Making Sense of Too Many Sacks

Mike McCarthy says Aaron Rodgers needs to play with a faster clock. Rodgers says he is going to stick to his style. On what side does offensive coordinator Joe Philbin sit? He talked to Packer Report this week.

A few days after coach Mike McCarthy said some of the blame for the league-high 20 sacks allowed by his offense "falls on the quarterback" and one day after the quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, said he's going to stick to his style, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin attempted to find a middle ground.

"Part of their job is making plays and getting points on the board," Philbin said on Thursday. "I think sometimes, when a play breaks down, we've all seen Aaron do some excellent things outside the pocket. I think he's got seven first downs running the ball. He's also thrown the ball very well on the move. I think he has some confidence in his ability to keep a play alive. At times, he doesn't have eyes in the back of his head, so he can't always be certain where the rush is, where it's coming from. I think it's a combination of things. I think his point, I'm sure, is he wants to feel like he can make a play. Unless something breaks down immediately in front of him, he might be able to keep the play alive and possibly not knowing somebody from his back side is coming that he can't see."

McCarthy's game plan was obvious on the opening drive at Minnesota, when Rodgers and the offense moved the ball down the field with mostly quick-hitting passes. Nonetheless, McCarthy's desire to "play fast" — a wish heightened by being without left tackle Chad Clifton and playing in the raucous Metrodome — fell apart with Rodgers taking eight sacks.

But while McCarthy wanted Rodgers' internal clock put on warp drive, Rodgers wanted to keep his under control. He recalled last year's game at Minnesota, when he said he gave up on some plays too soon. He refused to be intimidated by the Vikings' hellacious pressure, for better or worse.

"I was going with the opposite perspective," he said. "I'm going to be under pressure all night, but the last thing I want to do is speed up the way I'm playing and speed up my progressions. I need to continue playing at the same speed, and to trust the line, stay in the pocket. ... I was telling myself all week, be patient, play fast but play under control. They got to me a few times, that's what happened."

While Philbin agreed that Rodgers needs to accept that a play is dead and throw the ball away on occasion, he said that "probably" five or less of the 20 sacks are Rodgers' fault.

Philbin pointed to the Packers' first drive of the second half at Minnesota. Trailing 28-14, Rodgers overcame two sacks and drove the Packers 81 yards before the drive stalled with a dropped pass in the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

"He wasn't just sitting back there like we draw it up on a dropback," Philbin said. "He steps up, he scrambles out, bang. Steps up, scrambles out, runs. I think he had three plays on his own with his feet that he made. Those are big plays. Those are plays that really help an offense. We're not blaming him. We kind of understand the situation he's been in. He hasn't been reckless with the ball."

Of the eight sacks against the Vikings, five came in the second half with the Packers behind by two scores. One of the sacks in which Rodgers clearly held the ball too long was in the fourth quarter, on third-and-10 from his 1-yard line. Rodgers took a sack for a safety, making it 30-14. But at that point in the game, what good would it have done to punt from the end zone with 7:21 remaining in the game?

"I think that's valid," Philbin said. "You don't want to have a giveaway, you don't want to give the ball to the opposition, you don't want to be reckless with the football. But you're in the heat of a game, you want to make a play and you've made some pretty good plays scrambling around ..."

Good plays, indeed. When he's broken containment, he's averaged 9.5 yards on his 11 carries around left or right end. Touchdown passes to Jermichael Finley and Jordy Nelson against Minnesota came when he sensed pressure and bought a split-second of time to make the throw.

At some point in his career, when Rodgers' sixth sense is better developed, maybe he'll get better at walking that fine line between keeping a play alive and making a big play, or keeping a play alive long enough to get sacked anyway. For now, though, Rodgers defiantly is going to play his way.

"I did hold the ball probably a couple times too long," he said. "But I'm playing quarterback the way that I know how to play quarterback instinctually, trusting my feet, trusting my time clock and that's going to happen at some point. I'm going to hold the ball too long, maybe feeling like I'm not under pressure, not seeing the pressure. But I'm not going to change."


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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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