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Rodgers Is Aggressive Early & Cautious Late

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Rodgers Is Aggressive Early & Cautious Late

Through the first half of the 2011 season, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing the quarterback position about as well as it can be played.

One thing that I noticed while watching the Vikings game, both live and during subsequent viewings, is how amazingly accurate Rodgers was on some of his throws early on. I mean, absolutely stone-cold laser sharp.

What's interesting to note, however, is how Rodgers becomes almost gun shy late in the game playing with a lead.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Look at this throw to Jennings in the first quarter. It's hard to find a tighter window for a quarterback to fit a ball into - but Rodgers does it and makes it look almost effortless.

Here's a better look at the coverage Rodgers is throwing into:

Later on in the first half, Rodgers makes this throw to Jennings.

Here's a another look at just how close the margin for error is on this throw:

Now fast forward to the second half.

On a number of occasions, Rodgers goes back to pass and seemingly finds no one open, forcing him to either take a sack, escape the pocket or make a throw that isn't going to be caught in the direction of a receiver in order to escape a grounding call.

While for fans this can be frustrating to watch, Rodgers is just being smart with the football. Up by two scores in a hostile road environment, there's no need to press the issue, so Rodgers will take a sack rather than throw into the same tight windows he was throwing into earlier in the game.

When watching it live, I assumed the Vikings had made a dramatic switch in their defensive gameplan during the second half, but watching both the television broadcast and some of the coaches film, that really isn't the case. Rodgers just doesn't pull the trigger on the close stuff in the second half and the offense ends up stalling more as a result.

Rodgers was self-critical after the game, saying "There might have been a couple of times when I held on to the ball too long." In reality, he should be commended for playing such smart football. It's a rare thing when an athlete with all the ability in the world makes the decision of inaction over action. (Packers fans recently spent a good part of 16 years watching mostly the exact opposite) But Rodgers is a rare athlete and competitor, one who is using not only his brawn - but his brains.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (26) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

D.D. Driver's picture

Great observations.

brett favre's picture

I agree great observation...the SuperBowl was the only time he kept his foot on the pedal

NoWayJose's picture

Spot on. And something to consider when we as fans so often pin the "third quarter lull" entirely on McCarthy's play-calling tendencies.

McCarthy does like to shift a bit to the run with a lead (sensibly), but A-Rod is less likely to try to bail out the drive with a high degree of difficult throw as well.

Phillthy Phill's picture

Great quarterback.

dullgeek's picture

Late in the game, Rodgers took a sack on a 3rd and goal play where he had Jordy Nelson in the corner of the endzone and someone else at the line. And one defender in between them. When I saw it live, and again on the replay, I wondered why he couldn't take a shot to Jordy. It seemed like it was going to be only one of two possible outcomes: a TD or an incompletion.

I honestly don't know if there's some risk that my ignorant eye just doesn't see. But when he later answered that there was one or two that he held on too long, this was the one (and only) play that came to mind for me.

denniseckersly's picture

Ironically,

All three of his INTs have all come in the 4th quarter.

packeraaron's picture

Two of which hit open receivers in the hands... ;)

PackersRS's picture

James Jones' one was a little bit too high. Still, it's mind-boggling. And I still hear some assholes in the media say that Peyton Manning should get the MVP, or at least get consideration.

Honeslty, if there's one single vote for Manning, I'm done with the mainstream media. Only going to independent blogs, and will watch every game by stream, even if it shows in my TV.

packeraaron's picture

Still a catchable ball! (says the old quarterback...) ;)

SeeKeR's picture

Great observation. I definitely grew weary of the football leaving the screen and cringe as the camera caught up to the throws. Go Rodgers! Go Pack Go!

Christine Nelson's picture

Never thought of it that way. I too was wondering what going on with him during the second half. That's what separates the good from the great. Rodgers ROCKS!! Can't wait for Sunday. Don't like bye weeks! GO PACK.

Greg C.'s picture

This makes sense. Fans often complain about McCarthy not going for the kill in the second half, but then I'll watch the game again on video and the play calls look virtually identical to the play calls in the first half. I especially noticed this in the game against the Rams.

