Blitz Aaron Rodgers, and you’re likely to pay a hefty price.
The previous two seasons combined, the Green Bay Packers quarterback owned the NFL’s best passer rating (108.7) against the blitz, according to STATS.
In two games this season, Rodgers again ranks number one against the blitz with an almost unheard of mark of 144.6 when teams pressure with five or more players or rush a defender who is not lined up on the line of scrimmage, as defined by STATS.
So far this season, he has completed 20-of-29 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns without an interception against such pressure.
Considering Rodgers has attempted 65 passes and has been sacked three times, it means teams opposing defensive coordinators have sent more than the standard four-man rush at Rodgers about 40 percent of the time. There also could have been pressure on some of Rodgers’ 14 rushing attempts.
The question is why, as in why blitz a quarterback who has proven time and again he can deliver the ball quickly and accurately while under duress?
“The two teams we’ve played this year, they’ve blitzed about the same amount that going in we thought they would,” Packers center Scott Wells said. “So I think off two games, you can’t really make that assumption. But last year, he also was the best (against the blitz) for the season.”
Why not sit back in a Cover-2 like the Chicago Bears typically do against the Packers?
“They get pressure from their front four now,” Rodgers said of this week’s opponent. “They don’t have to bring pressure as much.”
When the Packers play at Soldier Field on Sunday, Rodgers isn’t likely to see blitzes coming from all angles. Sure, the Bears get creative with their pressures, using stunts and twists, but they rely heavily on their front four to get pressure. It’s probably no coincidence that they have given Rodgers as much trouble, if not more, than any of the other NFC North teams. In six regular-season starts against the Bears, Rodgers’ passer rating is a respectable 92.6, which is 6.9 points lower than his career average, but 22.9 points lower than his career average against the Detroit Lions and 14.5 points lower than his average against the Minnesota Vikings.
Last season, the Packers’ offense scored just 27 points in the two regular-season games against the Bears, and they split those two games. That average of 13˝ points per game was more than 10 points fewer than the 23.8 points their offense averaged in their other 14 regular-season games. In the Packers’ 21-14 win over the Bears in the NFC championship game last January, Rodgers and the offense barely beat their average, scoring two touchdowns. The other one came from the defense on B.J. Raji’s fourth-quarter interception return.
Wins — not statistics — are ultimately all that matter, and Rodgers has a 5-2 record (including the playoff game) against the Bears since he became the starter in 2008.
Playing against a Cover-2 team requires patience, which suits Rodgers. He doesn’t take many unnecessary chances. The Bears’ idea of good defense is making teams sustain long drives, thinking that eventually the quarterback will make a mistake.
“That’s kind of the idea of the Cover-2 — take away the deep stuff and make you throw underneath,” said Matt Flynn, Rodgers’ backup. “They’re such a good team going for the ball and stripping it and getting the ball out.”
The Bears often show a Cover-2 look, in which both safeties are back in coverage, before the snap even if they’re going to switch to something else.
“They jump into that Cover-2, and they make it a long, bend-but-don’t-break type of game,” Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. “You have to be patient against that type of coverage. They have a lot of really good players that understand that scheme.”
Jennings, who had games with 2, 4 and 8 catches against the Bears last season, said he almost always draws help from a safety when he’s lined up as an outside receiver.
“When they’re in that Cover-2, that safety’s always jumping over the top,” Jennings said.
The Bears’ two games this season couldn’t have been much different. They dominated in the opener against Atlanta (a 30-12 victory) and then were blown out at New Orleans (30-13). They’re also banged up in the secondary, where safeties Major Wright (head, neck) and Chris Harris (hamstring) have missed snaps. But they have solid cover corners in Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. Still, the strength of their defense is in the front seven with defensive end Julius Peppers and linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher.
“I think a couple things that really helped them if you look at when we first played them in 2008 to when we play them this week, Chris Harris coming back was an underrated or underappreciated part of their defense,” Rodgers said. “I think he brought a lot of stability on the back end and assignment stability. And bringing in Tim Jennings, who came from the Colts, I think Tim has done a great job for them playing outside. He really understands the scheme and has made some plays for them. D.J. Moore does a nice job in the slot. You’re not overlooking Charles or Lance or Brian or Nick (Roach) or any of those guys on the front four, but the biggest differences are obviously Julius, (it) goes without saying.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.