GREEN BAY – As it turns out, Aaron Rodgers had no one to blame but himself for the helmet-to-helmet hit he absorbed from Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers on Sunday.
While Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy wouldn’t throw his quarterback under the bus when asked about the play on Monday, offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Rodgers should have recognized that the Bears were about to come with a seven-man, empty pressure and known that there was no one to block Peppers.
Had he done so, Rodgers would’ve gotten the ball to tight end Jermichael Finley, his hot receiver who was wide open coming off the left side of the line. You can see Finley jumping up and down in the middle of the field after he was wide open and put his hands up for the ball that never came.
Instead, Rodgers threw incomplete to Greg Jennings and was walloped by Peppers, who drew a 15-yard personal foul for roughing the passer.
“Aaron’s eyes should’ve been there,” Clements said. “Looking at it, it didn’t look like they could bring all the guys that they brought, and they did. And they left Jermichael wide open. So I guess (the Bears) had a miscue, but it worked in their favor because Aaron didn’t think they could bring all those guys and was looking the other way.”
Rodgers said Tuesday on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com that he simply didn’t believe the Bears would send three rushers into the right side of the line and three more up the middle, leaving Peppers to come untouched from the right. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse picked up safety Major Wright, as he was supposed to, and Finley was wide open after Peppers ran past him. The Bears simply overwhelmed the Packers’ six blockers – the five linemen plus fullback John Kuhn – and it was on Rodgers to know that.
“Tom’s exactly right,” Rodgers said. “Jermichael was wide open, he was jumping up and down wanting the ball there. Sorry J-Mike, I didn’t see you there.
“I come up (to the line of scrimmage) and I said, ‘There is no way in God’s green earth that this guy is going to come,’ because they had seven guys up there.
“We were in a protection where if all seven of those guys come, we got six blockers so we can’t pick it up, which I obviously know that. I’m thinking to myself, ‘This guy on the strong side has got to be guarding Jermichael, because the only other safety is on the backside of the formation and there is no way they are going to run this empty pressure.’
“Sure enough, they ran the empty pressure. Sometimes when you have done so many reps in a game and seen so many different looks, you just forget to do the most basic, elementary thing, which is check your ‘hot’ (receiver). If I check my ‘hot,’ I hit Jermichael, it’s a first down, without the roughing the passer, probably don’t have to take that big shot form ‘Pep.’
“But instead, I drop back, and right as I felt the crowd and a guy bearing down on me, I know right away I should have checked by ‘hot.’ All I could do at that point is one-hop one to Greg and took a shot.
“That’s one of those things where unfortunately you just don’t do a basic thing, that you have done a hundred times, because you just know in your mind that look their giving you they can’t possibly bring that guy on the strong side and they do and they kind of screw up a bit. You have Jermichael wide open; instead you take a big shot and luckily we (were) got the call there.”
Rodgers said he could actually tell he was about to take a hit from the reaction of the fans at Soldier Field.
“You just can kind of feel the crowd. It’s a noise. You hear the noise that you are about to get rocked,” Rodgers explained. “Marshall (Newhouse) did what exactly what he is supposed to be doing. He squeezed on the most dangerous (rusher) and I had Jermichael again jumping up and down right there for a first down. I didn’t do the basic thing of looking at the ‘hot’ and paid the price on my body.”
Rodgers was lucky the price wasn’t higher. He said the hit did not leave him woozy, although Peppers was slow to get up after the collision.
“I honestly didn’t feel bad at all,” Rodgers said. “He got me in a spot that wasn’t too bad.”
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