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Remember: The Team with the Ball Dictates the Action

I’ve been studying up on the Rams and their 10-6 season and, yes, they have a ferocious defense. It’s going to take sound planning to beat this opponent, but I trust that Matt LaFleur and his staff possess the smarts to do so.

The Rams’ defense led the league in fewest yards yielded, passing yardage yielded, and points yielded. They also ranked third in rushing yards yielded, so they have few glaring defensive weaknesses. The Packers counter with an offense that led the league in points scored, were fifth best in yards gained, and were well balanced in being 8th best in rushing yardage and ninth-best in passing yardage.

Individual-wise, a similar comparison presents itself. The Rams have the league’s best defensive player and the Packers have the best offensive player. When Rodgers lines up over center, he and Aaron Donald will be staring at each other from about three feet away.

Let’s get to work. My analysis begins with the premise that the offense – the team with the ball and calling the plays – has an advantage over the defense. When facing a great pass defense, an offense can simply rely more heavily on the run game. When facing a shutdown cornerback (both teams have one) you can minimize passing in his direction. When facing a great pass rusher, there are a number of ways to lessen that player’s influence on the game.

Dec 19, 2020; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) runs for a gain against the Carolina Panthers during their football game Saturday, December 19, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Dan Powers-USA TODAY NETWORK

Quick Passing

I just read where, according to Pro Football Focus, in 2020 Aaron Rodgers had the fifth best PFF player grade in a single game, regardless of players’ positions. It was the season opener against the Vikings, who the Pack beat by a 43 to 34 score. This game set the stage for the rest of the season – both for the team and for Aaron individually. He also had the very best PFF player grade of the 2020 season, 96.9, in the Week 13 win over the Eagles.

In that season opener, Aaron’s time-to-throw was a lightning-quick 2.38 seconds. My belief is that Aaron’s resurgence in 2020 can best be explained by his apparent commitment, entering his 16th season, to releasing the ball more quickly. Rodgers gave up no sacks to the Vikes, and his completion rate was a sterling 72.7%.

Though Aaron strayed a bit from his quick-release practice during the season (finishing at 2.72 seconds), I believe his big improvement in this area accounts for his very low number of sacks, 20, on the season. If Aaron releases his passes in the 2.5 seconds range versus the Rams, Aaron Donald and his mates won’t be getting any sacks – regardless of how well or poorly the Pack’s O-line blocks. The quick release is the optimum way of thwarting a strong pass rush. It also frustrates the hell out of those mammoth pass rushers.

Jan 9, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Los Angeles Rams safety Nick Scott (33) breaks up a catch intended for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field. Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Rams vs. Seahawks

The Rams faced the Seahawks three times this past season, including in a playoff game last Saturday, and they registered 16 sacks of Wilson – Donald’s team of course went on to win two out of the three games against their divisional rival.

In a nutshell, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks didn’t play smart against the Rams. With Russell dancing around, holding the ball for many seconds, and often trying to escape from the pocket – as are his trademarks – the Hawks played right into the Rams’ hands. If Rodgers tries to do the same, the result of the game will very likely be a Rams win.

Other Strategies

There are several other useful ways to negate a strong pass rush. One of course is to go run heavy. The Packers have many good run blockers and three fine running backs, so I do expect their number of runs to be about equal to their pass attempts in this game.

One great way to counter the Rams would be to call a lot of well-designed screen pass plays. This is one of the few areas that Coach LaFleur has not utilized very effectively as yet in his time at Green Bay.

On the season, Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones had 47 receptions, and picked up 355 yards along the way. While this doesn’t sound so bad, many of these passes were dump-offs by Rodgers, done to avoid sacks rather than being designed screen plays. Also, several of Jones’ catches came when he lined up as a wide receiver.

Jamaal Williams had 31 catches, for 236 yards. Jones and Williams had identical averages of 7.6 yards gained per reception. The Packers third RB, A.J. Dillon had two pass receptions – though he too appears to be a capable receiver.

By comparison, the Saints’ Alvin Kamara caught 83 passes, and Washington’s J. D. McKissic caught 80 during the regular season. I’m not suggesting Jones should be a receiving target to that extent, but I do think Packers RBs should be the recipients of around five screen passes per game – and maybe more against top pass-rushing teams. We’ll find out this Saturday if LaFleur agrees.

