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Packers Film Room: Season-defining moments on offense, part 1

The Packers 2022 season was defined early on by a key drop in week 1 and a rebound late in the year before falling short in week 18. We look back at the 4 key moments in this 2 part series.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel Mark Hoffman / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Green Bay Packers’ 2022 season was a rollercoaster to say the least, followed by an awkward early offseason that saw Aaron Rodgers depart the team in a trade after spending sometime in the darkness on a remote retreat. That saga summed up a season that started promising and ended in heartbreaking fashion with a loss in week 18.

That loss to the Detroit Lions in week 18 officially knocked the Packers out of the playoff race. Several weeks prior, there was little hope for the team until they made a late season push in the final six weeks of the season. Even before their four game win streak in December, their playoff odds still showed a glimmer of hope while being 4-8. They were never truly out of it.

However, the tone for the season was set early on in week one when Christian Watson dropped an easy deep shot. The play foreshadowed the early struggles Rodgers and the Packers’ receivers would have as they later battled injuries to several key receivers and seemingly never played consecutive games with the same group. It was apparent that chemistry would take time to build between Rodgers and several new rookies.

Each play described in this series represents a larger theme the Packers offense struggled with last season, with this installment examining the passing game as a whole. The first play fittingly looks at the offense’s very first snap of the season to represent the passing game struggles that Rodgers and the receivers had last season. The missed read on the run-pass option play at the end of the Giants game in London represents not only the downward slide of the team offensively, but the struggles Rodgers had with missed throws and reads.

The third part is actually a cut-up of a few snaps that signifies the worst of the chemistry the Packers receivers and Rodgers had last season: a drop, an interception, and multiple deep shots without any purpose.

Christian Watson’s Dropped Touchdown

In week, the very first play from scrimmage for the Packers set the tone for the entire season. Rookie receiver Christian Watson dropped what would have been a 75-yard touchdown catch on a deep pass down the right sideline on a 2-man mirrored deep go route concept.

The defense is in a 3-deep/3-under fire zone with cover-3 coverage behind a 5-man rush.

The Packers are running a 2-man mirrored go-route concept from 12 personnel 2x2.

The Packers reportedly inserted this play into the game plan two days prior to the week one opener in Minnesota. It was a chance to let Watson showcase his blazing speed and it came while lined up against former All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson. Peterson wasn’t expecting a deep shot so early in the game and the Packers felt it was a good idea to do just that. Watson had about a 5-yard cushion downfield as the pass got to him but it went right through his hands.

The play set the tone for the Packers offense in this game and the rest of the season. Watson was virtually non-existent after this drop and didn’t score his first touchdown until week 10, when he exploded for three scores against Dallas and eight total touchdowns over weeks 10 through 13.

The Packers rookie receivers had decent production last season with Watson emerging from the pack as the most productive, followed by Romeo Doubs and Samori Touré, with the group scoring 11 touchdowns between them. But it wasn’t easy. Watson and Doubs combined for a total of 13 drops, according to Pro Football Reference’s advanced receiving data. Needless to say, expectations were high for a young group playing with one of the league’s premier passers.

Rodgers missed RPO read vs Giants

Speaking of Rodgers, at times last season he tried to do too much and it cost the Packers a few games. After their week one loss, they ripped off three straight wins before heading to London to face the New York Giants. That game started out promising in the first half when the Packers led 20-10 at halftime.

The offense fell silent in the second half, barely had the ball and when they did, weren’t able to do much with it. They still had a chance to win the game, or at least to take the lead, with just over a minute remaining. The Giants’ second-half adjustments were centered on making Rodgers and the Packers throw downfield with low percentage throws. Rodgers still misfired on several passes he normally connects on, regardless of what the Giants were doing.

On the Packers’ final offensive drive, they went back to what worked and dinked and dunked their way down inside the 10-yard line. The simplest task for this offense turned out to be an overwhelming assignment. From the 15 yard line, they gained 9 yards on two plays and needed one yard for a first down. The play calling to get there was not sound.

First play

The Packers tried to simulate running a slant/flat concept that turns into a sluggo route by the #1 receiver outside in trips and a quick flat route where the #2 receiver in trips bursts back inside. The route combination is meant to cause confusion as defenders cannot sort out who should cover who, but the Giants are playing off coverage to the #1 receiver and in tight to the #2 to prevent this from happening.

The play is designed to go to the sluggo route run by Doubs but Rodgers has no window to throw and comes back inside to Cobb on the flat return route over the middle. The pass rush is not getting home so as Rodgers turns to locate Cobb and resets, Kayvon Tibodeaux gets in the passing lane and gets his arm up, tipping the pass.

Second play

On 4th-and-1, LaFleur called an RPO with an inside zone. The defenders are playing the two receiver side similar to the play above with the off coverage over the #1 and the tight coverage over the #2. Rodgers has his window based on the route concepts, a “now” slant with a “pile” route over the top to create a pick or rub on the defenders.

But Rodgers motions out to Lazard by tapping his right shoulder, a signal that alerts the defense to also point that way while they set the front.

This is purely a pre-snap box read and the original play call would’ve either netted a touchdown or the first down whether Rodgers had decided to pass to Doubs on the slant or give to Dillon on the inside zone. Instead, Rodgers takes the snap and fires it out to Lazard singled up on the outside on the single receiver side. The Giants sent a blitz off the edge to this side and Rodgers threw it right into the wall of Giants defenders.

Based on the post snap picture, it appears that either Doubs or Dillon would have been the better choice to give to. Either player could have picked up the first down. If Doubs was not in the RPO progression, which is possible because it is uncommon for the passing concept to be on the opposite side of the running back where the quarterback cannot see it post-snap, then the read should have been to hand off with the defensive leverage set to the edge and not in the middle.

Aaron Jones expressed some frustration with the end-of-game play calling in the clip above but rightly would not criticize his coach or his quarterback. Still, his sentiments are widely felt.

In part two, we will look at the last few weeks of the regular season against Miami and against Detroit in a pivotal final regular season game.