Aaron Rodgers takes advantage of free plays like no other quarterback

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Every quarterback knows that when the defense jumps offside or gets caught with a 12th man trying to run off the field as the ball is snapped, that’s a free play: The defense has committed a penalty, so the quarterback should take a chance. If something goes wrong they can take the penalty, and if something goes right they can decline the penalty.

But only one quarterback really gets the most out of those opportunities: Aaron Rodgers.

According to the NFL’s Football Operations, since 2006 Rodgers has thrown 84 passes on free plays, and has thrown those passes much farther downfield than any other quarterback: Rodgers throws on those free plays, on average, 25 yards downfield.

Since 2006 Rodgers has thrown nearly 2,000 yards downfield on all those free plays: Ben Roethlisberger has just barely topped 1,000 yards downfield on free plays; he’s a distant second behind Rodgers.

At the other end of the spectrum from Rodgers is Kirk Cousins, who has thrown only 13 passes on free plays in his career, and only a combined 87 yards downfield. Rodgers routinely gets more yards on free plays in a season than Cousins has in his career.

41 responses to “Aaron Rodgers takes advantage of free plays like no other quarterback

  1. Some of that, and I am not trying to take away from his accomplishment, is that he must also be better at getting opposing defenses to jump on the hard-count. Pretty amazing stat.

  2. He used to, except now the NFL is whistling dead more plays where the defense is offside.
    All in the name of player safety.

  3. That’s because the refs will allow him the free play no matter what, whereas they blow the whistle instantly on most other QB’s.

  4. Has anyone else noticed how the Packers seem to always get to run a play in this situation even when one of their own guys also jumps early (as a result of the offsides)? I think if that happens they have to stop the play and either call false start or neutral zone infraction, but for some reason the Packers just get to chuck it downfield.

    Rodgers is excellent and recognizing these chances, however (probably learned from seeing Favre do it all the time). I see other QBs just execute the play like it’s a normal play instead of taking a big shot downfield knowing there’s no harm done if it doesn’t work out or gets picked. Interesting that Brady doesn’t show up here at all. I see him fail to snap the ball when the other team has 12 guys on the field. I think it’s a style of play thing, where Brady is diagnosing the defense at the like of scrimmage (he audibles based on pre-snap alignments regularly) and so gets thrown off when there are more defenders than there should be, while Rodgers is more of an improviser anyway (relying on reacting to what happens after the ball is snapped). Both styles can be effective, obviously. But just thought it was interesting.

  5. whynotjustadmitit says:
    Dozens of times, play should have been blown dead.
    Why should the offense be penalized for a defensive infraction? I am not following your logic here that you would want plays called dead for D jumping offsides. Bad idea.


    Some coaches gets their o-linemen to automatically “react” to an offside before the defender can jump back.

  7. Following what others above said, he seems to get preferential treatment. I see the same penalties happen multiple times a week and the play is blown dead right there. B.S.

  8. HagemeisterPark says: “Why should the offense be penalized for a defensive infraction? I am not following your logic here that you would want plays called dead for D jumping offsides. Bad idea.”

    Why? Because the quarterback can be exposed to a free shot by the defender if the play isn’t whistled dead immediately.

    And officials were sometimes allowing the play to continue even though an offensive lineman “reacted” before the ball was snapped. Technically, that play should be dead – defensive offsides and offensive false start.

  9. Crazy thing is I see linemen jump offsides every week and either get back before the QB snaps or they come across the the offense runs the called play anyway. Always wonder why they aren’t doing what Rodgers does. His connection with the center is uncanny and they get the ball snapped before the lineman can get back across the line almost every time. People can say it’s the refs but the Packers are always prepared to take advantage of it where most teams aren’t. They snap the ball so quickly the refs can’t kill the play in many cases because it happens before the def is unabated.

  10. He has been great at it & its not his fault that no one else practiced or worked at it. I think more recently the officials have blown the play dead for everybody but I’m sure we’ll all be watching closer.

  11. That because the refs let the play continue for Rodgers when they would have blown the play dead for other QBs. Saw it just happen in the Green Bay Carolina game for Allen. Green Bay jumps, whistle blows the play dead, no free play for Allen. Rodgers would have got that free play.

  12. I agree with the comment that they either do a better job of coaching this in Green Bay or their o-line (especially the center) is more in tune with the QB than other teams. Every other game I watch, I see defenses jumping offsides. Regardless of what viking fans want us to believe, more often than not, the defensive player gets back before the ball is snapped, or one of the offensive linemen jumps up, which causes the play to be whistled dead immediately. It has nothing to do with this imaginary preferential treatment that Rodgers gets, it’s just that he is able to take advantage of these situations better than other teams and QBs. I’m so accustomed to it from watching the Packers that as soon as I see a defensive player jump, I’m thinking free play and a shot downfield.

  13. Rodgers NFL career stats and record should have an asterisk paragraph including; free plays-defensive offsides, defense-too many players on the field, extended drives-defensive pass interference, extended drives-roughing the passer.