Another way that Rodgers can thwart a pass rush, and minimize sacks, is to roll outside of the tackles as he looks to pass. This makes it take longer for interior defensive linemen to reach him. More importantly though, it allows a QB to throw the ball away when he’s under heavy pressure without being penalized for intentional grounding.

Another strategy I hope to see employed is to often line up A.J. Dillon in the backfield alongside Aaron Jones. In addition to providing more run options, Dillon is most likely the strongest blocker, against giant pass rushers, among the team’s running backs.

There are other tactics that can be employed, such as draw plays, frequent misdirection, and the shovel pass (which I’ve yet to see LaFleur use) – but you get the idea.

Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – JANUARY 03: Aaron Jones #33 of the Green Bay Packers tries to break away from Josh Woods #55 of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on January 03, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 35-16. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Final Thought

Getting back to the theme in the title, the offense has more control over a game than does the defense. And the quarterbacks, much more than any other players, are the determining factor in a game’s outcome.

Green Bay has MVP candidate Rodgers, who had the league’s top passer rating, 121.5, during the regular season. The Rams’ QB, Jared Goff had a rating of 90.0, in the bottom half of the league at 23rd place – and that was before he broke his thumb.

Goff’s performance was on a downhill slide as the season wore on. His passer ratings in his last four games were: 74.9 (Patriots), 89.0 (Jets), 61.6 Seahawks), and 93.1 (Seahawks, playoffs). Rodgers, meanwhile, is peaking, with his last four passer ratings being: 133.6, 91.6. 128.1, and 147.9. This isn’t a gap between the two teams’ quarterbacks it’s a canyon.

I suspect that the differences in these quarterbacks’ abilities is the reason why the Rams have opened as a 7-point underdog in this intriguing divisional round.

Tags:
Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

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34 Comments

  1. PF4L January 15, 2021

    “Another way that Rodgers can thwart a pass rush, and minimize sacks, is to roll outside of the tackles as he looks to pass.”
    .
    So pretty much where Rodgers has made his bones throughout his career.
    It’s great to stay in the pocket and launch in 2,5 seconds, but through the years that hasn’t always been possible, for obvious reasons.
    .
    If there is one area where Rodgers has regressed, it has been in his legs rolling out wide. That’s a natural problem when you are 37 , not 27.
    He is more apt to be caught by defenders than years past.
    The old adage is true as ever. With age…your legs are the first to go.
    He can still do it at a high level, just not as often.

    Reply
  2. Howard January 15, 2021

    There was a reason the Seahawks fired their offensive coordinator. The Seahawks expect their receivers to just win their one on one battles. The receiver routes are not meshed together to force certain defenders to have to make decisions on who to cover and for how long. I would say the Seahawks ran a McCarthy type passing offense.
    .
    LaFleur uses route concepts that stress pass defenders to have to make decisions on multiple receivers crossing or stressing their coverage area. If the defender hesitates or makes a small misstep it can quickly result in a receiver(s) coming open that was not the defenders initial responsibility, but is now stressing his coverage zone. QB#1 sees those stress points after the snap as good as anyone, and many times before the snap of the ball.
    .
    The Rams may change up this game, but they run a lot of zone coverage. I’m not sure that running screen passes is the best route against zone coverage. I do think quick, short passes is a good plan with the occasional deep shot. The TEs and RBs should get their fair share of targets. I think the key on offense is patience with sudden deep shots off play action. That means not going away from the run game.

    Reply
  3. PF4L January 15, 2021

    Just because….i can’t help myself.
    .
    Subject: Adrian Peterson
    .
    Prediction: Peterson files for Bankruptcy this year. It will happen
    .
    The NYS Supreme court ruled AP owes 8.3 million from a loan default taken out in 2016.
    .
    After signing a settlement payment plan in 2019, he defaulted on that also.
    .
    Keep in mind…when he took this loan out, he had amassed 94 million in earnings, just in NFL salary.
    Since then (2016), he has only made 8 million in NFL salary. Making the veteran minimum this last season.
    .
    I don’t know if he had to take out that loan to get current in all his 8 baby mommas child support, buy a Bugatti, or ?
    What i do know is…..
    You can’t fix stupid.
    .
    Maybe he didn’t pay his bills because that’s how he was brought up, much like his child raising skills.

