Why Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are the best at executing the scramble drill

In his second "Teaching Tape" feature of the 2017 offseason, Mike Renner breaks down Packers' scramble drill.

| 1 month ago
Aaron Rodgers

(Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

Why Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are the best at executing the scramble drill


Senior Analyst Mike Renner returns with his “Teaching Tape” series, a weekly feature in which he explains how and why the best in the NFL are successful at what they do. Renner’s second Teaching Tape article of the 2017 offseason dives into the scramble drill often utilized by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers’ offense.

Over the years, we’ve seen quarterbacks in the NFL that are faster. We’ve seen quarterbacks in the NFL that are more elusive. What we have never seen, though, is a quarterback give opposing defensive coordinators more headaches outside the pocket than one Aaron Rodgers.

This should come as no surprise. Rodgers’ game has evolved over the years into a one-man offensive machine, and his ability outside the pocket is unquestionably the most feared around in the league. When it comes to making plays outside the framework of an offense, it’s like the Packers’ quarterback is playing a different game than everyone else. Below are some of Rodgers’ passing statistics on scrambles — all of which he leads the league in — along with the next-closest quarterback’s marks.

On Scrambles Aaron Rodgers Next-closest QB NFL average
Completions 38 30 (Matthew Stafford) 14.8
Attempts 88 64 (Russell Wilson) 39
Yards 543 429 (Matthew Stafford) 196.8
Touchdowns 10 4 (Matthew Stafford) 1.5

Those stats are eye-opening, and they don’t even take into account the fact that he finished with the second-most rushing yards on scrambles of any quarterback (374), trailing Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor by a mere 34 yards. Rodgers doubled the league average in every single passing category, and when it comes to scrambling ability in the red zone, no one is even close. It’s no wonder Rodgers threw an NFL-high 24 of his 40 touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line.

For Green Bay, this is more than Rodgers simply reacting to collapsing pockets — it’s a core tenet built into the offense. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga has gone so far as to say that Rodgers will tell his offensive tackles to overset at times to bait edge rushers into inside moves and blow their contain. These are such important plays that they get practiced like anything else. Receivers drill the best angles to take to open space after they’ve seen that a play has broken down. The 917 yards Rodgers gained via run and pass on scrambles last year will get attributed to him on the stat sheet, but it’s an entire team effort to get to that figure. And that’s what makes the Green Bay Packers the “Teaching Tape” team for the scramble drill.

As cliché as it is to say, it all starts up front for the Packers. Without one of the best pass-protecting offensive line’s in the NFL, none of this is possible. The front five of left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Lane Taylor, centers J.C. Tretter and Corey Linsley, right guard T.J. Lang, and right tackle Bryan Bulaga combined to lead the entire NFL in pass-blocking efficiency last season. Four of those six players finished among the top five in pass-blocking efficiency at their respective positions (Taylor and Tretter withstanding). Scrambling doesn’t work without time, space in the pocket, and a lack of free runners on the quarterback.

With the superb continuity over the past handful of seasons on Green Bay’s line, the Packers have built a symbiotic relationship with their All-Pro quarterback. As I mentioned in the opening, defensive coordinators game plan to keep Rodgers in the pocket more than any other quarterback. The best way to do this without compromising the integrity of the pass defense with a spy is to enforce strict gap control on those rushing the passer. As you can see below, in a standard five-man protection, there are six possible gaps between offensive linemen in which Rodgers could reasonably slither through.

Offensive line gaps

In a standard four-man rush, that leaves two gaps unaccounted for. The most common way teams deal with that numbers disadvantage is to two-gap their edge rushers. This will usually come via the bull rush, but teams have gone so far as to mush-rush their ends, meaning they don’t even attempt to attack the quarterback to keep contain.

The Packers’ tackles know this will be the case with most teams, though, and use that to their advantage. No set of tackles latches on to their blocks in the NFL better than Bakhtiari and Bulaga. For this reason, opposing fan bases scream bloody murder for holding calls every game against the Packers — even though they shouldn’t be called — and almost every team that tries to sacrifice pass rush for contain against Green Bay seems to still get burned.

Talking with Colts defensive lineman Henry Anderson at the start of training camp a season ago, I asked him the biggest difference between pass-rushing in college versus the NFL. He told me that, in college, offensive linemen punch; in the NFL, linemen grab. The Packers embody that mantra. They not only want to negate pressures, but they also want to eliminate any separation between themselves and the defender. If the defender can’t keep his body clean, he has little chance of tracking down Rodgers.

