Play-Action Game Packs A Punch

With Mike McCarthy getting increased production from the run game, play action has given the offense an effective one-two punch, as Eric Huber illustrates with some video highlights.

The Green Bay Packers' offense is perhaps the toughest offense to defend right now, and one of the reasons why is because of how and when coach Mike McCarthy utilizes play-action.

Make no mistake about it, you need a strong rushing attack to set up the play-action pass, or at least that's the perceived notion. After studying some game film, though, I came to the conclusion that McCarthy has been right all along — the offense doesn't need big chunks of yards from its rushing attack to be effective. It just needs to show it's not afraid to run, even when the back is gaining only 2 or 3 yards.

It all starts between the 20s. The pattern in McCarthy's play-calling is relatively obvious. Shotgun plays are usually of the passing variety, while running plays feature one of three formations — inverted wishbone, weak/strong, or I-formation. Opposing defenses know this, so when the Packers show run using these formations only to come back with a play-action pass using the same look, they are fooled. It was certainly the case with the play featured in the video below.

While Greg Jennings does run a flawless route, he's one-on-one with the cornerback because the play-action draws the safety up so Jennings can find space to run past the secondary.

The different looks get even more intriguing when Aaron Rodgers and the offense get inside the red zone. McCarthy may call a four-receiver, one-back shotgun set on first down and pass, only to come back with the same formation and run a draw on second. He might line up John Kuhn at halfback in an I-formation on first down from the 7 to make the defense believe the hammer is coming up the middle, only to run a play-action pass to Tom Crabtree.

The interesting part about this Crabtree touchdown is that it was the same play-call that was dialed up one week earlier with the same running back personnel (though slightly different alignment), when Donald Lee was on the receiving end of the only touchdown in the 10-3 win over the Bears.

It's great when James Starks rumbles for big gains using that added effort late in games while keeping the clock running. I have to ask, though, how do you think those runs are set up? The general perception is usually that the rushing attack is effective due to great blocking up front. However, that's not always the case.

It's a combination of solid blocking and how good McCarthy has become at dialing up the right play-action plays at the right times, with Rodgers running them to perfection. It creates defensive uncertainty as the game progresses, which sometimes can open up holes for running backs like Starks in the third and fourth quarters that wouldn't normally be there without the play-action looks early.

So, as you watch the Packers-Bears NFC Championship Game on Sunday remember this one word: perception. It's the key word to drawing up any full-proof offensive game plan. It's also something the Packers' play-caller has perfected, whether you love or hate his style.

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Eric Huber is a contributing writer for E-mail him at

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