Super Bowl 48  

 

Rodgers, McCarthy form a killer offensive combination

DALLAS -- Championship teams are driven by the play of their quarterback.

From Joe Montana to Drew Brees, the list of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks features some of the position's top playmakers.

It is often their sensational play down the stretch that has served as the catalyst for their team's title run.

There is no doubt that Aaron Rodgers' spectacular play has propelled the Packers into Super Bowl XLV.

Over the Packers' last 11 games, Rodgers has tossed 22 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Those remarkable numbers include a sensational postseason run that has seen him complete over 71 percent of his passes while compiling an impressive 109.2 passer rating.

Rodgers is best described as a deadly accurate thrower with outstanding arm strength. He throws the ball on a rope with impressive zip and velocity, but also shows outstanding touch on deep tosses. His keen anticipation and awareness stands out on tape, as he routinely led receivers into open areas with his throws.

Rodgers has a knack for eluding rushers in the pocket and shows the improvisational skills to make plays on the perimeter. His ability to extend downs with his athleticism often results in critical first downs or big plays that leave defenders demoralized with their futile pursuits.

Given the need for a mobile quarterback in the West Coast offense, Rodgers has emerged as the league's ultimate weapon at quarterback.

The symbiotic relationship between Rodgers and Mike McCarthy has made the Packers' offense nearly impossible to stop.

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McCarthy, who learned the principles of the West Coast offense while working under Paul Hackett at the University of Pittsburgh and with the Kansas City Chiefs, has crafted an offensive system that accentuates Rodgers' strengths. He uses a wide array of personnel groupings and formations to create mismatches in space. He employs an assortment of quick routes designed to get the ball quickly into the Packers' receivers in the open field. Slants, "Stick" routes and short-crossers are key components to their passing attack, and the use of spread formations makes it easy for Rodgers to identify the open receiver. This tactic serves as the ideal counter to the blitz, and the Packers have routinely generated big plays utilizing the strategy.

In Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and James Jones, the Packers possess the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the league, and their versatility allows McCarthy to incorporate a vast array of offensive concepts that keeps defensive coordinators on their heels.

It is the balanced mix of short, intermediate and deep throws that eventually leads to big plays for the Packers. They probe the defense early in games to identify a potential weakness, then relentlessly attack the vulnerability to blow games open.

While this strategy is the obvious intention of every play caller, it has been McCarthy's aggressiveness with his calls that has elevated the Packers' offense to another level. He is not afraid to stay on the offensive regardless of the time, score or situation. That fearlessness overwhelms opponents unable to handle the versatility and tempo of Green Bay's attack.

Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, described McCarthy to me as a "stone-cold killer" as a play-caller. He spoke at length about the difficulty in defending the Packers' attack due to their willingness to stay on the offensive regardless of situation. He concluded that you must be able to handle their ferocious tempo to have a shot at slowing them down.

This postseason has provided a host of examples on how difficult it can be to stop the Packers. The Packers' first two drives against the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game illustrate how the combination of superb play-calling and excellent execution that allowed the team to run out to a quick lead.

The Packers took advantage of the Bears' tendency to play eight-man fronts with three-deep coverage on early downs. Rodgers repeatedly hit Jennings on the outside on skinny posts and digs while using play-action fakes to create huge voids in the back end. Although it wasn't a novel approach to take against the Bears, it was the aggressiveness in attacking down field that took many by surprise.

Another example of the Packers' excellent execution came during their impressive 48-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The Packers found a rhythm in the second quarter, and scored on five straight possessions. Rodgers, who completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns, repeatedly found open receivers over the middle of the field. He attacked the Falcons' sub-defenders (nickel and dime cornerbacks), and distributed the ball to seven different receivers in the game. With McCarthy varying the Packers' formations, Rodgers simply worked the weakness of the coverage and the Falcons were unable to find a solution.

The Steelers pose a unique challenge to Rodgers and McCarthy because their ultra-aggressive defense features a front seven that has pair of pass rushers in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley that are capable of disrupting the timing of the Packers' passing game. The Steelers' extensive use of a "30" front also presents problems because the constant movement of the linebackers makes it difficult to identify potential rushers. With few running backs strong enough to hold off Woodley or Harrison, the incorrect sliding of pass protection could lead to a game-changing sack or turnover.

In most instances, the Packers would opt to spread the field with three- or four-receivers and use hot reads to combat the blitz. Given the exceptional running skills of the Packers' receivers, the flurry of quick passes could result in big gains.

Rodgers and McCarthy have the Packers on the verge of claiming another world title. Although a stingy Steelers defense threatens to derail their mission, it is hard to bet against a hot quarterback with a fearless play-caller on his side.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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