The touchdown pass from Jordan Love to Christian Watson during Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Chargers was not a play the Green Bay Packers had worked on throughout the week. In fact, it wasn’t even in the gameplan for the week.
“Very nice,” said Jordan Love post-game of the play design and execution. “That touchdown was actually a play that I think Matt (LaFleur) just kind of drew up on the sideline after seeing a look that we had previously, something that wasn’t even really in the game plan.”
On 2nd-and-9 from the Chargers’ 11-yard line with the third quarter coming to a close, Watson lined up in the slot on the right side of the formation with Dontayvion Wicks motioning to his side of the field as the ball was snapped.
On the left side, Tucker Kraft ran to the flat, while Luke Musgrave ran a curl route that drew the attention of the safety. With the safety crashing down on Musgrave, a pocket in the back left corner of the end zone opened up for Watson who was running a crossing route. With a free release for Watson’s speed, the two Chargers defenders couldn’t keep up, resulting in a relatively easy score on beautifully thrown ball by Love.
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While Love gave credit to LaFleur for the play design, it was actually tight ends coach John Dunn who drew that play up on the fly. We often hear the phrase “in game adjustments” thrown around, and, well, that’s exactly what this was. The Chargers gave Green Bay a similar look defensively earlier in that same drive, and Dunn had a counter for it the next time around.
“I’ve got to John Dunn all the credit in the world on that,” said LaFleur. “There was a play earlier in that drive… We always look at the pictures and he (John Dunn) saw something there. He suggested a play and then we called it, hit the coverage and those guys went out there and executed it. It was a great job by Christian hauling ass across the field and Jordan made a good throw. The credit goes to John Dunn in that situation.”
This scoring play was a promising development for the Packers young offense for a few reasons. The first being that this group has struggled to make timely adjustments throughout the course of the season, which to a degree, is likely a product of all the inexperience on that side of the ball. In this instance, however, it was an adjustment made on the fly in the midst of a drive and the execution was on point.
The other reason to be encouraged is that Green Bay was able to utilize Watson’s speed and get him the ball in space on a relatively easy pitch and catch. While Watson’s downfield presence is what might standout most from his breakout performance as a rookie in 2022, the Packers did an excellent job of getting him involved on crossing routes, slants, and end-arounds, which led to explosive plays. This season, there have been fewer of those opportunities for Watson.
“We hit one against Denver that was about the last one with Christian,” said offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich last week when asked about getting Watson involved in other ways.” I think some of them have just gone to other people as we’re going. We’re seeing a lot of differences in coverages. More shell where those crossing routes aren’t really that great, so we’ve kind of had to adjust a few things. As we keep going those opportunities will present itself, especially if we keep running the ball well. Those single-high coverages will hopefully help us out with the crossing routes.”
I do think that there can be a more concerted effort by LaFleur and his staff to give Watson more opportunities on these types of over-the-middle routes. But also, as the Packers offense as a whole continues to find success elsewhere, Watson – who still draws a lot of attention – is going to benefit from that as well.
As Stenavich mentioned, an improved run game will force defenses out of that split-safety look, while the continued big play ability from Dontayvion Wicks, Jayden Reed, and others will take some of the playmaking burden off of Watson’s shoulders. The touchdown pass he caught against Los Angeles is a prime example of that, with the safety flying downhill towards Musgrave.