OLPunch1 OLPunch2

In the freeze frames above, you can see what I’m talking about. The tackles aren’t “punching” per se, they’re engulfing. Their arms are wide, unafraid of the bull rush because they know once that happens, they’ll latch on and Rodgers can leak out the back door.

When he does leak out the back door, the magic begins — and this is the part of the Teaching Tape that one can’t actually teach. Sure, there are some elements of scrambling that can be coached to a degree. Rodgers’ first move away from pressure is almost always up in the pocket, the correct way to help your offensive linemen maintain leverage. He’ll only drift backwards and break the pocket as a last resort. When he is on the move, he won’t throw the ball back late across his body to the middle of the field — a cardinal sin of quarterback as told by Rodgers himself.

RodgersNoNo

There are rules and habits that he follows that keep him consistent, but good luck teaching someone to throw like this:

Or this:

This is one of the first times in the Teaching Tape series where I’m not sure I’m even highlighting a positive. At times over the past two seasons, Rodgers has become far too reliant on broken plays, and this boom-or-bust nature (43.2 completion percentage this past year) has led to lulls in the Green Bay offense. Still, there is no one more proficient and prolific at the broken play than the Packers, and if they’re coming up on your team’s schedule, it’s something you have to prepare for.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • crosseyedlemon

    For my money the “Teaching Tape” series is probably the best thing PFF has going for it and Mike does an excellent job breaking down the various schemes to provide an understanding of how they work. Looking forward to more installments in the coming weeks.

  • Andre Taylor

    The answer to the question is quite simple actually, the reason the Packers are so successful with broken plays is Aaron Rodgers. Its just that simple, and im not even a Packers fan. Im a former D1 college football DE, i redshirted my freshman year. Was in the D-line rotation my 2nd year, and started my final 2 seasons. Im not 43-years-old, and ive been watching football since i was 5 or 6, understanding it completely at around age 12. In all my years ive never played against, or seen a QB with the athletic package and arm talent put together like Rodgers. He is hands down the best QB in the NFL, and has been for the last 5 years. Rodgers ability to throw the ball on the run, out of the pocket, left or right, with pin point accuracy, in tight windows with velocity and strength is 2nd to none. It is simply a disgrace that Rodgers on has 1 Super Bowl ring since he became the starting QB. Football is the ultimate team sport, GM Ted Thompson should have been fired years ago. To hold to this stubborn philosophy, allowing homegrown talent to walk year in and year out. Refusing to sign veteran free agents, when he does its small, 1 or 2 year deals. Being so egotistical to think that he can draft replacements in the later rounds is a joke, forcing rookies or inexperienced players into roles that they simply are not ready for. Every Rodgers is left trying to compensate for these holes in the roster, on top of injuries and inconsistencies from players around him. Then all the sports analyst start to ask whats wrong with Rodgers, when year in and year out he puts up the same stats. If Thompson would get his head out of his ass, im not suggesting that the Packers go out and sign overpriced players to expensive contracts. Simply fill important holes with quality talent. So we as football fans are left watching Rodgers run around and make magic, when if he had a little help from certain positions. He and the Packers would be a yearly Super Bowl Contender much like the Patriots.

    • Jacob Basson

      always good to hear that from others. as a packer fan i don’t have the credibility to try to parse brady’s team-level accomplishments from rodgers’s individual-level abilities but it’s seemed for years now like rodgers just does more than anyone else. anything ANY QB is great at, rodgers is great at, and you can’t say that about anyone else.

      • Andre Taylor

        Bro i truly feel sorry for Packer fans, even as a diehard Baltimore Raven fan i have to admit that Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in football. Whereas Bill Belchick and the Patriots front office go all out to make sure that all holes are filled and Brady has any and everything he needs to consistently make a Super Bowl run on a yearly basis. Packers GM Ted Thompson allows homegrown, in their prime, productive talent to walk year in and year out. It is an absolute disgrace that Rodgers has only 1 Super Bowl ring. Both Rodgers and HC Mike McCarthy have publicly stated that the organization needs to sign talented free agents, or at the very least keep the homegrown talent. Not draft or or sign low end free agents and undrafted free agents and push them into role they are not developed for. Based upon some crazy thought process of Thompson’s, which is the direct reason for Rodgers having to do more just to win 10 or 11 games, yet be home every year in February. I do think Rodgers is cocky, egotistical and not the best teammate, but there is no denying his skill, talent, arm or production. Thompson needs to change or be fired, Rodgers isn’t getting any younger. By the way, as a former D1 college football player, i redshirted my freshman year, was in the D-line rotation my 2nd year and started my last 2 years. I know from experience that any D-lineman would rathee face Brady than Rodgers anyday. So if you dont feel qualified, i do, ill say it for you. Lol! Rodgers is better than Brady

