News & Analysis

Undercover MVPs: The Packers' pass-protecting backs

By Sam Monson
Jan 21, 2011

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Aaron Rodgers is on fire, we know that by now.

Josh Sitton is playing like an All-Pro guard, we’ve told you guys that enough already.

But as the Packers stand a game away from a return to the Super Bowl, it’s time some credit was given to a group of Green Bay players whose excellence this season has gone a long way to helping Rodgers and the passing game as much as anyone else has – the running backs.

And while they’ve done a decent job running the ball, it’s their pass-blocking that really sets them apart.

Green Bay is a team that likes to throw the ball, and with a quarterback like Rodgers, why not?  They also spread teams out with as many receivers as they can get away with.  The ability of the half backs and full backs in Green Bay to pass protect and pick up the blitz is of paramount importance, more than in other offenses around the league.  That’s why the performance of a somewhat makeshift stable of backs in that regard is so impressive.  Pass protection for backs is supposed to be the hardest part of the gig at the NFL level.  The actual running the ball part is comparatively easy.

Aaron Rodgers dropped back to pass on 538 occasions in 2010, and (leaving out Ryan Grant and Dimitri Nance, who barely played), the Packers had five backs that combined for 320 snaps in pass protection.  That in itself is not an impressive figure, but those backs combined to account for just two sacks, and three further pressures on the quarterback.

Their blocking grades:

Brandon Jackson (+3.5)
John Kuhn (+3.4)
Korey Hall (+2.6)
Quinn Johnson (+1.3)
James Starks (+0.8)

How impressive is that? Consider that of the 78 halfbacks/fullbacks to play 25 percent or more of snaps this year, less than half of them graded positively as blockers. And yet all five Green Bay backs managed to do it.

No one back allowed more than a single sack (Brandon Jackson and Korey Hall both gave up one), and no back totaled more than three total pressures conceded (Brandon Jackson gave up a sack and a pair of additional pressures, but from the greatest number of snaps pass protecting – 114).

Let’s put that into some meaningful numbers for you.  The Green Bay backs gave up pressure on just 1.6% of plays they were pass protecting for in 2010.  They surrendered pressure once every 63.2 snaps in pass protection.  They averaged just under 20 snaps per game in pass protection over the season (19.75), meaning they combined to average more than three games between giving up pressure.  We’ve seen games where backs have given up multiple sacks in a single game, and the Packers have a stable of backs unknown to many who have gone the season averaging more than three games between giving up any recordable pressure.

The good news continues into the postseason. Four backs have combined for 43 snaps in pass protection, and they have yet to surrender a single pressure on the quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers will be getting all the headlines in this game, but take a moment of your time to watch the performance of his backs helping to protect him.

It’ll be worth it.

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