Inside the playbook: Jennings in the Super Bowl

Today: Breaking down Rodgers to Jennings in Super Bowl XLV

Click here to see the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Two red zone TD throws from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings on Sunday night in the Packers’ Super Bowl win. Both came vs. a 2-deep shell (Cover 2 and 2-Man) with Jennings aligned inside as the No.3 WR. Let’s break them down.

Jennings vs. Cover 2

Start with the 21-yarder that gave the Packers a 21-3 lead right before the half. The Packers have their Ace (221) personnel in the game (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB) and use speed to the field with both Jordy Nelson and Jennings aligned inside as the No.2 and No.3 WRs. For the Steelers, their base 3-4 defense playing Cover 2. What we see unfold is a 3-vertical route scheme to attack the middle of the field and SS Troy Polamalu.


As you can see from the chalkboard, this is a smash-9 (fade) combo to the three wide receiver side (U and X) with Jennings (Z) running the post. Backside, the TE (Y) is on a 9 to occupy the FS. In Cover 2 inside of the 25-yard line (or “Red 2”), the CBs will sink with depth to protect the safeties on possible 7 cuts (corner routes) and create a 5-deep, 2-under look.

However, we don’t see that happen in this play because of the inside linebacker, James Farrior (highlighted in orange). The linebacker in the 3-4 (or the Mike backer in the 4-3) has to run with speed down the inside vertical seam. The safeties will react to the throw by the QB, but this is on the inside linebacker to run with Jennings in almost a trail-man position to take away the post and impact the throw from Rodgers. Let’s check it on the TV Tape.

That throwing lane is now created because the Steelers’ don’t get the depth from Farrior. Plus, with Polamalu essentially playing two vertical routes in the deep half (X, Z) he will react late to the throw. He needs protection from his underneath defenders even with FS Ryan Clark making a great read on the play from the backside.

A classic Cover 2 beater. Test the middle of the field and test the technique of the defense, but use Ace personnel to align Jennings inside at the No. 3 position. Perfect scheme and execution from the Packers. And a very similar route scheme that we saw Rodgers hit Jennings on for a TD in the ’09 season vs. Pittsburgh.

Click here to see Rodgers to Jennings in 2009.

Jennings vs. 2-Man

Let’s stay with video on the 8-yard fourth quarter TD from Rodgers to Jennings on the “Double Smah-7.” The Packers are in their “Kings” personnel (4 WR, 1 TE) and align in an empty look (no backs) with Rodgers in the gun. For Pittsburgh, the 2-4-5 nickel alignment (2 DL, 4 LB, 5 DB) playing 2-Man.

The Double Smash-7 is a route we see in every NFL playbook in the red zone. No.1 and No.2 run two short inside square-ins (smash) with No.3 on the vertical 7-route. Backside, the Packers run a short “stick” combo (double outs). But, once again, look at where Jennings is aligned: No.3

Here is there for a reason—to get the ball.

In 2-Man, the underneath defenders will play inside trail-man technique and use the two deep safeties as protection over the top. A tough defense to play in the red zone as the safeties lose the help from the CBs sinking to protect on the 7-route as they would in Cover 2.

What unfolds is the one play everyone was talking about on Monday morning. Jennings has a LB playing inside leverage and has essentially created a “two-way go” vs. Polamalu because of the coverage scheme. He can run the post or the 7.

Polamalu expects an inside breaking route. Similar to what he saw right before the half—and he guesses because of it. As a safety, you have to stay square to the QB in that situation and only break once the WR has made his cut—with an angle to the up field shoulder to attack the ball. The result we see is an easy, 7-on-7 type throw from Rodgers.

Both of these plays are an example of how you can scheme a defense through personnel and alignment to put yourself in a position to win vs. the secondary. These are two route schemes that we will see every Sunday throughout the regular season, but when you can align players out of position the matchups are created.

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