Despite injuries ravaging the Green Bay Packers offensive line, the team continues to find ways to keep Aaron Rodgers upright. Saturday’s win over the Cleveland Browns was a textbook example of that.
Rodgers had another MVP-caliber performance on Christmas, throwing for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Not only did he avoid taking a single sack, but he was only under pressure on nine of his 34 dropbacks according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
That kind of protection is impressive against any opponent, but to do it against a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Myles Garrett without David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Billy Turner, or Josh Myers is even more incredible.
Head coach Matt LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, and offensive line coach Adam Stenavich have done a phenomenal job at finding ways to protect their superstar quarterback. Let’s take a look at some of the ways they neutralized Cleveland’s pass rush on Saturday.
One of the simpler ways the Packers kept Cleveland’s pass rushers on their toes was by mixing up the snap counts. It’s hard to showcase that in a film study piece, but there was at least one example that showed up to show how it impacted the Browns.
On a third down early in Saturday’s game, the Packers snapped the ball almost immediately after lining up. If you watch the play below, you can see Porter Gustin isn’t even set before the ball is snapped.
Hard to tell on film, but Packers did a great job of mixing up snap counts to keep Cleveland's pass rush from teeing off.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 28, 2021
Look at 94 on the left of the screen. Wasn't even set before the snap. pic.twitter.com/yAQlAQTSY0
Teams can rely too heavily on the same snap cadence at times in the NFL. That allows defenses to tee off and time up the snap count, resulting in some catastrophic plays for the offense.
By switching up the snap counts, defensive players run the risk of jumping offsides and are playing a bit more on their toes. Any kind of advantage helps in pass protection, especially when playing with so many backups like the Packers have been working with.
Another way the Packers were able to avoid pressure was by scheming up quick throws and getting the ball out of Rodgers’ hands as fast as possible. This season, Rodgers has averaged 2.60 seconds between the snap and his throw. When throwing from a clean pocket on Saturday, it only took Rodgers 2.02 seconds to get the ball out.
Despite the misconception, teams can still produce explosive plays when trying to get the ball out quickly. One of Green Bay’s biggest plays against the Browns came on a three-step drop from Rodgers.
Facing a single-high safety look, Davante Adams was matched up in press coverage. Rodgers saw the matchup, and took just three steps before getting the ball out as Adams went deep.
You can still generate explosive plays while getting the ball out quickly.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 28, 2021
Cover 1 pre-snap look with Davante facing press coverage.
Hard to generate pass rush on a 3-step drop. pic.twitter.com/GchSzmhYEO
Had Rodgers held onto the ball a little bit longer, the Browns likely could have gotten a sack considering the push they were able to generate at the line of scrimmage. Instead, Rodgers hit Adams on a perfect pass for a huge play.
Not surprisingly, one of the biggest priorities for the Packers on offense was containing Myles Garrett, one of the best pass rushers in the league. Even coming into the weekend dealing with a groin injury, Garrett was going to have a major impact on the game had Green Bay not planned for him.
Chipping Garrett with a tight end like Josiah Deguara or Dominique Dafney was a logical option, and something that the Packers had done in previous weeks this season against the likes of Nick Bosa and T.J. Watt.
Didn't see the Packers chip Myles Garrett a ton, but this was a nice play by Deguara to slow the Cleveland star down. pic.twitter.com/Go6fyRvuhX— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 28, 2021
Green Bay ended up chipping Garrett a lot less frequently than you might have expected, but Deguara made a nice block on a chip when he was called upon. Deguara may not be a Pro Bowl tight end, but he has really developed into a solid blocker since Robert Tonyan went down with a torn ACL.
Second-year offensive guard Jon Runyan Jr. deserves some credit for helping out on Garrett as well. Yosh Nijman had his hands full for most of the game trying to contain the All-Pro defensive end, but there were times when Runyan was available to help out to slow Garrett down.
Nice job here from Jon Runyan Jr. looking for work to help Yosh Nijman with Myles Garrett. pic.twitter.com/u56iuoRgCv— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 28, 2021
As offensive linemen start to return from injuries for the Packers, Runyan has likely kept his starting role. He didn’t allow a single pressure on Saturday, and has allowed just one over his last three games.
Even running back Aaron Jones played a key role in keep his quarterback upright. Jones has deservedly earned a reputation as a reliable back in pass protection, willingly sacrificing himself against blitzing players. There was another great example of that on Saturday.
Find yourself a running back who will protect his QB in pass pro like @Showtyme_33 pic.twitter.com/9kyZ29xzSQ— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) December 28, 2021
Allowing zero sacks in a game against a stout defense like Cleveland is a testament to the coaches and players for executing their gameplan to perfection. It’s unclear when (or if) Bakhtiari, Turner, or Myers are returning, so it will continue to take all 11 players on the field to keep giving Rodgers a clean pocket.