Best vs. Best: Rodgers Against Jets' Blitzes

It will be the ultimate cat-and-mouse game. No team blitzes more often — or more effectively — than the Jets. No team beats the blitz more often — and with more big plays — than Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Learn more in this Packer Report exclusive.

With Aaron Rodgers behind center, the Green Bay Packers have destroyed blitzes over the last season-and-a-half.

That's fine, said Rex Ryan, the coach of the blitz-happy New York Jets.

"We'll see how effective he is against us and the way we blitz," Ryan told Packer Report during a conference call on Wednesday. "I think sometimes we give the illusion of blitz and it's actually coverage and all that kind of stuff. It's not as simple, I think, as maybe it is against other people. I think we're a tougher team to dial up against. You may think you see something but it's not actually there. It will be a great chess match. I certainly have a great deal of respect for Aaron Rodgers."

Last season, Rodgers boasted the NFL's best passer rating against blitzes, 112.7, on 125-of-180 passing (69.4 percent) for 1,699 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions, according to STATS. He was sacked 18 times, emblematic of the team-wide problems in pass protection. This year, Rodgers' rating is an impressive 106.3, on 50-of-72 passing (69.4 percent) for 720 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. He's been sacked just three times. Extrapolate those stats over 16 games, and Rodgers would throw for 1,646 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions while being sacked seven times.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, opposing quarterbacks had a league-worst 54.0 passer rating against the Jets' blitzes last year, with two touchdowns and nine interceptions. This season, opposing offenses have been more productive against the blitz but still have a 76.8 rating with seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

Under Ryan, the Jets have a reputation of blitzing more than any team in the league and running more of what coaches call "exotic" blitzes — the type of unordinary looks that teams don't face most weeks.

"We were in there for a while as a staff on Tuesday looking at it all," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin told Packer Report on Thursday. "They do a very good job. They're very multiple. They bring guys from a lot of different spots. They have it all. They'll empty blitz, bring eight. Sometimes they bring four but from four unique positions on the field that challenge your protection. We're going to have our eyes open and we'll have to do a great job communicating this week."

Ryan's defensive philosophy is in his genes. His dad, Buddy, was the architect of the great Eagles and Bears defenses from a quarter-century ago. Today's defenses in the NFL run the gamut from aggressive to conservative. Ryan's defense in New York is on the extreme end of things.

"Well, I think that way you can die a slow death," Ryan said when asked why he doesn't prefer a more conservative approach. "I'd just as soon get out there and try to force the issue. I think that's the main thing that we do on defense. We feel strong about the guys that we have in the back end covering people. You guys are going to see the guy I'm talking about with Darrelle Revis. I think that's part of the reason we play the type of scheme that we do, that we're able to put him on an island over there regardless of who he's going against, and I think that's one of the reasons we're as aggressive as we are."

Under Packers coach Mike McCarthy, the assistant coaches each have their own slice of the game plan. Running backs coach Edgar Bennett gets the credit for the Packers' success against blitzing defenses, Philbin said.


The Cover Story for the upcoming Packer Report Magazine is all about beating the blitz and the last-second adjustments that are made before the ball is snapped. For information on subscribing, click here.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
"We spend a lot of time on it," Philbin said. "From the day these guys show up in April and we start doing our little thing, we spend an awful lot of time on it. It's the foundation of any good passing game: You've got to have your quarterback upright if you want to execute anything. That's an area we're concerned about. Not that we're smarter than anybody else but we've got some adjustments that (help) handle overload blitzes or what have you. I think the quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) is a good communicator. We think our center (Scott Wells) is relatively smart. Those guys are really the keys that fuel the engine. Those guys, they're important parts, and our backs — EB (Bennett) does a great job with those guys. It's a unit effort. I think it starts with the ability to protect the quarterback and then, obviously, we all know they can bring more than you can protect with in certain schemes. Our receivers then do a good job of taking a look and helping the quarterback out when there's a free guy coming."

Several other factors have played a role. One big reason is that Rodgers sees an attacking defense all through the offseason and training camp. Wells is considered one of the smartest centers in the league and is the ringleader in figuring out who's coming from where when the offense gets to the line of scrimmage. Running backs Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn are superlative in stopping blitzers in their tracks. The offense has had remarkable stability in the line and receiver corps, so everyone tends to be on the same page, even in the heat of the moment against something they haven't seen on tape.

It's also helpful that Rodgers is hard to rattle.

"You hope the preparation (helps)," Philbin said. "You want a confident football team every Sunday. If you can't play with confidence, you can't play fast enough to be successful. That goes back to your preparation. A, you're confident in your ability to make an adjustment if it's necessary; B, that your teammates and you are on the same page. That's all a part of it. Hopefully, he feels like that he's well-prepared for the game and his teammates are well-prepared."

While Ryan made no bones about his intention to do what the Jets do best — attack — the Packers make no bones about embracing the matchup.

"I like it when they blitz and we can pick it up. That makes it a lot easier," Rodgers joked. "(With) 3-4 defenses, you're going to see different types of pressures. They can go four from the strong, four weak, four in the middle, but they bring different types of pressures and different types of coverages than you'd see on a normal basis. It's an unusual opponent. Why have we been good? I'd like to think that our offense structure – having a good quick option to throw it to — definitely helps a quarterback feel a lot more comfortable when you know they're bringing a pressure you can't pick up."

Rodgers' six touchdowns and four interceptions against the blitz this year speak to the risk-reward factor that's inherent.

"They're counting on their ability to cover and get to your quarterback and force you into a bad decision. We're counting on our ability to protect our quarterback and let them cover a lot of space," Philbin said. "The more they commit to getting after Aaron Rodgers, the more pressure they're putting on their guys in the back end and, as we say, the more green grass there is available for our receivers. It's a little bit of  a chess game. If you catch them in a run blitz or you pick up their blitz in protection, usually what happens is if your guys are doing the right things and are on the right people and you pick up a blitz, 80 percent of the time you're going to have a pretty big play. And, it's probably the same for those other guys. If they get a free runner, there's probably an 80 percent chance you're either going to get hit or have an incompletion or potentially worse."


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


Packer Report Top Stories