man concept, with both versions usually paired with a vertical route on the outside to clear space.
The two cleanest reps in this area both went to Allen Lazard. The first clip is a touchdown against the Browns on a two-man Stick look. Rodgers hits his back foot and throws to Lazard, who is just coming out of his break against a backpedaling defender. Lazard is able to get the edge and dive into the end zone for the 443rd TD in Rodgers career, passing Brett Favre for the most TD passes by a Packers QB.
The second clip is 3rd & 4 against the 49ers in the playoffs, on a one-man Stick look. Lazard has outside leverage against the slot defender and Rodgers gets the ball out quickly (throwing low to protect against the outside trap defender).
The reason that throw was low is because of what happened on the previous play. 2nd & 9 & the Packers had one-man Stick with Cobb/Adams on the left. Rodgers hits his back foot and throws to Adams, but the boundary defender drops down as the trap defender and blows him up after a gain of 5.
Stick is a nice, safe quick-game concept in the Packers arsenal, but, in the compressed confines of the high red zone, teams seemed to be squatting on this concept. They did pick up a fun TD off a broken play against Washington…
…but the rest of the cut-up features 2 instances of Rodgers holding the ball after the defense is looking to jump/trap, and one instance of Rodgers throwing to MVS as the vertical one-on-one option away from the concept and coming up empty.
Overall, I still like this concept, but the Packers are going to have to take a look at the usage in this area of the field. I’d like to see them mix it up a little. Instead of sticking with the quick outs, throw a whip route in there. Get the defense leaning to the outside, then reverse course back inside. Or make more use of the stick/hitch route so you’re not running into the boundary trap. It doesn’t have to be a massive departure, but with defenses jumping as much as they are, they’re going to have to mix it up a bit to allow this to be a viable concept in this area.
That’ll do it for this section! There are other concepts the Packers used here – Mesh, Dagger, Drift, PA Boot, etc. – but I think we’ve gone long enough. Maybe I’ll dump those cut-ups somewhere eventually, but this feels good for now.
Thanks for your patience. I really wanted to get this scheduled to run while I was out of town, but it didn’t quite come together. But we’re here now and we’re rolling for the foreseeable future.
Next week we’ll be looking at some low red zone concepts the Packers used in 2021. If you want to revisit what we’ve looked at so far, you can do that!
A deep dive into the Packers use of RPOs in 2021
The Packers use of the PA Boot concept – and its key variations – in 2021
The concepts the Packers used to create explosive plays in 2021
The concepts the Packers may lean on to create explosive plays in 2022
Albums listened to: Jack Savoretti – Europiana Encore; Kate Bush – Hounds of Love; Angel Olsen – Big Time; Andrew Bird – Inside Problems; Shearwater – The Great Awakening