By Bob Sturm, Special contributor
In a Quarterback's league, the best 3 QBs this season in the NFL appear to be - in some order - Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Aaron Rodgers. The likelihood that one walks away with the MVP is pretty high, but regardless, no individual trophy can take the place of the conversation piece - you have a game you need to win, which would you least like to face?
Well, if you are Rod Marinelli, odds are pretty high that if you have designs on winning three more games to win the first Lombardi Trophy in Dallas in a generation, you will have to go through all three.
In other words, this sounds a bit like a defensive coordinator's nightmare.
They all bring different attributes to the table. No two Quarterbacks are alike, and I would argue that while scheme and timing makes Ryan and Brady extremely formidable players to deal with, the challenge of dealing with Aaron Rodgers has proven too much for the league in general recently.
Good defenses - in particular, the Vikings and the Giants - both had 38 put on them by Rodgers (Seattle, too) during this streak. They are trying their normal ideas against the 2-time MVP, and the normal ideas are maybe slowing him down a bit, but certainly not coming close stopping him.
Now, the Dallas Cowboys did stop him. On October 16th, with the whole football world watching, Rodgers had a very poor day. In fact, about as poor a day as he has had all season long. They used a fair amount of pass rush strategy - in an effort to corral him, keep him home in the pocket, and dropping eight in coverage to cover up his options.
He was shaking his head, exuding poor body language, and just looking like he would rather be somewhere else. Can Rod Marinelli do this again?
Let's review a few of the results from this game that produced 4 takeaways (1 interception, 3 fumbles), which is not only the season high for Green Bay, but it ties the highest number of any Rodgers start ever. The Packers had just 13 giveaways in the other 16 games this year - combined.
AARON RODGERS THROW CHART - WEEK 6
I want to focus on the 4 red dots - high and left. What happened on those where he generally has success. What were the Cowboys doing? Let's go back to October and look at those 4 misses.
A pretty simple route to his tight end, Richard Rodgers, right in front of him and behind the linebackers. He throws it behind his target, which is odd, because Rodgers doesn't throw passes this off very often, but if he does, it is too a speedster. Rodgers is very slow.
End zone view. The play is there. This is a key play that is early in the 2nd Quarter. It isn't covered. It is just a horrible throw. Catchable, maybe, but very poor.
This is 4th down. They want to get Randall Cobb into space out of the slot with Byron Jones. The play looks just like Green Bay wants it to look with Cobb having a step on the safety. But, for whatever reason, Rodgers misses this throw short that is pretty easy for him on most days.
3-man rush and JJ Wilcox is nowhere close to the scene. The Packers don't get guys wide open. Rodgers is able to throw them open and then find small targets. On this day, in perfect weather, he was missing these throws. Good news for the defense, but these are opportunities he normally takes.
They love the 5-wide, empty look. They also love being able to dictate man coverage and Randall Cobb wants to take Byron Jones deep out of the slot.
As you can see, this throw is there. It is missed. Jones is doing his best to stay with Randall Cobb, but on this occasion, the throw is missed again.
One more, this is the 1st play of the 4th Quarter. Green Bay is behind by a 20-6 margin, but perhaps they can pull back into the game with 7 points here. Instead, what is this?
Trips left, double post routes where the first will take the safety - it does, and the middle man will get a great look in the back of the end zone. But, that throw....
You can watch Rodgers for a long time and not see this. But, on this day, he airmailed yet another throw with very little reason to do so. Clean pocket, easy look. Maybe it was the throwback uniforms.
Here is what Rod Marinelli did with pass rushes that day. You can see, lots of 3-man rushes and 4-man to keep him in the pocket. Very few blitzes.
Ok, so that day happened.
But, what sort of Aaron Rodgers is the league seeing right now? Was that a slump? Did Green Bay change their season?
Well, there is no doubt having the big target down the middle in Jared Cook is big. Now, the Packers have a tight end you have to respect and that means Byron Jones likely moves over there. Now, you figure, Cobb is locked up with Orlando Scandrick - who did not play in the first matchup.
No Jordy Nelson is a really big deal, but honestly, if you have watched Green Bay's last 7 games, you see that it is a lot of Rodgers playing his best football of a decorated career - not him playing catch with Jordy Nelson because nobody can cover the WR.
Here are a few examples:
Talk about a small window to hit. Dropped in a bucket.
Vs Minnesota he decides to just run the ball after a blitzer comes free.
Vs Detroit for the division title - this is ridiculous:
And vs the Giants last week. At no point is Adams open here. This is throwing a guy open.
These plays are what he does. It has been said that many don't have a whole lot of regard for the offensive scheme up there, because so much of it operates on the 2nd phase of each play, which often seems very improvisational.
There are days it looks very poor. There are days he misses throws. There are days he doesn't look right.
But, the only days he has been stopped by an opponent, it is when he is under constant pressure (See the Denver game in 2015, the playoff losses to San Francisco, Seattle, and the Giants). But, in 2016, the Packers have given him pass protection that chases away pressure. So, now, he stays alive until something looks appealing to him. And then he makes a throw.
It is very reminiscent to the throw he made in that playoff game in 2014. The Cowboys tried to keep him contained and then bring him down. But, with a bad hamstring, in the 4th Quarter, he pulled this play off and gave the Packers the lead they would never lose back.
End zone view:
Small window. The pass rush almost got him. But, this is what this guy can do.
Here is his throw chart from the Giants game last week:
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Yesterday, we talked about how the offense and defense have wildly different jobs to do on Sunday. The offense and Scott Linehan have tasty matchups that they should be able to use all day and rack up points. They need to, because 17 points won't cut it. Plan on doing that each half.
Because the defense has now reached the portion of the season where bad QBs don't live.
This is Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Tom Brady. To take down one - or all three - of these guys, you are going to need to understand they will "get theirs". You are up against some very powerful offenses that do things very well.
To stop Aaron Rodgers, you hope to keep his options covered, keep him under duress, and then hope he is a hair off. When a guy throws 40 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, you realize he isn't off very often. You don't have to worry about a running game. You don't have to worry about a uncover able receiver. You simply have to worry about this guy doing that thing.
Keep fighting and try to get 2 stops per half. If that happens, you figure in a 10-possession game, you should have him in the 28-31 point range. And if that happens, you should assume your offense can get you to 35.
This feels like it could be the Pittsburgh game - or the Green Bay playoff game. Whoever has the ball last might like their chances. This is what you hope for. Take down the big boys in the playoffs because they have to come to your place.
Well, here he comes.