NFL Key Drive: Quick Strike for Aaron Rodgers

So many traits are needed to be an elite quarterback: quick release, ability to climb the pocket and read the field being just a few. Mark Schofield explains how all of these were on display with this quick strike for Aaron Rodgers against the Rams.

One of the more intriguing NFL matchups this past weekend occurred in Green Bay, where the Packers hosted the St. Louis Rams, pitting the young, athletic Rams defense against Aaron Rodgers offense. At halftime the home team led 14-10, but the Rams defense forced two Rodgers interceptions and seemed poised for more. But on the opening drive of the second half, the veteran quarterback moved the Packers quickly down the field for a key touchdown that set the tone for the second half.

Play One

Following a touchback, the Pack set up on the 25-yard line, thanks to an offsides penalty on the Rams on the kickoff. The QB is under center with 11 offensive personnel in the game. Tight end Richard Rodgers (#83) and running back Eddie Lacy (#27) are in an offset i-formation in the backfield, with the TE shaded to the right. Green Bay has an inverted slot on the right, with a single receiver split wide left. The Rams have a dime package with 4-1-6 personnel showing a deep Cover 2 shell, and safety Mark Barron (#26) lined up in a linebacker’s alignment to the weakside:


The Rams run Tampa 2 coverage on this snap, with linebacker James Laurinaitis (#55) opening his hips to the left at the snap and gaining depth, reading Randall Cobb, the inside slot receiver and anticipating a vertical route from the slot WR:


The Packers run play action with Cobb and Ty Montgomery (#88) releasing vertically from the slot before breaking to the inside, while James Jones (#89) runs a go route on the weakside. From his upback alignment, Rodgers the TE delays at the snap while Rodgers and Lacy carry out a run fake, and then the TE releases to the right flat.

Because of the route design, the Rams two cornerbacks gain depth at the start of the play. CB Trumaine Johnson (#22) is on the outside over Montgomery, and he must take away a potential go or corner route. Lamarcus Joyner (#20) is in the slot over Cobb, and he gains a bit of depth and moves in the inside when the slot WR makes his cut, before passing him off to Laurinatis. But as both defenders rotate their coverage, it opens up a huge area for the Rodgers duo to exploit:


The QB gives one last look weakside to hold the coverage before delivering the ball to his TE in the flat. Johnson recognizes this route and breaks on it quickly, but he cannot prevent the completion. The cornerback makes a key open field tackle, keeping this to a five-yard gain:

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Play Two

On 2nd and 5, the Packers put Aaron Rodgers in the shotgun while thee same 11 personnel group in the game. Green Bay has a bunch formation on the left with Richard Rodgers in a tight split from the left tackle, while Jones and Cobb set up in a stack slot. Montgomery splits wide right, while Lacy stands to the right of the quarterback. The Rams stay with their 4-1-6 personnel, with Barron again in a LB alignment to the weakside of the offensive formation. They also drop safety T.J. McDonald (#25) down into the box over the TE, and show Cover 1 in the secondary:


Here are the routes the Pack run on this play:


On the weakside, Montgomery runs a pivot route, while Lacy initially remains in the backfield to help with protection on the edge. On the strongside, the tight end initially chip blocks defensive end Robert Quinn (#94) before running a slant, while Jones and Cobb run an out/corner combination.

As the play develops, Aaron Rodgers has all day to throw the football, but no viable targets:


This image is taken 3.51 seconds after the snap. The quarterback is well protected in the pocket, but where can he throw the football? Lacy has even released on a shallow underneath route, but the defense has that covered as well.

Aaron Rodgers tries to find somewhere to throw the ball, even sliding in the pocket toward the strongside, before tucking the football away and taking off:

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Scrambling, the quarterback picks up five yards, and the first down.

The end zone angle gives a good view of how the offensive line managed to keep a clean pocket for the QB as he tries to find a target. The Rams’ defensive front does a good job of maintaining their rush integrity and not giving the quarterback an escape route, but after over four seconds a seam finally develops, and Rodgers scampers free for the first down:

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Play Three

Again Green Bay sets up with Aaron Rodgers under center and 11 personnel in a pro alignment right and slot formation to the left. The Rams keep their 4-1-6 package in the game, this time they shade Barron toward the pro alignment. They show Cover 3 in the secondary, with slot CB Johnson aligned just outside the tackle box:


The Packers try to run right, but a number of individual efforts from St. Louis stop this run before it starts. Off the snap, defensive tackle Aaron Donald delivers a strong bull rush on Josh Walker (#79), sending the right guard staggering backward. Donald’s penetration prevents center Corey Linsley (#63) from helping on Donald – with the quick penetration from the DT the center can only try and block his back

The strength of the DT off the ball also causes problems for the offense to the outside. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (#75) delivers a punch with his left arm to try and hold up Donald as well. But all this ineffective attention to Donald allows Barron to fill the hole:


With a mass of bodies on the inside, and Barron crashing to the hold, Lacy tries to cut back to the inside. But that is where Laurinatis is waiting:

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The MLB, with some backside help from Quinn, holds this to no gain.

Play Four

Facing 2nd and 10, the offense puts Rodgers in the shotgun with a tight bunch on the left, with the TE again just outside the LT and Cobb and Jones in a stack slot. The Rams stay with their 4-1-6 package, showing Cover 1 in the secondary. Only for this play they have Barron in blitz alignment, lined up well outside the RT:


The Rams do indeed blitz, but they send Laurinaitis, rather than Barron:


Rodgers takes a straight drop back, here, with the following routes to choose from:


From the stack-slot, Cobb runs a curl while Jones runs a deep post and Rodgers runs a slant. On the backside, Montgomery runs a deep out pattern.

As the play unfolds, the protection holds but again the coverage looks sound:


All four receiving options look to be covered, but if you look at Rodgers, you can see the QB is starting to throw. But where? To Jones on the post route, and the receiver is just making his cut

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Free safety Rodney McLeod (#23), perhaps thinking Jones will remain on a straight vertical route, widens towards the sideline as the play develops. So when the WR cuts to the inside on the post, he is in an unfavorable position to break on the football. Rodgers drops the throw in perfectly, and Jones runs under the pass and all the way to the end zone.

Using the end zone angle, we can see how the safety over rotates, as well as take joy in watching the master make another tremendous throw with a simple flick of the wrist, while sliding his feet away from the target:

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The long catch-and-run pushed Green Bay’s lead to 21-10, and the game was never in doubt after that play. The Packers’ defense stymied St. Louis in the second half, and although the Rams did force a Rodgers fumble in the second half, the Packers tacked on another field goal for their eventual 24-10 victory.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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