    Reply
    1. Ferris January 16, 2021

      Prediction…it will snow in WI this year. Everyone knew how it would end for him. He will have an NFL pension that can’t be garnished. Like OJ and Warren Sapp and Mark Brunell. And that is all he will have. Not a dime of that 90 million +

      Reply
      1. PF4L January 16, 2021

        And the sun will come out this year, and it will rain this year, blah,blah,blah……..
        .
        Now, how about your game prediction?
        .
        Don’t be afraid.

        Reply
  4. Mick January 15, 2021

    I agree with what Howard is saying about the run game. We have three capable backs that are very versatile and can contribute in many ways. Whether it takes a 2 back set, or help with the H-back/ tight ends blocking, chipping, or even catching short passes, it will stress the Rams D-line and force the linebackers, out of their area, where Rodgers can attack the short to medium area of the defense. Then Rodgers can pick his spots to attack downfield. The Rams D is legit, and LaFleur has to be creative with the backs .(maybe LaFleur has been saving the 2 back sets for the playoffs)

    Reply
  5. Howard January 15, 2021

    I’m kind of surprised Goff’s passer rating was that high in the wild card game. I guess that is what happens when you don’t throw Ints and your receiver makes a good play on a deep under thrown pass (44yds) and you throw a short dump off to a RB who runs for 44 yards. The only other decent pass from Goff was the 17 yard TD pass in the 4th quarter.
    .
    The Rams did something with Goff last week that was not usual. The Rams have usually boot legged Goff out to the right more than the left. Goff has always looked more awkward throwing when running to his left, but the Rams usually try to keep the rollouts to the left and right in a somewhat consistent %. Last week the Rams at a much higher percentage rolled Goff out to the right. In fact I think Goff only threw the ball to his left 4 times. Two of those passes looked ugly. The other two were passes to the numbers not the sideline. One was a short completion to Kupp and the other was the 17 yard TD in the fourth quarter, and that pass was only about 10 yards in the air.
    .
    I’m not sure if the Rams passing strategy was to protect Goff, or just put Goff in a comfort zone. If the Rams continue to throw much more to the right, they are going to be throwing into the Alexander zone. This would also mean King would see substantially fewer passes into his coverage area. Both I think are positives for the Packer defense.

    Reply
    1. Robster January 15, 2021

      I’m glad you brought up Kevin King, who’s been an enigma for four years. He’s shown (intermittently) he can provide tight coverage, and I can even remember when he was a pretty fair tackler. The better Alexander becomes, the more action King is likely to see. He has an opportunity to add some value to his team, and to showcase himself on a big stage in these playoffs. If he has a good playoff run, it could double the amount of his free agent offers. I sure hope he grasps this, and shows us how capable he can play when he has the requisite amount of desire.

      Reply
      1. PF4L January 15, 2021

        Kevin King is an enigma the same way Adrian Peterson is a good financial planner.

        Reply
        1. Mick January 16, 2021

          Kevin King is an enigma the same way Teddy T was a dynamo in the free agency market.

          Reply
          1. Ferris January 16, 2021

            Kenny King…his name is Kenny according to all broadcasters.

            Reply
  6. PF4L January 15, 2021

    I think the Packers defense should be damn happy they play the Rams offense (23.3 PPG).
    The Bucs offense scoring average is 30.8 and the Saints at 30.1 PPG
    .
    If the defense is improved as much as everyone says, they shouldn’t struggle to bad at home against the Rams. If they do struggle…that might not be a good sign moving forward, even if they win.

    Reply
  7. PF4L January 15, 2021

    Fun Facts (with a kicker)….Season point differentials….
    .
    Ravens…+165
    Saints…..+145
    Packers…+ 140
    Bucs……..+ 137
    Bills………+ 126
    Chiefs……+ 111
    Rams…….+ 76
    .
    Browns…. – 11

    Reply
  8. Deepsky January 15, 2021

    Donald will be lining up wherever Lucas Patrick is. He had a couple bad games this season and probably has no chance of stopping Donald. Rodgers will have 2 seconds to get rid of the ball and will lock onto Adams like he always does in these situations. Except Ramsey will blanket Adams and Rodgers won’t throw it and will take a sack. It will be very ugly. Nearly every Packers embarrassing playoff loss has come against a top 3 defense and the Rams have the best defense the Packers have EVER faced in the playoffs. On top of that, McVey, like Shanahan last year will know exactly what LaFluer is going to call. This is why the Packers will lose unless Goff throws a couple picks. The defense is going to have to win this game.

