Who’s to Blame for Aaron Rodgers’ Record High Sacks?

ALLGBP.com All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Aaron Rodgers sacked by SeahawksWe’ve all seen the numbers. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked a total of 51 times in 2012 – more than any other NFL quarterback – and 55 times if you count the playoffs. It eclipsed his previous record of 50 sacks in 2009 and brings his five-year total as a starter to 202. His lowest sack count in that span was 31 in 2010, the same year they won the Super Bowl.

Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling that Packers fans have in response to this data. Arguably the best player in the game right now is on his back way more often than he should be, and we are all left wondering why. Well, perhaps some fans are looking more for an answer to “who” than for “why.”

Who is to blame for this risk to our precious franchise quarterback? Who can we channel our anger towards when we’re yelling at the 60-inch plasma television?

Unfortunately, that’s not easily answered. But we can give you some suspects to choose from . . .

(don’t forget to cast your vote in the poll below…)

SUSPECT #1: The Blockers (Offensive Line, Running Backs, etc.)

In most cases, the offensive line is usually who we shout profanities at immediately after Aaron Rodgers gets sacked. After all, when it comes to the passing game, their number one responsibility is to protect the quarterback long enough for him to complete a pass. If he goes down, then it means they failed.

During the 2012 season, the two biggest culprits were Marshall Newhouse and T.J. Lang. They each allowed 9 sacks according to ProFootballFocus.com, which accounts for roughly 35% of the 51 total sacks. It’s not surprising that Mike McCarthy felt the need this offseason to shake up the offensive line, pointing specifically to a weakness “on the left side.”

There’s plenty of blame to go around, though. Josh Sitton, Jeff Saturday, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Bryan Bulaga, and Don Barclay combined for another 17 sacks allowed. All in all, that makes 35 sacks from the offensive line, which is a clear majority of the season total.

Let’s not forget, though, that tight ends and backs also share some responsibility for blocking pass rushers. Fullback John Kuhn allowed two sacks and tight end Tom Crabtree allowed one. (Some might be surprised that none of the halfbacks allowed a sack according to PFF, especially in recalling the major gaffes by James “Neo” Starks.)

With those numbers, it’s easy to see why fans (and coaches) are unhappy with their pass blockers. But for all the times they failed, there are other times where they might merely have played the scapegoat.

SUSPECT #2: Aaron Rodgers, the Quarterback

A common criticism of our beloved quarterback throughout the years has been his propensity to hold on to the ball in trying to extend plays. Whether he ends up scrambling for a first down or hitting a receiver on an improvised route, there have been numerous times where Aaron Rodgers’ has saved failing plays. Yet we are ever so reluctant to take the bad with the good.

Kevin Seifert over at the ESPN NFC North Blog recently shared some statistics about the division quarterbacks and their “time in pocket.” (This was actually the impetus for my blog post.) According to ESPN Stats and Information, Rodgers spent an average of 2.82 second in the pocket, which was longer than 34 other quarterbacks. He also had the highest sack rate per drop-back in the NFC North.

ESPN Stats - NFC North QB TIP

Really, this is some fairly damning evidence. It doesn’t take into account plays made outside of the pocket or even the average sack speed, but it does clearly show that Aaron Rodgers took longer to throw the ball than most quarterbacks in 2012.

The major counterpoint is that Rodgers more than makes up for this with the successful extended plays and that he balances out the productivity with fewer interceptions from forced throws. Rodgers is, after all, the only quarterback in NFL history to have been sacked 50+ times in two separate seasons while still maintaining a 100+ passer rating in each. Still, we’re not talking about productivity, we’re talking about sacks, and we want to know whom to blame.

Of course, if the quarterback has no one open to throw to, then can he really be at fault?

SUSPECT #3: The Receiving Corps

It’s easy to forget about this aspect of the offense when it comes to sacks, especially because they spend so much time off of the television screen. Okay, maybe that’s not completely the reason, but it is hard to tell without some well-managed replays who was actually open for a pass and when. From passing lanes to the quarterback’s vision of the field, there are a lot of details involved.

