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NY Jets: The secret Aaron Rodgers weapon that few talk about

NY Jets, Aaron Rodgers, Offensive Line
Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets, Getty Images

Aaron Rodgers makes life easier for the New York Jets’ offensive line

Due to the addition of 39-year-old Aaron Rodgers, many would argue that the New York Jets’ offensive line is under an increased amount of pressure compared to most other offensive lines in the NFL.

While there is some truth to that claim, the opposite can also be argued. In some ways, having Rodgers under center takes pressure away from the offensive line.

In the sport of football, no matter the level, quarterbacks play just as large a role in protecting themselves as the blockers in front of them. Rodgers is a master in the art of protecting himself. There are numerous things he does to keep himself safe and minimize the stress placed upon his offensive linemen’s shoulders.

Most of these skills are mental. Mobility certainly helps, but self-protection at the quarterback position largely revolves around skills such as adjusting the protections pre-snap, calling proper audibles, and making quick post-snap decisions.

Rodgers has only gotten better with age in these particular areas. His stellar command of the offense places his blockers in a favorable position to succeed, helping to keep himself safe and raise the ceiling of the offense.

The numbers paint the picture of how Rodgers makes his offensive line look better.

Aaron Rodgers decreases the number of reps in which the offensive line’s pass protection has a major effect on the play

Pro Football Focus divides all pass-blocking reps into two categories: true pass sets (TPS) and non-true pass sets.

True pass sets exclude plays that are designed to negate the pass rush, such as quick passes (under 2 seconds), screens, play action rollouts, and RPOs. They also exclude plays with fewer than four rushers.

Essentially, true pass sets are snaps in which the offensive line actually has to hold up man-to-man against a legitimate pass rush for a reasonable duration of time. Non-true pass sets are reps in which the offensive line’s role is greatly minimized.

TPS plays place the quarterback in far greater danger than non-TPS plays. In 2022, offensive linemen allowed pressure on 8.2% of TPS snaps compared to just 2.5% of non-TPS snaps.

Because the allowed pressure rate on TPS plays is so much higher than the allowed pressure rate on non-TPS plays, minimizing TPS plays is an essential part of keeping the quarterback safe. Even if your offensive line is good, the quarterback could absorb a lot of pressure if his ratio of TPS plays to non-TPS plays is too high. The opposite is also true. Even if your offensive line isn’t great, the quarterback could stay well-protected if you manage a high rate of non-TPS plays.

The impact of Rodgers’ field-general skills is reflected in the TPS frequency of his offensive linemen. In recent years, the Packers’ offensive linemen had among the easiest jobs in the NFL in terms of how frequently they had to drop into true pass sets.

Over the past two seasons, only 35.0% of Green Bay’s pass-blocking snaps were considered true pass sets, ranking third-lowest in the NFL. The league average was 43.5% and the Jets ranked ninth-highest at 45.9%.

That’s a 10.9% difference between the TPS frequency of Rodgers’ offensive linemen and the Jets’ offensive linemen. Such a large margin can make a massive difference in determining how effective an offensive line looks, even if the unit isn’t actually playing any differently in each given situation.

Let’s unpack how big of a difference it would make if the Jets’ offensive line experiences a 10.9% decrease in TPS frequency.

At the league-average pressure rates for TPS snaps and non-TPS snaps (8.2% on TPS snaps and 2.5% on non-TPS snaps), the average offensive lineman would be expected to allow approximately 4.5 total pressures across 100 pass-blocking snaps if he had Green Bay’s splits over the past two years (35% TPS/65% non-TPS).

But if the average offensive lineman had New York’s splits (45.9% TPS/54.1% non-TPS), he would allow 5.1 total pressures – 0.6 more than if he had Green Bay’s splits. He’s still allowing the same pressure rate in both TPS and non-TPS situations, but because he is facing tougher assignments more frequently, he is getting exposed more often.

I know what you’re thinking: Big deal, that’s a difference of 0.6 pressures over 100 pass-blocking snaps. Who cares? But remember: that’s just one lineman. Multiply it by five to capture the whole unit, and now you have around 3.0 extra pressures for the entire offensive line.

And that’s only across 100 pass-blocking snaps. Rodgers had 588 dropbacks last season. Extrapolate the 3.0 added pressures across 100 dropbacks to 588 dropbacks, and you have 17.6 added pressures over the course of the season.

That’s just based on how often the offensive line had to drop into a true pass set, even with their performance being exactly the same in both TPS and non-TPS situations. It goes to show how big of an impact it can have when the offensive line has to deal with tougher assignments more frequently.

