Sometimes, this game is pretty simple. Good defenses tackle well. Good offenses block well. Good defenses get to the quarterback. Good offenses protect the quarterback. Right now, the Packers are struggling to keep Aaron Rodgers upright, and it’s filtering through the rest of their offense.
Through the first 7 games of the season, on their way to a 6-1 start, Rodgers was sacked just 12 times in 250 pass attempts (4.6% of pass plays). That rate has doubled over the last 4 games, as Rodgers has been sacked 15 times in 130 pass attempts (10.3% of pass plays).
Opposing defenses have been able to get to Rodgers in an assortment of ways. They’ve done so with blitzes. They’ve done so with stunts and twists on the d-line. They’ve done so out of 4-man rushes where they’ve used alignment to manufacture favorable 1-on-1 matchups (see Week 9 vs. the Chargers). Green Bay’s offensive line is not consistently winning those 1-on-1 matchups when they present themselves. Aaron Rodgers’ ability to impact the game has taken a hit as a result:
A playcaller that knows his offensive line can’t protect the quarterback changes the way he calls the game. There is less confidence to push the ball downfield with route concepts that take time to develop. Sure, you can call a few Go routes or iso double-moves out of 3-5 step drops and hope your receiver wins, but those routes are generally hit or miss and don’t put defenders in conflict.
When a team can’t protect, you start to see more short and quick throws called, as was the case for the Packers on Sunday night against the 49ers. Green Bay’s passing attack was limited to lots of screens, smoke throws, play-action boot, and quick passing game concepts out of shotgun.
The defense can start to sit on these shorter routes as a result, reducing the size of the windows and limiting yards after the catch. This is exactly what we saw from the 49ers, who came into the game knowing they have arguably the best pass rush in the NFL and knowing that the Packers have been struggling up front in recent weeks. Their secondary was able to play flat-footed with confidence all night, ready to attack instead of being forced by Green Bay receivers to get depth.
The below sequence from the 2nd quarter is a great example. Focus on linebacker Fred Warner (#54) on this screen pass. He was not worried about getting depth, despite no playaction, which enabled him to quickly rally to the running back.
By this point in the game, the Packers were sensing that San Francisco was comfortable sitting on shorter routes. So, they attempted a double move with Davante Adams running a Sluggo (Slant-and-Go). Aaron Rodgers unfortunately did not have time to hit Adams, as Arik Armstead was able to get to him for one of the 49ers’ 5 sacks on the night.
Whelp, at least they gave it a shot. A few plays later, the Packers went back to their quick passing game, this time out of an RPO. Unfortunately for them, even with the 49ers playing quarters coverage, Richard Sherman was ready to sit on anything short coming towards him.
Rodgers quickly threw the ball away.
Later in the 2nd quarter, the Packers faced a 3rd-and-6. Focus on cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon at the top of the screen.
Witherspoon had no help over the top, yet look at how he sat at the first down marker.
Witherspoon had no fear of getting burned deep, knowing the the Packers couldn’t protect and Green Bay was looking to get rid of the ball quickly. Aaron Rodgers can connect downfield with Tecmo-Super-Bowl-level accuracy, yet the 49ers were not worried about getting beat over the top all game. That should tell you everything you need to know about how porous the Packers’ offensive line has been over their last 4 games.
It feels like we have to remind football fans at least once a year, but Aaron Rodgers is not the problem here. In fact, he is the last player on the long list of players responsible for Green Bay’s struggles over the last month. Can he be a little more aggressive? Absolutely, especially against defenses like the 49ers where points are likely to be at a premium. In fact, there were a couple of plays were Rodgers could have used his unmatched downfield accuracy to get some completions on Sunday night.
Does that mean there have been wide open receivers running all over the field play after play that Rodgers just hasn’t hit? Not at all. You can go through any quarterback’s tape and find a couple of open routes he didn’t throw for whatever reason. What it comes down to is that it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is. If he doesn’t have time to throw, he can’t be as effective.
If Matt LaFleur doesn’t find a way to get his offensive line to play better, or to get them help by using more chips, play-action, moving pockets, and play-calling that keeps the defense honest, a once promising season will quickly go down the drain for the Packers.
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