Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Falling Down: Aaron Rodgers Poised to Become the Packers' Most-Sacked Passer

By Eric Goska
Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 412 times. (Chip Manthey photo)

"It’s not how many times you get knocked down that counts,

it’s how many times you get back up."

Aaron Rodgers can relate to that sentiment. At some point this season—barring injury—he will have been knocked down and gotten back to his feet more often while attempting to pass than any quarterback in Packers history.

Getting sacked is an occupational hazard for all quarterbacks. Rodgers knows this as well as anyone. On the cusp of his 15th season, he’s been a party to many pass plays that end with him lying prone on the field.

Since becoming Green Bay’s starter in 2008, Rodgers has enjoyed success. A two-time league MVP, he led the Packers to the playoffs eight straight years (2009-2016). In February 2011, he became a Super Bowl champion by virtue of Green Bay’s 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rodgers’ regular-season totals are beginning to pierce the outer fringes of the all-time best. He’s among the league’s Top 20 career leaders in pass attempts (5,492—19th), yards (42,944—17th), completions (3,560—16th) and touchdowns (338—10th).

At the same time, he’s been terrific at avoiding interceptions. When it comes to the 80 he has thrown, his name is far down the list in a tie with Bill Munson at No. 158.

Avoiding turnovers through the air is one reason Rodgers is the highest rated passer (103.1) in NFL history.

Tackle David Bakhtiari  protects
Rodgers' blindside. (Eric Goska photo)
Rogers’ accomplishments often overshadow his vulnerability in the pocket. For a guy who can use his feet as well as his arm, No. 12 has been sacked more often than one might expect.

Longevity can account for only so much of that.

Brett Favre was sacked more often than any player in NFL history. He was dumped 525 times in a career that stretched 20 seasons.

Favre is also the Packers’ all-time leader. In 16 seasons with the team, he was set down 438 times while attempting to pass.

That’s a lot of time on the ground. But Favre dropped back to pass 9,192 times while in Green Bay. His average (one sack for every 20.98 pass attempts) is a low for any of the 15 Packers players who were sacked at least 20 times in their careers.

Rodgers, who has been sacked 412 times in 14 seasons, will likely move past Favre sometime in November. He has dropped back to pass far fewer times than his predecessor (5,904), and the rate at which he gets trapped (one sack for every 14.33 pass attempts) is far more frequent.

Rodgers is 26 short of tying Favre’s team record. Hitting or exceeding that number in 2019 is all but given as he has been sacked at least that many times in nine different seasons.

When talking in terms of seasons, Rodgers is the leader of the Pack. He has been dumped more than 40 times in a team-record four seasons. He owns the top three spots (51 in 2012, 50 in 2009 and 49 in 2018), and the 46 he endured in 2015 ranks fifth behind the 47 of Don Majkowski in 1989.

Even Lynn Dickey, who was robbed of much of his mobility by injury, never exceeded 40 in one season.

Perhaps more alarming: Rodgers (409) has been dropped more often than any quarterback in the league since 2008. Philip Rivers (359) and Ben Roethlisberger (355) are a distant second and third.

Rodgers’ susceptibility to getting sacked might be less worrisome if the Packers were piling up wins. But back-to-back losing campaigns in 2017 and 2018 have offered a reminder that Rodgers—whatever the reasons may be—gets sacked too often.

Three appears to be the tipping point for the quarterback. Green Bay has gone 35-37-1 (.486) when Rodgers has been sacked three or more times. The club is 65-20 (.765) when that number is lower.

Ideally, the Packers would like to keep Rodgers clean. The team is an impressive 14-3 (.824) when he is not sacked. It is undefeated at Lambeau Field (10-0).

Keeping defenses at bay, however, has been easier said than done the past two years. Point production has suffered during that time.

Rodgers practices on the Packers' 100th
birthday, Aug. 11, 2019. (Eric Goska photo)
Rodgers has been sacked 71 times in 23 starts since 2017. On average, he’s been dumped once for every 12.75 dropbacks, a rate higher than his overall average (14.33) as a starter.

Furthermore, the team has been unable to overcome these setbacks as it once could. Too often possessions featuring a sack wind up going nowhere.

The 71 sacks Rodgers has endured since opening against the Seahawks in 2017 have been part of 60 drives. Those 60 drives yielded 63 points (1.05 per advance) and just four touchdowns (0.07 per advance).

Compare that to the nine years previous (2008-2016). In 303 drives featuring sacks of Rodgers, the team tallied 376 points (1.24) and 31 touchdowns (0.10).

At its peak, Green Bay’s offense treated sacks as mere speed bumps. The Packers of 2011 scored on 17 of 32 drives in which Rodgers was dumped (53 percent) and put up 75 points on those advances as they raced to a 15-1 record. They mounted touchdown drives of at least 70 yards on five of those occasions.

But that’s ancient history. In 2017 and 2018, seasons in which the team posted a combined record of 13-18-1, sacks were often deal-breakers. The Packers scored on just 15 of 60 drives that involved a Rodgers’ sack (25 percent), and posted just 63 points.

Only once during that time—in a 35-31 win at Dallas in 2017—did Green Bay travel more than 70 yards to a touchdown.

The NFL’s 100th season is right around the corner. What surprises does it hold for the league’s least-populous city?

As always, predicting the future can be tricky. But know this: with a new head coach and a new offensive approach, the Packers will be facing many changes in 2019. It would behoove them to ensure reducing the number of sacks allowed is one of them.

Sad Sacks
Passers who were sacked more than 75 times while playing for the Packers.

Player, Years                                No.     Yards Lost
Brett Favre, 1992-2007                 438         2,877
Aaron Rodgers, 2005-18               412         2,884
Bart Starr, 1956-71                        336         2,960
Tobin Rote, 1950-56                      164         1,290
Don Majkowski, 1987-92              159            911
David Whitehurst, 1977-83            99            738
Randy Wright, 1984-88                  85            603

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