“Guys are open” says James Jones
By Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – The message was simple, direct. Tom Clements once told Aaron Rodgers that every possession should end in a kick. An extra point. A field goal. A punt.
Those should be the only options. At all costs, avoid turnovers.
“There are a lot worse things that can happen than ending a possession in a kick,” Rodgers said of his offensive coordinator’s old lesson. “That’s the mind-set I like to take into most games.”
And that mind-set will not be changing any time soon. In back-to-back weeks, the Green Bay Packers quarterback has been tarred and feathered by opposing defenses. The Bryan Bulaga-less offensive line is caving. In New York, Rodgers was sacked five times and pressured often in an embarrassing 38-10 loss.
There will be no change in philosophy. To rebound, Rodgers is sticking to his principles, what got him here. He abhors interceptions. More than anything, it’s about rediscovering a comfort in the pocket. A clear, open pocket that allows Rodgers to be decisive and dangerous.
“There’s really no way around it. Guys are open,” wide receiver James Jones said. “It’s just a fact of us protecting Aaron, keeping him in the pocket. Keeping him confident in the pocket where he doesn’t have to run every other play and then try to make a throw on the run.”
This is all a delicate balance. Against effective Cover-2 schemes – defenses eliminating wide receivers on the perimeter and maintaining pressure underneath without blitzing – Rodgers’ decision-making process becomes more difficult. He must straddle the line of being cautious and pulling the trigger. It’s a line the quarterback before him, for better or worse, didn’t pay as close attention to.
The last time Rodgers threw two interceptions in a game was 40 games ago. Brett Favre’s longest streak in 16 seasons with the Packers? Nine games.
Behind a shaky line, the calm, cool, calculated approach is tested. Plays are breaking down. Defenders are closing in to his left, to his right. Rodgers admits there is a “tendency to want to take those chances” at receivers in tighter quarters.
But he has no plans to cave in to that temptation.
“Being smart with the football is a way of playing the game I think more than just a decision each play,” said Rodgers, who has 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season. “It’s a mind-set with how you want to play out each game. . . . I have the ball in my hands every play. I have an impact on every play. I have a decision to make with the football and I usually try to make the highest-percentage play each time and hope it works out.”
At New York, there were times Rodgers waited too long for plays to develop downfield. On the third and 3 before Mason Crosby’s 55-yard field goal miss, Rodgers had Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson open to his right and John Kuhn open to his left. He waited, waited, began to scramble and was tripped up for a 2-yard sack by Chris Canty.
The pass protection might be brittle, but Rodgers hasn’t helped out his offensive line, either. At times, he has been too cautious and/or too reliant on his playmaking ability as a runner.
Against the Minnesota Vikings, who will almost certainly field two high safeties, the Packers plan to make adjustments. This week, expect an extra blocker on defensive end Jared Allen. A short passing game could help, too.
“We can do some things protection-wise that will be a little bit more conducive to getting the ball out quicker,” Rodgers said. “But we just have to find that balance again between getting open, running deeper stuff and getting the ball out of my hands and holding it trying to make a play.”
Jones insists receivers are open downfield. He doesn’t blame his quarterback, either. Jones wouldn’t gripe about his zero targets, saying that “at least 10 times” Rodgers was scrambling one way while he was running his route the other way.
As the pressure rose, so did Rodgers’ propensity to leave the pocket prematurely. He was quick to escape.
“It’s him not being comfortable back there,” Jones said. “When you’re running for your life dang near the whole game and trying to make a play, it doesn’t matter who you are – you roll out sometimes when you shouldn’t roll out. That’s just common.”
Jones uses himself as an example. If he was drilled by a defensive back six, seven times across the middle, naturally his approach would change. It’s human nature, he says.
“When I come in on No. 8, I’m not going to come in like I haven’t been hit,” Jones said. “I’m going to come in a little scared.”
And that’s what defenses have rendered the Packers’ offense for stretches this season – “scared.” The Detroit Lions’ M*A*S*H unit of a secondary nearly contained Rodgers the whole game. New York shut him down. There’s been minimal rhythm.
Running a series of crosses and digs and drags, Jones said he felt “hopeless.” The commotion in the backfield T-boned timing. Still, Jones stood by Rodgers’ turnover-free style. He doesn’t believe Rodgers needs to force the issue.
“Nine times out of 10, when the passing game goes our quarterback is protected,” Jones said. “That’s the bottom line. Yeah, we’ve seen Aaron make some phenomenal throws. But some phenomenal throws we’ve seen him make, he’s been standing up in the pocket, stepping into the throw.”
The schedule does not soften. More pass rushers await.
Somehow, the Packers need to pick the lock on Cover-2 defenses, on the hemorrhaging pressure. Part of it is on the line forming a consistent pocket. Part of it is Rodgers staying in that pocket and being decisive. Rodgers and Jones both see big plays left on the field. When the reigning MVP watched film from Sunday’s game, he cringed.
All these weapons and nothing… full story here