Going Deep: The Jordy Nelson Shot Play
In a sport like football, almost nothing is certain and very little is guaranteed. The Packers, however, have somehow found at least one virtual guarantee: Jordy Nelson catching a deep ball from Aaron Rodgers off play-action.
You know the play. A hard, play-action fake (typically to the left) precedes a deep roll out by Rodgers, who gathers and launches a bomb deep down the middle to a streaking Nelson.
Upon further review, it always becomes clear that the hard fake from Rodgers allowed Nelson to run a double move of some kind, leaving a defender flat-footed and grasping at air behind him as he gathers in the pass and saunters into the end zone.
It's as effective as it is predictable, and the Packers execute it with such precision that even players that haven't been in Green Bay in a while can see it coming. Tom Crabtree, the former Packers tight end, called the shot early in the game on Monday:
Whether it's Crabtree, Cris Collinsworth, or Craig, that guy from accounting that someone invited to watch the game with you at Buffalo Wild Wings, everybody can identify this play because it's so simple and the Packers run it so well.
There are three basic tenets in almost every version of this play.
- Pre-snap motion
- Fake away from the "shot" route
- Double move
In Monday's version, Andrew Quarless motions from right to left across the formation and sets up as a wing on the left side. It's tough to tell from the TV tape, but in many instances of this play, the motion before the snap gets the safety on Nelson's side of the field to move slightly, giving the dep route just a little bit more breathing room.
The play fake is obvious, but Rodgers executes it well, drawing the safety in even more and giving Nelson more room to operate on the outside.
Finally, Nelson executes the double move to perfection, getting the defender to turn his hips to the sideline before he cuts back inside, awaiting a perfectly delivered strike from Rodgers.
The Packers have been running this play for at least four seasons now, and perhaps longer. NFL Game Rewind archives only go back to 2009, but the same basic concepts were in play in Mike McCarthy's system long before that.
An almost exact copy of this particular play can be seen as far back as 2011. Greg Jennings played the role of Jordy Nelson en route to a 49 yard touchdown in Carolina on Spetember 18, 2011.
While Jennings may have started it, Nelson has perfected the deep route, and counting Monday's touchdown, I've discovered at least eight total instances of Nelson going the distance on this play. Those eight plays have accounted for more than eight percent of Nelson's career receiving yards and one sixth of his touchdown catches, but don't just take my word for it. Let's look at all of them!
Green Bay vs. Denver - October 2, 2011 - 50 yards
Green Bay vs. Chicago - December 25, 2011 - 55 yards
Green Bay vs. Detroit - January 1, 2012 - 58 yards
Green Bay @ New York Giants - November 25, 2012 - 61 yards
Green Bay @ Baltimore - October 13, 2013 - 64 yards
Green Bay vs. New York Jets - September 14, 2014 - 80 yards
Green Bay vs. Minnesota - October 2, 2014 - 66 yards
In addition to the excellent design and execution of the deep shots to Jordy, it's no coincidence that half the plays on this list have come in the last two years, timing out perfectly with the arrival and development of Eddie Lacy.
Play-action works a heck of a lot better when there's someone to actually justify the fake in the backfield. Lacy's thunderous running style is the perfect complement to a deep ball play-action shot, and you can bet that we'll see a lot more of Nelson streaking down the middle as the year goes on.