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Fan Request: Comparing the sacks taken by Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson

Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

This week the Seattle Seahawks took on the Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night Football with their playoff lives on the line, and the Hawks emerged victorious. During the course of the contest, two quarterbacks who are both likely to find themselves in Canton at some point in the future were sacked a combined eight times, which led to the following tweet hitting my timeline.

So, if you dislike this article or the idea of it, please feel free to direct your criticism to Mr. Treyens. In fulfilling this fan’s request, let’s start out by looking at Aaron Rodgers getting pummeled by the Seattle defense.

The first sack of Rodgers came with the Packers facing 3rd & 4 at their own 27 with 5:49 left in the second quarter. From the all-22 just after the snap we see that Rodgers’ receivers are pretty well covered, however, at the 30 yard line on the near side of the field we see Tre Flowers with outside leverage coverage on Davante Adams.

Taking a look at the all-22 from a moment later we can see that Marquez Valdes-Scantling has cleared out the middle of the field with a short crossing route right at the first down, taking both Justin Coleman and Bobby Wagner to the far side of the field. This has left a massive throwing lane for Rodgers to Adams well past the first down that is readily visible.

However, Rodgers is in no position whatsoever to deliver a pass to the now open Adams, as he has bailed on the pocket and hasn’t kept his shoulders in a position where he can readily deliver a pass downfield. This is seen very well from the next picture, in which we see that rather than stepping up in the pocket and maintaining his throw readiness, he has abandoned his pocket mechanics, and any throw will require him to reset his feet, resquare his shoulder and deliver the pass.

So, instead of delivering a pass into a vast expanse of green for a good sized gain, he’s left himself with basically the only option being trying to squeeze past Frank Clark (who is about to wrap him up in that last picture) and Wagner, who is at the 30 yard line driving in Rodgers direction to be in position to make the 11 millionth open field tackle of his career. As good as Rodgers can be at times, my money will go on Clark and Wagner every single time in that situation. It’s a safe bet.

Thus, the blame/credit for this sack goes first to the Seattle back 7 for providing enough coverage to not give Rodgers an open receiver early in the play. In addition, Rodgers gets a good portion of the blame goes to the Packers QB for bailing too early on the pocket and for abandoning pocket discipline while doing so.

The second sack the Seattle defense recorded came in the third quarter on 3rd & 10. On this play Rodgers has a pocket, but he doesn’t deliver the pass into a tight window, opting instead to eat the ball for a sack. Here is a video of the sack, and what sticks out most to me on this play is that Rodgers again abandons his pocket discipline and mechanics. Watch how when he starts to move around in the pocket, rather than keeping his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage and sliding around to buy time, he squares to the line of scrimmage and abandons all pocket form.

After seeing this on each of these first two sacks, I was curious about whether or not this was something he had always done, or if it was new, so I went back and watched several of the sacks he took in 2012 and 2013. While he never had Tom Brady pocket discipline, he most certainly seems to have regressed when it comes to his mechanics in the pocket. I’m not about to declare this opinion definitive based on the small sample I looked at, but it’s certainly something worth noting.

As for the options Rodgers had downfield, this play appears to work just as it is designed. There is a three receiver route combination that comes together right in the middle of the field, with the two underneath receivers pulling the inside defenders of the underneath layer of the zone towards the outside, with a middle route left wide open. Here is what that looks like.

As noted, this is exactly what happens, as tight end Lance Kendricks (circled in black) crossed the formation and takes Bobby Wagner away from the center of the field. Davante Adams (circled in red) takes Bradley McDougald with him towards the top of the field, leaving Equanimeous St. Brown (circled in blue) all alone in the center of the field. The Packers need to get to the Seattle 45 for a first down, and if ESB simply sets up shop in the middle of the zone, he’s wide open. This is what it looks like once the defenders have moved with the receivers.

Again, ESB is past the first down marker and the defender closest to him is far enough away that they probably would not be able to make a play on the ball. However, As we can see from the end zone angle of the coaches film, Rodgers appears to not even be looking at ESB, as his eyes appear locked on Adams running a crossing route that is six yards short of the first down.

The blame for this one I’m placing primarily on Rodgers. Maybe ESB was his fifth read, or maybe he simply doesn’t want to throw the ball to ESB, who has just ten receptions on nineteen targets (52.6% catch rate) so far this season as a sixth round pick out of Notre Dame. In addition, I’d think it likely that ESB may have failed to adjust his route to set up shop in the wide open space in the zone. Whatever the reason, the Packers had a chance to convert here and Rodgers missed it largely, in my opinion, because he bailed on a clean pocket and abandoned his pocket discipline.

Regardless of the fault on the Packers side, rookie Jacob Martin credit for being right where he is supposed to be after Jarran Reed’s pressure forces Rodgers to step up, right in Martin. This was a great effort by Reed to create the pressure, and Martin likely owes him dinner after recording the first sack of his career.

Moving on to the third sack the Seattle defense recorded, I’m starting to feel like a broken record. This time around it is 1st & 10 at midfield with 6:03 to go in the game. The Packers run play action, and Rodgers has a beautiful pocket and all kinds of time, but his primary option deep is well covered and has safety help.

Of note here is that the safety help and solid coverage up top is readily visible, so if Rodgers quickly turns his attention to the receivers on the near side of the field he’s got open options. It’s first down, so he doesn’t need to force anything, so it’s completely fine for him to dump it off to the running back at the 48 who doesn’t have a defender within five yards of him. Further, just inside the 40 yard line we see ESB who is rather open, and an outside throw here would force ESB to turn and find the ball, but should be wide open.

