Blitz Chicken: Rodgers vs. Cardinals Defense

There might not be a better quarterback against the blitz in the NFL than the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, who was historically great last season and excellent this year, as well. Surprisingly, Rodgers has seen a lot of blitzes this year — and probably will on Sunday against Arizona.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers destroys the blitz.

The Packers on Sunday host the Arizona Cardinals, who will blitz when coming off the bus.

This isn't the first time the Packers have faced a blitz-happy defense. In football's version of a game of chicken, it's usually the defense that submits to Rodgers' excellence. Time after time in seasons past, former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin would shake his head in amazement when considering the exotic packages a team would show on film and the vanilla schemes they'd throw at the Packers.

That hasn't always been the case this season, however, and it probably won't be the case on Sunday.

"No, we haven't seen a lot," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said on Thursday. "Houston, they rushed five guys a lot. That's more of a traditional blitz. We've gone into games where we've seen teams on film do a lot of different things and have some different schemes but, for whatever reason, that hasn't been used against us. So, we haven't seen as much as other teams might have."

It's little wonder. Since the start of the 2009 season, Rodgers has amassed a passer rating of 116.2 against the blitz, according to STATS. Tom Brady is a distant second at 105.4. Rodgers also leads the way in completion percentage (68.2), yards per attempt (9.59) and big plays (57 completions of 25-plus yards).

Last season, Rodgers' rating against the blitz was a stunning 131.1. Only Peyton Manning (136.8 in 2004) posted a better figure since STATS began tracking that statistic in 1993. This year, Rodgers' 121.6 rating trails only Robert Griffin III (133.1) and Alex Smith (123.4).

Nonetheless, defenses are going after Rodgers this year. In eight games, he's thrown 88 passes while blitzed — putting him on pace for 176. All of last season, Rodgers attempted 125 passes while blitzed.

Packer Report examined the top 20 quarterbacks in the league according to overall passer rating (minimum of five starts). Of those, Rodgers has thrown the seventh-most passes per game while blitzed.


CLICK HERE for a list of quarterbacks' numbers against the blitz.


Why?

— The Packers' running game has been inept and defenses have no fear of a draw play popping through the initial charge and resulting in a big gain. A strong running game is why Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick (7.9 blitz attempts per game), San Francisco's Smith (9.0), Minnesota's Christian Ponder (9.1), Baltimore's Joe Flacco (9.6), Atlanta's Matt Ryan (9.6) and Houston's Matt Schaub (9.7) are among the eight quarterbacks who throw the fewest passes while blitzed. No. 1 on the list is Washington's Griffin III (5.1), who has a dangerous running game and is an electric scrambler.

— There have been long periods in which the Packers' receivers have failed to get open. If the Packers again are without Jordy Nelson in addition to Greg Jennings, the Cardinals no doubt would feel emboldened.

— Playing conservative hasn't worked, so why not go down swinging?

Any success from defenses against Rodgers has been relative. He's averaging 7.6 yards per attempt while blitzed — good for just 14th on our list of 20 quarterbacks and down considerably from last year's 12.0 per attempt. However, his 11 touchdowns are a whopping four more than second-place Brady. Rodgers has made 42 first-down throws. Only Drew Brees has more, but his 44 first downs have come on 23 more attempts.

"He's a great decision-maker," Clements said of Rodgers. "He gets the ball out of his hand quickly, so a lot of times, the ball's out of his hand before the blitz can get there. A team has to decide what they want to do but, based on what we've seen on film, (the Cardinals) like to blitz in regular down-and-distance and third down.

"Their style is to blitz and that's what we're preparing for and we expect it."


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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.

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