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Aaron Rodgers maximizing on his mastery at the line

More hard counts, more offsides, and another big free play contribute to big road victory for Packers

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

He did it again.

And this time, Aaron Rodgers got a free play, on the road, in an even bigger situation.

A lot might have unfolded differently in the Packers' 37-30 victory over the Saints on Sunday night without Rodgers' hard count late in the fourth quarter.

Leading by three points, the Packers faced a crucial third-and-3 from the New Orleans 15-yard line with 3:49 left. The Saints were looking to get the stop, force a field goal, and give the ball back to Drew Brees down by six and needing a touchdown to win.

But Rodgers used the Saints' aggressiveness against them, drawing linebacker Demario Davis offside with his cadence, and then using the free play to throw to the end zone. There, receiver Allen Lazard drew a pass interference penalty on cornerback Janoris Jenkins, and suddenly the Packers had the ball on the 1-yard line in position to put the game away.

"Definitely was watching the play clock there," said Rodgers, who nearly called a timeout as Davis jumped and center Corey Linsley snapped the ball. "Noticed there were a couple times early where they were really cued into the play clock."

Rodgers doesn't miss things like that, and it was the fifth time in two road games – both basically empty indoor venues (there were 748 fans in the Superdome for this one) – in which he's drawn the opposing defense offside on third down when under normal circumstances it would be impossible while using a silent count to function amidst the crowd noise.

He got the Saints in the first quarter on the game's opening possession to turn a third-and-7 into a third-and-2, which was easily converted and led to a field goal. Two weeks ago at Minnesota, he got two gift first downs and a free play that turned into a long completion to Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

While Rodgers acknowledged after the game he misses the fans and the environment they provide, home and away, the unique circumstances continue to work in the Packers' favor with an elite, veteran quarterback who's a master manipulator at the line of scrimmage.

"I mentioned that early in training camp. I feel like it was going to be an advantage for guys like myself with who have cadence that can be rhythmic enough to draw people offside," he said. "At the bare minimum, it definitely keeps them at bay. They're not really able to jump the snap count, which, for us, is all it needs to do. It's a new world we're living in, playing in."

It looks like a new offense, too, though it's one Rodgers simply has greater command of than he did a year ago in Head Coach Matt LaFleur's first year at the helm.

Thus far, the Packers have scored 122 points, the most in team history in the first three games of a season. The offense has put up 113 of them (with the defense getting nine on a safety and INT-TD) and is just shy of 1,400 yards to date.

Putting up 369 yards and 37 points without receiver Davante Adams is a statement in its own right, and with LaFleur talking throughout the offseason about putting an emphasis on third downs after repeated struggles in that phase last year, the Packers have converted exactly 50% thus far (17-of-34).

"I think the flow of the calls has been really important to our success," Rodgers said. "I can't underscore that enough, it's really been a good flow of the calls with Matt.

"I really like the timing on certain calls. You've got to dig deep at certain times and hold onto something and trust the players. I really appreciate the flow we had tonight and trust in us to make the plays. Tonight we did."

The Green Bay Packers faced the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020.

LaFleur deflected credit to the players, noting he often gives Rodgers multiple calls for him to choose from at the line, which can result in assignments changing at a moment's notice. He credited the players' "football intelligence" with helping make it all work.

Well, and Rodgers, too.

"He can take in a lot of information, which is such a benefit to us because we can put more on his plate and he never flinches," LaFleur said. "He handles it. He gets it. He's really the catalyst for our offense. He gets us going in the right direction."

And the defense in the wrong one, often at an opportune time.

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