Talking QBs With Rich Gannon

Rich Gannon, the CBS analyst and 17-year NFL veteran, talks to Packer Report publisher Bill Huber about Aaron Rodgers, a quarterback's time clock and walking the fine line between taking a sack and making a play.

There isn't a national football analyst who's better equipped to critique Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers than CBS's Rich Gannon.

Gannon, who led the Oakland Raiders to an AFC championship while winning NFL MVP honors in 2002, played 17 seasons in the NFL. Like Rodgers, Gannon was blessed with superb athleticism. And like Rodgers, Gannon was on the receiving end of a bunch of sacks during his career — including 49, fourth-most in the NFL, in 1999.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was Gannon's quarterbacks coach in Kansas City from 1995 through 1998, Gannon has been the analyst for Packers preseason games for the last four seasons and he was part of CBS's broadcast team during the Packers' Week 2 loss to Cincinnati.

Gannon talked to Packer Report publisher Bill Huber on Friday about the topic du jour: the play of Rodgers and his penchant for taking sacks.

There's a lot of people talking about Aaron Rodgers and sacks and his time clock. What are you seeing?

I was talking to Mike (McCarthy) the other day, and a number of things go into evaluating it. Mike was talking about, obviously the starting point, is making sure everybody's on the same page in terms of how we're going to block, not only the protection but of the specific look or specific defense. I think that's certainly where it starts. Then you get into the technique of the protection. Are the guys working in unison together or is a guy trying to do his own thing? And the other thing is, is a guy physically getting beat? It's not a question of not knowing who to block. He blocks the right guy but loses the one-on-one matchup. And finally, which I think a lot of people are focusing on, is the time-clock issue, in terms of the quarterback and Aaron, specifically.

I think a number of things happened. First of all, people need to take into consideration, this guy hasn't been a five-year starter, played 10 years in the league. He's still very young in terms of starts. I think the other thing is, you go back to the start of the season, and specifically, say, the Cincinnati game, where he got sacked eight times or something like that. It's not like you drop back thinking about getting sacked, but when you can't set your feet, when you can't follow through, when you don't trust the protection, that makes things difficult.

Based on what I've seen, I think this guy's playing unbelievable. I really do. I think the protection has been a problem, there's been injuries, there's been some shuffling of the line. Any time you bring in — like, for example, with Chad Clifton's injury, you bring in a new center, you shift the linemen across the board, you've got a young starter at right tackle in Allen Barbre. I just think that's not easy for any quarterback. This guy's played really well. He's only thrown two interceptions all season and he's made a number of plays with his legs. His ability to extend plays, his ability to slide in the pocket, he makes a great run in that Minnesota game last week. I just think the guy's playing really, really well, despite the fact that they have some issues up front. Clearly, the performance and the production of the offensive line is not where it needs to be.

As someone who made a lot of plays on the move, how do you know when it's OK to try to make a play and when you should chuck it in the seats? Aaron's made a lot of plays by extending the play, and he's also taken a lot of punishment.

Aaron Rodgers endured a long evening against Minnesota.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
That comes from experience. You do have a time clock, you understand the protection, you understand where you're vulnerable, you understand what a defense is doing. You also understand your personnel. If your left tackle is banged up and you've got another guy in there and he's going up against a Dwight Freeney or somebody like that, you don't have time to take the extra hitch. You've got to step up. I think it's an instinctive thing some guys are able to deal with, some guys learn, some guys never learn. The thing that's been impressive with him — I can't stress this enough — is that while the protection has not been adequate enough, the fact that he's fumbled the ball just one time and he's thrown two interceptions, to me, I think is a statement to the way he's playing. His overall sense of pocket awareness, I mean, you don't get sacked that many times and not put the ball on the ground. I just think he's done a good job with that and I think he'll get better. I think if the offensive line, they get that thing settled down, they'll be able to run the ball.

I think this guy's got a chance to be a really special player. He makes all the throws, he's tough, he's smart, he can move around. Not only that, but I don't know if people are giving him enough credit for the fact that it's not easy to fill the shoes of the guy in front of him. You have to go back to a guy like Steve Young maybe that was able to do it. I can name a ton more that haven't been able to do it, like trying to replace Marino and Elway and Kelly. It's not easy.

How long did it take you to figure out the time clock, of when it was OK to scramble and when it was time to throw it away?

It takes time. You learn by experience. Sacks, fumbles, holding the ball too long, being late on a throw or not trusting your footwork and throwing an interception, I think there's a number of things a quarterback has to learn. To answer your question, I can't say 13 games or three years. It's different for everybody. This guy, he's been a product of really, really good coaching. There's not a guy who does any better job (than McCarthy). They do a great job during the offseason, with quarterback school, the OTAs. They spend a lot of time developing that position, and it shows when you watch him play on Sunday.

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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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