NFL: Examining a Struggling Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers has not enjoyed the usual success we are accustomed to seeing.

One of the most talked about and fascinating roller coaster rides has been the Green Bay Packers 2018 season. A season that began with a thriller of a tie to the emergence of Aaron Jones and his 5.7 yards per carry, their season has been anything but normal. Another exclamation point came with the firing of Mike McCarthy following an embarrassing home loss against the Arizona Cardinals.

Football is a team sport, but more often than not, the signal caller is the cornerstone behind a great franchise. Rodgers has started every game, but the Packers are sitting at 5-7-1.

Rodgers has his faults, but 2018 has been more about what is going wrong around him.

Currently, Rodgers is sitting at 3,700 yards and 21 touchdowns with a completion percentage of 62.5 at 7.6 yards per attempt. The dip in completion percentage is fairly significant and anybody who has been watching him can see the dips happening in real time.

Has the departure of Jordy Nelson been that significant? Was McCarthy’s play-calling the real issue? Is Rodgers starting to show signs of aging? Could it be that Rodgers knee injury is still a lingering issue?

In reality, it is likely a little bit of everything. The numbers show Nelson has impacted Rodgers play in the past and the current lack of seasoned offensive weapons is making the magic harder to summon.

Rodgers best and worst seasons, on record, came during the 2011 and 2015 seasons. It’s easy to say his best year was a direct reflection of winning the Super Bowl. His numbers were 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns with a 68.3 completion rate at 9.2 yards per attempt. Those are still personal bests for the Packers’ signal caller. 

Indeed, in 2011, all was well as Rodgers was showing the promise of an all-time great. He benefited from tossing the pigskin around to veteran wideouts in James Jones, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and Nelson. The team was healthy and stacked with talent.

The veteran trio was able to corral targets on a consistent level. Jones, Driver, Jennings, and Nelson caught well over 60 percent of their targets. Rodgers was very energetic and passionate during that 2011 run too. 

That 2011 standard is the standard Rodgers is often held to every year.

In contrast, his 2015 performance was his worst statistical season. The 35-year-old put up 3,821 yards and 31 touchdown with a 60.7 completion percentage at 6.7 yards per attempt. All were the lowest values that he’s produced in a single season,  with the exception of a 28 touchdown season in 2010. 

What happened in 2015 that is of note? 

Nelson tore his ACL before the season even started that year.  It was a season without a receiver that arguably had the best mental connection with any quarterback in league history. They both knew exactly where the other wanted to be on almost every play.

The argument that Rodgers is missing Nelson can be made clear here and the similarities are hard to ignore. The comparison needs to be made, though, with Davante Adams in mind. Yes, he was on the team in 2015, but he was hardly the receiver he is today.

Rodgers is a very technical quarterback and it can take years for players to learn the ins and outs of his play style. Adams is currently working his way there though. He has caught 92 of his 138 targets with 1,196 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is on pace to outproduce Nelson during his best year with Rodgers. Nelson finished with 98 receptions on 151 targets with 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

The loss of Nelson was big, but there is something else that has caused Rodgers to slow down.

The bigger issue seems to be with the volume of inexperienced receivers playing this season. Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Equanimeous St. Brown have been pressed into duty. From dropped passes to the timing of routes, it has impacted Rodgers and the Packers’ offense. 

These youngsters, though they have flashed their talent at times, have not shown the consistency needed from veteran players. MVS has done well with a 66 percent catch rate, but Allison and St. Brown are both in the 50 percent range. 

Rodgers supporting cast has led to frustrating play performance. Dropped passes, thrown away balls, and stern vocal lashings from Rodgers have been the proof of it. Rodgers needs experience on the field with him or he needs to clone Adams.

Firing McCarthy was a start. His play-calling was questionable at times. In addition, over-relying on Rodgers cost him his job. However, the players out wide have been just as problematic. 

With the issues surrounding him, Rodgers needs the support from his teammates with elevated play next season. He needs the support of his organization to find a coach that can help mold these youngsters into elite level talent.

It’s up to the front office to make all the right moves this offseason so fans can see the old Rodgers. One that hopefully mirrors the 2011 version of himself.

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