Throughout his career, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has produced at an elite level despite leaky offensive lines. In 2012 he was sacked a league-high 51 times, yet he still led the league in passer rating (108.0).
Often, Rodgers wills the Packers to victory while enduring numerous hits in the pocket. Yet, as with any quarterback, pressure is still the key to limiting one of the most dangerous passers in league history.
He’s been sacked three or more times in four contests this season. The Packers went 2-2 in those games, yet Green Bay needed late-game heroics two pull out those two wins. In Week 3, the N.Y. Jets sacked Rodgers four times and the Packers had to overcome an 18-point deficit for a 31-24 victory. In Week 7, the Dolphins sacked Rodgers three times and had the lead going into the final two minutes, yet Miami handed the game over on a platter in the waning moments.
The point is, if you harass Rodgers in the pocket, he becomes mortal, giving you the best chance at beating the Packers.
In only one game this year has he been sacked fewer than two times, the Week 4 contest against the Chicago Bears, who took him down just once en route to a 38-17 Green Bay victory. A repeat performance this Sunday night by Chicago’s pass rushers and the team will pick up their sixth loss of the season.
“We need to get more pressure on him,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said this week.
The Packers adjust to their shaky offensive line by deploying a short-passing attack that doesn’t allow the pass rush time to finish. It leads to frustration and impatience for opposing defensive linemen, who get lulled into the pattern of quick passes.
“You’ve got to keep rushing,” said Jared Allen. “You can’t get tired of three-step [drop], three-step, ball out, ball out, ball out, ball out, ball out, and then all of a sudden he sits back there for five seconds and pats the ball and really torches you.
“He will give you shots to get to him because he has the ability to go down the field at any given time, and he’ll take those shots on you.”
For the Bears defensive line, patience will be key, as will a continuous effort to collapse the pocket in spite of the short-passing game. At certain points, Rodgers will drop back five to seven steps and that’s when the defense needs to capitalize. The chances will be there if the pass rush is prepared to take advantage of them.
“You have to grind, grind, grind, grind, grind,” said Allen, who has faced the Packers 16 times in his career. “Eventually when he holds the ball, you can’t… I try to tell the guys you can’t get into a habit of [thinking], ‘It’s going to be another quick ball,” because like I said, he’ll give you those chances to get there. But you have to continue to pass rush. You can’t get discouraged that it might be the second quarter, third quarter. When you do get an opportunity, you have to capitalize.”
In the secondary, taking away the short passes will force Rodgers into deeper drops. Expect the Bears on Sunday to deploy more press coverage in that effort.
“We have to challenge the throws, win the contested-throwing battles,” coordinator Mel Tucker said yesterday. “We’re going to have to do some things in coverage to make it a bit harder for the receivers.”
To limit Rodgers at Lambeau Field, Chicago’s defense will need a near-perfect game. Yet it’s not impossible.
If the defensive line stays patient and the secondary can get into passing lanes early in the play, the Bears may be able to pull off the miracle upset that could save their season.
VIDEO: Jared Allen on Aaron Rodgers
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.