Measures of Success

Even with a litany of injuries, Aaron Rodgers has reached the peak of his career in the past three games by almost any measure. Matt Tevsh breaks down the numbers and seeks out the answers.

The difference between being good and being great has been a message Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has preached to his team this week, if not since the start of training camp.

No one knows that better than quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who personified his coach's message with one drive last Sunday at Atlanta.

Leading a 16-play, 90-yard drive late in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 17 against the NFC's top team, Rodgers would not let his team die. And while a final fourth-down laser to Jordy Nelson for a touchdown may not have ultimately won the game for the Packers, it did wrap up the best three-game stretch of Rodgers' career by almost any measure.

To start, Rodgers' quarterback rating over the stretch – 130.2 – is his best ever. Against the Cowboys, Vikings and Falcons, he completed 75 percent of his passes for just more than 311 yards per game with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.

All of this is coming off the worst three-game stretch of his career by the same measure. Against the Dolphins, Vikings and Jets, he completed just 53.5 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions, good for only a 76.3 rating.

So, what has been the difference?

"Well, he's playing at an extremely high level," said quarterbacks coach Tom Clements. "He's made good decisions and he's been productive and, as is usually the case, on offense especially, it takes 11 guys. So, we've been playing well offensively for the last little while and everyone contributes to Aaron's success.

"I'd have to look at it, but statistically that's one indication and maybe that's what people look at to determine whether someone plays well or not. But that's not always a true indication. We grade each play and then we tally all the plays up and make an assessment as to whether the overall performance was either a plus or minus."

Clements said Rodgers is graded on each play every game. In his simple overall assessment, Clements has rated Rodgers as a "plus performance" in each of the last three games.

For at least one of his teammates, Rodgers has passed the eye ball test with flying colors.

"He's playing well. We're clicking," said wide receiver Jordy Nelson. "It's not like it was in the beginning of the year. We're getting into a groove."

Rodgers' play over the first part of the season was far from poor. Rather, it was atypical for a player who has set tremendously high standards.

By Week 7, he had as many interceptions (seven) as he did all of 2009. And in Week 9, he had his third-worst single-game performance (in terms of QB rating – 59.7) since taking over as a starter.

Still, Rodgers was among the top half of quarterbacks in the league, and the Packers were staying in the playoff hunt. Like many good quarterbacks in the league ascending to become great, there are times during a career when the injury bug can almost be too much to overcome. The Colts' Peyton Manning is dealing with that situation now, and Rodgers faced an adjustment to it through the first part of the season.

The Packers lost two of their top weapons – running back Ryan Grant in Week 1 and tight end Jermichael Finley in Week 5 – to season-ending injuries. Since then, they have lost tackle Mark Tauscher and have played with wide receiver Donald Driver at less than 100 percent.

But Rodgers had a turnaround to his season on Nov. 7 against the Cowboys. Without Grant, Finley, and Driver, and therefore hamstrung for firepower on offense, he exploded for his best performance of the season by completing 27-of-34 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He did even better the next game in a tougher environment by completing 22-of-31 for 301 yards and four touchdowns at the Metrodome.

"He's playing the way he did last year, it's just that in this stretch he's playing better," said Clements. "This past game was a great indication. It was the first time we executed the no-huddle in a non-two-minute situation where Aaron was in control and he did an outstanding job with that. It shows that he's comfortable with the offense and what he can do and what we can do as an offense."

In the process of strong play recently, Rodgers has put himself on another career level, as well. With 35 attempts against Atlanta, he surpassed the 1,500-attempt benchmark to qualify for career passer rating in the NFL. His 97.3 rating ranks second best all-time behind San Diego's Philip Rivers, who is only a fraction ahead of Rodgers.

While evolutionary changes in the game certainly have helped Rodgers acquire such lofty status, perhaps even more impressive is his No. 1 ranking all-time in interception percentage (minimum 1,500 attempts). Throwing an interception on just 2 percent of his throws, he is head of retired Neil O'Donnell (2.1) and Washington's Donovan McNabb (2.2).

"He's an accurate passer, No. 1. Obviously, that's got to be part of it," said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. "His decision-making has to be part of it. His preparation has to be part of it. A lot of those things – discipline is obviously a part of it. It's a great accomplishment and a testament to him. Obviously, his coaching – Tom Clements and Mike (McCarthy) do a great job with quarterbacks. Probably a little bit of everything. That's a great testament to his ability and what he's done so far. Hopefully it's a good indicator of things to come."

Unlike O'Donnell, Rodgers' style is far from the play-it-safe variety.

"He certainly doesn't play scared as a quarterback, that's for sure," said Philbin.

Rodgers has gone 147 consecutive pass attempts without an interception and would break his personal best streak with 13 non-interception throws on Sunday against the 49ers. That streak has helped his quarterback rating (up to seventh in the league at 97.4), a statistic that really was formulated to compare quarterbacks over years, not games. In any case, it is a barometer that the Packers can use.

"That's just a reflection of all the things we do look at," said Clements. "We look at the accuracy, the production and whether you take care of the football. If you do all those things, then you're going to have a good quarterback rating."

Rodgers represents a microcosm of his team's mission and McCarthy's words.

"The enemy of great is good," began Rodgers, "meaning that you don't want to be remembered as just a good team, a team that made some plays and couldn't take that next jump to being an elite football team. I saw something written about us this week that said we were still just a good football team, so obviously that's not something we want to be remembered as but we have a chance. We have five games left and we have a chance to still accomplish all the things we set forth at the beginning of the season and that's our focus."

Top-Rated Passers in NFL History

Philip Rivers, 97.34

Aaron Rodgers, 97.28

Steve Young, 96.8

Tony Romo, 95.5

Peyton Manning, 94.9


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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