Protection Paradox

Protect the franchise. That's been the mantra for the Packers this offseason with Aaron Rodgers' contract extension and changes along the offensive line. But how much pass protection is too much? Check out these numbers for an explanation.

Conventional wisdom might lead one to believe that the more time a quarterback has in the pocket, the greater the chance for success in the passing game.

For Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best in the game, that wisdom fails to apply.

The NFL's most-sacked quarterback last season (and in 2009) has found a way to be efficient and productive and post wins without getting premium protection in the pocket.

So, while the Packers' wholesale position swaps along the offensive line and Rodgers' getting put to the turf at unacceptable rates were topics being discussed at this week's organized team activities, having extra time to throw might not present a better situation for Rodgers or the Packers for that matter.

An ESPN graphic on Friday showed that Rodgers has had noticeably lower completion rates the longer he holds onto the ball. When unloading within 2.0 seconds, the graphic indicated, his completion rate was 79 percent. From 2.0 to 3.0 seconds, it was 64.8 percent. And with longer than 3.0 seconds, it dipped to 57.1 percent.

The website Pro Football Focus (PFF) splits hairs even further but comes up with similar findings. According to its measures, when Rodgers unloaded in 2.5 seconds and less in 2012, he had a 74.2 percent completion rate. At 2.6 seconds and more, it dipped to 58.9 percent. His dropback totals in both cases were nearly equal.

Rodgers' passer rating was, expectedly, 12.1 points higher under the 2.5 seconds and less measure. In 2011, his MVP season, the differential was even bigger at 20.8.

The number that many focus on, however, as ESPN did in a story on Friday, is sack totals. Rodgers was sacked 51 times during the regular season in 2012 after being taken down 36 times (in 15 games) in 2011 and just 31 (in 15 games) in 2010.

"I think we still had a pretty good offense last year," said Rodgers. "We did have some sacks, but we need to clean things up. Everybody takes their role and I take my part in that. It's the (offensive) line at times, it's myself, it's sometimes schematic stuff. We got through the offseason program and we watch the film, review it, and talk about things and try to clean some things up, but we're not pointing the fingers at one position group in general. It's an offensive issue and we got to clean it up."

Reducing sack totals seemed to be an annual focus for former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin during his time in Green Bay (2007-2011) and is on the agenda this offseason for current offensive coordinator Tom Clements.

"We gave up too many sacks, and we talked about it yesterday, that's not just the (offensive) line," said Clements on Tuesday. "That's everybody. Everyone has a responsibility for that – the backs, the quarterback and the receivers. We're going to try to eliminate the ones that are truly the bad sacks. Because we have Aaron, who's a very good scrambler, we've always said it's a fine line between ‘Should I throw it away or should I try to scramble?' Sometimes a scramble gets you a big play. Sometimes a scramble gets you a sack. So we're never going to give that up. We just want to avoid the big hits and avoid the sacks that are very avoidable. If we can do that, we think it'll help us."

Rodgers' numbers against the blitz, which requires him to unload the ball quickly, is where he shines the most. In fact, since 2009, he is the league's best against the blitz by a wide margin in several categories, including yards per attempt (9.6), touchdown percentage (7.8 percent) and passer rating (115.3).

Interestingly enough, the rest of the league's quarterbacks fall in line with Rodgers when it comes to the 2.5-second split analyzed by PFF. All 27 quarterbacks who played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps in 2012 (including the postseason) had a higher completion percentage at 2.5 seconds and less. All but four quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden) had better passer ratings.

Only Drew Brees had a better passer rating and Philip Rivers a better completion percentage than Rodgers when unloading the ball in 2.5 seconds and less. Rodgers fell to a still-respectable third in passer rating and seventh in completion percentage at 2.6 and more seconds.

The point here is clear. Conventional wisdom aside, less is more.


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com

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