It is easy to believe that cautiousness on the part of Rodgers (appropriate cautiousness) could explain some of the second half letdowns by the offense when they are up by multiple scores.

Jay's picture

I would almost think the opposite way Rodgers does. In the beginning of the game, the score is closer, so if there is a mistake it's more likely to lead to a lead change. When the game has progressed and you're up by a significant amount, then that should give some cushion to take more risks. All of that to say, it seems to me like the time of the game should affect risk seeking/risk averse, but the point differential should. But who am I to think Arodg is wrong...

hobot's picture

the other side to this is that in the early part of the game, IF a mistake is made he has more time to overcome it whereas later on the margin of error shrinks.

Mojo's picture

I think you got it right hobot. The better time to gamble is during the first half when you have at least a second half to decide whether you need to keep gambling or play it closer to the vest.

Liz's picture

I noticed this too. Honestly, a part of me was thinking he wanted to protect his completion percentage. But yeah the Superbowl and Atlanta playoff game last year was the only times where he kept the foot on the pedal.

Greg C.'s picture

Your approach makes sense, Jay. My best guess as to why Rodgers does the opposite is simply that he is very, very good. He can afford to take risks early because he can play at a high level without turning the ball over. To be conservative at that point would take him down to the level of an average QB. But when the Packers get a lead of a couple scores or more, there is simply no need to take risks, so why bother? He does take more risks when the game is still close, as in the Super Bowl last year.

hobot's picture

I will also mention this is a great observation and one I will keep tabs on going forward.

It's just so nice to have complete faith and confidence in our quarterback. I feel that everytime he releases the ball it not only is going to be completed but probably for some big play.

As much as I loved he-who-must-not-be-named in his hayday, it really got to a point late in his career where I had my fingers crossed and sensed impending doom late in ball games on almost every pass.

I would like to see Rodgers trust his instincts throughout the entire game because he is almost inhumanly accurate and near perfect decision maker. however, it isn't necessary to take "low percentage" throws (for other mortal quarterbacks) when the other team NEEDS a big play late to get back in.

Jake's picture

So.... this year Rodgers is awesome because he holds the ball and takes a sack, which means he's trying to avoid mistakes. But in 2009, holding the ball and taking the sacks was terrible?

packeraaron's picture

I knew this would come up.

No, its that in 2009 he was holding the ball and taking sacks when it wasn't necessary. If its late in the game and you're leading by two scores, its smart to just eat it.

A good example of this is the Eagles playoff game. There, though not leading by two scores, the Packers were ahead in the 4th quarter and Rodgers was facing a 3rd down. In the face of a blitz, Rodgers took a sack rather than throw it up deep (I seem to recall seeing exactly this some time ago in Philly) - that's smart.

What isn't smart is holding onto the ball trying to dance around pressure continuously looking for the big play in the first half of ball games when the checkdown is right there in front of you. Rodgers has become much more judicious in this area.

Also, he's making throws now (see the videos above) that he never made in 2009.

Jake's picture

I was just giving you a hard time. I agree with everything you said.

Pack Morris's picture

Those videos are incredible; thanks for finding and posting them!

Poodi's picture

See Dallas vs Detroit. Only way Detroit comes back is moronic QB play of Romo. I am sure Rodgers won't publicly say, but I am sure he saw how Favre's interceptions effected the team and vowed not to make the same bad decisions.

channel Don Hutson's picture

Listening to AR on Tuesday's with Aaron -and Jason Wilde (espnmilwaukee.com) is quite a football education at times. Rodgers is such a cerebral quarterback and the calculations he can recite by rote memory in recollecting individual plays he's made during games is impressive. The Packers have quite a quarterback!

PacMan's picture

Maybe they should wait until up by 3 scores. All it takes is one mistake or one big play by the opposition (Packers biggest problem this year) to be up by only 1 score and then it's down to the wire. I don't think they need to do what New Orleans did to the Colts but I don't think they should relax much unless they are up by 3 scores.

PackersRS's picture

Great piece. I had the same thoughts as you, that though he was being more careful with the ball, MN was doing something different. Thanks for clarifying it.

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