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Here’s How to Reduce Quarterback Injuries

Knowing that the attention spans of many football fans is short, I’ve been trying to shorten my posts a bit, though I admit I haven’t had much success. Given the one-sided set of comments to my last post (here) encouraging Rodgers to run for yardage “when the situation presents itself,” (which I stated twice), some further elaboration and discussion is in order.

I’m not aware of anybody who compiles statistics on the causes of QB injuries, so I’ll have to rely on what my eyes tell me. I’d say the vast majority of QB injuries occur: (1) when the blocking pocket breaks down and a huge rusher blind-sides a QB who is looking downfield for a receiver; or (2) when a QB, knowing he’s in a defenseless pose and about to take a horrendous hit, nonetheless stands in there and throws the ball. Fans tend to salute these QBs for such courage, whereas they probably should be criticized for recklessly exposing themselves.

What I encourage is this: when a big gap of open space appears in the pass protection pocket, which happens often, a QB should take advantage of the opportunity by tucking the ball down and running – and when defenders get near him he should slide to the ground, or run out of bounds, in order to avoid heavy contact.

One of the many advantages to this strategy is that these runs often result in significant yardage gains – on the order of 15 to 20 yards. Additionally, it’s a great way to convert third downs.

What is less apparent is that when defensive rushers know a QB is prepared to take off running, they need to be more constrained and controlled in their movements, so as not to abandon their lanes for the QB to run through. For example, there are many NFL pass rushers who almost totally rely on going wide and looping around and tackling the passer from behind. In his last few years, this is about the only rushing method that Clay Matthews used.

This tactic often creates big running lanes for a QB to ramble through. This season, I don’t recall the Green Bay defenders giving QBs a lot of easy running opportunities. The Packers’ pass rushers have tended to resort to bull rushes, and to staying in their lanes, which shrink the pocket and keep these gaps from forming. When the Pack is preparing for its next opponent, it should study the other team’s pass-rushing habits, so they are ready to exploit teams that lack the discipline to keep the QB within a tight pocket. By QBs readily running through gaps in the pocket, an offense can force a defense to have a less effective pass-rush.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is sacked by LB Devin Bush

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush (55) during their football game Sunday, October 3, 2021, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Quarterback Injuries

Your recollection might differ, but I can’t think of a single instance in which a QB has gone into a slide and gotten injured (other than when he’s caught a cleat in the ground). Even when a QB slides too late and a defender makes contact with him, I can’t recall their being any injuries. I’ve seen QBs jump up spitting mad, but uninjured – when a player is on the ground, and has had a moment to brace for an impact, injuries seldom result.

I’ve taken into account that this strategy is not suitable for all QBs. But it is custom-made for Aaron Rodgers. The crafty veteran is known for his smarts, his discipline, and for his ability to make sound split-second choices. It’s a ploy that should be used judiciously.

For those of you who are queasy about having Rodgers break out of the pocket and rushing for yardage on occasion, I have a final proviso. This is a tactic that can be kept in mind for special occasions: a critical third down, a play in the red zone, in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line, and so on.

We actually have an example from this season. Week 4, 2nd quarter, Packers down 7-0, but with a 2nd and goal at the Steelers’ 9-yard line. Aaron fades back, doesn’t spot anyone open, and the Steelers blitz a defensive back who tries to go wide, but Billy Turner easily pushes him well behind the QB. Rodgers doesn’t hesitate, takes off through the gap, leaves T.J. Watt in the dust, and waltzes untouched into the end zone. This easy and opportunistic play was a momentum-changer in the Pack’s 27-17 win.

Summary

Think for a moment of who are the league’s top QBs: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Dak Prescott. Come to mind. Let’s excuse 44-year old Brady. Of the remaining seven, all but Rodgers frequently enhance their games by becoming rushers when such opportunities present themselves. I’d venture to say that their willingness to become a runner makes them both harder to pass-defend against and harder to pass-rush – its responsible for a sizable part of their successes.

You’ve probably heard of a business owner who decides after many years that it’s wiser to work smart than to work hard? Rodgers and the Packers would be very smart to be prepared to take off running, especially in critical situations, when an ample running lane opens up in the pass-blocking pocket. It goes with being all-in to win.

Oh, and the best way to reduce quarterback injuries overall? As I’ve been saying for three years now, it’s reducing the quarterback’s time to throw. Here’s what I concluded back in February of 2019, and it bears repeating here:

“Yes fans, so much is related to releasing the pass quickly: sack rates, completion percentage, throwaways, third down success – winning! As a bonus, throw in: keeping the QB healthy.”

It’s not rocket science: get rid of the ball in under 2 ½ seconds, and the pass rush doesn’t have time to reach the quarterback. Rodgers made great strides in this area in 2020. If I recall correctly, he had a pretty decent year – and an injury-free one too!

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Rob Born

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

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8 Comments

  1. Dean October 17, 2021

    Nice call Rob, Rodgers had a couple nice runs today including one for a big TD and another one for a first down. Against man defenses this works better.

    Reply
  2. PF4L October 17, 2021

    Rob…if i remember right…Rodgers release time last year was 2.05 seconds, which might have led the league. IF…memory serves :)
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    Keep in mind, he had someone to throw to….which helps.
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    Why they aren’t getting that same production this season, idk…it very well could be due to the oppositions adjustments after a season of Packer game tape. I’m sure it’s also related to the line.
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    It will be interesting to see the line become intact again…seems odd we don’t hear much about Bakhtiari these days, should be about that time.

