Overcoming the blitz

Overcoming the blitz

Published Feb. 3, 2011 4:50 p.m. ET

Feb. 3, 2011

Aaron Rodgers says the keys to his success in the Super Bowl are pretty simple.

"Not turn the ball over, not fumble, not throw it big, not do anything real stupid out there."

For Rodgers to avoid those unfortunate occurrences, he'll have to bone up on his hot reads, which are not Grisham titles or anything on the New York Times bestseller list.

A football hot read happens when a quarterback comes to the line of scrimmage, believes there's a blitz coming, then throws the ball almost immediately after the center snap. The QB will designate one of his players as the "hot receiver," who must know he is "hot" and then look for the ball as soon as the action begins.

The play usually takes just a few seconds. Preparing to execute it under pressure? Much longer.

"We work on it all week in practice," said wide receiver James Jones. "We're talking about it consistently. We're prepared for anything. We walk through blitzes. We full speed through blitzes."

And now the Packers have to play the Steelers, whose defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau is widely credited with inventing the zone blitz.

"They dial up a lot of blitzes," Jones said. "It's tough to understand where they're coming from."

The Steelers blitz was a mystery to many opponents this season as they led the NFL with 48 sacks. The Packers have watched hours of tape on the Pittsburgh defense, looking for telltale signs that a blitz is coming.

"There are two different philosophies when you're facing the blitz," said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. "One is throw the ball hot, which requires you getting the ball out of your hands, which requires your receivers, your quarterback, your linemen all to be on the same page."

"We need to make sure we're communicating," said receivers coach Jimmy Robinson. "He's (Rodgers) communicating with us, we're accepting, getting the communication when it comes so our eyes are on him. And then communicating from the inside out to the guys on the outside so, hot reads are an integral part of knowing when he has to get the ball out of his hand."

"And the other thought is maybe making an adjustment call, in terms of your protection to pick up the specific blitz," Philbin said. "So it's a little bit of a game of cat and mouse because if a defense is a good disguise team in their blitzes, you may not be able to make the protection adjustment call to pick it up which is then going to require you to throw the ball hot."

And the Steeler defenders are the masters of disguise

"A lot of times when they pressure, they may bring just one guy and drop another guy," Robinson said. "It may still be a four man rush, but where's it coming from?"

"They really can bring anybody from anywhere," said center Scott Wells.

Which brings us back to the line of scrimmage. The Steelers are sending people. Rodgers needs to signal for a hot read, probably designating a receiver whose number was not called in the huddle. How does he get that message across without tipping his hand, while over 100,000 fans are screaming at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday?

"There are some of those subtle things," Philbin said. "A look between a receiver and a quarterback, where they don't have to make a big signal, they just know if 43 (Troy Polamalu) is blitzin' and he's coming and it looks like he might be, get your eyes up because the ball might be coming to you quickly. There's some gamesmanship involved."

"When you feel uncovered, you look no matter what to get into your route," said wide receiver Jordy Nelson. "And he'll throw it to you. So you've always got to keep an eye on Aaron and keep an eye on what the defense is doing obviously and you gotta be ready at all times."

The quarterback and receivers need to be on the same wavelength and there needs to be a clear path in which to throw the football.

"It is my job and the line's job to give Aaron time, " Wells said. "So if he has a hot read, he doesn't have two guys coming at him free and the receivers to that side have to know if they're the hot read."

Green Bay has executed well in this area during the playoffs, showing an absolute sixth sense on the reads in Atlanta. It helps when your offense goes up against a pressure scheme defense that is Dom Capers 3-4 alignment in practice every day.

"We talk about it a lot and we talk about it together," Robinson said. "Receivers and quarterbacks in the same room studying what they're doing and saying,