The ticket to winning Super Bowl championships has been well-established.
First, you need a big-time quarterback. The New England Patriots with Tom Brady and the Atlanta Falcons with Matt Ryan have the necessary star power at quarterback, just like the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers.
But if the sport is driven by quarterbacks, than it’s only logical that the top teams excel at stopping those quarterbacks. And that’s what derailed the Packers against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
There’s no better gauge of determining pass defense than opponent passer rating, since yards and even touchdowns can be skewed by the scoreboard. Here’s a look at the opponent passer ratings of the Super Bowl participants during Rodgers’ tenure as the Packers’ starting quarterback. (The Super Bowl winner is listed first.)
2016: New England, eighth, 84.4; Atlanta, 22nd, 92.5. The Falcons are the obvious exception to this over the past eight seasons but they had to beat the pass defenseless Packers in the championship game. Green Bay finished 26th in opponent passer rating at 95.9. Moreover, in its last three regular-season games, Atlanta ranked eighth with an opponent rating of 73.9. That late-season surge continued against Seattle and Green Bay in the playoffs.
2015: Denver, fourth, 78.8; Carolina, first, 73.5.
2014: New England, ninth, 84.0; Seattle, fifth, 80.4.
2013: Seattle, first, 63.4; Denver, 17th, 84.5.
2012: Baltimore, 11th, 80.6; San Francisco, sixth, 78.0.
2011: N.Y. Giants, 21st, 86.1; New England, 20th, 86.1.
2010: Green Bay, first, 69.1; Pittsburgh, third, 75.5.
2009: New Orleans, third, 67.4; Indianapolis, 12th, 78.8.
2008: Pittsburgh, second, 63.4; Arizona, 30th, 96.9.
The Cardinals’ opponent rating is the worst for any team to ever reach a conference championship game, let alone a Super Bowl. This year’s Packers defense had the second-worst opponent rating of the 204 teams to advance to championship games in the Super Bowl era.
History suggests if you can’t stop the quarterback, you’re in deep trouble in the postseason. In this year’s playoffs, the 12 teams’ primary quarterbacks averaged a 96.6 passer rating. For the Packers to have won the Super Bowl, they would have had to beat two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning (86.0 rating, 22nd), Dak Prescott (104.9 rating, third), Ryan (117.1 rating, first) and Brady (112.2 rating, second). That’s practically mission impossible.
Do the Packers have the ability to make en enormous leap forward? Because that’s what it’s going to take. The past eight Super Bowl champs have an average opponent passer rating of just 74.1. So the list of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks is superb — Peyton Manning, Brady, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger — their defenses did impressive work in stopping opponent passing games.
Injuries were a crucial factor at cornerback, obviously, led by Sam Shields season-ending concussion. Shields (15 games), Damarious Randall (six games) and Quinten Rollins (three games) combined to miss 24 of a possible 48 games. Randall and Rollins struggled down the stretch. Was it injuries? Or are they just not going to be good enough? And what is LaDarius Gunter's ceiling after being thrust into the No. 1 role?
“Having a chance to meet with both those guys, I’m excited about their future,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday when asked about Randall and Rollins and potential personnel moves at cornerback. “I think they’re both going to be really good players for us. Both Q and Damarious will be working out together out there in California, so these guys already have their workout plan set. They’re starting in a week or week-and-a-half. Those are the things we’re really focused on. I think both those guys will definitely grow for their experience this year, because they both had a lot of adversity that they had to deal with.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.