        • Nick Perry

          This comment is absolutely right on the money. As a die hard Packers fan I think I’m one of the few who see Thompson much in the same way you seem to. Rodgers SHOULD have more rings and I question if he’ll have the chance as long as TT is the GM. With the exception of this past offseason Thompson has REFUSED to use all avenues to build a Championship team ignoring the idea of signing free agents or trading for a player. Thompson has had TWO HOF QB’s since taking over as GM in 2005. It’s a shame Murphy has kept Thompson and settled with NFC North Titles instead on SB Titles. The Packers front office should copy the “Patriot Way” to the letter. Go out and actually sign a difference maker in free agency. Trade your #1 draft choice for a player like Brandon Cooks. Sign those cheap Mid Level FA instead of “HOPING” an UDFA can do the same thing.

          Put Rodgers on the Patriots and he has as many SB’s as Brady, I don’t doubt that at all. TB IS the greatest QB of all time, no doubt about it because he has the rings to back it up. The sad thing is we just may never know how great Rodgers is/was because of Ted Thompson.

          • Andre Taylor

            Nick the Patriots gave up a 1st and a 3rd round pick to get Cooks, however Cooks is still on his rookie deal. With a year left, and a 5th year option of which New England gladly picked up. The Packers could have done the same deal, and still had picks left. The saddest part is the way Ted Thompson allows homegrown talent to walk, guys that were picked in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th rounds picks, that the coaching staff coached up to become good starters or pro-bowl levels. Even signing TE Martellus Bennett, its a 1 year deal. CB Davon House was bought back on a 1 year deal, players are looking for stability. Ted Thompson has an eye for talent, he would be better use to the organization as the head of personnel, or the draft. But as a GM he has made life harder for Aaron Rodgers, and the coaching staff. You simply can’t run an organization like that, especially with a QB as talented as Rodgers.

          • Shane Mac

            I agree. Case in point is TJ Lang and also the refusal to sign an established ILB who can actually show the young talent on the field of how to play the position. Should have picked up another good CB as well. Peppers is gone so that’s $10M that could have been used wisely. I am starting to think that every dollar Thompson keeps GB under the salary cap is tied into bonus money for him.

      • Shane Mac

        I feel that the team-level accomplishments that Brady has stems from his force of personality and the coaching of Belichick and also the NE front office. I love Rodgers’ talent and his ability to think through games. He has good rapport with his O-line and receivers. I agree with Andre Taylor above – that the GB front office sometimes could help the team more than it should. Someone tell me the philosophy of not signing your Pro Bowl guard (TJ Lang turns 30 yo this September) ostensibly because they won’t overpay their guards and also age concerns but then go out and sign a stop-gap G in Jahri Evans who turns 34 this year. This team could be so much better.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    didn’t realize stafford was such an efficient scrambler

    • Shane Mac

      He had a really good year except was not able to defeat GB in week 17 for the NFC North title. He really should have a GB’s secondary had 4 safeties and 1 CB on the field most of the time. Next year may end up the same way but Detroit will be the home team at least.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    denver’s 2015 mush-rush, man coverage game plan was executed to perfection, could be another fun teaching tape article

    • AJ

      Considering strength of opponent, that game may be the best single-game performance by any defense in quite a while. No offense was going to get anything on Denver that day. On a separate note, that was also Manning’s best game of the 2015 season.

  • Shane Mac

    Yeah, on that last pass vs Redskins Rodgers threw slightly across his body and truth be told, receivers coming back for the ball both would have had TDs also. And yet as well as Rodgers has played in Green Bay there are Packer fans who hate Rodgers as if he was the one who forced Favre out.

    • Brian Dugan

      I’ve been a Packers fan for my entire life and I don’t know one single Packers fan who “hates” Aaron Rodgers.