GREEN BAY, Wis. – Defensive coordinators have long been reluctant to blitz Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In his MVP season of 2011, Rodgers’ passer rating against the blitz was 131.4. According to Stats LLC, that was the second-highest mark in NFL against pressure since 1993.
They have not taken the same approach against Rodgers’ current replacement, Scott Tolzien.
Tolzien, who has played nearly two full games and will make his second straight start on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, has struggled against pressure, which has come far more often than it did against Rodgers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, four of Tolzien’s five interceptions over the last two games came against blitzes, which are defined as pass rushes of five or more defenders.
The old defensive coordinator's adage that the more you pressure a quarterback, the more prone he will be to mistakes, has held true against Tolzien.
“I think it’s just something that’s in the back of your mind,” Tolzien said. “But you’ve still got to play ball. It’s a reactionary sport. They all are. You just keep it there and you just try to make good decisions ultimately. I think the more you prep the better you feel about the decisions.”
The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants combined to blitz Tolzien on 31.25 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and he has a passer rating of just 52.9 and a QBR of 1.8 (on a scale to 100) in those situations. Tolzien has faced five rushers on 20 percent of his dropbacks, six rushers on 10 percent and seven on 1.3 percent.
The good news is Tolzien has gotten the ball out quickly against pressure. He has been sacked only once in the last two games.
“I mean, he’s handling it pretty good,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s all we ever work on. I mean we’ve put a lot of time on it. I go back to April. This is something really that we’ve taken to a different level, and it started with Aaron. Just as far as our versatility in dealing with pressure, it’s something that we invest in. So with that, I expect us to be good in that area. So that’s why it’s frustrating when your sack numbers do go up.”
Before he left the Nov. 4 game against the Chicago Bears with a broken collarbone, Rodgers had faced blitzes on 25.6 percent of his dropbacks this season. Against that pressure, he threw five touchdowns and only one interception and had a 104.5 passer rating and a QBR of 53.9. Rodgers saw five rushers on 20.4 percent of his dropbacks, six on 4.9 percent and seven on just one snap this season.
The key to beating the blitz, as Rodgers has shown time and again, is locating the hot receiver and getting the ball out fast.
“In any system, in any of the protections, you want to know what makes you hot,” Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. “It’s no different here than anywhere else. You want to know what makes you hot. You want to know where your eyes need to be and what it takes to make you hot and get the ball out.”