Aaron Rodgers' Resurgence off of Play-Action

Aaron Rodgers' resurgence off of play-action is a big contributor to the Green Bay Packers' success on offense this season. 

The hope entering the season was that we were going to see the Green Bay Packers' offense take a big step forward in Year 2 of the Matt LaFleur system. And through 10 games, it's certainly safe to say that we've seen them do just that. Green Bay is second by Football Outsiders' DVOA metric and third in points per game with 30.8. 
 
As I always say, there is a myriad of reasons behind their success, one of which has been Aaron Rodgers' ability to get the ball out quickly this season; something that I highlighted in a recent article. However, another significant factor has been Rodgers' resurgence off of play-action. 
 
Early in his career, Rodgers torched opposing defenses off play-action, but in recent years that hadn't been the case. At the end of the Mike McCarthy era, play-action just wasn't used that heavily and Rodgers wasn't that effective. 
 
During the 2018 season, McCarthy's final year in Green Bay, Rodgers and the Packers only used play-action 20.1 percent of the time; this ranked 30th out of 37 eligible quarterbacks. On top of that, the numbers just weren't very good either. Rodgers ranked 18th in yards despite being 13th in attempts and 19th in passer rating off of play-action; not good, not bad, just about average. However, he ranked 30th in yards per attempt and 30th in completion percentage.  
 
In fact, Rodgers was less accurate off of play-action than what he was without it, completing just 61.5 percent of his throws compared to 62.5 percent. And he actually averaged fewer yards per attempt off of play-action. This is backwards; play-action is supposed to provide relatively easy completions while also providing the offense with shot plays downfield. But that wasn't the case for Rodgers and Green Bay.
 
In 2019 under Matt LaFleur, we saw improvements. Green Bay used play-action 26.1 percent of the time, and Rodgers' completion percentage was five percent better than what it was without play-action. He was also averaging slightly more yards per attempt. However, although improved, his completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating off play-action still ranked in the bottom third of the NFL. 
 
But this season, we've once again seen Rodgers' numbers improve, and the offense is benefiting greatly from it. Once again, Green Bay is using play-action more frequently, 27.7 percent of the time, to be exact, and Rodgers is much more efficient. His completion percentage of 69.7 percent ranks 12th out of 38 eligible quarterbacks. His 8.9 yards per attempt ranks 15th, and he actually leads the NFL in passer-rating off play-action. 
 
So what is behind Aaron Rodgers' resurgence this season? Well, there are several reasons. One is that everyone is more comfortable within the offense in Year 2. Rodgers now knows where everyone is supposed to be, and his pass-catchers are getting to their spots on time. Not to mention that in Year 2, this offense is fully immersed in the LaFleur system rather than the hodge-podge of the LaFleur and McCarthy offenses we saw last season. 
 
Another reason is that we are seeing more pre-snap motion. This helps LaFleur achieve that "illusion of complexity" that he often mentions, which can lead to confusion among the defensive players and create easier throws for Rodgers. 
 
We also have to give Marquez Valdes-Scantling credit, who has taken a step forward this season even with the ups and downs. Play-action is supposed to help set up those shot plays downfield, and the Rodgers-MVS combination has been much more effective this season. This is a big reason why Rodgers' yards per attempt are up over a yard and half more than it was in 2019. 
 
There has also been an upgrade in personnel. How, you ask? Well, it's more so addition by subtraction. By giving Jimmy Graham's and Geronimo Allison's targets to Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, this offense is simply better. 
 
Lastly, Rodgers has been putting together an MVP caliber season. I believe a few of the reasons already mentioned are playing a major role in his MVP campaign, but in training camp, he also discussed with reporters how he had watched some old tape of himself from the 2010 season -- you know, the year they won the Super Bowl -- and made a few tweaks to his mechanics. Once these changes took place, there was a significant difference in Rodgers' level of play through the remainder of camp. 
 
Throughout the offseason, many wondered how this Green Bay Packers team was going to improve on offense without any major additions to the roster. The truth was the Brian Gutekunst and company were banking on internal development and the group improving greatly in Year 2 of the LaFleur offense; which is exactly what has happened. 
 
Several players took big steps forward, there is a greater understanding of the offense, but perhaps most notably, we've seen a bit of a renaissance from Rodgers off of play-action.  So many of the NFL's top quarterbacks are incredibly effective off of play-action, and once again, Rodgers and the Packers are as well. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (9)

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gkarl's picture

November 27, 2020 at 12:43 pm

Love play action and we have been better TY but play action needs two things to be effective. First you have the run the ball enough to get teams to bit on the fake. Second you be successful when you do run. We can argue on the order but the last couple of games we haven't been doing either particularly well.

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Minniman's picture

November 28, 2020 at 12:16 am

The o-line has been getting dinged up a bit this past month. On the positive side, people have been able to shuffle to cover positions, but it's not quite the same.

The result of that is less help for the run game between the tackles.

Jones has also been playing dinged up as well. Add in Adams nursing an injury and Lazard just 1 week back from IR and it's a bit hard to sell legit play action with a hospital ward.

Granted that this is the NFL, so "suck-it-up...buttercup", but a small percentage drop does matter.

Looking forward to this week against Chicago. The Buccs recipe to beat Packers seemed to be "double team Adams and stack the box". I wonder how successful that will be this week?

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Bearmeat's picture

November 27, 2020 at 04:24 pm

Our running game needs to improve in the next 6 weeks in order for play action to continue to be effective. Under MM, the only good running years were 07, 13, 14. He just didn't care about running the football.

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Since'61's picture

November 27, 2020 at 05:47 pm

Agree Bearmeat. We especially need to be better on short yardage and goal line situations. We need to make the 3rd and short yardage plays to make play action even more effective and to keep drives alive. Thanks, Since ‘61

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Stroh's picture

November 29, 2020 at 07:20 pm

I would say McCarthy cared about the run significantly more than Rodgers did. A new HC has forced Rodgers to run the scheme instead of always taking matters into his own hands.

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Bure9620's picture

November 27, 2020 at 10:31 pm

Hitting more back side bootlegs too as teams are more worried about Jones cutback lanes in the run game..

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Minniman's picture

November 28, 2020 at 12:24 am

I was actually going to comment something similar in my post above - that I haven't seen Rodgers peel out to his left much this year.

I actually like seeing him do this (wheel to his left). It keeps more of the field open to him. I wonder if it's a coached thing for Defenses against Rodgers? Keep him moving to his right, he won't attempt the sin of throwing across his body, so we narrow the field.

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Lphill's picture

November 27, 2020 at 11:00 pm

Cowboys 4 th and 10 inside their 20 and MM calls fake punt and it gets blown up, reminded me of something he would call on the Packers, and let’s not forget how little he used Aaron Jones. He should have been fired after the Seattle embarrassment.

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Philarod's picture

November 28, 2020 at 12:05 pm

A more well-balanced attack can only help down the stretch -- and hopefully, in the playoffs. For example, I'm hoping that the jet sweep motion doesn't live and die with Tyler Ervin.
So, I don't want the Packers to get too gimmicky, but after all these years of a McCarthy offense that was mostly based on players winning one-on-ones (and if they didn't, Rodgers would "throw them open" - which was often the case), I would like to see more variety in the run, pass and play-action game.

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