    Reply
    1. Dean January 15, 2021

      Do not underestimate the GB rushing attack — 3 backs that can run/catch and run blockers (OL, TE, & WRs). At the end of 2011 and then in 2012 when teams kept their safeties back, GB was unable to make them pay with the running game. I think that problem will be solved if the rams play their preferred way of 2 safeties deep. Even loaded with WR talent, the 2011/2012 offense could not solve the cover-2 look.

      Reply
      1. PF4L January 15, 2021

        It’s hard to digest that the 4th highest scoring team in NFL history couldn’t solve a defensive play scheme.
        .
        If you want to find fault in the 2011 offense, it’s that they had a poor running game, ranking 27th in the league.

        Reply
        1. Dean January 15, 2021

          I would not be surprised if Jones gets 25/30 touches (runs or passes). He is a home run thread just waiting to happen. GB has been saving the wear and tear on the RBs all season basically, compared to teams like TN/MN. At home against an excellent pass defense, why wait?

          Reply
    2. Ferris January 16, 2021

      In the McCarthy days you are correct. Now we’ll see. McRib would just give it to Kuhn as an inventive offense.

      Reply
  9. Mick January 15, 2021

    I think Donald will be a pain in the ass no matter where he lines up along the line. Linsley, most likely will need to help out on some double teams; and they might even need to get some blocking help from one of the backs. Rodgers will have to be sharp, spread the ball around, have a quick release, and they need the running game to work. We have a good pass rush to put a lot of pressure on Goff, and that rush will be most effective IF; they can contain the run Forcing Goff to win the game by passing the ball, should be enough to win this game. What has me concerned is, the (not so) special teams. GB cannot turn the ball over, and the STs’ need to be mistake free!

    Reply
    1. PF4L January 15, 2021

      Whereas Pettine always focused on stopping the pass first.
      .
      He has to revert back to the strategy against the Titans,
      Stop the run and make the QB beat you. Akers is a threat and i think the Rams want to give him a lot of attempts in part to implement their strategy of keeping Rodgers on the sideline.
      .
      If the defense stops the run game, i don’t see Jared Goff winning this game through the air.
      **********************************
      Fun Facts…….
      At Home the Packers have 27 sacks.
      .
      At away games, the Rams have 21 sacks.
      .
      There are a lot of advantages being at home against the Rams. The Rams scoring defense isn’t near lethal, as they are if playing at home.
      .
      As i’ve stated previously people, i’m not just a another pretty face around here
      I always put my 9th grade education to good use.
      .
      You’re welcome.

      Reply
    2. Deepsky January 16, 2021

      The Rams don’t need Donald. They will get pressure on Rodgers even if he wasn’t playing because they have a formidable line. This game it will be very clear that the loss of Bakhtiari is significant.

      Games like this are the reason why the Packers signed Snacks Harrison, so teams can’t dictate the pace of the game by running it.

      Reply
      1. PF4L January 16, 2021

        General Managers like Gute, sign players in week 17 as a band aid to try to cure a problem that has existed for years.

        Reply
  10. Mick January 15, 2021

    These are two good teams, and with all things being equal, and if both teams play up to their potential; I’ll still take Rodgers over Goff all day long!

    Reply
    1. PF4L January 15, 2021

      You’ll take multiple MVP, SB MVP, no brainer HOF’er. Most efficient QB in NFL history over…..Jared Goff?
      .
      You live on the edge my friend :)

      Reply
      1. Mick January 16, 2021

        Yup, I put all but one of my eggs in that basket on the Q-back comparisons, just in case I get hungry; LOL! Where I do have concerns, is if Rodgers has an off day against the Rams pass rush, and if McVey and Staley out scheme LaFleur and Pettine. I do agree with you on Pettine reverting back to the scheme used against the Titans.

