Heading into the Jets’ preseason finale against the Giants, there was a bit of unease from many quarters of the fanbase. Aaron Rodgers stepped on the field for the first time in preseason in 2023. Many fans questioned the move. Why expose Rodgers to the risk of injury in a meaningless football game?
Well in limited action Rodgers looked good. He led the Jets to a touchdown and left the field unscathed. The touchdown itself might display some of the value of putting him on the field.
If you watched the game (or even saw the highlights) you saw a beautiful pass from Rodgers to Garrett Wilson for a touchdown.
The play had a bit more than meets the eye, however. It wasn’t just a perfect pass and a nice catch. It looked like the pass thrown wasn’t even part of the play initially called.
The play itself actually appeared to be a run call.
You can see the linemen run block.
The circled block below in particular tips off that this was likely a run play in the huddle. The block thrown is perfectly credible for a handoff going to the right side of the offensive formation and the left side of the defense. It completely seals off the defender from the action. It isn’t the type of block you would throw if you were expecting a pass, however, since it provides a clear path to the quarterback.
The lead back goes to an area where you would expect him to get a handoff and then doesn’t have much activity when Rodgers is going to throw.
The other receiver on the play isn’t really making an effort to get open or even look for the ball.
So I think we can safely say this was called as a run play, and Rodgers took it in a different direction when he saw something at the line he liked.
I would have to imagine Rodgers making this decision was a combination of liking the matchup and the alignment telling him he would have a window with Wilson running the fade.
On a side note, this is a big part of the value add from having a top notch veteran quarterback. A lot of attention is rightfully paid to great throws, but much of the true bonus comes from presnap stuff like this. A young quarterback, even a good one probably won’t be able to identify this matchup at the line, have the courage to make the throw, or even have the green light from the coaching staff to adjust this play at the snap. The phrase “expanding the playbook” really resonates here. With most quarterbacks in the NFL, this play is a handoff for a couple of yards, not a touchdown.
As it pertains to the main point, I think a play like this shows the value of giving Rodgers at least a couple of preseason reps. A play like this is not easy to execute. It first requires communication between Rodgers and Wilson so they are on the same page. It also requires chemistry. Wilson had to run the route precisely, and Rodgers had to put the ball on the money.
I know the rebuttal to this is, “But John, they executed it perfectly. That shows they didn’t really need the preseason work.”
Yes, it was perfect, but now Rodgers and Wilson can enter the regular season with full confidence of their ability to execute a play like this. And if it hadn’t gone as smoothly they would have been able to figure out precisely what went wrong and work on it in the two weeks before the real games start.
Fortunately it seems these two have developed a connection in short order.