You still might be skeptical. A total of 17.6 pressures over the course of the season is approximately one extra pressure per game. So what if Rodgers saves one pressure per game?

Well, saving one pressure per game would comprise a much greater difference in a quarterback’s protection quality than you might think.

If Rodgers subtracted 17.6 total pressures over 588 dropbacks, it would decrease his overall pressure rate by 3.0%. That number would represent a huge gap on the league leaderboard. Among 32 qualified quarterbacks in 2022, 3.0% was the difference between Jacoby Brissett’s 15th-ranked pressure rate (32.9%) and Russell Wilson’s 25th-ranked pressure rate (35.9%). It was also the difference between Brissett and ninth-ranked Jared Goff (29.9%).

So, there you have it. Solely by decreasing the rate of true pass sets that his offensive line must face, Rodgers can elevate his offensive line from allowing pressure at the eighth-worst rate to a league-average rate, or from league-average to the top ten.

We already saw this impact in Rodgers’ preseason debut against the Giants. When Rodgers was in the game, only one of the offensive line’s nine pass-blocking snaps was labeled as a true pass set (11%).

This certainly had a lot to do with the Jets calling an uber-conservative game to protect Rodgers – there is no way the Jets will have an 11% TPS rate in the regular season – but still, there were multiple plays that exemplified exactly what Rodgers does to decrease his offensive line’s TPS frequency.

Two plays in particular showed this off: Rodgers’ smoke screen to Garrett Wilson on the first play and his later touchdown pass to Wilson.

Because of Rodgers’ ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage, a decent number of the Jets’ pass plays this year will come on plays that were initially called as a run and audibled to a pass. These plays will usually feature a very quick release time to maximize a favorable advantage on the outside – negating the offensive line’s role in the play.

Both of the aforementioned passes to Wilson were initially called as run plays. Watch the offensive line in both of the clips below: they’re run-blocking. But since Rodgers saw an unfavorable look to run against and a favorable matchup for Wilson on the outside, he decided to ditch the play call and spit the ball out to Wilson immediately. The Jets ended up getting a good result on both plays and the offensive line essentially didn’t have to do anything.

Rodgers’ ability to create pass plays like the two above is the main reason his offensive linemen’s TPS rates are so low compared to the rest of the league. Few quarterbacks are capable of commanding the offense at the line of scrimmage to such a great extent. Rodgers generates far more of these “easy” plays for the offensive line than his peers.

These types of plays were a large part of Green Bay’s offense and will be a large part of New York’s offense this year. Nathaniel Hackett is going to call a very high rate of runs into the huddle because he trusts Rodgers to change into a pass whenever the situation demands it. These altered run-to-pass plays will generate a bevy of non-TPS snaps for the offensive line, taking pressure off their shoulders and making them look good.

The Jets still need their offensive line to rise to the occasion this year – after all, Rodgers’ under-pressure performance has declined in recent seasons – but it is comforting for the coaching staff to know that Rodgers will do everything he can to protect himself regardless of how the offensive line is performing.

Rodgers’ self-protection is a valuable floor-raising skill for New York. It will keep him healthy, minimize turnovers, and keep the offense moving at a methodical pace even when the blocking isn’t ideal.

However, for the offense to reach its ceiling, the offensive line must play well. Rodgers can protect himself with quick passes all day long, but if the Jets want to keep pace with the AFC’s explosive powerhouses, they need their line to hold up for long-developing dropbacks so Rodgers can launch bombs to Wilson, Allen Lazard, and Mecole Hardman.

Fortunately, the offensive line will be placed in a favorable position to succeed thanks to Rodgers.

Not only does Rodgers’ mental wizardry keep him protected and decrease the passing game’s reliance on the offensive line, but it also helps the unit build chemistry and remain on the same page. Rodgers will do an excellent job of adjusting protections and communicating pre-snap to ensure everyone knows their assignment. Previous Jets quarterbacks did not excel at this.

With Rodgers, the Jets’ offensive line will be given the best chance to reach its ceiling.

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8 months ago

I watched Orlovsky break down these two plays. AR’s ball placement is fantastic on both.
On the screen, the ball leads GW toward the defender giving him momentum to make a move one-on-one. If the throw is behind or even w/ the LOS the defender has time to close.
On the TD the ball is placed where GW can wait to raise his hands to catch it thus not letting the defender know the ball was even thrown.
Masterful stuff in terms of execution after the pre-snap recognition.
Really looking forward to seeing this type of thing all season.