Blitz Rodgers At Your Own Peril

It will be the ultimate cat-and-mouse game of Sunday's season-opening game at Philadelphia. Few teams blitz with the frequency of the Eagles, and few quarterbacks beat the blitz like Aaron Rodgers.

The Philadelphia Eagles' late, great defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, was one of the game's all-time defensive wizards. During his nine-year run as coordinator, the Eagles blitzed, blitzed and blitzed their way to five NFC championship games and a second-ranked 390 sacks.

Not a whole lot changed under his successor and protégé, Sean McDermott, last season. The first-year coordinator pulled the strings on a defense that piled up a third-ranked 44 sacks and a second-ranked 111 negative plays.

McDermott, however, might want to think twice about dialing up pressure on Sunday because Aaron Rodgers is arguably the NFL's best quarterback not named Drew Brees against the blitz.

Last season, Rodgers ranked second in the league in completion percentage against the blitz at 69.4 percent and second with 9.43 yards per completion. That's a great combination, showing that Rodgers wasn't just content to throw check-down passes but actually attacked an opponent's pressure. He burned defenses by throwing 11 touchdown passes, and the defenses burned him with only three interceptions. His passer rating of 112.7 when blitzed was just a whisker behind Brees' league-best 112.9.

"We spend a lot of time on it," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin told Packer Report on Thursday. "The thing is, you build a system that hopefully every week, you're not, ‘Oh, my God.' Even though teams present unique challenges, you hope within the system you have of protecting your quarterback, you've got some answers.

"You've been around long enough, your staff's been together long enough that you know how to respond the right way when a certain blitz occurs. Whether it's a receiver giving a peek in, whether it's the quarterback sending another guy over there, there's a variety of things you can do. We haven't had to change our thoughts, like, ‘Oh, my God, we're playing the Eagles. We have to do this, this, this and this, and our guys haven't practiced that.' But we do have to activate a lot of things that we've been working on for a long time. They do present some challenges, and multiple ones at that."

We will outline the specifics in a future cover story of the magazine, but beating the blitz starts with center Scott Wells. It's a team effort, with Rodgers and running back Brandon Jackson pitching in, but it's mostly up to Wells to set the protection by trying to figure out who's blitzing and who's bluffing. More often than not, he's been right, which is why he's been such a valued starter.

"The way we practice against our defense, we see a lot of crazy blitzes anyway," Wells said. "You have to think on your toes all the time when you're going against our defense. But really trying to get a bead on (the Eagles), watching film, trying to scout them out figure out what their tendencies are from previous years, but you know going into the first game that a good amount of it is going to be unscouted. It's going to be a lot of things they didn't do in preseason they're saving for the regular season. A lot of it's going to be relying on your experience, of the guys around you and myself to make the right calls."

From there, it's up to the players to execute. The studious Jackson has become a bulldog in picking up blitzes. The equally stuidious Rodgers has developed such chemistry with his receivers that just a split-second of eye contact between Rodgers and a receiver before the snap will take the receiver into the void left by a blitzing defender. Donald Driver, who generally lines up in the slot and is in the best position to take advantage of a blitz, is especially good in those situations because he's seen every blitz imaginable. The development of tight end Jermichael Finley and his ability to exploit the middle of the field is just another weapon.

While McDermott called a mostly vanilla preseason, according to Rodgers, the Packers have no doubts that he'll be attacking on Sunday. Johnson's pressure packages called for a lot of overloads, with the defense sending more pass rushers in an area than the offense has blockers to pick them up. McDermott has carried on the tradition.

"Blitz, and blitz again," he said was Johnson's advice.

And that's just what Philbin saw when reviewing last year's Eagles defense, which had 15 players record a sack. With an entire offseason to find ways to attack, McDermott no doubt will have some tricks up his sleeve.

"They've got a great blitz package. It's very comprehensive," Philbin said. "They come from just about every which way you can imagine with a lot of different combinations, both in personnel and overload to the field, overload into the boundary, overload up the middle. They've got it all, which challenges you. You've got to spend practice time on it. There's got to be great communication between the o-line, the running back, the quarterback, the receivers — everybody."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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