Superbowl XLV Film Study, Part 2: Aaron Rodgers Still Knows Best

In my last post I showed how Aaron Rodgers was not going to be fooled by this Pittsburgh Steelers defense. This post is going to show you, once again, how the Steelers are attempting to fool Aaron Rodgers.

This is that proverbial football "chess match" at its finest, between the QB and the defensive coordinator. Let's take a look.

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The play I want to look at is seen above. It's the 2nd quarter. The Packers are up 14 to the Steeler's 3. It's a first and ten, and the Packers are in their own territory.

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The Packers come out on the field with 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB). The QB, Aaron Rodgers, is in shotgun, with the RB to the weak side of the formation (opposite of the TE).

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The Steelers come out in (what appears to be) their 3-3 Nickel defense. They have 3 defensive linemen on the field, 3 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs (3 cornerbacks and 2 safeties).

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From the pre-snap look, it looks as if the Steelers are playing a 2-Deep Man Coverage. In other words, they are playing two deep safeties in zone (shown by the yellow circles), and the rest of the secondary defenders (the two Cornerbacks and the nickelback) are in man coverage (shown by the yellow lines).

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The Packers start their play. It starts off with some pre-snap motion. Why use motion pre-snap? Usually, the offense is trying to see if the defense is in man or zone, or the offense is trying to get a mismatch. In this case, it looks as if the Packers were trying to see what defense the Steelers were playing. The Packers tight end (TE) comes off the line of scrimmage, and will motion half way across the formation and back to his original spot -- but off the line of scrimmage (LOS). The slot WR will move up onto the LOS to maintain seven men on the LOS (a required rule).

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Here you can see the TE stepping off the LOS, and the slot WR stepping up onto the LOS.

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Here you can see the TE stepping off the LOS, and the slot WR stepping up onto the LOS.

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The TE motions half way across the formation and comes back. Little to no adjustment is made by the defense which seems to suggest whatever the linebackers' assignment(s) is/are, it has little to do with the TE... which can really only mean the LBs are either in zone or are blitzing.

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The TE settles back into his stance off the LOS and in the left C-gap (the space outside of the left tackle). Aaron Rodgers calls for the ball, but it's a hard count! He is trying to trick the defense into thinking the ball will be snapped, and thus revealing their defense.

And the defense is revealed! The Nickelback (NB) shows blitz!

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Aaron Rodgers sees this, and alerts the offense to the blitzer. Alert!

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Hmm.... quite interestingly, that slot WR that the NB was covering, now appears uncovered. Throw it to him???

When it comes to defeating blitzes the general rule is that you throw to where the blitz came from. Why? Because (usually) there is now a void in the defense. That defender that is now blitzing you, just gave up his position on the field and cannot defend the area he just vacated.

Will Aaron Rodgers throw the ball to the uncovered slot receiver?

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Here's a picture of the play just after the snap. I've shown the blitzing defenders in red letters, and the coverage defenders in yellow letters. The blitzing defenders are the three defensive linemen, a linebacker, and the nickelback. In coverage, we have two safeties, two cornerbacks, and two linebackers.

In whole, the defense is playing a 3-3 Nickel Man Free NB & LB Blitz.

This is different than what they were showing pre-snap. Remember, they were showing a 2-Deep Man Coverage in the pre-snap look. In other words, the defense was "disguising" its coverage.

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Here's the play a fraction of the second later. That slot WR is still looking pretty wide open, right?

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Don't you think Aaron Rodgers will give him a look (green vision cone) and throw the ball to him?

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NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Aaron Rodgers isn't even looking at that slot WR!

Why not???

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Because as Admiral Ackbar would say: "It's a trap!!!" (Star Wars reference.)

That slot WR looks open like 24-hour convenience store! That slot WR looks ripe for the pickin' too, just like a 24-hour convenience store at 3 am! But noooo!!! It's a trap!

That slot WR (who is Packers WR stud Donald Driver, by the way) has TWO defenders ready to blow him up like Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

There's that LB in coverage sneaking underneath Donald Driver to pick off a pass if Donald Driver is running a short route.

And then you have that deep safety over the top ready to take away the deep balls (or lay a monster hit on Donald Driver, or also pick off a pass too). Where did that deep safety come from? Well, if you go back up five pictures (where I'm describing what defense the defense is playing), you can see that safety playing across from the slot WR in man coverage.

Throwing to that Donald Driver in that slot WR spot -- who looked open most of the pre-snap -- is looking to be a really bad idea!

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And Aaron Rodgers knows this! I mean, think about it. This is the SUPERBOWL. The Steelers don't just leave WRs uncovered. Remember the last play I showed you? The Steelers left another slot WR uncovered. They were hoping Aaron Rodgers would take the bait, and throw it to that supposedly uncovered WR. But in reality, they had a linebacker coming across the formation to try and intercept the ball.

SAME IDEA HERE.

The Steelers are trying to trick Aaron Rodgers. They want him to take the bait, and throw the ball to Donald Driver in the slot.

But noooo. Aaron Rodgers ain't having none of that. He's like "I ain't no dummy. I went to Cal, not Stanfurd!"

Aaron Rodgers, instead, looks to the other side of the field -- away from the trap and trickeration.

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He throws the ball to the WR on the other side. The WR is running a go route and Aaron Rodgers puts the ball on the WR's back shoulder since the defender is playing over the top of the WR. It's a tough throw. And unfortunately, the throw is incomplete.

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While this play resulted in an incompletion, and it wasn't really a successful play, it was still a SUCCESSFUL PRE-SNAP READ by Aaron Rodgers.

Remember, he avoided the trap. He avoided throwing the ball to that slot WR (Donald Driver) who looked to be wide open. The Steelers wanted him to make that throw because they were going to make him pay with either an interception or decapitating Donald Driver. As you can see above, Donald Driver (the slot WR), was never really as open as he looked.

And Aaron Rodgers knew this all along.

Aaron Rodgers knows best.

This play in its entirety can be seen in the youtube video above.

Conclusion:

Remember earlier I said stuff about how, in theory, the way to beat blitzes is to throw the ball to where the blitz came from?

When it comes to defeating blitzes the general rule is that you throw to where the blitz came from. Why? Because (usually) there is now a void in the defense. That defender that is now blitzing you, just gave up his position on the field and cannot defend the area he just vacated.

Yeah, that's true. It can work... BUT...the defense knows this too! The defense knows QBs will be looking to hit a receiver in the area from where the blitz came from, so the defense will often have defenders from another part of the field come over and fill that void created by the blitzing defender! This is exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing. They're showing Aaron Rodgers that uncovered receiver. They're baiting Aaron Rodgers. But in reality, that uncovered receiver is only going to be uncovered pre-snap. After the snap, defenders will be coming in to cover him and take away an easy throw. Aaron Rodgers knew this. That is why he didn't even look at the uncovered receiver post-snap.

That proverbial "chess match" isn't just between the defensive coordinator and the opposing offensive coordinator, it's also between the defensive coordinator and the QB. The QB has to be able to recognize the defenses and the traps laid out before him, BEFORE the play even starts. If he can do this, he can avoid interceptions, and exploit the weaknesses of the defense elsewhere.

Aaron Rodgers does this extremely well.

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Disclaimer: I'm still not an expert. Rely on the above analysis at your own risk.

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