Aaron Rodgers might have magical powers.
After taking advantage of “free plays” that played a big role in outcome of the last two games, the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback looks unbeatable at just about every mental and physical level early in this 2015 season.
“He’s playing great football,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy following his team’s 38-28 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field. “Aaron’s a phenomenal player, playing great football. I don’t know how else to keep saying it. The free play is unique. Really, his ability to do that, the way it’s practiced, it’s become really a part of our offense. You see the offensive line extending the play with the pass protection and him keeping it alive. He always finds the big play with the receiver.”
Last Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks, Rodgers twice drew defenders offside and took advantage of the “free” opportunity for two big plays (one was a 52-yard pass interference call on Richard Sherman). He also on one play called for a quick snap as an extra Seahawks defender was running to the sideline, resulting in a penalty and a first down to keep a scoring drive alive.
On Monday night, a similar script played out against the Chiefs. Rodgers again used a quick snap, on a third-and-1 during a first-quarter scoring drive, to draw a 12-men-on-the-field penalty (Jaye Howard). And later, he hit James Jones for a 27-yard touchdown and a 52-yard gain on plays in which he drew Chiefs defenders offside (Tamba Hail, Dee Ford).
Will opposing defenses ever learn?
“Well, I know they practice it,” said Rodgers. “I know last week that Seattle was thinking about it, I know Kansas City was thinking about it in practice. But it’s something that we use. (We) don’t expect them to jump offsides, but I think that when you can long count and mix in the quick counts, you can slow down the pass rush a little bit, and that’s what we’re trying to do. But if they jump offsides, we have a chance to make some plays. We make the proper adjustments.”
The Chiefs (1-2) sent plenty of five- and six-man pressures at Rodgers during the game while playing man coverage in the secondary. That proved to be a costly decision. Already without top cornerback Sean Smith (serving the last game of a three-game suspension) and having lost starter Phillip Gaines to a knee injury in the first quarter, Rodgers went for the kill.
On the last of his five touchdown passes for the game (the fourth time he has done that in his career, a franchise record), Rodgers used a stabbing motion to his jugular to make a pre-snap adjustment. Randall Cobb, in the slot on the right with Jeff Janis split wide, got the message. From the 4-yard line, Cobb ran a quick out and Janis got just enough of a block on cornerback Marcus Peters for Cobb to get into the end zone after the completion.
The Packers converted four touchdowns in four tries in the red zone, with Cobb scoring a career-high three touchdowns on plays of 3, 4 and 4 yards. Even though the Packers appeared to use a variation of the same play for all three touchdowns, the Chiefs had no answer.
“I think it’s like a lot of things in football. You know, it’s not just the play, it’s when you run it, and when Aaron’s ability to get to that particular play or that concept or that adjustment at the right time is one of the biggest strengths of our offense,” said McCarthy. “If you watch the way we operate, he uses the whole (play) clock, gathers as much information as he can and just puts us in excellent plays and Randall was definitely the benefactor of that. With that, Randall also ran excellent routes and did a great job of bulldozing into the end zone on the one.”
Said Rodgers of why the offense had repeated success with the same route concept: “They weren’t guarding it very well. It wasn’t the exact same play, but when they’re going to be off on No. 3 and he’s inside, that’s an opportunity we have to run that play. We set it up with some other things throughout the game and if it’s not broke then keep using it.”
Cobb (seven catches, 91 yards) also had a 17-yard touchdown called back in the second quarter when Ty Montgomery was called for an offensive pass interference penalty blocking a little too soon before the pass was thrown.
While Jones took advantage of the free plays for a big night (seven catches, team-high 139 yards), Cobb exploited Chiefs defensive backs that could not cover him in tight spaces. “Just being able to use my quickness and break away from guys, depending on the coverage and (Rodgers) being able to check to plays that we see the void of the defenses.”
Besides his magic tricks, Rodgers put up his familiar numbers, too. Even with one of his top receivers, Davante Adams, sidelined after the first series with a recurring ankle injury, Rodgers threw for 333 yards and recorded a 138.5 passer rating. Nine different receivers were targeted with seven making at least one catch.
“His ability to really process information is as good as I’ve ever been around,” said McCarthy. “I’ve been blessed to be around great quarterbacks. His ability to see not only what’s going on their sideline, watching their communication, their nonverbal communication, their verbal communication, picking up tendencies throughout the game, able to apply it to future plays and future situations is very unique. I think it speaks volumes to him in his preparation, knowledge, experience and, like I said, he’s playing at a great level.”