The Packers have had protection issues during the second half of the season. They’ve allowed 19 sacks in their last 6 games, including 4 against the Redskins on Sunday. Protection wasn’t the main concern coming out of their underwhelming 20-15 victory, though. While time to throw and open receivers have both come at a premium through most of Green Bay’s recent offensive struggles, those were not the issues holding the Packers back against Washington. Aaron Rodgers did not play well, and he missed several opportunities for drive-extending or game-changing plays.
As we stated a few weeks ago, it’s easy to go through any quarterback’s film and pick 1-2 throws or open receivers that he missed in a given game. It happens to the best of them. But Rodgers missed more than usual on Sunday against the Redskins.
On Rodgers’ first big miss, Matt LaFleur had a great play called. Jimmy Graham ran a bendback/corner, with Aaron Rodgers utilizing boot-stop action away from his route. Graham ended up with a few steps on his defender.
That’s a rare miss on an open downfield receiver by Rodgers. In all fairness, it looked like Graham came out of his break a little flat (more towards the sideline than the corner). Based on the defender’s positioning underneath Graham, Rodgers appeared to want to lead him more to the corner. Still, he misfired just a bit, resulting in the incompletion.
Facing a 3rd down two plays later, Rodgers nearly made a costly mistake. It all started because his movement in response to pressure was too frenetic.
Rodgers had a clean pocket in which to step up, reset, scan the field and potentially find Davante Adams breaking open on the 30-yard line to his right. Instead, he moved, didn’t reset, and forced a risky pass into a window that wasn’t there. That’s not something you see often out of Rodgers.
Later in the first half, Rodgers missed what should have been an easy touchdown. First, focus on the coverage and route combination. The Redskins were playing quarters, and the Packers had a route combination called that was designed specifically to break down the coverage.
The idea of the combination was to target the deep safety on the bottom of the screen. That safety is responsible in quarters for the #2 vertical release. In this case, that was Geronimo Allison’s dig route.
If that safety bit on the underneath route, the deep middle would be wide open for Allen Lazard’s post as long as he had inside leverage on the cornerback (which he did, and which was one of the main purposes of running this play out of the tight trips bunch formation).
The route combination broke down the coverage exactly as it was supposed to. So why didn’t Rodger’s hit this, then? You can see below that just after the top of Rodgers’ drop, right around the time he would be ready to deliver this ball, the safety was sitting and ready to bite on the square in, meaning he was not a factor on the post.
Let’s go to the end zone angle to see what the pocket looked like for Rodgers at the top of his drop.
Rodgers was feeling pressure from the right side. And indeed, slight movement off his spot was required to make this throw. You’ll see below that had he stayed on the hashmark, he would have been swallowed up by the rush. That said, Rodgers again moved up too aggressively in the pocket, seemingly with the intention of scrambling instead of moving to throw. Had he merely slid to the left, he would have created the time he needed to deliver this touchdown pass.
This was a missed opportunity that a better team would make Green Bay pay for.
In the second half, we saw more of the same from Rodgers, inexplicably not pulling the trigger on multiple throws. The below play was a 3rd-and-5. The Redskins ended up blitzing from Rodgers’ right side and dropping out defenders to the left. Rodgers initially wanted Davante Adams, aligned as the #3 inside receiver to the left.
But Adams’ route would ultimately be accounted for by two underneath defenders.
However, with all of the traffic and defensive movement in the middle of the field, something Washington did frequently on Sunday, Rodgers could have decided to stay away from it and stick to the outside even after targeting Adams initially. He happened to have a wide-open Allen Lazard running a comeback route on the perimeter.
Rodgers didn’t throw it Lazard’s way, though. He also had Graham come open in the middle of the field a few seconds into the play and didn’t hit him either. All of this while working out of a clean pocket.
The troubling aspect about Rodgers scanning the field on this play was that his eyes were all over the place. From the end zone angle you can see that his head was on a swivel. This was not an example of calmly working through progressions. This was a look-everywhere-and-nowhere-at-once scan, generally an indicator of a quarterback not seeing the field well (Missing multiple wide-open receivers on this play is also an indicator).
There were several other plays where Rodgers didn’t see or couldn’t find his open receivers on Sunday. We do have to give the Redskins some credit. They gave Rodgers lots of different looks. They disguised coverage well, mixed in combo-man coverages, dropped defensive lineman and linebackers out into underneath lanes, and often did not play the same coverage on both sides of the field. This made Rodgers uncertain about what he was looking at on several plays. Still, as illustrated above, the opportunities were there.
It is important to keep things in perspective here. This was a bad and uncharacteristic game for Rodgers. However, he still made a handful of plays that most other quarterbacks would not have been able to make. His throw in the 4th quarter from his own endzone on 3rd-and-14, propelling Green Bay to the game-clinching score, was a thing of beauty.
Much of the criticism of Rodgers over the last couple of years has been unfair or flat out wrong. For at least this week, though, the haters were correct. Rodgers did miss opportunities against the Redskins. That said, he is still sporting a 102.0 QB Rating and 23-2 TD-INT ratio on the season. Not bad for an overrated, underperforming has-been…
For the Packers to make any noise in the NFC Playoffs, their improved running game and defense will both certainly need to perform as they have for much of the season. But Green Bay will only go as far as their quarterback can take them. They need Aaron Rodgers to start playing more like Aaron Rodgers.
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