Sailing the Seas of Cheese: The QB, a Clock, a Gorilla and Selective Attention
“For the offense and the protection unit, to have a clear indication when you’re potentially transitioning into a scrambling phase. It’s something we always try to emphasize in practice in as many ways as possible.”
Every great hero has a weakness. For Achilles, it was that pesky heel of his that his mother forgot to dip in the River Styx. For quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it may be the checkdown pass.
Before anyone jumps all over me, I’m not saying he’s a total schlub. And yes, I know it’s pretty bold, if not obnoxious to analyze one of the more perfect players in the league.
This past week, Rodgers has a 119 QB rating which is nothing to sneeze at. Four passing touchdowns definitely goes a long way to right the ship. But after four games, I’m not the only one a little underwhelmed about his performance. We saw more of the old Aaron this past weekend, but who here didn’t as what was going wrong during the first three games? Easy passes were missing the mark. He’s held on to the ball a little too long, a few too many times.
Yes, it isn’t all his fault. Wide Receivers have dropped easy passes. During the Seattle game, the offensive line all but pulled up lawn chairs to watch Rodgers get pummeled into the turf more times than I want to count. Packers center Jeff Saturday even realizes that it is taking time for that oh so important quarterback-center dynamic to gel between himself and Rodgers. That lack of familiarity can definitely factor into a quarterback’s success or downfall.
But could this problem be because the Green Bay Packers have become to predictable and other teams are capitalizing on his weaknesses? The first half of the Seattle game epitomizes this. How many plays were merely four receivers and not much in the backfield? With years of an anemic running game, the Packers are predictably a passing team. The entire league knows it and prepares to defend the pass when the Packers are next up on the schedule. The plan is pretty simple–box out the four receivers and Rodgers has to either start heading down the field on his own, rely on the running game or start looking for the last ditch effort–the checkdown.
While Rodgers occasionally found that checkdown target during the Saints game, he didn’t capitalize on the opportunity as much as he could have. And those targets definitely seemed invisible the first three games of the season. That makes me wonder what–if anything–is different (well aside from the whole no Joe Philbin thing) this year. I mean, it’s the same player, the same arm and the same targets. Why the difference?
Enter the 2.5 second clock. It received a ton of press this past training camp. It’s Mike McCarthy’s reverse Pavlovian experiment. The clock is big enough for the QB to see. The moment the ball is hiked, the clock starts counting down for the QB to find a receiver and get rid of the ball. When the clock hits zero, it starts to flash and alarm goes off. No, Aaron doesn’t get a cookie for tossing the ball before the alarm (that would be true Pavlovian conditioning) but who the heck wants an alarm to go off when you fail? It’s no different than shaking that can of pennies near your dog every time they try to chew the couch.
It’s a pretty novel concept if you ask me. It trains the quarterback to quickly and efficiently find his target, start scrambling or kill the play. It helps minimize indecision as well. But in the process, McCarthy’s new approach, while helping with timing, may have created a new problem for Rodgers:
It’s otherwise know as the cocktail party effect or inattentional blindness. In other words, has Rodgers become so conditioned to quickly find his four receivers that he is literally filtering out the running back standing wide open? We all do it on some level. When you focus intently on something, everything else seems to melt away. Kickers do it all the time when they filter out crowd noise and wiggling foam noodles in the end zone to drill the football through the uprights with a game-winning kick. Those of you who live near train tracks probably don’t even notice the train’s whistle while you’re watching a football game. Lord knows I have become the master of blotting out the battle royale my girls can stage in the living room even if they are a arm’s reach away.
Still don’t get it? Let me use an illustration by Christopher Chadris and Daniel Simons. I want you to count how many times the white team passes the ball to each other:
So, about that…
If you time a play from snap to checkdown, it takes about four to five seconds for everything to fall into place. McCarthy wants to cut that time in half–condense the reaction time and maximize the output and efficiency. But in the process, he may have created a tipping point where that crucial checkdown becomes the invisible gorilla on the field.
Now I could be completely off base on this, but the common denominator, at least to me, seems to be the clock. After all, the road to hell is, no doubt, paved with the best of all intentions. Yet any time one makes an overhaul to something as on that level it is important to reassess to see if the right outcome has been achieved. Was it successful or were there unwanted consequences. If there is a correlation between the clock and this issue, perhaps it is time to rethink approach to reconditioning ball control.