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Gunslinger, game manager Aaron Rodgers

Dude is the real MVP

As a former player, I have grown frustrated with the oversimplification of football analysis. So this season, I will be watching the coaches’ video and analyzing the impact of all 22 players on the field and the coaches’ game plan.


Honestly, after watching the coaches’ film from Sunday’s NFC wild-card game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, there’s not much to break down. The bottom line is Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is really good. Head coach Mike McCarthy and the Packers didn’t break out any new creatively designed plays. The receivers and running backs didn’t suddenly raise their level of play — Rodgers was flat-out exceptional. When the Packers had success on offense, it was because of Rodgers’ athleticism and passing accuracy.

Partially trolling Twitter on Monday night, I tweeted:

But it is true. Obviously, he is much more talented and accomplished than the type of quarterback we normally consider a “game manager.” He is elite. He has all the skills of gunslinging quarterbacks. But he has the patience of a game manager. Most quarterbacks with the mental and physical talent of Rodgers get lost in their own abilities. Even the great ones believe they can complete every pass, no matter the coverage. They are right plenty of times, but they are wrong enough to hurt their team and occasionally cost their team games. He plays with patience, despite the fact that if Rodgers doesn’t play well, the Packers will certainly lose. He is selective. He picks his spots as if he could count on the support of a dominant defense or reliable running game. I am not sure that there has ever been another quarterback that could play as relaxed as he does, given the circumstances.

So, you could see why I would call him a game manager. I know that term comes with a stigma that is far from true about Rodgers. When we see some of the impressive throws he is able to make and the big plays he creates through improvisation, gunslinger seems appropriate. But he is more careful than that term implies. I don’t know what to call him. Maybe conscientious gunslinger or ninja.

Since there wasn’t much analysis needed for most of the game, I decided to explain the Hail Mary pass that he threw for a touchdown to close out the first half of Sunday’s game.

The Hail Mary play is the same for every team, and Green Bay is no different. The Packers aligned three receivers to the wide side of the field and one receiver to the other side. All four receivers run to different landmarks in the end zone on the wide side of the field. One receiver, normally the tallest, goes to the center of the end zone. If there is such a thing as a primary receiver on a Hail Mary, he is it. The quarterback normally throws it to him. Ideally, that receiver will out-jump the defenders and catch the ball cleanly for a touchdown. But nobody really expects that to happen, which is why the other receivers position themselves a few yards in front of or behind the receiver in the center of the end zone, looking to catch a tipped ball.

Defenses normally rush the quarterback with only three lineman initially and send a fourth rusher late, from the wide side of the field, after bumping one of the receivers. That late rusher is meant to keep the quarterback from moving toward the wide side of the field to give himself an easier throw. With only four defenders committed to rushing the passer, the defense has seven players to cover the four receivers. The two safeties are jumpers. They are responsible for insuring that the center receiver doesn’t catch the ball. Four of the other defenders should be responsible for following each of the receivers and preventing them from catching the tipped pass. This means the center receiver should end up jumping against three players, and there should still be one free player to react to the tipped ball.

On Sunday, the Giants’ front four played Hail Mary defense as described above. But the back seven did not, likely because the Giants feared giving up a short completion on the sideline, which would have allowed the Packers to take a shot at a field goal before halftime. In that situation, many teams can convert from protecting the sideline to Hail Mary defense. Once the Giants realized the Packers were going for the Hail Mary, many of them converged on the center receiver. None of them covered the other receivers. But that wasn’t the only reason Randall Cobb was open in the back of the end zone. The safeties are supposed to go to the ball, not to the center receiver. The safeties went to the center receiver because that’s where most quarterbacks throw the ball. But, as we all know, Rodgers isn’t most quarterbacks. He threw it to the back of the end zone, hitting an uncovered Cobb.

I don’t know why Rodgers threw it to the back of the end zone. I don’t know how he could be that accurate. I don’t know how he could change the probabilities of the Hail Mary. Somehow his talent is stronger than the laws that govern our universe. I know you guys come to me for deeper analysis than you can find other places. So, how did he do it?

I don’t know. Magic?

Domonique Foxworth is a writer at The Undefeated. He is a recovering pro athlete and superficial intellectual.