Packers: What Aaron Rodgers’ return means to offense

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 24: Aaron Rodgers
GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 24: Aaron Rodgers /

What does Aaron Rodgers‘ return mean for the Green Bay Packers offense?

He’s back.

Aaron Rodgers’ return means that the Packers now have a realistic shot at the playoffs. He’s the most valuable player in the league, and the entire team will be buoyed by this development.

But what specifically will his return mean for the Packers’ offense?

Let’s take a look.

1. Return of the vertical passing game

Brett Hundley showed a lot of positives in his time as a starter. What he did not show, however, was an ability to throw the ball downfield.

Against the Browns, Hundley attempted 46 passes and completed only one throw more than 10 yards downfield. That’s unfathomable with Rodgers at quarterback.

One of the biggest drop-offs from Rodgers to Hundley is pocket presence. Hundley was often skittish, dropped his eyes to look at the pass rush, and bailed out of the pocket too early in the play.

That meant that the passing game had to utilize quick, almost immediate throws, oftentimes from spread formations. There was an abundance of pre-planned quick throws with receivers not running pass routes, but blocking.

CLEVELAND, OH – DECEMBER 10: Jamaal Williams
CLEVELAND, OH – DECEMBER 10: Jamaal Williams /

When Hundley did attempt to go downfield, the results often weren’t pretty. He threw an ugly interception targeting Martellus Bennett downfield against the Saints, and another bad pick on a classic shot play targeting Jordy Nelson against the Buccaneers.

Rodgers can maneuver in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. He knows when to take a shot and when to live to fight another down. And most importantly, he has the arm talent to make every conceivable pass.

With #12 back, Mike McCarthy will once again feel free to call attacking, vertical passing plays. Specifically, the emergence of Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones could make play-action shot passes a dangerous weapon.

2. Return of the extended play

This facet of the game is closely connected with the vertical passing game, but it deserves its own attention.

As previously mentioned, Hundley loved throwing short and quickly.

Rodgers, though, has always coveted the big play. He’s long been criticized for passing up the easy completion and holding onto the football for too long (read that article; it’s hilarious.)

While occasionally frustrating to limited minds, Rodgers’ ability to extend the play and his love of doing it is a huge part of what makes him a generational player.

Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will be the biggest beneficiaries of this. Both have outstanding rapports with Rodgers and are exceptional at uncovering when Rodgers leaves the pocket.

CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 12: Randall Cobb
CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 12: Randall Cobb /

Nelson, especially, will once again be able to find openings deeper downfield. This will be a welcome change from being asked to be a yards-after-catch producer in the vein of Jermichael Finley.

Additionally, the Packers’ third-ranked red zone offense will only improve with Rodgers buying time.

So for fantasy owners of Jamaal Williams in PPR leagues, this is bad news. There will be a reduction in immediate checkdown completions for four yards to running backs.

But for the Packers offense, it’s time to get excited.

3. Return of the free play

Rodgers is probably the best player in NFL history at creating free plays for the offense. With most quarterbacks, free plays are a happy rarity. With Rodgers, they are a consistent occurrence.

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He does it at home or on the road. He does it on offsides penalties and when the defense has 12 men on the field. He can do it at any point in the game.

And when he does it, he always goes deep.

As of September 14, Rodgers’ 12 free play touchdowns since 2008 were the most in the league by a margin of eight, according to ESPN.

Against the Browns, Brett Hundley managed to draw Myles Garrett offsides in the second quarter. But Corey Linsley didn’t snap the ball in time, and the dead ball penalty was wasted when Jahri Evans had an ensuing false start.

With Rodgers back, those mistakes that defenders make will become much, much more costly.

4. Return of the turnover advantage

The Packers are used to winning the turnover battle. Rodgers has the best interception percentage in NFL history, and it isn’t even close. He has the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history, and that’s even less close.

One of the most unsettling things about having Hundley as the starter was dealing with the turnovers that many teams are accustomed to. Hundley tossed eight picks in his eight games of action and lost a fumble.

That’s not horrendous, but it’s not what the Packers are used to. This team’s defense needs all the help they can get.

With Rodgers back, Dom Capers’ unit will receive some much-needed relief.

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There’s many more ways that Rodgers’ return impacts the offense and the team. I’m particularly curious to see if Lance Kendricks can make some plays, as the plodding Martellus Bennett is gone and Rodgers loves a good pass-catching tight end.

No matter what exact shape the Packers’ offense takes, this team just got a lot more fun to watch.