As has been covered to exhaustion this offseason, numerous questions surround the 2022 Packers offense. With Davante Adams gone, who will be Aaron Rodgers‘ top target? How will the running backs be used? How much will the rookie receivers contribute? What will the offensive line look like? With any luck, the answers to these questions will become clearer as the team navigates training camp and the preseason.
However, we can also examine past offensive performances for hints about the direction that the offense will take. As some have observed, Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers have engineered offensive success without Adams before. Even in games with Adams available, the offense has shown the ability to pivot to other focal points in attacking defenses.
One intriguing example of this is Green Bay’s Week 2 matchup against the Detroit Lions in 2021. In that game, Matt LaFleur made an effort to gameplan looks for star running back Aaron Jones. The result? Jones recorded four touchdowns – three through the air, and one on the ground. Here are several lessons that this game can give us on how the Packers offense could shift to account for the absence of Adams in 2022.
Increased Use of Heavy Formations
When rewatching the game, it is clear that Green Bay hoped to attack the Lions through the use of heavier personnel packages. The Packers repeatedly utilized 21 personnel (2 backs, 1 tight end) to force the Lions into advantageous looks and personnel packages.
In this clip, the Packers get the Lions to load the box in base personnel. LaFleur dials up “Drift,” a staple of Shanahan/McVay offenses. Drift is a play-action concept that pairs a deep vertical route with a dig designed to attack the space left as second-level defenders crash down to play the run. It doesn’t quite work out here; linebacker Jamie Collins isn’t drawn in by the run fake. He condenses the throwing window on the dig route by MVS, and Aaron Rodgers is forced to scramble and find the checkdown.
Despite this, the play still illustrates how heavier formations can take advantage of defenses. DCs have to respect the possibility of a run. This can open up opportunities in the passing game.
Additionally, turning to heavy formations can also help generate advantageous one-on-ones for the offense. Here, the Packers run a play-action concept called “Dagger.” In this call, the X receiver (MVS) runs a deep Dig and the Z/slot receiver (Adams) runs a vertical stem while reading the safeties. If Adams sees two safeties deep, then he converts his route to a Post to split them down the middle. If only one safety stays high (like in this clip), then he runs a Dig and attempts to cross the safety’s face.
Both deep routes come open, but pressure forces Rodgers to take the checkdown. This is where matchups factor in. The Lions are in base personnel to match Green Bay’s 21p package. As a result, Aaron Jones gets picked up by Alex Anzalone. Anzalone can’t quite keep up with Jones, and the result is a decent gain that allows the Packers to stay ahead of the chains.
With Davante Adams gone, the 2022 offense will have to find new ways to engineer favorable one-on-ones. By using heavy personnel packages, the offense can dictate the defensive formations and coverages they face and secure good individual matchups.
Running Backs in Unique Offensive Alignments
The running back room represents one of Green Bay’s biggest offensive assets. Both AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones can take on a variety of roles. In the past, the Packers have used a two-back “Pony” package to manipulate defensive alignments in their favor. However, The Pony package is not the only way that Green Bay can use their deep backfield to attack defenses.
On this play, the Packers line up in an I formation. Dillon is playing fullback, with Jones as the halfback. Rodgers fakes the give on the fullback dive then tosses it to Jones. The EMOL (end man on line) gets drawn in as a result of Dillon’s run action and Jones is able to win the edge. In addition, the buzzing safety is drawn inside by the run fake and gets blocked by the climbing LT. As a result, the offense secures a nice five-yard gain.
In this next clip, the Packers are again in 21 personnel. However, only AJ Dillon is in the backfield. Aaron Jones and TE/H-back Dominique Dafney are split out in the bunch formation to the offense’s left. The Packers run an RPO, giving Rodgers a choice between handing the ball off or throwing to Aaron Jones on the screen. Having to deal with multiple possibilities like this puts the defense in a bind. Do they maintain the box to stop Dillon, or do they devote numbers to the screen?
In this situation, the Lions attempt to do both. One of the safeties rolls down to help on the bunch, while a linebacker aligns as an apex player between the bunch and the box. Dillon is able to find a cutback lane and secure a modest three-yard gain. More importantly, the offense learned that the Lions may choose to insert a safety against looks like these. This means that, later on, opportunities to attack through the air may be available from this formation.
In this third clip, Aaron Jones lines up out wide again. Facing a 20p set with AJ Dillon in the backfield, the Lions choose to place one of their safeties in man coverage on Jones. When Jones goes in motion, the safety is unable to navigate through the box quickly enough to keep up. Good blocking from Allen Lazard and Dillon clear the way for the touchdown.
As seen in these clips, the skillsets of Dillon and Jones allow Green Bay’s offensive staff to get creative in their usage. By putting them in a variety of alignments, the Packers manipulated the Lions defense and created favorable looks. Undoubtedly, similar efforts could go a long way to boosting the 2022 offense.
A More Diverse Offensive Run Game
One of the advantages of heavy personnel packages is the schematic options that they can open up in the running game. Against the Lions, Green Bay used this to their advantage by turning to a 49ers-influenced ground attack based around outside zone and zone-insert runs.
Here, they run “18 Quatro,” an outside zone toss to the strength of the formation. Unlike some other zone runs, on “Quatro” the TE immediately climbs to the second level. As a result, Dominique Dafney receives sole responsibility for blocking the EMOL. Unfortunately, Dafney struggles on this play and LOS gets reset in the backfield. Compounding the issue, the nose tackle beats the center (71) quickly. The EMOL holds Dillon up long enough for backside pursuit from the NT to quash the play.
Despite the dubious results of that run, the Packers found greater success on other attempts. In this instance, LaFleur calls a zone-insert play. Basically, zone-insert is the zone version of an Iso run. On the playside, the OL is zone blocking. Meanwhile, the inserting fullback and the backside players (77 and 89 here) are man blocking. In this instance, the man side of the formation ends up creating a big cutback lane for Jones to exploit.
It will be fascinating to see how the Packers running game could evolve in 2022. New OC Adam Stenavich spent time in 2017 and 2018 as the 49ers’ assistant OL coach. Because of this connection, he could bring a new emphasis on Shanahan-style outside zone runs. The offense could also incorporate other types of runs, such as the numerous variants of Counter and Duo. Without Adams, it would make sense to take pressure off of the passing game by emphasizing a more diverse run scheme. In addition, greater variety would open up opportunities for an expanded arsenal of RPOs and play-action concepts.
Undoubtedly, maintaining a high-level offense after losing arguably the best receiver in the league will be difficult. However, Green Bay has the firepower elsewhere to help make up the difference. Turning to heavier formations, unique RB alignments, and a diversified run scheme could play a significant part in these efforts.
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