That doesn’t make them faultless, though. If the wide receivers, tight ends, or even running backs are getting open for the quarterback to throw to, then he’s clearly in a bind. No matter how good the blocking is or how accurately Rodgers can make his throws, a blanketed receiving corps can effectively destroy the play. Defenders can’t be blocked forever, and the quarterback doesn’t always have an out.

There’s not much more to say on this point, because as mentioned, it’s difficult and time consuming to accurately identify and track this.

SUSPECT #4: Mike McCarthy, the Play Caller

For as much as some people like to blame the offensive line and Aaron Rodgers for the sacks, there seems to be an equal amount of fervor towards head coach Mike McCarthy and his play calling. A lack of balance between rushing and passing sits as the crux of this condemnation, and it started from the very beginning of the season. Cedric Benson only saw nine carries against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 with Rodgers dropping back a season-high 52 times.

He only suffered three sacks in that game, but the real breakdown came in Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks. Despite the fact that Bryan Bulaga seemed to be having a horrible day individually, McCarthy provided no relief by running the ball only three times in the first half.  It resulted in eight sacks for those first two quarters, tying an NFL record.

After some overdue adjustments at halftime, the Packers came out in the third quarter and ran the ball seven times in the first drive alone. I resulted in a field goal and some hope that the game was finally reversing its momentum.

For the sake of avoiding redundancy, we won’t go into some of the other examples throughout the season. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out, though, that running the ball with more balance and consistency helps with pass protection. Not only does it keep the defense honest, but it also allows the offensive line to get more aggressive and wear down the opposing defensive linemen.

Granted, it’s hard to stay balanced when the running game isn’t productive enough. It can also be difficult to know how audibles and adjustments at the line of scrimmage change the plays called.

THE VERDICT

Here is where you get to decide whom to point the finger at. Do you blame the offensive line and pass blockers for not getting the job done? Or do you chastise Aaron Rodgers for holding on to the ball too long? Is he holding onto the ball because his receivers aren’t open, though? And yet what can be done when the play calling is detrimental to the situation?

As with most things, there’s probably plenty of blame to go around. Fortunately, Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson seem to be making a strong attempt at fixing things. The changes along the offensive line highlight a desire to better protect Rodgers’ blind side (Bulga, Sitton) while getting some road graders on the right side (Lang, Barclay?).

To further highlight these changes and foreshadow a more balanced offense, the Packers drafted two high-value running backs in Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.

There’s hope for the 2013 Green Bay Packers offense and its ability to keep Rodgers upright. If the team was able to bounce back from 50 sacks during a disappointing 2009 season and win the Super Bowl, then they can surely do the same thing after what happened last year. They’re making the commitments, so now it’s time to put the plan into action.

Who’s to Blame for Aaron Rodgers’ Record High Sacks?
The Blockers (Offensive Line, Running Backs, etc.)0%
Aaron Rodgers, the Quarterback0%
The Receiving Corps0%
Mike McCarthy, the Play Caller0%
Other: (Please specify)0%

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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  • Savage57

    First off, let me start by saying I keep a 13″ black and white portable TV playing during the games so that I can yell at it, so the 60″ plasma doesn’t get her feelings hurt and stomp off to her sister’s house in the middle of the game.

    Now as to cause, I have to go with the line and AR in that order. It’s not the WR’s – they’re pretty good at finding bailout spots when things break down. And it sure ain’t MM – I’ve never seen him pass protect or run a route or read a blitz and I’m pretty sure I never want to!

    Better to eat the ball and live to fight another play than throw caution, and the ball, to the wind and cross your fingers and pray like someone we used to know and love.

    • http://MSN Mark

      Get a grip folks. TT, MM, AR, and the stinky line won the big one, went 15-1 and had a decent year. They have all earned their spots in a highly compettitive and unforgiving business. Appears to me the organization did the right thing to keep #12 healthy, RB’s. They also got a much needed active D-lineman. Sherrod and Perry become just journeymen at their positions this is a whale of a squad!

  • Ron LC

    TIP differential measured in hundredths of seconds is not a meaningful benchmark. The real difference is a combination of multiple variables. For example, AR spending more time in the pocket could mean fewer int’s, more TD’s better ball control. Those factors could easily out-weigh the sack difference.

