Photo credit: Benny Sieu/USA Today
On Monday night, the Packers won a shootout against the Atlanta Falcons in a game that showcased a precision aerial attack by Aaron Rodgers and excellent pass protection by the offensive line.
Some people say that Rodgers is having the best season of his career, which would include the 2010 Super Bowl, his record-setting 2011 season, and his one-man army of 2012.
If it is true, part of it has to do with his improved pass protection in front of him. The 2014 season has the lowest sack rate of his Rodger’s career as a starter, which is right at 2.0 sacks per game. He was sacked 2.1 times per game in 2008, 3.1 times per game in 2009, 2.1 times per game in 2010, 2.4 times per game in 2011, 3.2 times per game in 2012, and 2.3 times per game in 2013.
The golden standard in the NFL is to allow the quarterback at least 3.0 seconds to pass the ball. The Packers are routinely giving Rodgers more than that, sometimes up to 6-8 seconds per drop back.
For this film session, we’ll use to Falcons game look at the major pass protection schemes that the Packers used to keep Rodgers upright. In that game, he attempted 36 passes but was only officially sacked once (and that came on a scramble out of the pocket where he ran out of bounds). He enjoyed great protection in front of him all night.
BOB Protection (big on big, back on back)
This pass protection is man-to-man blocking. The offensive linemen (the “big”) are responsible for the defensive linemen (the other “big”) immediately over them. When they set their pass blocking stance, the take a few steps back, allowing the pass rusher to approach. Doing so sets the pocket, which is intended to be a stationary pocket for at least 3.0 seconds. If there is no blitz, typically the defense sends 3 or 4 rushers against 5 offensive linemen. If this is the case, the uncovered linemen assist the man next to him in an inside-out priority. If the defense does blitz, the running back is responsible for blocking linebackers or defensive backs (“back on back”).
Note: all GIFs have been slowed down to show player movement. Your computer and internet connection are working normally.
The GIF below shows a standard 5-man BOB protection against a 4-man rush; they block the nearest defender immediately over them. There is no back in for help because there is no blitz threat. The uncovered center (63) assists inside-out. The Falcons came with a double stunt up front, and the offensive linemen stay to their assignments by blocking the men directly in front of them; doing so allows for a seamless rotation.
The next GIF shows a 6-man blitzing pass rush. The Falcons are overloading the left side of the formation and are blitzing the slot cornerback. To counter, the Packers leave in 6 blockers, and have the running back (44) block the slot cornerback on the edge.
This next play is also BOB, but it gives the H-back (81) a read assignment out of a play action look. He immediately steps into the middle of the formation to take the space vacated by the center (63). His first read is to block a linebacker on a delayed blitz. If no blitz is imminent, his next read is to run an option route as a check down for the quarterback.
This pass protection is zone, or gap, blocking. Rather than blocking the man directly over him, each offensive lineman will move to either his right or left and block the first man who is in that gap. For example, if the call is slide left, each lineman will enter the gap on his left shoulder and block whoever enters that gap. This is a useful strategy for when the blitz is on, the defense is moving defenders actively before the snap, or when the offense has a misdirection wrinkle in their play call. Also, a slide protection is called when the offense wants to move the pocket or get the quarterback out of the pocket to allow him more time to throw the ball. The Packers like to use slide protection when using play action passing. Since the Packers like to use zone blocking in the running game, the slide pass protection is a natural fit for them in their play action game.
This first example shows the Packers in a slide right protection as part of their play action game. Each lineman, including the tight end (81), take a step to their right and block the first man immediately in their right gap. This play was a misdirection calling for Rodgers to roll left as the entire defense is slanting right. The play was predicated on using the inside zone run to the right as the play action influence. You may have heard this play called a “naked bootleg” because it gets the quarterback out of the pocket with no blocking directly in front of him.
The next GIF shows a variation of the play action slide protection set up by the running game. Occasionally, the Packers run the split zone, which is a zone run blocking scheme, but with two differences. First, the entire offensive line slants to one direction. After momentum is set, the backside of the line turns out away from the ball carrier. Then, the backside tight end (or H-back) cuts across to help seal the backside. The play below shows a slide left predicated on the split zone left; this play moves the pocket to right. The pass route took a long time to develop (it was the 60-yard pass to Jordy Nelson), and moving the pocket usually gives the quarterback more time for the receivers to come open.
A third method of pass protection is a combination, or “split” set. Typically, the back side of the formation (the left side of a right handed quarterback) will slide left, and the front side of the formation will BOB protect. The Packers occasionally do this, but I didn’t see any examples of that during the Falcons game, so perhaps we’ll have to save that for another time.
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