My plan was to do a full Passing Chronicles to end the season, just like (pretty much) every week. Unfortunately, events conspired against me this week and I found myself sitting around on Tuesday evening with no gifs made and no real desire to watch all 42 dropbacks from this past week to make those gifs. I toyed with the idea of just not writing anything this week, but that didn’t feel quite right.
So I started rewatching the last few games of the season (the condensed versions, of course, because I am not a lunatic). When I was doing that, something jumped out at me.
We all know that Aaron Rodgers loves the hard count. As Packers fans, we are most accustomed to him doing this as a way to try to draw opponents offside, then hitting them with a big play as the flags fly around him. However, that’s not the only reason he does it. Rodgers – as well as other quarterbacks – use the hard count as a way to trick a defense into showing its hand earlier than they want to. If you can see that a corner blitz is coming before the ball is snapped, that’s much better than finding out after the ball has been snapped. You can have a plan for what to do with that information instead of being driven into the turf.
After rewatching some of these games, I’m wondering if Rodgers uses it too much. It’s no secret that the “hard count to draw an offside penalty and chuck it down the field” strategy hasn’t been as effective in recent years as it had been. This chart will tell you as much:
I went back to 2009, because that’s the earliest data NFL Penalties had. Starting in 2010, Rodgers was drawing people offside like crazy. I looked at Pro Football Reference’s Play Index to see how Rodgers did on some of those Dismissed Offside penalties. From 2009-2015, Rodgers was 13/13 for 515 yards (39.62 yards per attempt) and 7 touchdowns. From 2016-2018, he was 3/3 for 119 yards (39.67 yards per attempt) and 1 touchdown. When he was able to draw people offside he was just as lethal as ever, but the chances haven’t been coming nearly as often as they had been. In fact, Rodgers did not have a single big play as a result of defensive offside in 2018.
As I watched the games, I started to see something else. Not only are defenses not falling for his old tricks, they’re using his hard count against him.
Let’s look at this play from this past week. Let’s set it up.
3rd & 4, 8:23 remaining in the 1st quarters, Packers tied 0-0. Packers snap the ball on their own 12.
Rodgers rolls with the hard count and looks out to his right. Let’s check in.
Darius Slay  is on the outside while Glover Quin  is in the slot. Both of those guys have been in Detroit for a while and have seen Rodgers more than their fair share.
There is no audio in the coaches film, but if you watch Rodgers you can see what he’s doing and the reaction of the defenders. He really sells it at the end of this clip, and you can see how Slay and Quin react. They’re kind of milling around, but the hard count causes them to bail.
Ah-HA! Rodgers caught them! He has seen what they’re going to do and he has his read. Here are the routes to that side, as well as what it looks like the defense is doing:
There’s a 2 TE, 1 WR bunch to the right. Robert Tonyan  runs a drag as the front man. Since he doesn’t factor in too much, I’ve cut out his defender and the majority of his route. Sorry Robert.
Jimmy Graham  runs an out-and-up from the inside, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling  runs an out from the outside. You can see why Rodgers is looking right: with Slay showing that he’s bailing from the outside, that tells Rodgers that he’ll have an easy throw to Valdes-Scantling on the out for a first down.
So what happens?
Instead of continuing to fade back, Slay jumps up at the snap. Look at Rodgers: he’s looking to get the ball out quickly to Valdes-Scantling, but he’s forced to ditch that idea once Slay jumps it.
Let’s just see how the rest of this plays out.
Rodgers briefly considers Jake Kumerow  on the drag, but abandons it when Teez Tabor  jumps that route.
Rodgers ends up working all the way over to Jamaal Williams , who runs a flat route from the backfield. A defender is sitting just past the first down marker and Williams sits down a couple yards short. You can see Rodgers making a hand motion for Williams to start running up the sideline, but Williams waits too long to do it and Rodgers is flushed. If Williams cut up the sideline when Rodgers motioned, the ball could have come out and Williams would have had a good shot at picking up the first down.
As it stands, what started as a promising pre-snap read ended with Rodgers throwing the ball away and the Packers punting.
Going back to my initial point, this is not a one-time thing. I wish I had a full compilation of the plays this has happened on, but I’d have to dig a bit to do that. (Perhaps I have found an offseason project for myself.) It seems that defenses are using Rodgers’ hard count as a way to bait him into seeing something that isn’t there.
The hard count – once a lethal weapon for Rodgers – has been turned against him. I’m not advocating that Rodgers ditch the hard count altogether, because that’s madness. Every quarterback needs a good hard count. But I do believe he needs to tone down his use of it a little.
This marks the end of the Packers 2018 season. It certainly didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but I learned a ton this year about the passing game. It always blows my mind that anyone reads these things, because it’s basically just me teaching myself as I go along. Don’t get me wrong, I have done a lot of reading/research over the years, but I always feel like I’m kind of making this up every week. Every year I learn a little more, and I hope you all do as well. I can’t thank each and every one of you enough.
I’ll be covering some teams for the playoffs, then doing some offseason work. Not sure where all of that will be posted, but you can certainly find me on Twitter and I’ll post links. My main account is @DustyEvely. If you don’t care about anything other than football, you can find me at @All22Talk.
Albums listened to: Mastersystem – Dance Music; Math and Physics Club – Lived Here Before