Rodgers Grows Into NFL's Top Decision-Maker

With only seven interceptions, Aaron Rodgers is the main reason why the Packers are about to set the team record for fewest turnovers in a season. The Pro Bowl quarterback talks about a feat made more impressive by the pressure he's faced.

It seems like a lifetime ago when Aaron Rodgers was a runt of a kid, standing about 5-foot-6 when he first met the high school varsity football coach.

"Probably less than 5-6," Pleasant Valley High School coach Sterling Jackson told Packer Report for the cover story of the next magazine.

Four years and about 5 inches later, University of Illinois coach Ron Turner took one look at Rodgers, thought he was too short and stuck with his stable of quarterbacks.

Three years later, Turner was fired after the Illini posted a cumulative 9-26 record and Rodgers was the Green Bay Packers' first-round pick.

Five years later, Rodgers was selected to his first Pro Bowl and is on the cusp of starting his first playoff game.

There are many reasons for Rodgers' success. He's talented, first and foremost. But beyond that, he's tough physically (having played through a torn ACL for four years) and mentally (dealing with the Brett Favre saga). Not to be overlooked is his amazing consistency and peerless decision-making skills.

Rodgers enters Sunday's game at Arizona with the lowest interception percentage in the NFL. He's thrown only seven this season — or exactly one more as his predecessor did in one playoff game — and is the major reason why the Packers are set to obliterate the franchise record for fewest turnovers.

"I definitely think that it is really discipline," coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday. "He has that trait as far as in his preparation. He is just a very consistent personality, the way he approaches the game of football, the way he plays, the way he conducts himself on the sideline, and it carries over to the game. He is going to have highs and lows in his career — I know that is part of any quarterback's career in the NFL — but it is something that he has established in such a short time of only his second year."

Making Rodgers' feat all the more impressive is that he's been sacked a league-high 50 times. But even while he was under seemingly constant duress during the first half of the season, Rodgers didn't throw the ball up for grabs. He didn't throw a fastball into quadruple coverage. He didn't become lax with his ball security and cough it up while getting blind-sided.

"He had a tough go there earlier in the season," McCarthy said. "There's no doubt, when you're getting hit and the timing of your whole offense is not in sync, whether it's his feet or whether it's his vision, and the ability to step the right way in the pocket. But that's all a credit to his discipline and his belief in the pass protection. We corrected it. He's really playing in sync right now, and it will be a big part of our success in the passing game for him to continue to do that."

Jackson said the decision-making ability that Rodgers shows on Sundays isn't much different than what he showed on Friday nights in Chico, Calif. Maybe more telling, "You never had to worry about him in class, on the street outside of football," Jackson said.


Aaron Rodgers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
There are no worries about Rodgers' focus today, either, and it goes a long way toward explaining why he's made so many right decisions on Sundays. Rodgers continues to be a mainstay in the offseason program, he absorbs the coaching from McCarthy, Philbin and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements like a sponge, and his intensive film study has him as ready as possible for gamedays.

So, when the game begins, Rodgers is confident in what he's seeing and confident in his ability to audible the team out of a bad play — and a potential turnover — and into a good play with a chance to succeed. And that California cool sticks with him in the heat of battle.

"It's just not my personality," Rodgers said. "I've always tried to take care of the ball as best I could. I don't like throwing the ball to the other team."

It's not like Rodgers is keeping the turnovers down by playing conservatively. He's among the league leaders in completions of at least 25 yards, and he's 260 yards short of Lynn Dickey's franchise single-season record of 4,458 set in 1983.

With 14 of 15 games with a passer rating of 83.4 and nine games topping 100, Rodgers has been a model of consistency.

"I still feel like I can play better," he said. "Obviously, there's points in the games when I've been inconsistent, but I think in comparison to last year, I had only one game under 80.0 quarterback rating — that's kind of what I was looking at starting the season. I made a comment about (San Diego's) Phillip Rivers' quarterback rating earlier in the season where he hadn't had one lower than 80, and that means you're playing very consistent ball. That means the distance between your very good games and your below-average games, the gap is closed. And I think that's what being a good quarterback is all about."

More than anything, though, being a good quarterback means giving your team a chance to win. He started this season with no interceptions in his first three games and he hasn't thrown one in his last three games. With Rodgers throwing no interceptions in 11 of 15 games, the Packers have only 15 giveaways this season. The team record of 19 was set in 1972.

"Our offense has done a very good job taking care of the football — really, our whole football team with the turnover ratio," McCarthy said. "I think Joe Philbin does an outstanding job, and all the way through to the position coaches, it's something that is stressed about all of the time. Joe does not have a presentation in the offensive meeting that doesn't refer at some point to ball security, and our players have totally bought into it. It starts with Aaron. He handles the ball every play. He is very, very decisive as far as his decision-making in the passing game, and I think that is a big part of the low interceptions. Our perimeter players do a good job of holding the thing high and tight and taking care of the ball. So that will be a key statistic in the playoffs because I think you establish your style of play, you establish who you are as a football team, and what we have established so far in the first 15 games is the ability to take care of the football and take the football away."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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