    I think the answer lies in a combination of things, the most relevant being poorer than average Oline play. MM is shaking up the line for a reason. Most likely to improve the running game and make opponents at least think about the run. That alone could slow the rush a bit and make AR’s TIP even a tad longer. And as a result add to the positive results.

    A worthy exercise Chad, just way too many variables to pin it on one specific thing. Thanks for making us think a little out of the box.

  • NYPACKER

    After playing behind Favre & observing what he did poorest (throwing INT’s rather than take sacks), AR has made a point to “not be like him”. I for one would rather have him like this. However, an improved run game would make play action more successful & cut down on sacks.

  • Big T

    Crap runs downhill, you have to start at the top. MM is the blame, not because he is physically at fault, but because of his lack of making adjustments during the game. We have a horrible O-line but the man in charge needs to accept that and compensate in play calling or getting help from other areas. And maybe a little Vince Lombardi needs to come out of him so he could kick the O-line in the ballsacks occasionally…

    • Lucas

      MM did take charge. It’s why the experiments didn’t last long involving Lang on the outside, among other changes. That being said, I fault him for not making the Saturday/EDS switch sooner.
      Thanks to injuries, MM evaluated what he had in practice and went with what he felt would get the best results in the games. When you are counting on names most never heard of (Barclay), it’s not looking good. You cannot squeeze blood from a turnip.
      We did see more chips and help given to Barclay. That’s a play calling adjustment.
      I can only imagine how skittish A-Rod was knowing Newhouse was blocking his blind side.
      How often did he leave the pocket when he didn’t need to? I’m not saying he runs from shadows…just a thought.

    • Savage57

      Big T, admittedly lighting a fire under some butts is a nice sentiment but unfortunately it has no traction in today’s game – the CBA, if not economics alone, precludes Lombardiesque tactics and methods.

      Specifically what adjustments should MM have made? Take the ball out of the hands of the best player in the game and ram some very pedestrian RB’s into the asses of his linemen for a yard or two? They’ve certainly taken steps to address the imbalance in this year’s draft, and I’ll grant that if there’s no change this year with all the new studs in the barn he’s got to answer for it. But this is a backward looking exercise and MM didn’t really have anyone to go with to balance the offense. I’m pretty certain that he wasn’t counting on having DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant as his RB’s for the final quarter of the season.

      Let’s take your conclusion as to what MM should have done out for a ride: You’re the head coach and your stud RB, a former league and Super Bowl MVP, has a lot of negative yardage plays but makes up for it by leading the league in runs of 20 or more yards. He’s the engine of your offense and your QB is but a game manager, meant to do little more than complement the effectiveness of your running game. So by your position here as to ultimate responsibility, you shouldn’t give the ball to your iconic RB and risk a loss of yards along with the chance of a breakaway run and instead have a version of Mark Sanchez throw instead?

      And by his admission AR acknowledges that he holds the ball too long on about 2 to 3 plays per game, so is it safe to think that maybe one of those per game results in a sack? If you add up the line whiffs and they way that AR CHOOSES to play QB, throwing MM under the bus doesn’t pencil.

      Head coaches are always ultimately responsible for the team, so I get that part of it but on a micro-level it’s a more granular issue. It’s easy to understand your enmity, but I think it’s misdirected.

  • http://Jkevinturner@comcast.net Kevin

    The coach has culpability and one need look no further than the first half in Seattle. Even the normally brain dead announcers were suggesting mixing in a run now and then just to impose a BIT of honesty on the D linemen. Made Irvin look like an all pro and Bulaga look like a chump.

    • Savage57

      Or maybe, just maybe Bulaga made Irvin look like an all-pro and Bulaga look like a chump?

  • Nopainnogain

    I think alot of it falls on rodgers, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. of course we’d all like less sacks, but if I had to choose between a sack or a turnover, I’d choose the sack. they say sacks are drive-killers. I’d respond that turnovers are win-killers. while both may rob you of a drive, turnovers also cause a huge flip in field position because you can’t punt. in a league where over half the games are decided by one possession (of which half are by a field goal or less), there’s very little margin for error and historically, winning the turnover battle has a high correlation with winning. I worry about rodger’s health just like anyone else but in reality, he’s only missed like 1.5 total games due to injury since being named starter.

    also, while the oline was abysmal at run-blocking, most advanced stats show that they were ok at pass blocking.

