Make a Play Or Throw It Away

As the sack total continues to climb at a ridiculous rate, how much blame should fall on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers? Last week's loss to Minnesota illustrates the double-edged sword Rodgers straddles while playing his way.

What makes Aaron Rodgers such a good quarterback is what's made him so sore after five of the Green Bay Packers' seven games this season.

While Rodgers is to blame for probably one-third of the 31 sacks he's absorbed this season, his penchant for holding onto the ball and dancing out of the pocket has led to a bunch of big plays this season.

So, other than getting a package of ESP as an early birthday present — he turns 26 on Dec. 2 — how does Rodgers find that happy medium between keeping a play alive to making a big completion and unloading the ball to avoid a sack?

"I think some of it's experience, some of it's learning from prior situations that you've been in and using judgment as best you can," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "It's never an exact science. I'm not sitting here saying he's never, ever going to take another sack. He's not the first quarterback that's ever taken sacks that maybe he shouldn't have. So, I think it's all a part of that maturity and development."

Rodgers was sacked six times last week against Minnesota and 14 times in the two games — a figure that stood in stark contrast to the zero times Brett Favre was sacked in the season series.

But the risk-reward factor was on full display against the Vikings. On both of Rodgers' touchdown passes to Spencer Havner, he bounced out of the pocket to buy time to make the throw. He also dodged a couple of rushers on his 35-yard run in the fourth quarter, which set up a touchdown pass to Greg Jennings.

"Aaron's made a bunch plays moving outside the pocket, keeping plays alive, and he throws the ball extremely the well on the move, as we all know," Philbin said. "Sometimes, there is that temptation to do that, you've had success doing it. Sometimes, the ones outside the pocket, because he's trying to make a play, if he doesn't feel like it's going to happen, try to get it away. He's trying to buy as much time as possible to make a play, which you can totally understand. At some point, you've got to use a little bit better discretion."

Using "discretion" however comes at the cost of eliminating at least some what Rodgers does best. That's something Philbin and the coaches understand.

"I don't think we want to do that," Philbin said of taking away Rodgers' ability to prolong a play. "That makes us as an offense harder to defend when you've got a quarterback that can do some of the things that he can do. You've seen him do some great things running the ball, you've seen him do some excellent things stepping up and out and throwing on the move. I don't think any of us — Tom Clements, Mike McCarthy, myself — are sitting around saying, ‘Hey, you can't do that.' There's certain situations, certain times in the game, it's all part of that development process, maybe you'd be better off just throwing it up into Section 127."

Aaron Rodgers used his feet to his feet to hit Spencer Havner for a touchdown.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
A look at the six sacks against Minnesota shows three of them came on third down, when it wouldn't have done a lot of good to throw the ball away. The first of those was a play-action bootleg in which Donald Lee was covered by Chad Greenway, Donald Driver was victimized by illegal contact 8 yards downfield that the referees didn't see and Ray Edwards didn't buy the run fake and got the sack. The last of those third-down sacks, on third-and-goal in the third quarter, Rodgers could be blamed for not moving up far enough in the pocket to get away from Jared Allen.

On the three others, he had no chance. Jared Allen whipped T.J. Lang for one, Pat Williams treated Ryan Grant's half-hearted blocking attempt like a semi treats a mosquito on the second and there was a breakdown in communication on Allen's critical fourth-quarter sack.

"The two sacks I took early were both third down," Rodgers said on Wednesday. "The first one, I almost did something really dumb and throw across my body to James (Jones). And after I pumped to him, I just kind of went down — I was about to take a big shot. You know, in hindsight, yeah, you probably want to throw that away. You get a field goal out of it. The other one was a third-and-1 (the one to Lee on the first play of the second quarter), they really didn't go for the fake, they stayed home on the front side. Both of those, that gives them a little momentum I think, when they get a sack, but I don't think it really hurt us too much in the overall scheme of things. It just looks bad in the stats column."

The one saving grace is that Rodgers has played it safe, even when his safety has been in peril. Rodgers has throw two interceptions in 225 attempts, good for an interception percentage of 0.88. Only Denver's Kyle Orton (one interception, 231 attempts, 0.43 percent) and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb (one interception, 133 attempts, 0.75 percent) have been better.

Maybe Rodgers is playing too conservatively, but sacks are a lot better than turnovers.

"We played seven games, we have five giveaways," Philbin said. "Never been close to being that efficient taking care of the football. In no way do we want to see us start being reckless of the ball. Our game plans are aggressive enough. He's got confidence that he can make a bunch of throws. At no point in time do we want to be careless with the ball."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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