Aaron Rodgers Is the Biggest Part of a Big Problem
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a transcendent talent play as poorly as Aaron Rodgers played on Sunday night. Rodgers has been struggling since the middle of last season, and while most, including me, thought that the absence of Nelson was the primary explanation, the problem is now exclusively Rodgers. Whether it is bad habits that developed last year without his usual weapons, or age, or hidden injury, Rodgers doesn’t look anything like he did in his MVP days, and has through two games, made baffling decisions and poor throws more reminiscent of Tim Couch than Brett Favre.
Rodgers is a mechanical mess and looks every bit like a quarterback who is afraid to take another hit. He fades away on almost every pass, his arm slot fell on several short throws causing him to be off target, and his complete inability to hit a receiver on time and in rhythm is bordering on inconceivable. While he is still pulling off the occasional impressive throw as he did on the touchdown to Adams in the Jacksonville game, the basics have abandoned him completely.
It is also true that receivers could have done a better job in this game and it is an open question as to why Davante Adams is still seeing as much time as he is, but most of the wideouts were open routinely, and Rodgers left a ton of yards on the field. Adams was often well covered, but his lack of body control and technique, and general clumsiness at least resulted in a few big pass interference penalties. Nelson is clearly not one hundred percent yet, but his route running is fine and he was getting separation with ease. Cobb, Nelson and Adams were the only receivers targeted despite the presence of seven receivers on the roster, and in Jared Abbrederis’ (6 snaps) and Trevor Davis’ (5 snaps) limited action they were open as well. Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers even exploited the middle of the field, an area where Rodgers used to thrive. Despite all of this, and some more creative than usual playcalling, Rodgers was terrible.
This is the prototypical example of the issues with Rodgers. It’s 3rd and 4 early in the game, and the Packers spread the field. More than one Packer receiver flashes open, and rookie Trevor Davis in particular (he is number 11, crossing from the top of your screen to the bottom) is wide open on time, and Rodgers should have no trouble seeing Davis as he crosses directly in front of him. This should be a simple throw for a first down with the potential for a much bigger gain, as Davis has some green in front of him if he can turn upfield. Instead Rodgers inexplicably panics. It may look like the Vikings break through the pocket, but in reality Rodgers causes the pressure to occur by drifting back instead of stepping up. If he steps up, Bakhtiari is in a good position to hold off his edge rusher, or shepherd him out of the play, and Rodgers can step into the throw. Instead, Rodgers is forced to scramble, and in this instance he is clearly not looking downfield. His poise and footwork completely abandon him, and the end result of the play is a punt instead of an easy first down. This sequenced essentially caused a turnover every bit as much as his many fumbles. This is a throw that almost any NFL quarterback can make, and routinely does. That the former MVP was not able to do so is baffling.
Some will blame Rodgers’ poor record against Mike Zimmer and credit the Viking defense, but while parts of that defense did play very well, Rodgers frequently had time, open receivers, and the ever-present weak link of Trae Waynes to pick on, and he should have had a big game. His carelessness with the ball was also entirely his own, and just an inexplicable. If the MVP version of Rodgers was guilty of anything it was being overly cautious with the ball. The way he was holding it exposed on his scrambles made him seem like an entirely different person.
Trae Waynes was a train wreck for the duration of the day, but came up with the biggest play of the game on the game-clinching interception. In reality, almost any defensive back was capable of this pick.
When Aaron Rodgers throws a ball outside the hashes, he generally steps into the throw and gets a good amount of velocity on it. You have to have a strong arm and good mechanics to make outside throws because NFL defensive backs have a lot of time to break on these plays and if they can snag one, a lot of green space in front of them. On this throw Aaron Rodgers fades away from the play. The ball looks less like a bullet, traveling in a straight line to its mark, and more like a softball pitch, looping to its destination. It is one of the weakest throws I have ever seen out of Rodgers and it was caused by laziness. This is simply not a professional throw, and it cost them the game.
The worst part of this performance is that I see no reason to expect a rebound. The Packer defense still played well despite a fantastic individual effort from Stephon Diggs, and they are probably good enough to drag this team to its fair share of wins, but whatever is wrong with Rodgers has been wrong for a while now, and bad habits are not broken over a single week of practice. Rodgers was famously a grade A student in McCarthy’s quarterback school, and everything about his recent play suggests he could use a return visit.
Hindsight is 20/20
Deep in their opponent’s territory, inside the 20, they encountered a fourth and short, well within field goal range. Taking the points would have been simple, but they were feeling confident in the offense and decided to risk it even though they were losing at the time. While those three points could cost you at the end of the day, you also don’t get this far into your opponent's’ territory every drive, and while a field goal is worth something, a touchdown could flip the game on its head. The quarterback lined up, moved his charges into proper position, and…
Hit Stephon Diggs over the middle for a four yard gain and a first down.
Mike McCarthy is taking far too much criticism today for his decision to go for it on 4th and 2 in the 3rd quarter, especially in light of the fact that the Vikings essentially did the same thing earlier in the game, and succeeded, eventually scoring a touchdown pass from Bradford to Rudolph, and subsequently won the game. I have no issues with anyone disagreeing with the play call, though I do prefer Starks to Lacy in short yardage as Lacy still isn’t getting any push, but the risk itself was perfectly fine, and had it worked it’s very possible they Packers win the game. If they kick the field goal they are merely tied, and still have to score again. I saw far too much Monday morning quarterbacking on this call in spite of the fact that it was one of the few correct decisions the team made.