For the past few years, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has become a master of the extended play. Few quarterbacks in the league, if any, can navigate a pocket like Rodgers, who has often danced around behind the line of scrimmage for ten seconds before unloading the football.
In the NFL, ten seconds is an eternity, particularly for pass blockers. And although the Packers' offensive line has done an admirable job holding up on these lengthy stretches of continuous blocking, there is no question that Rodgers has taken more sacks as a result of this approach than he would have otherwise.
That approach, however, seems to have been borne out of necessity. The stories and exposes breaking down the failure of Mike McCarthy's scheme are numerous now, and they expose a fundamental truth about the former head coach that Packers fans long had suspected: he simply did not adjust his offense to changing personnel. That forced Rodgers to go into schoolyard mode regularly when his receivers were not open. McCarthy lost his job with four games remaining last year, giving way to new head coach Matt LaFleur who will bring a new version of the West Coast offense to Green Bay.
Rodgers alluded to the importance of staying in rhythm in media availability earlier this week, when he was discussing tight end Jimmy Graham. Reading between the lines here, one can see a player who knows that the best success for a quarterback comes when he is operating within his progressions and throwing the ball in rhythm:
“This league is about matchups, and that’s what I’m liking about this offense is we’re constantly trying to find ways to get those guys in positive matchups. Every play, whether it’s a scheme or a motion or an adjustment that can kind of get those guys opportunities to be No. 1 or 2 in the progression. Because we know, if you’re throwing the ball on time, that’s where the ball is going to go."
For years, Rodgers has had a preternatural connection with a receiver or two on broken plays. Whether that was Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, or now Davante Adams, there has been a go-to guy whom Rodgers trusts in breakdown situations.
But Rodgers clearly realizes what Packers fans have: the ability to make something out of nothing is a terrific weapon and one that elevates Rodgers among the all-time greats, but it is a complementary piece in his arsenal. It cannot be the driving force behind an offense.
Hearing Rodgers talk about progressions is encouraging enough on its own, but adding in the optimistic tone in his words about LaFleur's offense is even better. Motion and adjustments were sorely lacking under McCarthy, who so often asked his receivers to simply win one-on-one. By finding ways to generate space for his receivers, LaFleur should make Rodgers' job easier. If he can trust his eyes and his progressions and deliver the ball on time consistently, Rodgers should be back to elite level play in 2019.
Then, on the (hopefully rare) occasion when the play does break down, he always has that improvisation ability in his back pocket to draw on.