Today’s anatomy of play breaks down the four verticals with running back seam play that the Green Bay Packers adopted in 2020 and continue to find success with in 2021. The play itself has become popular among the Shanahan tree coaches but was popularized by the Chiefs in 2017 when they threw it at the Patriots in week one of that season numerous times.
The play itself is a basic four verticals concept with a slight twist. Instead of running basic four verts from 2x2 or even 3x1, the offense will motion a receiver over to a create a 4x1 strong and run three verticals from that alignment with a jet motion player to the flat, putting the seam/curl/flat defender in conflict to open up space for the vertical behind him.
This was a very effective play for the Chiefs in 2017 versus the Patriots in week 1. The motion pulls a defender to the flat and opens a window to the throw vertical or the crosser from #3. The Patriots couldn’t quite figure out how to cover that middle vertical route as the flat receiver put the defender in conflict multiple times.
The Rams under Sean McVay and the 49ers with Kyle Shanahan have also adopted it into their arsenal, albeit used sparingly due to the inability of their quarterbacks (former Rams quarterback Jared Goff and current 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo) to hit the deep seam throws with any accuracy.
Oddly enough, in 2020, 49ers backup quarterback Nick Mullens hit the deep crosser from number three, tight end Jordan Reed, with a nice throw as Mullens was getting annihilated in the pocket.
The 49ers set up the play in the Patriots game above the week prior versus the Rams when they jet motioned Deebo Samuel across but pitch passed the ball to him out of the backfield. The formation and motion are the same versus the Patriots but they took away the verticals so Garoppolo checked it down to Deebo in the flat.
Packers jet all go-HB seam
In 2020, the Packers were 17/22 running the play, with six plays that went for 15 or more yards and one touchdown. It has not been used with as much regularity in 2021 through the first six games but it has been there. And they ran it with multiple looks and tags.
The first clip is out of 12 personnel with jet motion shifting the linebackers to their left and pulling the flat defender toward it. This leaves the backside WILL linebacker alone with tight end Robert Tonyan as he bends his route across the field.
The second play shows the same jet motion, but run out of 21 personnel with former Packers running back Jamaal Williams catching the outside vertical versus the Falcons’ Tampa-2 defense. The middle linebacker is able to play top down over the vertical from Aaron Jones down the seam but the safety to that side has too much depth as Rodgers hits the cover-2 “honey hole” for the big completion.
Against the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game, Rodgers hit the honey hole against Tampa Bay’s cover-2 zone for a gain to start the second half.
In 2021, I haven’t seen it used all that much but they still ran the play twice for two positive plays versus the Steelers in week four. Teams may be a little more sensitive to it this season when they see the Packers in three receiver bunch formations while using jet motion to that side or seeing the running back aligned to the three receiver side.
Here the Steelers are in cover-6 (quarters to the wide side of the field, cover-2 to the boundary side of the field) versus Packers 11 personnel. The Packers are in a 3x1 formation with A.J. Dillon aligned to the three receiver side. The only difference in this play and the traditional way the Packers run it is Adams is going run a curl route at about 10 yards from the #3 receiver spot.
Dillon runs to the flat as the verticals from Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb stretch the coverage vertically, opening up the checkdown. Rodgers has no throw down either the seam or the sideline as the quarters defenders are playing top down over them so he hits Dillon in the flat for a 16-yard gain.
Here the Steelers show cover-3 single high safety coverage to the Packers 3x1 bunch with Jones aligned to the three receiver side.
The tight end is inline this time running a shallow crosser as the checkdown. Adams bubbles to the flat under the verticals from Jones, Lazard, and Cobb.
The Steelers rotate their coverage to the trips, taking away the verticals but Rodgers likely had a throw to Cobb as the inside vertical over the middle of the field as Cobb clears the linebackers and the safety in position to play top down on a throw. Rodgers instead opted to throw to Mercedes Lewis backside on the delayed shallow crosser for a positive gain.
It will be interesting to see what new ways the Packers run this play in the coming weeks, perhaps out of a two back backfield or perhaps a true 4x1. The possibilities are there for them though I think it’s unlikely they rely on it as much as they did in 2020. Still a nice play to get some positive in the short area of the field or downfield as an explosive pass