<- Photo credit: AP Photo / Jeffrey Phelps*
Why do people have to be so extreme?
It’s either Rodgers is god or garbage.
I was infatuated with this. is Rodgers not his “usual” self this year? and why? Lots of speculation, cynicism, and criticism have been aired in the past few months.
So, I turned to our good friend Youtube and specifically dug up most (if not all) Aaron Rodgers’ signature plays from when he first showed his star-quality vs. the Bears, through the daunting, heartbreaking 2018 season in which he was still putting up decent numbers, but the team went literally nowhere.
I specifically wanted to sift through those “Rodgers-defining” plays, not just regular offensive drives, to assess the gaps in perception vs. actual, and got some pretty good observations, I think.
Well, is he getting older? weaker arm? less accurate? no good gameplan/routes/receivers? has he lost it?
The answer is obviously complicated, but here is what I did manage to come up with:
Observation #1: Rodgers isn’t extending plays well enough and being dynamic out of the pocket as he used to be. Significantly so. Many of the signature plays start off the same, but end up with sacks instead of crazy passes this year.
- He is aging. Shocking. He is now at the age where you officially cannot be as agile and quick as you used to be, but still strong and fit enough to play at the top level. Especially at a QB role in football. Other sports pose different challenges. For a sport that still presents Drew Brees at 40 hitting shots and putting together numbers (and every year matters at this age!), Rodgers cannot be in a bad place, generally speaking. Any (great) athlete adapts with age and enhances their more stationary capabilities, relying less on athleticism. Jordan, Maradona, you name it. Brady was just always more of a pocket passer with strong legs and a killer arm (and mostly really good offensive blockers). Rodgers was (and still somewhat is) a hybrid who felt at home both in and out of the pocket, which is good because it means he can still morph.
- He recovered from a bad injury (collarbone) and suffered a leg injury through most of last year, not sure if not still a thing. This is obviously limiting him in some way, both physically and psychologically. The way he was injured in 2017 was pretty brutal and possibly traumatic. He since has been much less adventurous, and also not as quick and agile.
- Different offense, coaching, and teammates – LaFleur is the kind of guy who likes a more diverse offense that relies on the run game much more than McCarthy-era Packers used to. This means the team is working often to free up run paths for RB’s, and it requires not just different schemes but also different players. Such who can screen and block. This means, not only fewer opportunities to pass and fewer “shot-plays” but also, fewer potential targets
Observation #2: A passer passes a ball that a receiver needs to catch. Duh? not so sure.
- On more occasions than I remembered or assumed, Rodgers’ pass (especially >20 yards) was accurate (enough, mostly) but not such that didn’t require some basic catching ability and/or enhanced athleticism from the catcher. Cobb, Nelson, Jones (James), and Jennings, they all caught some pretty tough-to-catch balls, AND, converted them nicely into memorable plays, that could have easily have been just a pass that got connection, but never yielded actual outcomes, like TD’s or getting enough yardage to make a comeback (take the Cardinals 2-hail marys as the perfect examples, despite the controversy at the end). This means they caught medium-to-hard-to-catch balls. Otherwise, perhaps Rodgers’ highlight reels would have been far shorter, and fame far diminished. With MVS, Geronimo, Graham, and even Davante this season (more than just a handful) dropping passes, it’s hard to maintain those crazy passer ratings and explosive plays. Best example is that MVS drop on that 35-yarder vs. the Vikings which was placed at the exact same angle and speed as Jordy Nelson would eat for lunch, only to go right into Rodgers’ best shots Youtube video.
- Confidence – having missed some shots (and yes, some of them were less accurate than we’re used to, take the recent Lions game as an example), even Rodgers, albeit seeming cool and complacent, could lose his confidence and develop self-doubts. Especially with pretty much everyone on the media bashing him, less rightfully so than not, as this post suggests. In such cases, dink-and-dunk isn’t that bad of an option, to restore confidence and get the offense back into rhythm, and that’s what worked every time they needed a comeback this year, especially after the Niners debacle. Also doesn’t hurt when you have Jamal and Aaron Jones to keep moving those chains as receivers as well.
What should Rodgers do to overcome?
Tom Brady and Drew Brees can still function, and they’ve proven it time and again lately (with the exception of Brady only in recent games). Rodgers has the ability to fire from inside the pocket and re-balance his philosophy that was previously predicated on him making crazy shot plays all the time. He has great RBs and a pretty good O line, so he can use that to not be so predictable and still somewhat extend plays, but has to tone it down significantly. He can benefit from another good, fast, ball-catching receiver, and a solid, strong, good game-reading tight end. With Brian Gutekunst at the helm, I believe we can find those, in free agents, draft picks, or trades. Anything’s possible. All Rodgers needs to do is keep calm, remember that he’s still incredible, and then find a way to embrace his constraints, and LaFleur’s offense. I believe the more he will gain confidence in LeFleur, and learn how to work with different types of receivers, not just ones who have glue on their hands, he will resurrect and be part of a powerhouse, balanced, more “New-England” type (but without all the yucky part) Pack team through the rest of his career.
Good luck to us all!
*You noticed it, the photo was actually not taken in 2019… busted. Was just a nice photo I randomly picked, because I obviously didn’t expect Rodgers to throw me a pick… ->ba dum chhhh.