The Green Bay Packers under head coach Matt LaFleur have opened up their playbook more and more each season since he’s taken over as head coach. One area in particular where he has opened up the scheme this season is the use of 4x1 sets. The Packers have used 4x1 sparingly since 2019, but are using it at a significantly higher rate this season. As a result, they are running some interesting route combinations that allow them to use their staple pass concepts while also creating space for their wide receivers.
In 2019, they played six snaps out of a 4x1 formation. In 2020, they played just two snaps. In 2021, they have surpassed their 2019 and 2020 total with 14 snaps from a 4x1 formation according to Pro Football Focus.
A 4x1 formation is simple: four eligible receivers to one side and one eligible receiver to the opposite side singled up. The formations are a good way to hide a passing game’s traditional concepts by adding an extra receiver into the mix to put stress on a defense and either “drain the coverage” against zone, by messing with their traditional trips coverage responsibilities, or creating traffic versus man coverage.
The formation can either be a traditional 3x1 trips formation with the running back in the backfield to the trips side or it can be four wide receivers split out wide to one side in a 4x1 empty formation with no running back. The Packers like to line up static in a 4x1 empty and have also motioned to 4-strong and aligned the running back to the trips side.
4x1 Jet All Go
A staple concept that the Packers will run out of a 4x1 is “all-go halfback seam”. 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.
In week four, the Packers called the play at least three times although Rodgers was unable to hit the vertical.
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 the 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 runs 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.
In week eight versus the Cardinals, Rodgers was able to hit the deep over route by Robert Tonyan. This was, unfortunately, the play that ended Tonyan’s season.
The Cardinals are in single high cover-3 coverage and widen with the motion man that puts the offense into a 4x1 formation. The strong hook and curl-flat defenders are pushed horizontally by the motion and the running back vertical, allowing the Cardinals to keep the spacing over the verticals to that side.
This leaves Tonyan open over the middle as Rodgers also moves the safety with his eyes so that all he has to do is layer the throw over the weak side linebacker into the hands of Tonyan for the explosive play.
Another way the Packers will use 4x1 all-go halfback seam is to use the verticals as the primary read with a singled-up matchup backside with Adams running a quick slant.
If the quarterback likes the 1-on-1 with Adams, he can look there right away. It’s a good way to get Adams in space with a 1-on-1. Singled up against Ramsey in the first clip above from the 2020 divisional round, the play goes for a short gain.
4x1 Lambeau quick flat passing concept
In week eight, the Packers were without receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard and as a result, had to adjust their game plan and play calling to account for less experienced receivers outside of Randall Cobb. One way they did this was giving Rodgers quick throws out of a 4x1 on their “Lambeau” quick flat concept.
By my charting, I counted this concept six times in some form over the course of that game. The first several times they called the play, the quick flat was run by Aaron Jones out of a wing alignment to the four receiver side. On a couple of occasions, they used it as a run pass option (RPO), which is one of their common RPO concepts this season.
The play is just a simple arrow route to the flat by the number four receiver in the 4x1. Usually it’s run out of a 3x1 but the Packers used it to get Aaron Jones in space instead of a receiver. The receivers in front of him shield the pass catcher from defenders as he catches the pass in the flat. The play lets Rodgers get the ball out quick and into the hands of his playmakers.
One downfield concept the Packers have run a couple of times this season is to pair a traditional dagger concept with a corner route from the #2 receiver and same side flat route check down. On traditional dagger, the two receiver side runs a deep over with a deep in-breaking route behind it.
Here, the Packers get a corner route from the #2 receiver while the #3 runs the deep over. Running back A.J. Dillon is the #4 receiver who runs the quick flat as the outlet receiver.
The quick flat pulls the flat defender out of the throwing window and the corner route clears out the space underneath for Rodgers to hit Adams wide open on the deep in route.
4x1 smash flood concept
The last 4x1 concept the Packers have relied on for a big play is the 4x1 smash flood concept.
In week 11 versus the Vikings, the Packers called this smash flood concept from a 4x1 formation. The route combinations flooded the four receiver side of the field and beat the single high coverage. From outside in, the #1 receiver is running short pivot route at a depth of five yards, the #2 receiver is running a 10 yard out route, the #3 receiver (the target on the play) is running a corner route, and the #4 receiver is running a chip crosser. The single receiver, the nub tight end, is running a chip crossing route to the other side.
The Vikings are man coverage over the four receiver side with the single high safety rotating from the backside of the formation to single high coverage. This gives the Packers a favorable throw to the corner route as safety Harrison Smith is unable to get over the top of the corner in time to provide coverage. Rodgers layers a nice pass over the defender into the hands of Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
The above plays only scratch the surface of what the Packers are capable of putting together out of their 4x1 formations. It will be interesting to see what new wrinkles they can and will add in the coming weeks that will give defenses something to think about and prepare for, which makes them one of the most dangerous teams heading into the postseason.