  14. akira1971 says:
    November 21, 2019 at 11:36 am

    And officials were sometimes allowing the play to continue even though an offensive lineman “reacted” before the ball was snapped. Technically, that play should be dead – defensive offsides and offensive false start.
    I dont think thats correct. If the defender jumps offsides and it causes the offense to react – that should end the play with the call being offsides. The official will often explain as part of the call, that the defense caused the offense to move but no false start call would be made. The conditions under which a free play are awarded are when the offense doesnt react, snaps the ball cleanly and the defender does not have a free run at the quarterback. Rodgers and the Packers are just better at creating these conditions than others and then taking advantage when the opportunity presents itself.

  15. Cousins had 2 opportunities like this last Sunday and threw a check-down pass both times. The play wasn’t blown dead, he had the opportunity to “take a shot” and he didn’t. The Vikings radio announcers weren’t happy with his choice to not take a shot.

  16. All pre-snap penalties should allow for the play to continue – including false starts. If the play results in a turnover, then the D can refuse the penalty. Why should the offense be the only unit the benefits from this? Oh, and get rid of the “unabated to the QB” rule and let those plays play out too – you’ll see a lot of QBs throwing it in the dirt to avoid those hits.

  17. What I never understood was why d coordinators didn’t just tell their idiot lineman ( I’m looking at you, E Griffen ) when you jump offside, keep going and grab him.
    Yet they constantly jump back, giving a free play.
    If you’re stupid enough to jump, just keep going and stop the free bomb.

  18. So heres’s a question – if the defense jumps and gets back why is the offensive lineman allowed to rise up and point as if they are responding to the defensive players move? They are not – The offensive player to me seems to be ‘moving before the snap’ and should be flagged. Why is the defender flagged even though they get back? In this case it seems to me the offensive player should be flagged.

  19. And officials were sometimes allowing the play to continue even though an offensive lineman “reacted” before the ball was snapped. Technically, that play should be dead – defensive offsides and offensive false start.


    Nope, read the rule book. If an offensive lineman moves due to a defender jumping offsides, it’s a neutral zone infraction.

  20. Rodgers also great at getting 12-men on the field calls against the defense. Somehow, the refs notice the 12 men on the defense, but don’t notice that the offense does not get set for at least 1 second on these plays before the ball is snapped.

  21. It’s somewhat baffling how many people don’t understand how and why Rodgers catches 12 men on the field fairly often. Let me try to help…

    – If/when Rodgers catches a defense in a personnel grouping he likes, he goes into hurry-up mode.

    – The opponent then has 2 choices. Leave that grouping on the field and get carved up, or try subbing and very likely give up 5 yards for 12 men on the field.

    – Some teams stay in the poor grouping and get killed.

    – Some teams try to sub and some of those are successful.

    – Some teams blatantly and willingly give up the 5 yards to get out of the unfavorable personnel grouping.

    That’s all there is to it. It doesn’t fit in with all the conspiracy theories and persecution complexes that run so rampant here but I can’t help that and I really can’t care. I’m only interested in the actual facts of the matter.

  22. I thought they were referring to the number of free plays the packers get when Rodgers throws a pick or incompletion on third down and wait for it… penalty on the defense, first down green bay.

  23. That’s a really interesting stat and confirms what we’ve all noticed. Rodgers takes advantage of the free plays and Cousins, for whatever reason, doesn’t. I really don’t understand it. Diggs almost blew a gasket when it happened Sunday.

    In Cousins’ defense, his play this year on non-free plays has been much better than Rodgers’.

  24. Why does this narrative include Cousins? You have an obvious agenda with your writing. I can tell you for sure that there are other QB’s that could have been used. You cherry picked Cousins for a reason. Great writing…said no one ever.

  25. Broken Skydiver says:
    November 21, 2019 at 10:54 am

    Bawaaaa… 13 for 87 in his career… what a cerebral QB… Rodgers is so far ahead of Cousins its funny. Oh… and he has a ring and a MVP or two.

    But now right now at this moment, which QB is outplaying the other? Better completion percentage, more TDs, better QB rating. Ya know Joe Flacco has one Super Bowl ring too…bahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

  26. Hate the rule, not the player.
    Especially when that player has honed his skills at exploiting the rule.

    In actuality, this is a situation that has required great practice and skill by the Center, who forgoes the original snap count to catch the offending player.
    The Offensive Linemen to react with impeccable timing.
    Right down to every other skill position player for their situational awareness.

    It should be applauded, not ridiculed.
    But, in the end, Barneys have to have something to cry about. (Yawn)

  27. People are not giving credit where credit is due. If the defense jumps offsides and the offensive line DOES NOT MOVE, there is no whistle. If they do move, the play is blown dead. That requires a tremendous amount of “flinch” discipline, which is also a credit to the coaching staff. Fans of teams which commit the most offsides brain farts in this regard are the same ones complaining about Rodgers the most.

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