Being chased by large, strong men is not a position most of us thrive in. That’s why we watch football, blog about football, or talk about playing high school football in the days of yesteryear as though it’s remotely close to what we watch every Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers doesn’t seem to mind, and his consistent poise and ability to still produce at an elite level while facing an elite pass rush could be a game-altering skill this weekend against the Giants, a team that finished tied for third in the regular season with 48 sacks, only two behind the first place Vikings and Eagles.
In fact, he’s so consistent that there’s barely a difference statistically between high-pressure games and other more average Sundays strolling around in the pocket. But more on that in a minute.
Life will be made far easier when Rodgers doesn’t have to worry about the guys in front of him, something he’s had to do much of the season. Due to injuries Green Bay’s offensive line has struggled, with Chad Clifton, Bryan Bulaga, and Josh Sitton missing a combined 16 games. They’ll all be healthy Sunday.
That fortification up front is a luxury for Green Bay, and not necessarily a tipping point. While we’re sure he doesn’t enjoy being planted in the turf, Rodgers has handled it just fine, a storm-weathering ability made possible by his quick reads, and a quick release that leaves as little as 2.7 seconds between the moment the ball is placed in his hands after the snap, and the moment it’s released.
That results in scarce pursuit time for opposing pass rushers, with Rodgers leaving a window that’s more than large enough to cycle through reads rapidly, and make plays.
Of the Giants’ 50 sacks through 17 games this year including last week, 30.5 of them came from Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul, with Pierre-Paul’s 16.5 during the regular season good enough for fourth overall. For some perspective, that trio alone had more sacks than six teams this year (Bills, Colts, Chiefs, Titans, Bucs, and yes, the Packers).
Adding to the efficiency of New York’s pass rush is their momentum over the last three games. During those games against the Falcons, Cowboys, and Jets, the Giants’ pass rush registered 13 sacks, making a significant contribution to keeping the combined quarterback rating of Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, and Mark Sanchez to just 70.8.
In Week 13 when these two teams met and Green bay narrowly won 38-35, Rodgers was sacked twice, and knocked down six times. But for our purposes of trying to dissect Rodgers’ ability to handle the Giants’ pass rush, that game’s hardly worth even mentioning, because Umenyiora was out with an ankle injury, and Tuck wasn’t at full speed while dealing with an injury of his own.
Those 50 Giants sacks set a pace just shy of three per game (2.9), and Rodgers has had six games this year in which he’s been sacked at least three times, which accounts for 40 percent of his starts. There will be some bending Sunday by both Rodgers and Green Bay’s offensive line, but there likely won’t be much breaking.
Why? Consider Rodgers’ numbers during those high-pressure games. With the exception of a Week 15 upset loss to Kansas City when he was sacked four times, overall his production still hovered around his elite pace even though he lost a total of 119 yards from 22 sacks.
Overall Rodgers had what will likely be an MVP year, finishing the regular season with a league-best quarterback rating of 122.5. He was second in passing touchdowns with 45 while throwing just six interceptions, averaging 309.5 yards per game, 9.2 yards per attempt, and completing 68.3 percent of his passes.
Remarkably, two of those numbers stayed the exact same during the six games when Rodgers faced more pressure, and was sacked at least three times. He still completed 68.3 percent of his passes for an average of 9.2 yards. Overall he averaged three touchdown passes per game, and that went down to 2.8, while only one of his six picks came during the high-pressure outings (against Oakland). His passer rating also fell only marginally to 121.0, and the largest gap isn’t even that large, with his yards per game sliding to 290.7.
Then there’s the rushing yards, with 112 of Rodgers’ 257 yards on the ground coming during those six games, showing that Tuck, Pierre-Paul, Umenyiora et al have to neutralize both his quick release, and his quick feet.
The Packers could lose this game, and if they do it’ll likely be on the shoulders of their own poor pass rush that will continually put the secondary in vulnerable positions against Eli manning. The Giants’ pass rush is a concern, but one that Rodgers should be able to manage and minimize.