In a recent interview with Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com, Aaron Rodgers set a goal for the 2013 season: cut the sack total in half. It's clear that Aaron Rodgers needs better protection, and the Green Bay Packers are taking his goal seriously this off-season. They've shuffled the offensive line in hopes of better protecting Rodger's blindside, they've drafted two running backs in hopes of establishing a running game, and they've brought in a blocking specialist in tight end Matthew Mulligan. That said, Rodgers acknowledges that he has some responsibility for reducing the number of sacks as well:
Q: Do you need to take fewer sacks?
Rodgers: I don’t look at it that way.
Q: How do you look at it?
Rodgers: We need to decrease our number of sacks.
Q: So how do you do that while not changing who you are? No one wants to see you get hurt, and your offensive coordinator, your pal Tom Clements, said that you put yourself at risk at times.
Rodgers: Yeah, I don’t want to get hurt. We just need to avoid a few of them and I think we will. We all have a part in that, from myself to the line to the backs to the tight ends to the scheme. We've got to find the right mix and try to cut that number in half.
While none of the steps listed above guarantee a lower sack total for Aaron Rodgers in 2013, it is promising to see the franchise's star player accepting the challenge as a team goal, and not blaming his teammates for their mistakes (as a particular NFC North quarterback seems to do from time to time).
As far as the goal itself, dropping the sack total from 51 to the mid 20's would be quite an accomplishment, especially considering the lowest sack total of Aaron Rodgers career was 31 in 2010. I don't expect a drop that drastic, but I do expect the Packers organization to do everything within their power to ensure they protect their $130.75 million investment, and they have already taken several steps to do so.
One critique of Rodgers himself is that he holds onto the ball too long. Research done by ESPN in a recent Kevin Seifert article shows that Rodgers spent more time in the pocket (2.82 second average) than 34 other NFL starting quarterbacks last season.
As you can see, Rodgers' ability to extend plays with his legs is a double-edged sword. He can makes throws on the run that no one else can, but he also holds onto the ball for an extended period of time, in which he can also be sacked. I don't expect the Packers to discourage Rodgers from being the playmaker that he is, but don't be surprised if you see more 3 to 5 step drop-backs with quick slants to slot receivers than you have seen in the past few seasons.
If the Packers are going to halve the sack total in 2013, they will need everyone to make adjustments from their front office down to the practice squad players. The challenge has been laid down, and the goal has been set. The Packers don't need to reinvent the wheel in order to protect Aaron Rodgers; they just need to fine-tune some of the blueprints.