Any Given Sunday
The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

Any Given Sunday: Chargers over Packers

L.A. Chargers pressure Aaron Rodgers
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

Whether you believe he has declined in skill or not, there's no arguing the fact that Aaron Rodgers' numbers have declined over the past couple of seasons. His adjusted yards per attempt from 2011 to 2016 was at 8.7. Since 2017, it has been at 8.1. He has finished outside of the top 10 in DVOA in three of his last four seasons entering 2019.

Under Matt LaFleur, Green Bay's offense has shifted to being more run-centric. (It would be hard for it to be any less run-centric given that Mike McCarthy ran the ball just 333 times in the 2018 season.) The Packers have gone from last in the NFL in rushing attempts to 16th, and they've lowered Rodgers' average target distance from 8.8 in 2018 to 8.1 in 2019. That has boosted Rodgers' efficiency from where it was by taking an already-safe quarterback and giving him even safer throws.

Funny enough, the biggest difference between peak Rodgers and regular Rodgers to these eyes -- and yes, I know there are some big highlights out there of Rodgers under stress -- is how much more likely he is to give up on a play he doesn't see it developing in the right way. This shows up in Rodgers' rushing stats. From 2011 to 2016, he scrambled about 3.54 times per game. From 2017 on, it has been three flat. And in 2019 alone, he has rushed just 26 times in nine starts.

In this game, the Chargers happened to have two EDGE players good enough to deal with Green Bay's good offensive line: Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram (plus a bunch of false start penalties that pushed the averaged down/distance to less favorable situations). What happens when Rodgers is pressured and doesn't want to deal? Throwaways.

OK, OK, that's not technically a throwaway, but the ball had no chance to be completed. Rodgers didn't try to run into open space, he didn't try to evade the rusher, he simply chucked the ball. Los Angeles had a couple of early sacks and continued to slide past Packers' linemen all day. That kind of pressure is fairly limiting to an offense's chances if the quarterback isn't playing well out of structure. In 2018, Rodgers' DVOA decreased by 129.8% when under pressure, putting him squarely in the top 10 for most per-play value lost due to pressures. In 2017, Rodgers' DVOA decreased by 102.8% under pressure, which was better, but still below average. It feels very weird to say this about Aaron Rodgers, but on a per-play basis, he hasn't been very good out of structure for a while. We don't have 2019 DVOA under pressure just yet, but here's what it looks like when Rodgers is pressured on a completion percentage basis this year:

Aaron Rodgers Under Pressure, 2019
Week Split Att Cmp Cmp% Yds Avg. TDs INTs
1-8 Pressure 89 45 50.6% 685 7.70 4 0
No Pressure 194 140 72.2% 1639 8.45 12 2
9 Pressure 10 5 50.0% 38 3.80 1 0
No Pressure 25 18 72.0% 123 4.92 0 0

I know that it has become somewhere between hot take and meme, depending on the week, to claim that Rodgers is overrated. I have no stake in the conversation. I do think that Rodgers appears to be a lot more cognizant of how much of a pounding his body takes playing the game, and he has become more apt to save his bullets on a weekly basis. Last year, he had 41 passes that were thrown away per SIS. In 2014, that number was 17. His throwaway rate has spiked significantly, and even if he doesn't take a sack, a throwaway is still a fairly negative play for the offense.

The flashes of what is still a special quarterback appear on Rodgers' snaps. The question is simply how many of them we'll see if the Packers make the playoffs.

Where the Game Swung

The answer: Not much at all! It turns out that when you go up 19-0, there's not much swinging to do.

The only two plays that actually led to much of a GWC bump, per Business Daddy EdjSports, are:

  • Philip Rivers' 56-yard pass to Mike Williams in the first quarter, which gets an extra boost because a holding penalty had put the Chargers in a first-and-20. That boosted Los Angeles' GWC by 8.8%.
  • Aaron Rodgers' 13-yard pass to Geronimo Allison on third-and-14, which was turned into a first down after an unnecessary roughness penalty. That added 8.7% GWC to Green Bay's cause.

No other play in this game really shifted the state of things much, because outside of those two plays it's pretty much a straight shot up until the fourth quarter.

By the (D)VOA

DVOA OFF DEF ST TOT
GB -34.4% 35.8% 5.0% -65.1%
LAC 41.6% -18.0% -8.6% 51.0%
VOA OFF DEF ST TOT
GB -29.1% 33.3% 5.0% -57.4%
LAC 43.9% -3.3% -8.6% 38.6%

Green Bay gets a little extra boost of sadness for sputtering out against what had been our 27th-ranked DVOA defense coming into this game. Everything else translates mostly the same in VOA and DVOA.

