“Aaron Rodgers and the high flying Packers offense have trouble producing points when facing ferocious defensive lines that don’t need extra men to blitz”
Statements like this were the reason du-jour for many a 2014 failure, much like the “Aaron Rodgers can’t beat the cover-2” was the “issue” for the 2013 season. In reality, Aaron Rodgers is in fact human and every once in a while he plays a poor game; while some (or likely most) of this is probably just Rodgers having an off day, fans and media types alike will try to make claims that Rodgers has a particular susceptibility to some strategies.
To me, this all was a little suspect. First off, its not as if Rodgers and the Packers offense had never seen good defensive lines before (or cover-2 defenses in 2013); the Vikings, Bears and Lions have all had great defensive lines throughout the years (and some very terrible ones as well), but nevertheless, more often than not Aaron Rodgers has beaten them (31-9 against NFC opponents). Just this season alone, having a rock-star defensive line doesn’t seem to have much effect on Rodgers; the Lions are considered to have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and Rodgers posted a 0.5 grade on ProFootballFocus during their first meeting during week 3, but fast forward to week 17 and Rodgers posted 2.9 against the same team and then a 2.7 in the wild card round. The Seahawks also boast one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and Rodgers again posted a low 0.2 grade in their first meeting but a 1.6 in the divisional round.
I will be the first to admit that 5 games does not a strong sample size make. So let’s change the question slightly; are there any positions on the defense that correlate to a worse performance by Aaron Rodgers? If a ferocious defensive line is kryptonite for Aaron Rodgers, then you would expect to see a negative correlation between the performance of the defensive line and the performance of Aaron Rodgers.
So my methodology as follows; Rodger’s PFF scores per game were compared against all defensive player’s pass rushing and pass coverage grades (Since cornerback pass rushing or defensive tackle pass coverage grades aren’t likely to effect Rodgers or any other quarterback for that matter) that he met during the 2014 regular season, and then a correlation analysis was run followed by a two-tailed student’s p test with significance being p<.05. Some caveats are the players were pooled together when given a side (i.e. LDE/RDE and FS/SS are treated as the same position because players move around all the time and their responsibilities don’t change significantly) and nose tackles were removed entirely from the analysis since there weren’t enough nose tackles in the data set plus their role in the defense is different enough from DTs where I didn’t want to pool them together.
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As you can see, only one position showed a notable correlation, which is outside linebackers when rushing the passer. To put this correlation into words, the better outside linebackers were in pass rushing, the worse Aaron Rodgers got (conversely, you can also say that the better Aaron Rodgers was, the worse the outside linebackers were). One caveat is of course that outside linebackers included those playing in a 3-4 and a 4-3 scheme and their responsibilities do change, however keep in mind I’m analyzing their pass rushing grade so regardless of scheme, the outside linebacker is attempting to get to the quarterback.
It doesn’t appear as if defensive line pass rushing correlated with Rodger’s grade, or to put it another way, a good defensive linemen grade didn’t seem to make Rodgers ‘ grade any worse, which is reflected by the 5 games I mentioned previously. Furthermore, there isn’t any correlation between Aaron Rodgers’ grade and pass coverage from any position.
So what does this all mean? First off, the idea that a good defensive line can stop Rodgers, at least in 2014, appears to be incorrect. Rodgers played against some defensive linemen who had great games and some who had terrible games, but neither seemed to make Rodgers’ grade any better or worse. Of course you can argue that ProFootball focus’ ratings are off, but they are at this point a gold standard of grading for anyone not actually associated with a team and personally I think they are more than often accurate. Of course statistics can only take you so far, but in this case, the statistics do seem to back up what you can see on the field, Aaron Rodgers will can destroy a team, even if it has a good defensive line.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.