Aaron Rodgers has taken a lot of hits over the last several years. As the Green Bay Packers’ offense began to struggle in 2015 without Jordy Nelson, Rodgers became more prone to holding the football for longer in the pocket. As a result, his offensive linemen have to block for a longer period of time, a challenge for even the best of the big uglies.
But a comment from Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson on NFL Network Monday is a bit bristling to the ears of Packers fans. Lawson told the hosts of Good Morning Football “Honestly, I think it’s easier to sack Aaron Rodgers than most quarterbacks,” going against the grain of host Nate Burleson’s question about Rodgers’ elusiveness. “He sits there and he pats the ball,” Lawson said, alluding to Rodgers’ tendency over the past few years to hold the football in the pocket for a long period of time.
Notable, however, is the fact that Lawson has played just one game against Rodgers and the Packers, coming early in the 2017 season. That game culminated in an overtime comeback victory by the Packers, a fact that Lawson acknowledged: “At the same time, sacking him don’t mean nothing if you don’t do it for four quarters. I mean, he came back against us.”
There certainly seems to be no disrespect intended in Lawson’s comments, but they do require a bit of context. Yes, Lawson had an impressive 2.5 sacks in that game, and had another that was eliminated by a Bengals penalty. However, it came with the Packers’ best pass-blocker, David Bakhtiari, sidelined by injury. There is no question that Bakhtiari’s presence would have made a difference for Lawson, who tends to line up over the left tackle; indeed, Lawson racked up all of his sacks against backup tackle Kyle Murphy.
In filling in for Bakhtiari, Murphy had to gut out a complete game, playing every snap while dealing with an injury of his own. In fact, the Packers placed him on injured reserve two days after that contest, forcing Lane Taylor to move out from left guard to left tackle against the Chicago Bears on a Thursday Night Football game just a few more days later.
Each one of Lawson’s three solo sacks — including the one that was cancelled out by a 12-men-on-the-field penalty — came as a result of him using nearly-identical hump moves on Murphy after driving him deep into the backfield. Meanwhile, the half-sack saw Murphy trying to set his base farther upfield, with Rodgers unsuccessfully scrambling out to the left behind him.
Now, Lawson looks like a promising young player, but he’s no Reggie White. Bakhtiari, meanwhile, is a master technician, and it is unlikely that he would get burned by a single move more than once, let alone three times, in a single game. Thus there is a high probability that going up against Murphy has skewed Lawson’s perception of Rodgers a bit.
Also, for whatever it’s worth, Rodgers induced Lawson to jump offsides on a first-and-goal with 26 seconds left in the game. The Packers scored a game-tying touchdown on the very next play.
Regardless of context, Lawson’s point about Rodgers holding on to the football remains valid to an extent. It makes sense that it would be easier to sack a quarterback when you have more time to do so rather than one who gets the ball out of his hands immediately, even if the former player is more elusive. But understanding the situation that led to Lawson’s great performance in that game is important and, in this case, the drop-off from Bakhtiari to Murphy makes for some extremely important context.