Aaron Rodgers was a good quarterback in his Divisional Round showdown with the Seahawks. He wasn’t the devastating Aaron Rodgers who can hit you with a pinpoint flick to the lone open square foot on the sideline where his tight end is waiting or scrape the moon with a game-changing deep ball. Instead, he was content to make the easy and obvious throws the Seattle secondary allowed, and ride his top wideout to big gains.
On Sunday, “good” was good enough to dispatch the Seahawks and advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Rodgers didn’t need to be superhuman on a day when he could rely on Davante Adams to lift the Packers’ offense. Green Bay won 28-23 on the back of a simple gameplan that asked the two-time MVP to make on-target throws from the pocket. Though the Seahawks threatened to complete a comeback down 28-10, Green Bay’s “do just enough” philosophy worked.
This would have been a surprising turn of events for, say, the 2015 or 2016 Packers, but the 2019 version is built to thrive even when Rodgers isn’t pulling out big plays from the ether. We saw a perfect example at Lambeau Field on Sunday night.
Seattle’s inability to contain Davante Adams made things easy for Rodgers
The Seahawks were poorly equipped to handle Adams in any phase of the passing game, thanks to smart planning from Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur. This seriously pruned Rodgers’ decision tree. The veteran quarterback’s first choice was often his best one.
Adams rode that gameplan to eight catches (on 11 targets) for 160 yards and a pair of touchdowns against a shaky secondary which struggled to keep up with even his less successful routes. All eight of those catches resulted in either first downs or scores.
Davante Adams has had 3+ yards of separation on 7 of his 8 targets tonight (88%).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 13, 2020
LaFleur’s attack moved Adams across formations using both pre-snap motion and early drags behind or across the line of scrimmage. Green Bay’s unpredictable setups forced the Seahawks’ defensive backs to take turns picking up shifts against their opponent’s top aerial weapon. Adams wasn’t shackled to Seattle’s most effective corner, Shaquill Griffin (who held opposing QBs to 6.7 yards per target in coverage). Instead, he got to face players like Tre Flowers (7.8), who was burnt twice for touchdowns of 20 yards or more.
Motion also put Adams in position to begin his routes near his offensive tackles in the slot, forcing Seahawks safeties to have to account for him with little success. Bradley McDougald, in particular, struggled to close the gap to Adams when tasked with tracking the wideout near the line of scrimmage. Rodgers took advantage of that mismatch for an easy 15-yard gain early in a second-quarter scoring drive.
here's how Matt LaFleur keeps getting Davante Adams open. tricky pre-snap motion and play-action freezes SEA safety McDougald just long enough for Adams, running away from CB Tre Flowers, to create space for an easy 15-yard gain pic.twitter.com/B3RvFQqVyD— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) January 13, 2020
During the first half, Adams had nine passes thrown his way. No one else on the roster had more than one. He caught six of those targets, drew a pass interference flag on another, and had one incompletion wiped out by an offsides penalty. His only drop was a mishandled shovel pass.
You’d think Adams’ mastery would have prompted double teams from the Seahawks’ defense in the second half. It did not.
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) January 13, 2020
Seattle’s failure to adapt its coverage — especially against a passing game that, outside of a few contributions from Jimmy Graham, was a one-man show — was one of the team’s downfalls. Pete Carroll’s defense did limit Adams to zero catches on two point-free drives early in the fourth quarter as part of the Seahawks’ comeback, but even that turned out to be a mirage.
Carroll’s containment broke down at the worst possible time. The Packers faced third-and-8 with 2:18 remaining in a 28-23 game when Rodgers threw Adams into the slot for the Packers’ most important play of the night. Adams’ alignment matched him up against Ugo Amadi, a rookie safety with zero starts on the season and only two targets in 16 regular season games. The Seahawks, loathe to burn a precious timeout when the clock was already stopped, let this mismatch stand.
Instead of filtering Adams inside towards safety help, Amadi let his man break to the sideline as Seattle’s pass rush crashed past the line of scrimmage. Adams’ quick move outside created enough single-coverage space for Rodgers to slide the ball into a 2-yard window for a big gain.
While it may not have been a throwback performance for Rodgers outside of those two clutch throws late, it evoked memories of his Green Bay prime.
“Tonight reminds me of the connection Jordy [Nelson] had for so many years,” Rodgers told the media in his postgame press conference. “Where there’s some unspoken things that we could do without even communicating.”
Rodgers finished his day with a solid stat line: 243 passing yards, two touchdowns, and zero turnovers. Nearly 66 percent of that yardage came thanks to Adams, who also made up more than 40 percent of Green Bay’s targets for the night. The Pro Bowl wideout’s ability to roast single coverage freed up Rodgers to make easy reads downfield, put the ball where it needed to be, and coast to his seventh straight home win over the Seahawks.
That connection between quarterback and wideout was huge in the Divisional Round, but Adams will have to face one of the game’s best corners next in Richard Sherman, who will try to epoxy himself to Adams’ chest next Sunday.
Rodgers didn’t have to be superhuman to beat Seattle because the Seahawks made enough mistakes to get beat by a “good” quarterback. With a much tougher San Francisco defense looming, Rodgers may have to be great to get back to the Super Bowl.