Aaron Rodgers was the most sacked quarterback in the league – going down 51 times in the regular season – making for the second time in his five years as a starter that he has held that unwanted league distinction. (He was tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger in 2009.)
"Any time you have a high number, it's not a good thing," said offensive coordinator Tom Clements. "Sacks are… we talk about it."
Former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin (2007-2011) talked about it, too – especially after the 2009 season, when Rodgers was sacked 50 times during the regular season. The next season, the Packers allowed 38 sacks (Rodgers was sacked 31 times). But in 2012, they saw a 10-sack increase as a team from 2011 (41 sacks).
Sacks can kill drives and destroy offensive production. The San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers (49 sacks) and the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler (38 sacks) endured nightmarish seasons, with their respective teams finishing 31st and 28th overall in offense. The Chargers also finished 20th in points per game, the Bears 16th.
But the others among the top-five sacked quarterbacks in the league overcame the rush. The Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton (46 sacks) led his team to the playoffs. The Bengals were a respectable 12th in points per game. The Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck (41 sacks) also made it to the playoffs. The Colts were 10th in overall offense and seventh in passing offense.
Rodgers was the best overall among the five, however, in the three production categories. Though the Packers finished 13th in total offense – the worst since Rodgers became the starter in 2008 – they were ninth in passing and fifth in points per game (27.1).
The Packers finished 11-5 despite their offensive line enduring a tough season. Top tackle Bryan Bulaga missed seven games with a hip injury and starting tackles Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay graded out among the bottom half in the league at their position. Center Jeff Saturday, the team's top free agent acquisition, was benched late in the season. All told, the team employed five different starting lineups on the offensive line during the regular season. Josh Sitton, who played in his first Pro Bowl two weeks ago, was about the only sure thing.
"Everybody has a responsibility for the sacks. It's not just the offensive line," said Clements. "At times it is, at times it's the backs, at times no one is open, at times Aaron tries to scramble and isn't able to and gets sacked. So you can point to a lot of different reasons for the high number. We obviously want to reduce that. We're willing to accept a certain number where Aaron is trying to move around and make a play because he does make a lot of plays moving around, and we don't want to limit him. So, if he can move around and make a play seven out of eight times and get sacked the other time, it's something we're willing to live with because those seven plays can be big plays."
Rodgers rarely gets sacked on the move and is one of the best in the league out of the pocket. But he certainly played a hand in holding the ball too long in the pocket as he has been prone to do in the past. ProFootballFocus.com, which evaluates every play of every game, assigned blame to Rodgers in the regular season for 10 sacks, the highest on the team and his second highest total since 2009 (13). Newhouse and T.J. Lang were assigned blame for nine sacks each.
By comparison, Dalton was assigned nine sacks, Cutler eight, and Luck and Rivers just four each.
Despite seeing Rodgers never rank better than 13th in the league in getting sacked in any one season, the Packers have continued to win. Not counting 2008 – Rodgers' first season as a starter, when the Packers went 6-10 – the Packers have posted the second-most regular season wins in the league (47) just behind the New England Patriots (49). The offense during this time has generally carried the load for the defense.
Where Rodgers and the offense have been hurt by the sacks is when they have come in bunches. When he was sacked at least five times during games in 2012, the Packers were just 1-4. The Packers had the same record under the same measure in 2009, Rodgers' other abnormally high sack season.
The only seasons the Packers have been sacked more were in 1990 (62 sacks allowed) and 1981 (52 sacks allowed). Those teams finished a combined 14-18.
Do Sacks Allowed Matter That Much?
A look at the sacks allowed by the Packers and the offensive production since Aaron Rodgers took over as the starter at quarterback. (Note: All numbers are regular season totals)
2012 – 51 sacks allowed (2nd highest in NFL), 13th in total offense, 9th in pass offense, fifth in points per game
2011 – 41 sacks allowed (tie 11th), 3rd in total offense, 3rd in pass offense, 1st in points per game
2010 – 38 sacks allowed (tie 11th), 9th in total offense, 5th in pass offense, 10th in points per game
2009 – 51 sacks allowed (1st), 6th in total offense, 7th in pass offense, 3rd in points per game
2008 – 34 sacks allowed (14th), 8th in total offense, 8th in pass offense, 5th in points score
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org