Editor’s note: this article was written by guest author Elisha Twerski. You can follow him on Twitter at @ETwPhoneHome
Aaron Rodgers is….umm…struggling, to say the least. You’ve probably heard some asinine theories to explain his performance: He’s jealous of his brother winning the Bachelorette, his numbers have been down since deflategate (thanks, Tom Brady), there’s some secret injury that no one knows about, and my favorite theory is that he’s too distracted by Olivia Munn. If you buy into any of those theories, stop reading now.
From 2010 to 2014 Rodgers played like one of the best quarterbacks of all time. He consistently made jaw-dropping throws and committed turnovers at a historically low rate. The two-time NFL MVP had mastered the quarterback position.
On August 23rd, 2015, Jordy Nelson tore his ACL. Considering the circumstances, the first four weeks of that season may have been the best four week stretch of Rodgers’ career. Rodgers threw for 11 touchdowns while not committing a single turnover, leading the Packers to a 4-0 record. He even made James Jones look like Calvin Johnson.
In week 8, the 6-0 Packers went into Denver to take on the 6-0 Broncos, led by a ferocious defense. If you were to talk to anyone who knows a thing or two about the Packers, they’d point to that game as a turning point for Rodgers. The Broncos figured out that you can’t stop Rodgers by stopping Rodgers, you stop Rodgers by taking away his receivers. It also helped that they had the league’s best pass rush. A recipe for stifling the Packers offense was created.
It seemed as if every team following that game employed a similar defensive strategy, dropping 7 or 8 into coverage and doing their best to keep Rodgers contained. Aside from perhaps the 4th quarter against the Panthers, Tom Clements and Mike McCarthy never adjusted. Despite the fact that James Jones was too slow to beat any corner 1-on-1, and Randall Cobb wasn’t built to take on the opposition’s best cover guy, the Packers kept running the same timing-based offensive scheme that was predicated on those receivers winning 1-on-1 battles.
For 11 games McCarthy and his staff kept trying the same scheme over and over and over and over and over and over again. 11 games, almost no adjustments. The lack of scheme change is what broke Rodgers. Since his receivers couldn’t get any separation, Rodgers started to play backyard QB (a term coined by BR’s Zach Kruse). As the weeks went by Rodgers started to dance and duck out of the pocket in order to extend plays, and at the time it was the only thing that kept the Packers offense afloat.
Between 2010 and 2014, Rodgers was an absolute master at throwing his receivers open. He knew where his receiver would be and he put the ball right there. Starting from the Denver game, that began to change. The fact that his receivers couldn’t muster out an inch of separation caused him to hesitate often. Rodgers stopped trusting his receivers to get open. Improvising became the new normal for him. The quarterback who was once oozing with confidence whenever he stepped onto a football field, was now hesitating every time he dropped back.
All of that was supposed to change in 2016. A healthy Jordy and a slimmer Lacy were going to have the Packers offense back to normal. However, anyone with a pair of eyes can see that there is nothing normal about this Packers offense. The bad habits are still there for Rodgers. He refuses to throw to a receiver unless that receiver is open (as opposed to throwing them open) and this hesitancy is causing overthrows and throws behind his targets. The only receiver who he trusts to get open is Nelson, who spends a lot of the time being blanketed by the defense.
McCarthy used to have a reputation as an “offensive genius”, but he appears to be far from that. He runs an offensive scheme that is nearly impossible to stop when it works, but doesn’t seem to have the ability to adjust when it doesn’t work. It’s obvious that something has to be tweaked (or overhauled) in order to get Rodgers out of this funk, but McCarthy is stubbornly sticking with the same play-calling that hasn’t worked since early last season.
Almost every single respectable NFL writer, columnist, reporter, or enthusiast has asked, “Why aren’t the Packers running more rub routes, slants, screens etc.?” at least once. The truth is, a dink-and-dunk offense is probably the best bet for the Packers right now. I thought McCarthy was finally doing that when the Packers were matching down easily on their first two drives against the Giants, but then he abandoned it after an unfortunate interception on a Jordy drop. McCarthy proceeded to go right back to everything that hasn’t worked for the last year.
Rodgers is still as physically gifted as he ever was, but has developed some bad habits. He needs to put in the work to rid himself of those, but he’ll need his head coach to work with him.
That’s my take on why Rodgers is playing like Jay Cutler. Let me know yours in the comments.
John Rehor is a writer at PackersTalk.com.
He can also be heard as one of the Co-Hosts of Cheesehead Radio. ---------------------
He can also be heard as one of the Co-Hosts of Cheesehead Radio.You can follow John on twitter at jrehor or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.