Here’s a memory test for you: before last Sunday, when was the last time you saw the Green Bay Packers’ offense run a creative play?
Of all the comments made on Total Packers, I think the most often-repeated gripe is that the offensive play calling is predictable and uncreative. So what kind of plays might be added to the playbook?
Men in motion/end-around
The Packers will put receivers in motion to keep a receiver from getting jammed at the line of scrimmage, or sometimes to load a formation to one side of the field, but they don’t utilize all the possibilities. When taking a snap, many quarterbacks routinely have a wide receiver sprinting by for an immediate handoff or fake – some teams do this a dozen or more times per game. The motion causes the defense to pause and try to see who’s got the ball. These plays call for a speedy (or shifty) wide receiver – the Packers have six of them (sorry Davante), with Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis being perfect fits.
Reverse or double reverse
When’s the last time you saw the Packers execute one of these? The quarterback sprints to one side of the field while a speedy receiver on that side crisscrosses behind the quarterback and receives the handoff or lateral. This little trick almost always gets 10 or more yards when used against the Packers. During this year’s training camp, Green Bay practiced this at least twice, utilizing Jeff Janis. Maybe it’s being saved for a rainy day.
The Cardinals saved this play for a special occasion, and Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald ran it to perfection at the end of the Packers’ 2015 postseason. The Packers have used the shovel pass in the McCarthy era, though mostly when Brett Favre was quarterback. So obviously not for a long time.
This features the quarterback faking a handoff to a running back and looping around in the opposite direction toward the sideline. If no blockers go with him, it’s a naked bootleg. Aaron Rodgers has done this a time or two in the past, but not much recently. It can be either a designed run or have a passing option. It’s particularly effective near the goal line, when the defense is stacked in the box. Rodgers did a bootleg maneuver in the first offensive drive against the Giants, sold the fake nicely, and completed a 17-yard pass to a wide-open Randall Cobb. Rodgers also used a bootleg maneuver for a 2-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers in the Detroit game. Maybe these successes will lead to more such usage.
Halfback (or wide receiver) option
Seldom used, in Green Bay or elsewhere, since the days of Paul Hornung. I still love the play. The ball is handed off or lateraled to the back (or receiver), who starts to run a sweep, then stops and throws to a hopefully wide-open receiver. Randall Cobb, who started out at Kentucky as a quarterback, could execute this play. The Giants actually attempted one on Sunday, but the Packers had great coverage, resulting in Odell Beckham Jr. being tackled for a big loss.
Moving the pocket
Aaron Rodgers in years past would quite often sprint outside the numbers to the right or left to set up to throw. This play variation can provide additional time to throw, offer better vision of the passing routes, and help out blockers defending against a strong pass rush. Rodgers moved the pocket at least once to the left and once to the right last Sunday, with good results.
In almost every case, the above plays call for good timing, but require only short and easy handoffs or throws. An element of surprise doesn’t hurt either. Many offer big gain potential. These plays tend to take pressure off a quarterback, counter a team that blitzes a lot, and provide misdirection to defenses that are over-pursuing the ball.
On Sunday, did we see Mike McCarthy beginning to add some new pages, or at least variations, to the play book? Even the longest journey starts with a first step.