    Reply
    1. Mick October 18, 2021

      PF4L; the only news I heard about Bakhtiaris’ return was during the pre-game show on the radio. One of the announcers stated that they HOPE he can play during the 2nd half of the season. He has been practicing to some extent, so I would think he must be close to returning. With MVS still out, they don’t have anyone dependable to stretch the field like he does. I believe that his speed spreads out a defense, whether they toss him the ball—-or not. I’m still baffled that ESB is on this team! This guy has done nothing of note,,,,,,, in 3 years!

      Reply
      1. PF4L October 18, 2021

        Yea Mick….usually when a player is about to come back, we start to hear chatter about it. Especially someone of Bakhtiari’s caliber.
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        I hear you about MVS…i’m getting tired of watching the dink and dunk game.
        It would be nice to have the riches at wide receiver like the Bucs and Dallas (and their O lines), but since Jordy left, receiver hasn’t exactly been a needed priority.
        Not when you can sign Josh Jackson and Rashan Gary, then ignore a receiver rich 2020 draft. apparently what we have is enough in Gutes world.
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        It was nice to see some production from our 3rd round pics. Dequara had a catch for 4 yards. Rodgers plucked one for 14 yards
        That gives Dequara 3 receptions for 20 yards in his career with Green Bay.
        Amari is on the come up with 2 receptions for 33 yards.
        Our most productive 3rd round pick under Gutes watch gave us 12 catches for 114 yards and 1 TD.
        His services were no longer needed
        OOPS…almost forgot. Gutes other 3rd round pick is also still around. This 4th year veteran and pre-season stand out is bringing it….he has 9 solo tackles and a 1/2 sack.
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        Which leaves me breathless in anticipation to see what next years 3rd round pick has to offer.
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        The only positive about ESB is that he isn’t on the IR or injury list almost every week like the last 3 seasons.
        But at the end of the day….can we tell the difference?

        Reply
      2. Howard October 18, 2021

        The first 6 weeks for Bakhtiari are up. The Packers now have 5 weeks to determine if Bakhtiari can start to practice. Once Bakhtiari starts to practice the Packers have another 3 weeks to put Bakhtiari on the active roster or revert back to season ending PUP. The Packers will be very cautious about when they allow Bakhtiari to start to practice as starting practice will start a time clock. It usually, or use to take a player approximately one year to come back from ACL surgery. I think the Packers would disagree that Bakhtiari has “practiced” . Bakhtiari is only in injury rehab at this point.
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        I do believe this is the week MVS can come back if the hamstring injury is healed.

        Reply
        1. PF4L October 18, 2021

          Ian Rapoport
          @RapSheet
          ·
          1h
          #Packers coach Matt LaFleur tells reporters that All-Pro LT David Bakhtiari (ACL) will begin practicing this week, opening his three-week window to return.

          Reply
  3. PF4L October 18, 2021

    I must acknowledge….i stand before Rob, with a tip of the hat.
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    On the day he wrote an article about Rodgers running the ball, as a means to an end of winning ball games.
    Rodgers bust one out for 16 yards and a TD
    Now he had 6 other rushes for 3 yards total, but one of them might have moved the chains.
    I can’t be sure i remember it accurately, i’m getting old.
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    Most of us disagreed with his concept and i still do.
    But on that day, in that game anyway, he called it again.
    Much like the drafting of a wide receiver high in the draft years back.
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    Nice work Sir
    *******************
    While i’m here….
    I should acknowledge nice long gainers by Jones and Dillon.
    Jones for 28 and Dillon for 36. I’ve always said, those long runs are a rb’s best friend for YPC.
    And good thing too, because the majority of the other runs were stuffed out.
    Hey…gotta tell both sides.
    **********
    Also a tip of the hat to Clark, Garvin and Lowery…
    It’s refreshing to watch defensive players…making plays.
    Good luck with that oblique Preston…didn’t even know you left the game. Enjoy all that cash.
    ****************
    In the comic section….
    “Preston Smith has been one of Green Bay’s best defensive players through the first five weeks of 2021.” – Zach Kruse
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    Not sure what that says.

    Reply
  4. Robster October 18, 2021

    I don’t know whether the coaching staff has been encouraging Rodgers to be ready to run when gaps open in the passing pocket. My guess is that Aaron on his own was prepared to run when he took off running against the Bengals for a 9-yard TD and then again on Sunday against the Bears for a nearly identical 12-yard TD – in each case he crossed the goal line untouched. The primary benefit of a quarterback who looks to run is in converting third downs and scoring when in the red zone – two of the Packers problems so far this season. It might have helped that Aaron watched from the sidelines in Week 1 as Jameis Winston ran six times for 37 yards and on Sunday when Justin Fields ran six times for 43 yards – many of these were third down conversions. The Bengals’ Joe Burrow is another opportunistic runner – he’s picked up 19 first downs on the ground in his first 15 pro starts. Expect more running QBs in the upcoming weeks. After getting a break next Sunday against Washington and Taylor Heinicke, in Week 8 the Pack will have their hands full against the Cards’ Kyler Murray, then in Week 9, they’ll face Patrick Mahomes, and in Week 10 it will be Russell Wilson – if his damaged finger has healed. In 38 games, Murray has rushed for 89 first downs and 18 TDs. In the last three years and six games, Mahomes has run for 70 first downs and seven TDs. As for the reckless Wilson, in his nine full seasons (and never missing a start), he’s legged out 259 first downs and 21 TDs. None of these three QBs would be nearly as successful as they are without posing a run threat on occasion.

    Reply

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