Blitz or No Blitz, Rodgers Wins

Whether Patriots coach Bill Belichick sent three or, on the rarest of occasions, five rushers at Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay's quarterback carved up New England's defense on Sunday. (Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY)

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is lethal against the blitz.

So, Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn’t bother to blitz Rodgers during Sunday’s showdown at Lambeau Field.

The Patriots blitzed Rodgers on just four of his 41 dropbacks; never with more than five rushers. More often, Belichick went to the other extreme by sending only three rushers at Rodgers.

Blitzing Rodgers doesn’t work; he entered the game with a league-best 132.0 passer rating against the blitz. And, as it turns out, not blitzing Rodgers doesn’t work, either. He carved up the Patriots for 368 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 112.6 rating in Green Bay’s 26-21 victory.

“Our defense was rushing to sack Brady. Their defense was rushing to keep me in the pocket and to extend the time clock,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on ESPN Milwaukee on Tuesday. “They just didn’t want me to run. That was their entire thing.

During the first half, Rodgers threw 23 passes and was sacked once. Of those 24 dropbacks, Rodgers was blitzed only one time. And Rodgers killed it. Against a five-man rush on his final pass of the first half, Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson on a slant, with Nelson doing the legwork on a critical 45-yard touchdown.

“That’s pretty much what they had done going into the game,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said on Monday. “They mixed up who they would rush, and they had done that. They’d rush a backer and then drop off an end in coverage and it would end up a four-man rush but it was a different type of four-man rush. They had done that and we saw it on film.”

Green Bay’s final scoring drive of the game was sparked by a third-and-6 completion to Andrew Quarless in which Rodgers faced only two rushers. On the final, pivotal third-down conversion to end the game, the Patriots sent four at Rodgers, with one of those rushers eventually dropping into coverage. With a three-man rush and eight in coverage, Rodgers had all day to throw the ball but nowhere to throw it. Finally, he threaded the ball to Randall Cobb against double coverage for the clinching first down.

Including that play, the Patriots sent only three rushers at Rodgers a whopping 15 times.

“Ah, shoot, it’s been awhile,” since the Packers had seen so much three-man rush, coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “I’ll say this, it was a very disciplined rush plan. They, for the most part, kept Aaron in the pocket and our offensive line was exceptional in increasing the time clock and Aaron was able to get the job done from the pocket most of the time.”

On most of the three-man rushes, a fourth defender hovered near the line of scrimmage as a spy to keep Rodgers from running. However, when Belichick zigged, Rodgers zagged. He still had two scrambles for 26 yards and broke contain a few times to make plays downfield.

Belichick’s plan was sound: Drop seven (or eight) into coverage to smother Nelson and Cobb, then see if the others could make enough plays to win the game. It didn’t work, however, as Rodgers got outstanding pass protection and used his movement ability in the pocket to extend plays and buy his receivers time to win the numbers game in the secondary.

“When you’re playing a defense that only blitzed a handful of times and then is rushing kind of to the depth I was at and then turning back inside trying to keep me in the pocket and not escaping, you have to hold onto the ball longer,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, there were a couple of times when it was a long, long time.”

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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