We continue our “Packers 100” countdown with a rundown of the Packers’ top traits. Green Bay Packers football is just 55 days away. You can find the full countdown here.
There was never a doubt about which player would top this list. Aaron Rodgers is a player with no deficiencies in his game. He can beat you with his mind, his legs and his arm.
The trait that I believe is most important to his success is his arm talent. It allows him to complete passes that he has no business completing, fitting balls into impossible windows and finding receivers downfield even when on the move.
When I say arm talent, I am combining two things—strength and accuracy. Rodgers is at the top of the league in both categories, and he boasts one of the NFL’s quickest releases to boot.
The Packers offense is most effective when Rodgers is throwing on time, at the top of his drop and at the moment his receivers make the final breaks of their routes. In these instances, his mechanics are sound and his accuracy is excellent. These are the settings where you’ll see Rodgers complete the vast majority of his over the middle passes, as he detests throwing balls to the middle of the field late.
But where Rodgers’ arm talent changes from special to otherworldly is when things go wrong. When receivers are being locked down in coverage or defenders are running free on a blitz, Rodgers is able to buy time with his legs. Even when his feet aren’t set and the play has broken down, he can deliver a pass that is right on the money.
Rodgers has been characterized by many as more or less of an “anti-Favre.” That stems mostly from their contrasting personalities and their opposing attitudes toward interceptions. But the truth is that Rodgers learned so much from Brett Favre.
Favre was famous for throwing balls off his back foot, on the move and into impossibly tight windows. Rodgers has adopted that ability into his game. Though he is a more conservative decision maker than Favre, he has made a number of plays in his career that conjured up memories of #4. He can throw with precision even when he’s forced to use compromised technique and release angles.
Rodgers’ arm talent stretches defenses in impossible ways. It makes zone defense a precarious option, because he’s able to squeeze balls into tiny holes between zones. He’s made this point crystal clear against traditionally Cover-Two teams like Chicago and Detroit.
His arm talent also makes blitzing more dangerous than it’s worth. Rodgers has feasted against the blitz in his career because when there are fewer than seven defenders in coverage, he can find the hole in the defense and deliver the ball so quickly that the blitzer often won’t even factor into the play.
This leaves opposing defenses with few viable options. The best, most proven way to defend the Packers passing attack has proven to be press, man-to-man coverage with two safeties playing deep. That defense stymied Rodgers and his receivers last season because the receivers did not win enough one-on-one battles, Mike McCarthy did not manufacture enough open looks for these receivers, and Eddie Lacy was unable to take advantage of the conservative defenses. Oh, and Don Barclay playing left tackle doesn’t help, either.
Aaron Rodgers, however, was not the problem.
Probably the biggest criticism of Rodgers to this point is that he is too risk-averse. It’s a pretty irritating complaint for Packers fans to make considering that Favre was routinely slammed for being careless with the ball. But it illustrates the confidence that fans have in Rodgers’ arm. We think that Rodgers can complete any pass that he wants to, because we’ve seen him complete just about every pass imaginable.
For much of the 2015 season, Rodgers seemed to have lost confidence in his arm. Fans begged him to give his receivers a chance rather than seeking out the sure thing.
The truth, though, is that Rodgers still has the utmost belief in his arm talent. He is by nature a conservative player, but he still has the ability and the willingness to complete passes that other quarterbacks would never consider. Expect him to prove that once again this season as he chases his third MVP title.