Rodgers Thrives While Keeping Plays Alive

Few quarterbacks are as good when a play is breaking down as the well-schooled Aaron Rodgers. That will be huge against Pittsburgh's top-ranked pass rush. We get inside the organized chaos with Rodgers and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements.

Aaron Rodgers was dead, so to speak.

Off the edge charged an unblocked blitzer coming hellbent on introducing Rodgers to the Georgia Dome turf in the divisional round. But at the last possible second – or, much more accurately, at the last possible split-second – Rodgers pivoted out of harm's way, scrambled to his right and hit a receiver downfield.

It's called extending a play, and few quarterbacks do it as well as Rodgers and his Super Bowl counterpart, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. And that asset will be put on display next Sunday against the best pass rushes in the game. Pittsburgh led the NFL in sacks with 48, with Green Bay a notch behind with 47. While the big, powerful Roethlisberger will try to shrug off the charges of Clay Matthews and Cullen Jenkins, Rodgers will be trying to avoid stud outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

"He's one of the quarterbacks I really have a lot of appreciation for because we play a similar style," Rodgers said of Roethlisberger this week. "He's able to get out of sacks, make plays when he's got guys hanging all over him. So, I have a lot of appreciation for the way he plays. Personally, my game is I go through my progressions. If nothing is there and I feel like I've got a space in the pocket, I'm going to try to extend the play."

For Rodgers, it all starts with instincts and peripheral vision that allow him to avoid getting hit. From there, it falls back on the drills that go on behind the scenes during the team's quarterback school in the spring and throughout the offseason practices. It's one thing to dodge a blitzer. It's quite another to have the savvy to find a receiver and the accuracy to hit him.

"We drill it and we emphasize it in practice, even in seven-on-seven when we don't have a rush," quarterbacks coach Tom Clements told Packer Report on Saturday. "If the play breaks down, we don't just stand there and throw it away. We move out of the pocket and scramble and get some work throwing on the run, get some work with the receivers working to get open. And then, in the course of a game, it's a feel thing. That's an added dimension that's very beneficial to an offense."


Rodgers on the run.
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images
Once outside the pocket, it's organized chaos. There are no set plays once Rodgers – or any quarterback -- is on the move. Speaking generically, if the quarterback is scrambling to the right, the receivers on the right go deep and the receivers on the left follow the quarterback to the right; receivers who have run shallow routes go deep and receivers who have gone deep come back to the quarterback.

That's not always the case, though. In the Atlanta game, Rodgers was scrambling to his right and Donald Driver was following Rodgers. Suddenly, Driver headed back to the left and Rodgers found him for a first down.

"Just looking for flashes, see a guy flash in my peripheral," Rodgers said. "And I think it's always been more advantageous to be a pass-first guy outside the pocket and be able to keep your eyes down the field. I've done a pretty good job at that in my three years playing."

It helps that Rodgers has built a rapport with his receivers. Greg Jennings, Driver, Jordy Nelson and James Jones have served as Rodgers' top receivers in all three of his seasons as the starter. That Rodgers and those receivers are regulars in the Packers' offseason program have helped build chemistry, as well.

"Get open," Jennings said matter-of-factly. "You've got a quarterback fighting for extended life. Obviously, he has extended a play to make a play and it's our opportunity to obviously get open, get separation from our defenders."

With that synergy with his receivers, athleticism and skill throwing on the run – not to mention his ability take off for a 15-yard run putting extra pressure on a defense -- getting out of the pocket allows Rodgers to turn nothing into something.

"It's big in the sense that you avoid the sack, No. 1, and then also you can get a big play," Clements said. "We got big plays against Atlanta scrambling. I can remember plays where we've gotten 50, 60 yards off a scramble when things broke down. You have an opportunity to avoid a lost-yardage play, which is good – you try to minimize those – and then you have the ability to get a positive play and maybe even an explosive gain."


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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.


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