On Tuesday, we previewed the Pittsburgh Steelers' big-play offense in 3rd-and-long situations. Thursday's Super Bowl edition of Chalkboard Stats takes a statistical look at the Green Bay Packers' versatile offense.
Facing 1st-and-goal from the Eagles' 9-yard line, with just over five minutes left in the second quarter, Aaron Rodgers hit James Jones in the end zone while on the move to give Green Bay a 14-0 lead.
Using the diagram above, let’s take a closer look at the play and accompanying analysis. Afterward, watch the play unfold in real time.
A) Packers Threw Eagles a Curveball
Green Bay ran exactly 1,000 offensive plays in the regular season -- but did not use this particular formation once (tight end in backfield, two wide receivers on either side of the line). Tight end Donald Lee (No. 86) initially lined up on the left side of the offensive line, then motioned next to Aaron Rodgers as a possible extra blocker.
In order to defend the four-wide set, the Eagles lined up their nickel package, kept only five men in the box and put linebacker Ernie Sims (No. 50) on Greg Jennings (No. 85). Philadelphia rushed its front four and kept linebacker Jamar Chaney (No. 51) in the hang role.
The four-man pass rush played into the Packers' advantage. Rodgers has decimated pass rushes of four or fewer players this postseason: 76.3 completion percentage (45-59), five touchdowns and he's picked up a first down every 2.1 attempts. Unfortunately for Rodgers, only nine teams used a four-man pass rush less than the Steelers did during the regular season.
B) Screen Fails to Develop
Center Scott Wells (No. 63) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (No. 75) each moved into the second level of the defense, with Bulaga blocking Chaney. After chipping the pass-rushing Juqua Parker, Lee released with the pair of offensive linemen in front of him and open space to the end zone. Chaney sniffed out the screen pass, however, and converged on Lee.
This forced Rodgers to deal one-on-one with Parker, who went unblocked once Lee ran his route. With the play design officially broken, Rodgers was given the opportunity to do something his Super Bowl counterpart does so well: improvise.
C) Rodgers Escapes Pocket Under Duress
RodgersRodgers froze Parker with a pump fake, evading the rush by escaping the pocket to his right. By keeping his eyes glued to the end zone while on the move, Rodgers forced Sims into making a decision: stay in his coverage zone or pursue the sack. On the previous play, Rodgers had scrambled for an eight yard gain, so Sims had to respect the possibility of a run.
When under duress, some quarterbacks can hang tough in the pocket and find receivers downfield. For Rodgers, it’s all about escaping the pocket. During the regular season, Rodgers threw zero touchdowns and two interceptions when under duress inside the pocket, compared to three touchdowns and one interception outside the pocket. His passer rating, conversion percentage and yards per attempt all improved when he moved outside the tackle box.
Sims chose to make a break for Rodgers, which opened up the front-right corner of the end zone. James Jones (No. 89), the only receiver in the vicinity, was in a one-on-one battle with Asante Samuel (No. 22).
D) Jones Adjusts Route, Gets on Same Page with Rodgers
Once the play broke down, Jones realized Rodgers was in trouble and abandoned his route in the back of the end zone, coming back toward the line of scrimmage to make himself a target. Rodgers found his receiver and put the ball in a spot where only he could catch it. While underthrown, Rodgers got enough on the pass for Jones to make a play on the ball and corral it before it hit the ground.
With the Packers quarterback learning quickly from mistakes and remaining composed under pressure, the Steelers will have their work cut out for them trying to stop this versatile playmaker.