  • Scott1956

    “A strong attempt at fixing things”? How? By moving the same players around? Bulaga has real problems with speed rushers. How does this help Rodgers? McCarthy and his long pass plays don’t help either. He seems to have forgotten what the West Coast Offense is! This Offense is designed to take the pressure off the line as well as the running game. Either TT hasn’t drafted the right players or Campen can’t coach!

    • Lucas

      I agree…with the notion of MM not knowing what the West Coast Offense is. I don’t think he cares what he runs compared to what the WCO is supposed to be.

    • Chad Toporski

      The WCO is a philosophy that is as varied among coaches as any other offensive philosophy. To make such a comment is an extreme oversimplification of his approach and a blindness to how he has evolved his own system.

      Also, I’d love to hear YOUR solution to improving the offensive line with the personnel they have.

      • Lucas

        “He’s bringing his version of the WCO to ______” is another version of “he owns a copy of ‘Finding the Winning Edge’ and think he can improve on Bill Walsh.”

      • Scott1956

        What TT could have done was sign a FA! He gave contracts to Rodgers and CMIII, but those don’t take place for 2 years. TT had a chance to go after Bushrod from the Saints. A Pro-Bowl left tackle for the last 2 years, and he’s only getting $7 million per year. Which is very reasonable for a good LT. What can he do with what he has? Nothing, but it’s his fault there’s nothing, he won’t try to sign a FA, even when it’s a dire need! And stop with the varied WCO. The way it’s suppose to run is three steps and throw for the most part. THAT is what it was designed for. McCarthy seems to have forgotten that.
        Oversimplification and blindness? Please! THIS was the year to get into the FA market. There may never be another year when the prices were so low. And TT went into the draft and took 2 4th rounders for the O-Line. Can they help? It’s possible, but not likely! The same 5 guys, but now 4 of them will play different positions! And they’re not interchangeable, if they were it would have been done before this year!

        • Lucas

          So we should have followed the Bears and their stellar evaluation of players? Bushrod? My last check also has Saturday in the Pro Bowl.
          Who cares if MM runs the WCO or is the 2nd coming of Corryell?
          This is MM’s offense. Who cares if it’s what Bill Walsh intended?

        • Stroh

          Bushrod graded out worse than Newhouse in pass blocking. Guess you didn’t realize that did you?! Great sign by the bears? Hardly… They overpaid an old FA and won’t get nearly the production no matter what they paid, cuz he’s a poor pass blocker! Bushrod is hardly a good LT. Theres a difference between being a Pro Bowler and being a good LT. Kinda like Clifton late in his career made the Pro Bowl once, yet he wasn’t very good any more.

    • Stroh

      What the west coast offense is? Mostly its about threatening the field both vertically and horizontally. Every play call has routes designed to do both. That means that based on the coverage, the QB has multiple targets running different routes and the QB is supposed to throw to the receiver w/ the best matchup! The pass can be used to set up the run or vice versa. But ultimately the QB chooses run/pass based on the D and then chooses the primary target based on the coverage.

      The WCO isn’t about short passes all day long. That worked in the early years of the WCO, but the game has changed and the WCO has changed w/ it.

      I guess based on that description the QB has final say over whether its a run or pass and then ultimately over who the primary receiver is on any given play.

      Apparently you don’t seem to grasp how the WCO works or your stuck 30 yrs or more ago and that’s only what the WCO can mean. Its changed in the 30 yrs since Walsh “invented” it.

      • Scott1956

        I see you’re back to being an ass! Apparently the ability to read is once again beyond you! I said that the WCO is MOSTLY 3 steps and get rid of the ball! But please go ahead and remind everybody why they don’t like you. Because you continue to talk down to them, moron! By the way, Bushrod may have graded out better than Newhouse, but nobody that actually watches football would say Newhouse is better than anybody! Why don’t you tell us why all the experts think that the Bushrod signing was great? Could it be because he’s an actual LT that you stick out there and not worry about your QB’s health? An old LT? Good linemen play into the middle 30’s! Maybe you can make up another word? How about a discussionary point! Hahahahaha!

