Skip to main content

Explaining an Aaron Rodgers Fourth-Down Mistake (For Those Still Confused)

My Extra Point column on Monday was about a coach and a quarterback’s shared responsibility for the Packers’ uneven offensive performance. I cited a single play as an example of Rodgers’s tendency to work outside of the play design—a successful play design, in this case—costing the Packers an easy fourth-down conversion. In response to some misguided criticism, here’s a deeper dive to further explain that play

I caught wind of some blowback on my analysis of the Aaron Rodgers failed fourth-and-2 play against Miami from a few weeks ago. Normally at The MMQB we just let this kind of Twitter chatter go, but in this case the blowback was so objectively incorrect that ignoring it—which, for so many, means validating it—feels like a disservice to an audience that wants to better understand the game.

To recap, the subject of my Extra Point column on Monday was this: Mike McCarthy has earned his place on the coaching hot seat, but Rodgers, the most talented quarterback in the history of football, deserves a portion of the blame. Along with frequently spectacular plays, there are many on which McCarthy’s play design has won, but the play fails because Rodgers does not execute it as designed. I highlighted the fourth-and-2 play against Miami as a creative design by McCarthy and an egregious example of poor quarterbacking.

HOW IT ALL WENT WRONG IN PACKERLAND:Kalyn Kahler goes long on the reasons behind the Packers’ 2018 struggles

While the vast majority of reaction to my Monday piece was positive (or so my editors tell me), the negative responses focused on my choice of that specific play. This criticism from the Philly Voice was fairly typical:

You can't see him at the beginning of the clip, but safety Reshad Jones is covering Adams, and taking away the outside, because he knows that linebacker Jerome Baker (55) is taking away the slants. This route isn't open.

Worse, for some reason, McCarthy thought that blocking Cameron Wake with Jimmy Graham (on the right side of the screen above) was somehow a good idea. If anything, this play is a better illustration of a terrible design by McCarthy, who has managed to waste the talents of the best football player on the planet for most of the last decade.

Since we’re being critical, let’s make sure we’re accurate. A few points:

• Adams didn’t run a slant, he ran an angle route.

• Mike McCarthy didn’t call the protection, it was an adjustment made at the line of scrimmage in response to the Dolphins showing a double-A-gap blitz. To pick up the blitz, Rodgers motioned Graham in tighter to the formation to block Cameron Wake, with the entire O-line sliding left. Rodgers motioned Graham because he knew it was three-step dropback timing, which is too quick for an impeded defensive end to reach a QB, even if that end is as good as Cameron Wake and being impeded by a shoddy blocker like Graham. This, by the way, makes it all the more baffling that Rodgers didn’t uncork the throw to Adams.


• Reshad Jones is covering Adams… but only to a certain degree. It was a Cover 3 match coverage, which is essentially a man coverage that comes out of a Cover 3 zone structure. Because the Packers figured they’d get something along these lines, they put their best wide receiver at running back, knowing that his route would attack the area of rookie linebacker Jerome Baker.

• If you don’t consider Adams open when he turns his head back to Rodgers, there’s nowhere this conversation can go. Exactly 100 out of 100 NFL play designers would tell you this route is wide open, right on schedule. Adams wouldn’t have turned back to the QB if he didn’t feel open. Unfortunately, on this play, his QB was looking elsewhere, which is the befuddling part, since the play was built especially, if not exclusively, for Adams.

• The guess here is that Rodgers doesn’t feel Adams is breaking open quickly enough. Rodgers did initially look to Adams before turning elsewhere. But that’s just a symptom of impatient pocket play. Look where Rodgers’s head is facing when Adams turns to look for the ball. And look at the amount of space in this pocket. Yes, Wake has just beaten Graham. But Rodgers is supposed to be getting the ball to his best receiver at this point. Instead, he takes a sack.

BENOIT:Debunking the Myths of Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers Offense

(Editor’s note: Sports Illustrated is not an NFL broadcast rightsholder, and company policy is to not run GIFs or video clips of NFL Game Pass content. If you would like to see a GIF of this play, there is one at the Philly Voice link.)


One possible defense of Rodgers: He turned away from Adams so quickly because he was expecting Adams to run an option route to the flat, rather than an angle route (which is hardwired to go inside). But that seems unlikely given that a flat route would have put Adams in the same throwing lane as the X-receiver’s route to that side. And with safety Reshad Jones playing so far outside, it’s understandable why Adams would break inside. And the fact that you see off-schedule plays like this from Rodgers almost every week muddies the theory that this is a simple miscommunication.

• Question or comment? Email us at