Not The Rodgers We Remember
We may be witnessing a serious problem here.
Last year we saw Green Bay’s star QB struggle somewhat in a year where all the guys around him were dropping like flies due to injuries.
At the time, we could chalk it up to the guys around him not being prepared (those who could actually stay on the field), but two games into 2016 we may have a disturbing trend on our hands. Either that, or Mike Zimmer really has this offense’s number.
Start with the game itself. Rodgers finished Sunday night with a middling-at-best statline: 20/36, 213 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 3 Fumbles (1 lost), was sacked 5 times, and had a passer rating of 70.7 (his 14th-straight game under 100 in that metric). By QBR, he came out at a 52.5; going by PFF’s grading, he ended with a 33.0 grade — by far the lowest he’s had within their grading system.
Dive further into what happened out there, and it is even more concerning what those areas exemplify.
On throws of 10+ yards, Rodgers completed just 4 of 14 passes; this shows he wasn’t connecting on deeper passes. On dropbacks that lasted beyond 2.5 seconds (a good indicator of an offense flowing quickly), he was only 2 of 9; this shows that he wasn’t able to make anything happen when attempting to extend plays. He put the ball on the ground three times, while throwing a pick as well; this showed he got careless at times out there, something he has rarely ever done across his career. The Vikings blitzed on almost half of the Packers’ dropbacks (20 times in 44 plays), forcing Rodgers to complete under 40% of those attempts while taking 2 of his 5 sacks; this showed he isn’t able to dominate in a facet defenses used to dread risking against him (for example: in 2014, he was the least blitzed QB in the league, and was the 5th-best against it, per PFF).
He was throwing high on numerous passes and totally out-of-sync with his receivers, sloppy with the ball, couldn’t make positive things happen extending plays, and could not beat the blitz.
I have been one of the staunchest defenders of Rodgers during his subpar play the past couple years, routinely calling out others for heaping blame on him for the struggles of the offense, but at some point it has to be admitted that he just has not been the same guy we remember.
Whether that is a permanent outcome or just a long-term slump of sorts, we can’t be sure of right now. He has definitely been at a lower level than previous years, but his offensive mates have also not been playing well either in that time.
The Ringer’s Kevin Clark brought up an interesting idea in The Ringer NFL Show podcast this week that could make some sense. After the way the 2014 NFC Championship Game ended up going, it may have left some level of psychological impact on the team; the play-calling changed, and even with McCarthy taking back over at midseason, the looks the offense gives are not the same.
We used to see a multitude of interesting looks in the receiving game; we would spread defenses with a handful of receivers, we’d run many more bunch formations, and the offense kept defenses on their heels and their pieces working together.
Now, it seems all the offense does out there (outside of a few rub routes thrown in every now and then) is call one-vs-one matchups for their guys on the outside with simplistic routes, expecting the receivers to win in isolation each time they hit the field.
Rodgers has been so good for so long that the team could get away with this for stretches, but if his guys are not breaking away from the coverage (something that has been issue #1 since early last season), it doesn’t matter how long he extends a play he won’t be able to find a target.
Rodgers is still capable of being great, but for him to do so in any consistent manner, he needs more help from everyone around him than he ever did before; his receivers must break away more often, his play-caller must change up something in the scheme around him to help those guys find space on a more consistent basis, and his line must block well (of note, I can’t put much blame on them for yesterday; overall, they held up about as well as could be hoped versus an extremely talented and well-coached Minnesota defensive unit, and most of the sacks & pressures came more from the lack of plays from Rodgers and his receivers while he tried to extend things than the blocking provided around him).
When those factors don’t weigh in his favor, as it stands the game is going to end up looking disjointed far too often, and we’ll need some fortunate breaks to come out on top.
Unfortunately, unless we see changes happen around him, this kind of game may be our new normal, and that would be a horrible shame.