More Like Whise-Not-Gonna-Work-Here-Anymore

With Ken Whisenhunt deposed, the Chargers' offensive game plan didn't change so much as it became healthier. Melvin Gordon is back. Mike Williams isn't nursing his injuries. Hunter Henry is back. Russell Okung is back. That gives this performance more of a tint of a team that finally got to run its ball control and short-passing game plan against a Packers run defense that was 22nd in DVOA coming into this game and had sprung leaks before. You've likely heard the tale of how execrable the Chargers' run game has been over the last month, where they have failed to break 40 yards rushing.

Still, new playcaller Shane Steichen did make one notable change -- well, notable outside of admitting that Austin Ekeler has played well enough to cut into Melvin Gordon's rushes. Steichen had a majority of the runs that his team took against Green Bay come out of shotgun.

The Chargers had run out of shotgun on just 104 of 383 rushes in 2018, a little over 27 percent. In Weeks 1 to 8, they ran out of shotgun 81 times and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. They decided not to run out of shotgun 73 times, and they have a total of 191 yards on those carries.

So Steichen just decided to go with what was working. In Week 9, the Chargers ran out of shotgun 23 times for 115 yards. They ran from under center just nine times, mostly in the red zone. This is more sustainable offense because it focuses on one of Melvin Gordon's strengths: his ability to avoid tackles.

Gordon finished seventh in the NFL in broken tackles in 2018. By moving to shotgun, where he has more build-up time, the Chargers give Gordon more time to set up his body to power past contact. Here, right guard Michael Schofield (75) does an excellent job at sealing Montravius Adams (90), and Gordon chooses that gap. Blake Martinez (50) is able to get to Gordon, but isn't able to get a clean shot on him because Gordon only shows him his shoulder. This was a fourth-quarter run -- the Packers knew the Chargers were mostly attempting to run clock -- and the Chargers were still able to execute with ease.

Is this enough to get the Chargers back into the playoffs after a 2-5 start? Well, it certainly can't hurt, even if Los Angeles' wins coming against the NFC North are not going to help it come tiebreaker time. We've always known the Chargers were one of the most talented teams in the AFC. It was a matter of health and coaching tweaks.

Maybe this can be one of the tweaks that settles the offense down.

Comments

6 comments, Last at 06 Nov 2019, 3:23pm

1 So about next Sunday's game...

I guess it comes down to the Panthers' awful run defense making enough stops to force the Packers to get into passing mode, and then they can unleash the top sacking portion of the Defense. It's bizarro-world when you hope the game hinges on make A-a-ron drop back to throw the ball...

2 Rodgers is throwing it away…

Rodgers is throwing it away more in part because nobody in the receiving corps knows what to do in the scramble drill. Both Jordy and Cobb knew to get to open space in coverage on the same side as the QB any time the play broke down. I don't think Rodgers trusts any of the current players to get open fast enough for him to risk the pressure.

Rodgers has taken a fair amount of legitimate criticism in the past for holding the ball too long and giving up too many sacks. That wasn't the case Sunday; the Chargers were getting to the QB early and often. RG Turner was a turnstile and C Lindley kept giving help away from Bosa and Ingram for inexplicable reasons. There were few blitzes. I only remember one coverage sack. It doesn't help that no WR/TE except Adams can get any separation.

3 So what are the receivers…

So what are the receivers doing right now during scramble drills? Are they trying to move to open spaces?

As for separation, I assume San Diego was mainly playing man coverage. Were there no rub routes, bunch formations and the like?

4 From what I see

I don't watch the All-22, but what I see is receivers either 1.) continuing their (covered) routes instead of breaking them off and cutting in a different direction; 2.) heading for the goal line (which is only an option for Rodgers if he has enough time to set up and throw - which he did not have in this game); or 3.) slow way down and look around in hopes of finding an empty space to run to.    I think Nelson/Cobb/James Jones knew the offense (and defenses) so well because of their time in the system they would almost instinctively know exactly where to go in a scramble drill.  This receiver group seems to try and figure out where to go after their route is completed by looking for empty space.

6 I'm not sure what the…

I'm not sure what the Packers came into the game trying to do on offense, but the way things unfolded was goofy as hell. The Packers barely had the ball in the first half (18 plays) and undercut the few successful plays they ran by following them up with pre-snap penalties (three false starts plus a delay of game in their first three drives). They went three-and-out to start the second half and from that point on were chasing the game. End result, they played a ton of 5-wide and I'm not sure they ran a single play action pass, which is insane for an offense with Shanahan roots. It wasn't very encouraging to watch.

5 You know who is oddly good…

You know who is oddly good in the scramble drill? Jamaal Williams. He doesn't end up very far down the field all that often but has made some nice plays in those situations. Maybe some guys just have a feel for that kind of thing.

The offense is going to be in better shape the less Rodgers is forced (or decides) to extend plays. Through the Oakland game, Rodgers had drastically reduced his Sack % from the past few seasons. I haven't seen throwaway numbers for this season so far, but I sensed those had been coming down as well. Last couple of weeks, however, those have started to regress back to where they had been.