This has to be one of the all-time statistical oddities for an in-his-prime quarterback who is considered an elite player:
Two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers is directing a passing offense that ranks 31st in passing yards per game, 31st in passing yards per play and 29th in completion percentage.
This isn’t just mediocre production or simply being spoiled by Rodgers’ previous greatness. Rather, this is the type of poor performance that leads to four-win seasons and the widespread firings usually associated with teams with bottom-of-the-barrel quarterbacks.
Rodgers, of course, is not a bottom-of-the-barrel quarterback. However, the reason for the demise of the Green Bay Packers’ passing game is one of the most hotly debated in the NFL. Last year, the troubles could be easily pegged on the fallout from Jordy Nelson’s torn ACL. Not only is Nelson back but tight end Jared Cook was acquired in free agency. So what’s up? Is it the decision-making/fundamentals of Rodgers? The play-calling and/or scheme of coach Mike McCarthy? Is it the receivers? Some combination of some or all of those factors?
Whatever the reason, McCarthy made it clear on Wednesday that he’s got his quarterback’s back.
“I have great confidence in Aaron,” McCarthy said before the team’s first practice in preparation for Sunday’s home opener against Detroit. “I’ve never trusted a quarterback or an individual as a player more than I trust Aaron Rodgers. His work ethic is at the top of his career -- the time he spends in the facility, with his coaches and his teammates, so from that, it’s a process. We’ll all stick to the process and, from that, we’ll all have success.”
Success seems miles away at this early stage of the season. At times, Rodgers has missed open receivers in favor of trying to push the ball downfield. At other times, he’s simply thrown the ball inaccurately. Sometimes, the pressure has been fierce. Other times, no one has gotten open. The issues sound a lot like what happened during the second half of last season, when the offense too often was an all-or-nothing affair.
Take the final series of the Minnesota game as an example of all that has gone wrong. On first-and-10 near midfield, the Packers kept seven men in to protect against a four-man rush. Receivers Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb were smothered and Rodgers was sacked. On second-and-14, Rodgers had Cook wide open in the right flat against linebacker Chad Greenway for what probably would have been an easy 8- to 10-yard gain – and perhaps much more -- but Rodgers instead threw it to the right sideline to Nelson against tight coverage by Terence Newman. Newman broke up the pass to set up third-and-long. The line picked up a six-man pressure with ease but Rodgers sort of hopped into an out route to Adams. The ball was throw to the inside rather than the outside and without Rodgers’ maximum velocity, which allowed cornerback Trae Waynes to recover for the interception. It didn’t help that Adams appeared to drift on the route rather than make a sharp cut to the ball but the location of the pass was the biggest problem.
Earlier in the game, midway through the second quarter, Rodgers sensed the pocket was about to break down. Had he kept his eyes downfield and trusted in his protection, receiver Trevor Davis was running away from linebacker Eric Kendricks on a crossing route. For a quarterback as intelligent and well-prepared as Rodgers, he should have anticipated Davis would break into the clear. But he didn’t. Rodgers ultimately threw the ball away and got buried by Everson Griffen.
On the next drive, a third-and-9 from the Vikings’ 47, Rodgers made the right read but threw too high to Cobb in a tight window.
On the third-and-2 that preceded the failed fourth-and-2 midway through the third quarter, Rodgers never looked anywhere other than Nelson. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander probably should have been flagged for illegal contact on the play but, to the other side, Richard Rodgers was open in the flat against safety Andrew Sendejo for an easy gain of at least 3 or 4.
On Rodgers’ fumble with 7 minutes remaining in the game and the Packers on the precipice of field-goal range at the Vikings’ 40, he had Adams open on a post that probably would have gained 10 yards and a first down.
It’s not all Rodgers’ fault. On a third-and-11 on Green Bay’s opening possession of the third quarter, Rodgers hit Jared Cook on an in-breaking route against Waynes at the sticks. Instead of diving forward to ensure he had the first down, he gave up ground to try to avoid safety Harrison Smith. Smith brought Cook down a yard short of the first down. For the night, Rodgers’ 20 completions included 93 yards after the catch, by our count. Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs had 77 by himself on nine catches.
Is it the lack of preseason playing time for Rodgers and the No. 1 offense? Or something much more alarming for this team’s championship hopes? That answer should become a bit more clear in Sunday’s home opener.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.null