  • Bearmeat

    Rodgers is at fault more than anyone else. He needs to get rid of the friggen ball sooner. I’d be interested in reading a breakdown of the seconds after the snap that each sack occurred. Anything past 2.5 is not on the OL in today’s NFL..

  • Dobber

    “Who’s to Blame for Aaron Rodgers’ Record High Sacks?”

    George W. Bush…since it’s been in vogue to blame him for everything else over the last 6-8 years.

    • Chad Lundberg

      George Bush caused cancer. Stop denying it.

      • Lucas

        But that was after it was invented by Al Gore.

    • mark

      I thought he caused to playoff loss to the Giants in 2012. Thanks for clarifying that.

  • Lefty

    Who in the “Brain Trust” thought it was a good idea to sign Saturday and think he could run a high octane offense?

  • Since ’61

    The root cause for sacks is the OL. This us the cause for a poor running games which results in a one dimensional offense. The defense knows if they stop Rodgers they stop the Packers. The opponents have no reason to fear the Pack’s run game, so they go for Rodgers and fake their chances with the run game. Rodgers has spent a lot of time with Bart Starr and he believes (like Bart) in taking the sack versus making a bad throw resulting in a pick. If you look at the time Bart spent in the pocket I’m sure you will find numbers similar to Rodgers. The difference is that Lombardi’s line could actually block for both the run and the pass which kept the defense in check. Also, Lombardi’s defense could actually stop the opponent and get off the field without giving up a score to so. As I have said before, there ain’t no Nitschkes on this defense and there ain’t no Gregg’s or Kramers on the O-Line. It’s players NOT plays. Thanks, Since’ 61.

    • Scott1956

      Since ’61

      EXACTLY!

      • Bearmeat

        Disagree. I would rather Rodgers take the sack than the pick, yes.

        BUT, MM, TT, Campen and AR (In that order IMO) are more responsible than the linemen for the sacks.

        MM: Stop passing on 3rd and short.

        TT: Your record of OT draft success is mediocre. And you haven’t yet gotten a C.

        Campen: Coach the guys you got son.

        AR: Get rid of the friggen ball. Runs and short throws to open up the long ones.

        Line: Block better

        RB’s: Run better.

    • Stroh

      Rodgers controls whether the play call is run or pass. Every call he gets from the sideline has a run play and a pass play built into it. The QB decides which way based on how the D lines up.

      This aint the 60’s! The game has evolved… Don’t stay stuck in the dark ages of football.

      • Stroh

        Sorry jumped the gun on that comment. Please disregard.

  • Sanguinius

    It’s a combination of all the above mentioned in the article.

    The O-line does have its issues. Newhouse was the real weak link at left tackle, the guy isn’t good enough to be a week in week out starter in the NFL. I’m not sold on EDS as a center either. McCarthy will have hopefully made this line more solid this upcoming season by moving his best tackle and guard over to that side.

    Rodgers holds onto the ball too long sometimes but at the same time that does provide play opportunities. Would you instead prefer taking less sacks and throwing more interceptions? If you ask Rodgers and co they will tell you that interceptions can be more game changing. I guess as Rodgers gets older and he will be more susceptible to injuries especially niggling ones he might have to throw the ball away more.

    The receiving corps weren’t getting as open last season. This is partly due to injuries and players not being 100% fit but also opposing teams have been using the likes of Cover 2 to great effect. If receivers can’t get open it’s going to put more pressure on the o-line and the QB.

    I think the play calling plays probably the smallest part in this whole debate but it plays a part. When you have the best QB in the league it’s easy to become too reliant at times on him. With an improved running game this season we should see a little bit more balance but the passing game will still be our main way of offense.

  • http://packermadness.com Michael

    We’re shifting the O-line around and have 2 very good RB’s. I think with Lacy in the backfield on 3rd down, Rodgers won’t take as many sacks this year.