Lions film review: How Aaron Rodgers handled blitzing
Two years ago, after a tough loss at Lambeau Field, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell snapped at a reporter who asked why the team didn't blitz Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers more during the game. The question was particularly relevant because Rodgers had been hobbled by a calf injury, significantly limiting his mobility.
"You're probably getting into some areas where you don't know what you're talking about," Caldwell said. "First of all, because of the fact that we have to look at this guy for what he's done. If you look at the number of times when he gets blitzed, what happens, you look at the number of times people play zones against him, what happens -- when you start looking at all those things, breaking them down, look at those things, then you might be qualified to ask me that question."
But circumstances dictate strategy, and with top pass rusher Ziggy Ansah sidelined with an ankle sprain, and the linebacking corps battling a number of injuries softening the middle of the defense, the Lions had to adjust and find ways to force Rodgers into making quicker decisions this past Sunday. That meant more blitzing.
Rodgers dropped back to pass 30 times in the 34-27 victory over the Lions. He threw 26 times, two of which were wiped out by Lions penalties, scrambled twice and was sacked twice.
On those 30 dropbacks, Detroit brought five or more pass rushers 15 times. On those plays, Rodgers completed 7-of-14 for 95 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a passer rating of 111.6, which if it qualified, would rank third in the NFL this season. Rodgers also scrambled one play and was chased out of the bounds by Haloti Ngata for no gain. The defensive tackle was credited for a sack.
We're going to go over each of those 15 plays.
Second-and-5, 13:01 first quarter
The Packers are at midfield and moving on the game's first possession. The Lions come out with three defensive ends, with Devin Taylor working inside. Prior to the snap, middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead moves down to the line of scrimmage, wide of the defensive end on the left side of the Packers' formation.
The design is set up to spread the offensive line out, allowing Taylor to run an inside stunt with Haloti Ngata, but the Packers pick it up nicely. Still, Rodgers' passing lanes are crowded by the rush and he's forced to roll to his left. That lane is free because defensive end Kerry Hyder has been knocked to the ground by what appears to be a missed hold. In the time this takes to transpire, receiver Randall Cobb comes wide open deep against the zone coverage and Rodgers finds him for a 33-yard gain.
First-and-10, 12:12 first quarter
The Lions show pressure pre-snap, bringing Whitehead, safety Tavon Wilson and nickel back Rafael Bush close to the line of scrimmage. Rodgers uses motion to diagnose the situation, first sending running back Eddie Lacy out of the backfield to the right side, then moving tight end Jared Cook, who lined up shoulder to shoulder with the left tackle, to the left slot.
Wilson charges on the snap and gets a clear lane between the left tackle and guard, but Rodgers quickly takes an end zone shot, overthrowing Cook.
Third-and-7, 11:27 first quarter
The Lions line up with just three down linemen with Hyder walking around in the second level. The defense tips its hand on a hard count as Hyder and Whitehead both rush the line and have to back off and reset. On the snap, the duo charges again, flooding the left side of the Packers line. That leaves a clear passing lane to Rodgers' right where he finds Davante Adams on a slant for a touchdown. Adams badly beat cornerback Quandre Diggs off the line, mitigating the blitz's potential impact.
Second-and-7, 1:12 first quarter
This is a well-executed blitz by Whitehead, who lines up on the line of scrimmage between the defensive end and defensive tackle, across from the Packers' left guard. On the snap, the linebacker loops behind both defensive tackles where there's a clear path to Rodgers between the right guard and tackle. But again, the quarterback sees the pressure before it arrives and gets rid of the ball quickly, overthrowing his target in the end zone, likely intentionally.
First-and-goal, 14:51 second quarter
The Packers run play-action from the 2-yard line and the Lions' linebackers bite hard. Both Kyle Van Noy and Zaviar Gooden continue pursuit of Rodgers, who rolls out and finds his tight end cutting behind the formation into the right flat for an easy score.
Second-and-10, 11:35 second quarter
Again, the Lions look to confuse Rodgers by having Hyder stand up in the second level. Aided by the blitzing Whitehead, Hyder comes unblocked into the backfield, but Rodgers is able to dump it off to his tight end running a shallow crossing route for a seven-yard gain.
Third-and-3, 10:50 second quarter
The Lions bring the house on this play, lining up eight along the line of scrimmage and sending seven. Safety Glover Quin gets the free lane to Rodgers after running back Eddie Lacy misses the assignment. The quarterback heaves up a fade to Jordy Nelson in the end zone just as Quin arrives, but the pass lands just beyond the grasp of the diving receiver.
Second-and-7, 3:28 second quarter
The Lions bring pressure with six, sending Van Noy and Whitehead, but the Packers offensive line, with the help of an inline tight end, handle their individual assignments well enough for Rodgers to connect with Nelson on a short curl for nine yards. Snap to throw was two seconds.
Third-and-2, 1:14 second quarter
Very similar to the play earlier in the quarter, the Lions line up eight across the line. This time, they send all eight, with Rafael Bush coming on the delay. But by the time the safety rushes toward the backfield, Rodgers is already releasing another fade to Nelson on the outside. This throw connects for a 17-yard score over cornerback Darius Slay.
First-and-10, :32 second quarter
A simple blitz with Whitehead coming from the second level, looking for a lane up the middle. The Packers easily picked up the linebacker, but it left defensive tackle Khyri Thornton with a single blocker, who he shook to get into the backfield, forcing Rodgers to throw it away deep down the field.
First-and-10, 5:58 third quarter
Nothing fancy here. The Lions sent Gooden off the left edge and Rodgers connected with his hot read to that side, finding Justin Perillo on a quick throw, which the tight end turned into a 13-yard gain.
Second-and-10, 4:40 third quarter
Whitehead again showed his hand early on a hard count, allowing the Packers to easily pick up the blitzing linebacker and maintain a clean pocket for Rodgers. On this play, the coverage held for the Lions, with cornerback Nevin Lawson taking away Rodgers' primary read, forcing the quarterback to roll from the pocket and throw it away.
Second-and-8, 10:17 fourth quarter
Quin comes off the edge as a fifth rusher and powers through Lacy's blitz pickup attempt, forcing Rodgers to roll to his right. Ngata and Stefan Charles give chase, and despite the quarterback keeping his eyes upfield looking for a target, he was ultimately forced out of bounds for the no-gain sack.
Third-and-8, 9:53 fourth quarter
The Lions put six at the line of scrimmage and flood the A gaps with Whitehead and Van Noy running a successful stunt. Van Noy comes free and Rodgers is forced to quickly fire to Cobb on a crossing route. The play fails when Diggs knocks the pass away.
First-and-10, 6:35 fourth quarter
Maybe calling this a blitz is a stretch, but Whitehead continues pursuit of Rodgers after coming downhill on play-action. The quarterback has a clean pocket and delivers what would have been a first down to Trevor Davis on a comeback route, but the rookie receiver dropped the pass.