Quarterbacks Creating off Broken Plays Key for Both Packers, Seahawks in Opener

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Quarterbacks Creating off Broken Plays Key for Both Packers, Seahawks in Opener
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Neither the Green Bay Packers nor the Seattle Seahawks will feel supremely confident in their ability to keep the pass rush off their quarterback during Thursday night's NFL regular-season opener.

The Seahawks possess a disruptive and versatile front four, plus the benefit of playing in a raucous home environment perfectly suited for rushing the passer. Meanwhile, the Packers are at least four-deep at outside linebacker, including starters Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, and Mike Daniels has emerged as one of the game's best interior rushers.

Pass-blocking is not a dominant trait for either offensive line.

These realities mean the likely winner of Thursday night's contest will possess the quarterback who makes the most of the broken-play opportunities both Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson can so cleverly create.

Rodgers is, without much doubt, the game's most deadly passer on the run. No quarterback in the game today can break the containment of the pocket and still remain as lethal moving to his left or right, throwing on the run. Rodgers can throw from a variety of arm angles, and he doesn't always need to reset his feet to make an accurate throw down the field.

While Rodgers reigns supreme, Wilson isn't too far behind.

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Like Rodgers, Wilson has an innate awareness in the pocket. He can feel pressure without seeing it and adjust in an instant, helping turn a muddied pocket and a potential sack into a broken play with game-changing possibilities. His diminutive size can help Wilson get lost in a mess of bodies, and there are few better athletes at the position in terms of escaping trouble.

Members of the Seahawks defense now expect his disappearing act.

"We're like, 'There goes Houdini again,'" said defensive end Cliff Avril, per Greg Garber of ESPN.com.

ESPN's Ron Jaworski even went so far as to call Wilson "probably the best in the league off structured improvisation."

According to ESPN Stats & Information (via Garber), Wilson leads the NFL in passes thrown from outside the pocket since 2012. His 223 are 71 more than Colin Kaepernick, who is second. Rodgers, despite missing most of nine games in 2013, ranks fourth with 144.

For Wilson and Rodgers, escaping the pocket is rooted in part talent and part necessity.

Wilson was under pressure (253) on almost as many dropbacks as those without pressure (330) last season, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Rodgers dealt with pressure on nearly a third of his dropbacks in 2013. Over the last two seasons, he's faced pressure on roughly 30 percent of his passing plays.

Both quarterbacks cover for their offensive line with mastery of evasion and playmaking ability on the run.

Here's Rodgers in 2012, facing a big moment in the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Rams:

NFL Game Rewind

What you see above is arguably the best throw of Rodgers' career. He's certainly had more important completions, but this had the greatest level of difficulty and the most impressive quality of execution.

First, Rodgers escaped initial pressure from Robert Quinn, the Rams defensive end who has posted 29.5 sacks since 2012. After generating adequate space, Rodgers—a right-handed quarterback scrambling to his left—set his shoulders and threw a frozen rope 40 yards downfield. The Rams had two defenders in position, but Rodgers' throw was perfectly placed for Randall Cobb, who made the catch above his head to put a dagger in St. Louis' comeback chances.

"This one had Hall of Fame written all over it," said color commentator Brian Billick during the broadcast.

Many will remember Rodgers eluding a free-rushing Julius Peppers to find Cobb for the game-winning score during the regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears last season. His ability to create a broken play—and Cobb's awareness to reroute his responsibility against blown coverage—highlights how dangerous the Packers can be when Rodgers improvises.

But here's another play in Chicago where Rodgers makes a big gain happen after the original framework of the play crumbles:

NFL Game Rewind

The Bears got pressure on Rodgers with only four rushers. He had dump-off opportunities in front of him in the form of James Starks (44) and John Kuhn (30). But instead of taking the easy yards, Rodgers created space to his right, where only Nelson was running a route in the formation.

Yet this is the moment when the play is made. Few quarterback-receivers combos are as in-sync as Rodgers and Nelson. When Nelson, who ran a straight go-route against Tim Jennings, looked back for the football, he saw Rodgers in trouble. He then smartly broke off his route, giving Rodgers an easy throw on the run for big yards.

The Packers may need to create plays like this one in Seattle, where the Seahawks love to rush four defenders and play base coverage in the secondary. Rodgers can create better opportunities for his receivers when he turns a basic play into a scramble drill.

Wilson has had his own special moments escaping pressure. In fact, as a rookie, he nearly put Seattle into the NFC Championship Game with a daring disappearing act late in the contest.

NFL Game Rewind

On 3rd-and-5, with 44 seconds left and Seattle down six points, the Atlanta Falcons overloaded the A-gap with an inside linebacker blitz. It worked; Sean Weatherspoon broke free and only needed to get Wilson on the ground to essentially seal the game.

Instead, Wilson spun away to his left and calmly found Marshawn Lynch, who rumbled down inside the 5-yard line. A play later, the Seahawks were in the end zone and in possession of a one-point lead.

This play has relevance to Thursday's contest because Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is a big proponent of sending stunt blitzes with his inside linebackers. Interior pressure is generally the hardest for a quarterback to deal with, but Wilson has shown himself capable of handling the issue and still making plays.

Wilson also has a rebuttal to Rodgers' ridiculous throw in St. Louis.

From last season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

NFL Game Rewind

Another blitz from the inside linebacker put Wilson into scramble mode, and he again spun away to his left. He even avoided the outside rusher and broke containment. Who knows how he made the ensuing throw? Running full speed to his left, Wilson squared his shoulders and got just enough on his throw to find Doug Baldwin along the sidelines. The attempt traveled 35 yards in the air and was perfectly accurate.

(Don't think this was difficult? Go into your backyard and try to make this throw. I'll give you 100 tries.)

Also, Rodgers and Wilson don't always have to throw the football to beat a defense on a broken play.

Rodgers has averaged a little over 17 rushing yards per game since 2008. He's also scored 18 touchdowns, with several coming off scramble situations. Wilson has rushed for over 1,000 yards and five scores over just 32 regular-season starts. They each can take off and move the chains or find the end zone.

The Seahawks and Packers both have the defensive personnel to create pressure Thursday night. Rodgers and Wilson will each be lucky to have more than a handful of comfortable pockets to throw from.

Yet Rodgers and Wilson are arguably the two best in the game at dealing with chaotic pockets and creating outside a play's containment. The quarterback who both creates broken plays and then delivers on those opportunities is the quarterback most likely to start the 2014 season 1-0.

 

Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.

Follow @zachkruse2

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