Aaron Rodgers, by almost any standard, is having a great season. But when you look deeper, it’s clear that the Green Bay Packers cannot hoist the Lombardi Trophy this year with Rodgers playing this way.
Aaron Rodgers has looked very different over the last couple of seasons than he did in his days during the prime of his career. In other words, he’s not in his prime anymore. Over the last couple of years and this year in particular, we’ve seen a lethargic, slow quarterback who is constantly rolling his eyes and shaking his head after every single incompletion, of which there are many.
Perhaps the Packers recognized this when they signed four unrestricted free agents within the first two days of free agency, and traded up nine spots in the first round of the draft to secure Darnell Savage out of Maryland.
While the receiving corps and tight end groupings are among the worst in football, even with a healthy Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers has not played at an elite level this season. His numbers remain extraordinary. Through 12 games, he has thrown for over 3,000 yards and tossed 22 touchdowns while being intercepted just twice, one of which bounced off the chest of Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
These numbers are incredibly misleading, however. Three quarters of the way through the season, Rodgers has had two games where he has looked like an elite quarterback. He was unstoppable in the second half against the Detroit Lions at home, which included an absurd throw into triple coverage to Marcedes Lewis in the fourth quarter, and a perfect toss to Allen Lazard in the end zone for a crucial touchdown.
In the game against the Raiders, Rodgers may have had one of his best ever games. He threw for 429 yards and five touchdowns, while also running for a score with a perfect quarterback rating. Rodgers also enjoyed a hot 400-yard day against the Eagles. But against the tougher defenses in football, he has been completely pedestrian. On opening day against the Bears, Rodgers missed several wide open receivers, particularly in the first half, and finished with just 203 yards and 10 points.
Against the Cowboys, who have had their own share of defensive woes, Rodgers relied almost exclusively on the running game and struggled to put the game away in the second half. He finished with a QBR of 57.6. Rodgers disappointed against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 9, who are inconsistent at best on defense. He threw for just 161 yards and a QBR of just 12.7. The 49ers game was one of his worst ever.
It was reminiscent of the 2015 meeting against the undefeated Denver Broncos, who broke Rodgers and the offense allowing just 77 yards through the air. This time, in a huge game with playoff implications off of a bye, Rodgers threw for 104 yards and looked completely overwhelmed by the fierce Niners defense.
Rodgers, albeit in the snow against the Giants, still looked relatively unremarkable. He did throw four touchdown passes, but again missed several open receivers in the harsh weather. Since the 2015 season, Rodgers has maintained the same bizarre style of conservative, shy play. It seems that after every Packers game, the hype surrounding Rodgers is more about some crazy off-balance throw he made, rather than actually leading his team to wins through the air.
Rodgers holds the ball more than any other quarterback, and recently shattered the all-time record for throwaways in a season. Tom Brady is set to break that mark this year, but it does not change the fact that Rodgers throws the ball into the dirt more than his team needs him to. In Week 4 against the Eagles, on third-and-goal from inside the one, Rodgers strangely heaved the ball into the 18th row with 6-foot-7 Jimmy Graham in single coverage right in front of him.
Rodgers also chucked the ball into the turf over and over against the Cowboys, simply refusing to throw the ball into any window even remotely tight. Against the Lions, Raiders, and Eagles, Rodgers got the ball out of his hands at the end of his drop consistently. But so consistently now, he stares down receivers for way too long.
If the Packers are going to get to the Super Bowl, their defense has to be a lot better. No one should be excited about Daniel Jones completing three passes to Kevin King, Darnell Savage, and Tramon Williams. The defense, once more, isn’t good enough to survive in the playoffs. But, Rodgers also needs to play at a far higher level against the tougher defenses in football.
Right now, a game plan against the Green Bay offense, even with a completely new staff, is very easy to devise. Trust that the poor receivers of the Packers won’t create too much separation and know that Rodgers will not let the ball go unless it’s a virtual certainty it will be completed.
Alex Smith was often known to be one of the most conservative quarterbacks of his time, and has been widely criticized for not being a more aggressive thrower. For his career, Smith’s interception ratio was 2.0 percent.
Any rating that low can almost surely be attributed to an extremely cautious style of play. Over his last 1,010 passes, Rodgers has thrown four interceptions. That’s an interception rate of 0.4 percent. If Green Bay is going to the Super Bowl, Rodgers has to be better, and far more aggressive. As he turns 36, Green Bay desperately needs him to hold up his end of the bargain better than he has.