That’s not what Rodgers does, however. He, once again, abandons pocket discipline and turns his shoulders a full 180 degrees as he moves away from the pocket before even taking a look at the two options just noted.

Once again, had Rodgers maintained pocket discipline, keeping his shoulders perpendicular do the line, with his throwing shoulder to the back, he could zip a throw to either Aaron Jones or ESB. Instead, because he’s not in position to make a throw he decides to try and make a run for it, as he has a vast sea of Seahawk-free real estate open in front of him if he can make it past the Seattle defensive line. Unfortunately for Rodgers, that’s a bet he’s going to lose.

Another note on this play is that I’d guess ESB should make a move to come back towards Rodgers to help him out. Instead he’s standing flat footed at the 28 yard line, rather than working his way back to the quarterback and into the vast amount of open space in the middle of the field. Here is a great shot from the end zone angle that shows how much space Rodgers has in the pocket at the moment he turns to run rather than slide around in the pocket.

And here’s a fantastic view of how much open space Rodgers had, if he had been able to make it past Clark.

In short, once again credit to the Seahawks secondary for providing the coverage to take away Rodgers’ primary options on the play, and credit to the Seattle defensive line for staying in pursuit and not allowing him to escape to freedom. However, this is the third time in three sacks that I feel that Rodgers’ pocket skills appear to have cost him dearly, and I wonder if the changes in the coaching staff in recent years have led to an erosion of the fundamentals and mechanics of his play.

The next sack takes play just a couple of plays later on 3rd and 3. After a second down run of 7, the Packers run play action and, quite frankly, it seems like a questionable playcall to me. There are only four receivers in the pattern, with only two of those past the first down marker, and they are both very well covered.

For the second time in three plays Rodgers attempts to make a break for a vast open space in the middle of the field, but he can’t get past Austin Calitro and Jarran Reed who combine for the sack. For Calitro, it’s only half a sack, but it is still the first sack recorded in his career.

Rodgers could probably have dumped it off to Jones, who is on the near side of the field just inside the 45, and if Jones is able to make the first man miss, it’s likely a first down. However, outside of that, his options are well covered. The credit for this sack certainly goes once again to the Seahawks secondary for not giving Rodgers an open option, and to the front seven for getting to Rodgers in their pursuit.

The fifth and final sack of Rodgers ended up representing the difference in the game. With the Seahawks having closed the gap to 21-20 with a field goal, the Packers then went down the field and had 3rd and 5 at the 12 yard line. On the play Davante Adams (circled in red) is running through the middle of the Seahawks zone defense, dragging both Wagner and Calitro (circled in red) deeper. Jones is wide open at the 14, and a quick dump off by Rodgers gives Jones the ball in space with a reasonable chance to make it to the 7 yard line for a first down.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee that Jones gets the first down, as it would come down to a footrace to the first down between Jones, Calitro and Bradley McDougald, but it at least would have given the Packers offense a chance.

Once again it appears as though Rodgers is looking to try and gain the first down himself, as we see a vast open space in the middle of the field if he can make it past the Seattle defensive line. Just as we’ve now seen multiple times before, Rodgers isn’t able to make it out of danger and into open space. Just as it appears he may step into the open field and make his way for a first down, in steps Rasheem Green to record the first sack of his career, making him the third member of the Hawks defense to do so on Thursday night.

In addition, take a look at Rodgers in the picture - yet again we see that he is in no way ready to throw the ball. His throwing shoulder is to the front, and there are next to no pocket skills on display. If he’s sliding forward here, he could easily dump it off to Jones, or fire a quick pass to ESB, who is open at the goal line. However, neither of those is available to Rodgers because of poor pocket discipline. So, the same kind of issues that have plagued Wilson through his time with the Seahawks are on full display here with Rodgers for the fourth time in five sacks. I’m certainly interested to go back and watch some more film of Rodgers from both earlier this season and earlier in his career to see if his quarterback fundamentals have regressed over the years. Perhaps the best years of Rodgers’ career are behind him, or perhaps he was simply facing a young and talented defense that has a lot of upside. Either way, when the Seahawks social media team took to Instagram to celebrate the Thursday night victory over the Packers, Frank Clark came in with the comment of the night, which is circled in action green for readers.

Lastly, I would also be leaving out a ton of credit that appears due to Pete Carroll and Ken Norton if I didn’t give credit for scheming these sacks. Many of the sacks came as Rodgers was attempting to get to an open middle of the field, and I’d guess that part of that was by design. The Seahawks have a very young and athletic defensive front seven, and in a footrace, I’m putting my money on the likes of Clark, Martin, Green and Calitro rather than a soon-to-be-thirty-five year old has been like Rodgers.

Specifically, on multiple of the sacks that the Seahawks had on Rodgers, they used a stunt which meant the upfield pressure was coming from defensive tackles. That left the more athletic defensive ends, like Clark, Martin and Green lying in wait more like a spying linebacker than a pass rushing end. Thus, as Rodgers attempted to step up and into the open field, rather than trying to elude a defensive tackle as he normally would, he was forced to try and get away from a far, far younger, highly athletic edge rusher (Clark is nine and a half years younger, Martin is twelve years younger and Green is thirteen and a half years younger).

That is enough about the five sacks the Seattle defense recorded in Week 11, and so I’ll wait to compare and contrast the three sacks the Packers defense had in the game in a later post.