The Green Bay Packers needed more than Aaron Rodgers in 2017.
You don’t have to be a Packers fan to know that 2017 was a disappointing year in Green Bay. Every season begins with sometimes unattainable levels of expectations.
Excellency is just something that has come to be expected out of the green and gold. After finishing the season 7-9, fans demanded change. And change is what they got. But that’s not what this article is about.
Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone in Week 6, an injury that would make even the world’s toughest man cringe. And to make things worse, it happened against the team’s bitter rivals: the Minnesota Vikings.
Rodgers’ shoulder injury created an opportunity for third-year pro Brett Hundley. Hundley had received a mountain of praise from the coaching staff for his performances during drills, preseason games, and camps. And for the little sample size that fans got, there was reason to believe the hype. However, Hundley’s performances over the remaining weeks were rather lackluster.
Fans quickly called for his release. They claimed that Hundley’s failures, and the absence of Rodgers, were the biggest reasons for the team’s disappointing 2017 season. However, I believe there is more to this narrative.
Now, with a transition from Rodgers, arguably the most talented quarterback of all time, to Hundley, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA in 2015, there was going to be a drop-off in the quality of play. The question was never if there would be, but how much there would be.
Prior to Rodgers’ injury, the Packers were scoring 26.8 points per game. If the team had finished the season at this clip, they would have finished fifth in the league in scoring. The offense was also putting up 344.5 yards per game, which would have landed them at 13th in the NFL.
Following the injury, the team averaged 15.8 points and 282.4 yards per game. This placed them 30th and 31st respectively. Like I said, the drop-off was expected. But to attribute Rodgers with over 10 points a game is a bit of an overstatement.
One of the more concerning areas the team failed was in the red zone. With Rodgers at the helm, the Packers made a total of 21 red zone trips in six games. Of those 21 trips, the offense moved the ball inside the 10-yard line 71.4 percent of the time. Of those drives inside the 10-yard line, the team converted at a 66.7 percent rate.
Hundley’s numbers are rather concerning.
In the 10 games that Hundley started and played in, the team made only 21 red zone trips, the same amount as Rodgers’ tenure, but in four games more. Of those 21 red zone trips, the team was able to move the ball inside the 10-yard line only 42.8 percent of the time.
That equates to nine drives. Nine drives in 10 games where the Packers ran a play inside the opposing team’s 10-yard line. In a game of inches, those aren’t good odds to experience offensive success. On a brighter note, the team converted those drives at the same rate as prior to Rodgers’ injury: 66.7 percent.
The lack of red zone success with Hundley is not solely the fault of his own. The red zone is one of the toughest areas on the field to score, given how compact the field becomes and the amount of 200-to-300-pound men that are packed into that small area.
Thus, play-calling requires creativity and near flawless execution. Hundley’s inability to diagnose defenses, alone, would not explain the sharp decline in red zone success. This is where I point to the coaching staff.
I don’t know. Maybe a sense of complacency overtook head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff. Maybe they put too much faith in Hundley’s touted yet unproven ability. Or maybe they just needed an injection of fresh ideas, gall, and creativity.
The turnover of the staff this offseason would suggest just that. McCarthy brought back offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who was a member of the 2010 Super Bowl champions. The team will also have a new quarterbacks coach in Frank Cignetti Jr., an old colleague of McCarthy’s.
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The defense was no help either. The unit’s performance significantly decreased during the 10 games Rodgers missed. When Rodgers was playing, the defense allowed 332.2 yards per game and 23.8 points per game. These numbers would have placed the Packers at 16th and 22nd in the NFL.
Now, those numbers are nothing to brag about, but they’re not as bad they were with Hundley in control of the team. After Rodgers went down, the team allowed an average of 358.9 yards per game and 27.2 points per game. Those numbers would have finished 28th and 32nd respectively.
There are many reasons to consider for the underwhelming defensive performance. The team lacked depth and talent at the cornerback position. The defense became plagued with injuries. Dom Capers’ defensive style and scheme had become antiquated. Teams had figured Capers out.
The point remains, however, that this defense gave up more than 400 yards in a game four times, and held opposing offenses to under 300 yards only three times during the course of the season. That is hardly a stellar performance. But, similarly to the offense, changes to the staff have been made. Coupled with the turnover of other defensive coaches, new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will look to be the change this team has desperately needed.
This Packers roster is talented, maybe one of the most talented in the NFL. The key to this team’s success does not solely lie on the fragile shoulders of Aaron Rodgers, but within this team’s ability to unleash that talent and play Packer football.