        Reply
        1. PF4L January 16, 2021

          For Rodgers to have an off day, what has to happens before that?

          Reply
          1. PF4L January 16, 2021

            The O line has an off day.

            Reply
  11. Deepsky January 16, 2021

    Whether it’s the Seahawks, the 49ers, the Cardinals or now the Rams, Aaron Rodgers has an abysmal record vs NFC West teams with a good defense. I really don’t understand how anyone can feel confident in this game. Rodgers vs NFC West in the playoffs is like Favre in domes, he has major issues. He’s played one good game, last year against the Seahawks, but the Seahawks had a terrible defense last year. Yeah, there’s a couple games that show him having a QB rating in the 90s, but that’s because Rodgers threw 5-6 garbage time TDs late in the game, but he did nothing during the game. Now the Rams have the best defense of any NFC Team West that Rodgers has ever faced. About middle of the 2nd quarter I expect to see Rodgers shaking his head again and revert to holding on to the ball too long and getting sacked. The defense will absolutely have to win this game.

    Reply
    1. PF4L January 16, 2021

      I feel confident because of all the reasons i listed the last few days.
      .
      Also, i don’t feel confident in Rodgers vs the Rams or any other team.. I feel confident in the Green Bay Packers vs the Rams, and most teams.
      .
      If it was Aaron Rodgers vs NFC teams, or any team, we’d never win a game. It’s a team game.
      .
      Now…continue on your hate for Rodgers if it makes you feel better. But after the game, remember… there are no more empty seats on the Rodgers bandwagon, i (graciously) gave Kato the last one.
      .
      I’m hoping in the middle of the 2nd quarter the Packers are beating the Rams 17-0.
      .
      Can the Rams defense win games? Absolutely
      Am i envisioning that happening against the leagues top scoring offense…at home, in January? Absolutely fucking not
      .
      I also feel confident…that when the time comes that Jordan Love is starting, you’ll be wishing they still had Aaron Rodgers.

      .

      Reply
      1. Mick January 16, 2021

        Wow, let’s not think about life after Rodgers. That day will come sooner than any of us want!

        Reply
  12. PF4L January 16, 2021

    Deepsky January 16, 2021
    The Rams don’t need Donald. They will get pressure on Rodgers even if he wasn’t playing because they have a formidable line.
    ******************************
    Anyone buy that bullshit?
    .
    They don’t need the leagues best pass rusher?
    They don’t need the teams best player?

    You think Leonard Floyds production doesn’t fall off without the focus on stopping Donald?
    ***************************
    What could i say that would be equally ignorant…umm…lets see…

    How about….The Packers don’t need Rodgers to beat the Rams, because they have the #1 scoring offense.

    Reply
    1. Mick January 16, 2021

      If some people think that the Rams defense is all-world, I have a couple of questions to ask. Where was this all world defense when the winless Jets went into LA and won big? What happened to the Rams D when they were beaten twice by the 49ers, when the Niners were missing several players on offense and defense? Point is , Donald played in those games, and what would have been the score if Donald didn’t play? The Rams probably over-looked the Jets, but I doubt they over-looked their rival 49ers. Let’s be realistic here, the Rams don’t make the playoffs without Donald!

      Reply
  13. PF4L January 16, 2021

    Remember when there was talk (not from me) about the Packers going after Austin Hooper?
    .
    I said he was going to be too expensive vs his production history.
    .
    As it turned out….
    Hooper…46 catches…435 yds….9.5 YPC…4TD’s….66% catch rate…..$11.5 million
    .
    Tonyan…52 catches….586 yds…11.3 YPC…11 TD’s….88% catch rate….$750,000
    .
    Now….this off season it’s payday for Tonyan. The worst year for someone wanting to get paid. Even though he’s only done it this season, the Packers need to find a way to get him locked up. His production, work ethic, and his character…warrant it. This isn’t a Nick Perry situation.
    .
    This Packer fan would be proud to have Tonyan wearing green and gold the next 4 years.

    Reply
    1. Mick January 16, 2021

      Amen, I’m with you on that one, my friend. They can’t let Tonyan slip through their fingers. I’ll take squad full of Tonyans on my team any day.

      Reply

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