GREEN BAY – As Aaron Rodgers accounted for six touchdowns against Oakland in the best outing for Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s offense to date, a variety of valuable elements were on display.
There were moments LaFleur’s scheme caused confusion, Rodgers’ cunning at the line of scrimmage created problems, and the quarterback’s courage proved simply too much for the Raiders.
Here are examples of each.
Play No. 1: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 20, first quarter, 7:06 left
Result: 22-yard completion to FB Danny Vitale
LaFleur’s offense employs a lot of motion and play fakes to keep the defense adjusting and reacting, and on this play, the combination of both confuses Raiders MLB Justin Philllips (56), a rookie from Oklahoma State filling in for the suspended Vontaze Burfict. First, as WR Allen Lazard (13) goes in motion one way and back the other, Phillips is constantly shifting, and he’s checking with his teammates presnap to make sure he’s in the right place. Then, he gets lured in by the play-action fake to RB Aaron Jones (33) and completely loses track of Vitale, who leaves Jones to pick up blitzing S Karl Joseph (42). Fellow LB Nicholas Morrow (50) is visibly pointing where Phillips needs to go, but it’s too late. He got too distracted to stay zeroed in on his assignment, which has to be Vitale if the fullback doesn't engage with the blitzer. Jones’ block on Joseph is a thing of beauty, too.
Play No. 2: Second-and-6 from the Green Bay 22, second quarter, 10:42 left
Result: 21-yard completion to Vitale
This is Vitale’s other reception in the game, and it’s Rodgers’ smarts and guile at the line that make it happen. After shifting Vitale from the backfield to line up as an offset tight end, Rodgers uses his cadence to draw a “tell” out of the defense. Specifically, LBs Morrow and Phillips both give away that they’re coming on a blitz up the middle. After he’s telegraphed the blitz, Morrow even gestures with his right arm in a “gosh darnit” sort of way, because he knows he’s given Rodgers too much information and it’s too late to change the call. What does Rodgers know? With the linebackers attacking, DE Benson Mayowa (91) is the only player who can cover Vitale in the right flat from his new alignment, and with two cover guys on that side of the field across from Green Bay’s two wideouts, Vitale will be one-on-one. The middle blitz comes, Rodgers gets the ball out in a flash, and Vitale has all kinds of green grass in front of him. Here the Raiders were no match for Rodgers’ brain.
Play No. 3: Third-and-8 from the Green Bay 45, second quarter, 8:04 left
Result: 15-yard completion to WR Geronimo Allison
Call this one a combination of Rodgers’ smarts and guts, but it’s the courage that really stands out. The mental X’s and O’s part is pretty basic. As Joseph (42) blitzes, the ball goes to the vacated area, which is exactly where Allison is running his route. But the protection doesn’t pick up Joseph, so Rodgers has to stand in and deliver the throw as he takes a clean, hard shot to the midsection from Joseph. Quarterbacks would much rather avoid those hits, of course, but sometimes they have to absorb them while getting the job done, and Rodgers doesn’t flinch.
Bonus play: Third-and-7 from midfield, first quarter, 10:20 left
Result: 29-yard completion to TE Jimmy Graham
An off-topic inclusion here, but it’s being shown in response to Rodgers’ postgame comment that he had the “best pocket” of the season to throw from in this game. This play might have been the best of the best, as a five-man protection holds off a four-man rush for approximately 4½ seconds from snap to throw as Rodgers converts the opening third down with a big play. Talk about a comfort zone from the get-go.