Knee won't limit what Aaron Rodgers does best: throw it quick

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Golic and Wingo impressed by Rodgers' performance vs. Bears (1:37)

Trey Wingo, Mike Golic and Mike Golic Jr. break down Aaron Rodgers' return to the game after an injury to rally the Packers past the Bears. (1:37)

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers called himself a statue, and when it comes to describing quarterbacks, that word often comes with a negative connotation.

Then consider that Rodgers is the NFL's master improviser, the quarterback who has thrown more touchdowns from outside the pocket than anyone else since 2009. And it's not even close. He has 62 in 127 regular-season games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Coming into this season, Matt Ryan, who sits No. 2 on the list, had 35 in 16 more games.

That Rodgers might not have the kind of mobility needed to make big plays out of the pocket for a while -- assuming he doesn't miss any games because of the left knee injury he suffered in Sunday night's season-opening win over the Chicago Bears -- could seem problematic. It's also a misnomer.

"I've always thought he was at his best in the pocket and getting the ball out of his hands quickly," a longtime NFL scout said Monday.

That's exactly what Rodgers did in his post-injury return Sunday against the Bears. His only two passes from outside the pocket came before his second-quarter injury. Both fell incomplete.

His other 28 passes came from inside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. He completed 28 of them for 286 yards and three touchdowns.

"Obviously being more of a statue back there, had to deal the ball on time and make sure we had guys getting open," Rodgers said after the game. "I thought the protection was really good, and guys made plays."

It was nothing like that before Rodgers went down.

"They were doing nothing offensively the first couple of series because he was doing that old stuff -- run around, try to extend plays," the scout said. "I've seen it over the years when he was banged up and couldn't run, he'd just carve people up in the pocket. When he's just using his arm and getting the ball out quickly, I'm telling you the guy's unique. He's a much better quarterback when he's getting the ball out quickly."

To be sure, some of what makes Rodgers special is his ability to extend plays and improvise. It's what he did in the 2016 playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys on the roll-out pass to Jared Cook in the final minute, for just one example.

"But you can't live that way," the scout said. "It bogs the offense down. Good offenses are: 1-2-3 and the ball's gone. That's good offense."

It might have to be that way for a while, assuming Rodgers doesn't miss any games (something the Packers wouldn't commit to just yet).

That's where the 2014 season comes in. When Rodgers pulled his left calf muscle late in the season, Packers coach Mike McCarthy revamped the offensive plan and put Rodgers in the pistol formation, a shorter version of the shotgun. It limited how Rodgers had to move and in the process turned the offense into a quick-hitting rhythm attack that Rodgers rode all the way to the NFC Championship Game. Along the way, he turned in one of his premier postseason performances in the divisional-round win over the Cowboys.

Something similar happened in 2016, when Rodgers pulled his left hamstring in a Monday Night Football game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Six days later, again with limited mobility, Rodgers completed 20 of 30 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Houston Texans, though on that day he threw both of his touchdowns from outside the pocket despite limited mobility. He also sustained a right calf strain later that same season.

This past offseason, Rodgers said he wouldn't change the way he plays after his second broken collarbone in five seasons. Both of his collarbone injuries occurred on hits out of the pocket.

For now, however, he might not have a choice.

The big plays from Sunday night's win over the Bears were of the quick-hit variety. There was the 51-yard catch-and-run to Davante Adams on which Rodgers got the ball off in less than 2.4 seconds. Even the deep throw to Geronimo Allison for a 39-yard touchdown was out of the quarterback's hand in less than 3.5 seconds.

Blitzing Rodgers in those situations doesn't usually work. The Bears blitzed just three times the entire game, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Rodgers completed passes on the first two blitzes for 126 yards -- the 51-yarder to Adams and the 75-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb -- and on the other blitz, he chucked the ball out of bounds on the game's final play.

"That's what the offense is built off of," Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari said of the quick-hitting, pocket-passing game. "We love the extended plays and all the miraculous things that he can do because he can do it anywhere from any point in time on the field. It doesn't matter what the situation or the fundamental flaw he's in, he can drop a dime anywhere he wants.

"That is a system that's football, and that's always nice, and it's good for everybody. Because then with that, it's keeping the defense more on its heels, and I think that's where those big plays can come from."