We’ve been down this road before. It seems that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been nursing one injury or another the past few seasons. It was hard to miss his very noticeable limp after he tweaked his left hamstring a few weeks back. Then to add insult to injury, it appears that he injured his right calf (not the one he hurt in 2014 for those keeping track) during Sunday’s victory against the Seattle Seahawks. That limp became more and more of a hindrance. Even though garbage time started at the beginning of fourth quarter, it still seemed odd that Rodgers called it a day at that time. Even when up by a sizable lead come the final fifteen minutes, he typically remains in the game until the finally handful of minutes and bleeds time off the clock to keep the other offense off the field.
This week we got to see backup QB and photobomber extraordinaire Brett Hundley bleed that clock down as far it would go. And he managed to fulfill his duties well, even adding to the lead with a razzle dazzle running play that Jeff Janis managed to pull off two weeks in a row for another touchdown.* For the vast majority of the game, the QB2 script was a predictable one: keep the ball on the ground as much as possible, don’t burn the house down with a poorly thrown interception, and eat as much clock as humanly possible. Sure, there were a few quick three and out drives with Hundley under center, but in the end it was still a death by a million clock-consuming papercuts, and Seattle never found the momentum to even catch up.
Bleeding the clock works well when a team is up by three touchdowns. The offense only needs to master a handful of running plays, and maybe throw a pass in there every once in a while. It is a foot off the gas, coast to home strategy that is only sustainable for a quarter at best.
But what happens if Aaron Rodgers goes down earlier in the game this week in Chicago? You can’t bleed the clock for an entire game and go into coast mode with QB2 playing nothing more than risk management football. To pretend it’s not a possibility is only fooling ourselves. He has injuries in both legs. With the cold conditions in Chicago this weekend (a predicted high of a strip and go naked NEGATIVE 3F) it is very possible either the tweaked hamstring or calf will take him out of the game.
Funny how it always seems to be the Bears. Remember that primetime game against the Bears in 2013? The Bears stunk about as much as they do this year, and Packers fans as well as the team were all but pointing to stands and calling the victory like Babe Ruth in his heyday. And guess what happened? Rodgers went down with a game (okay, multi-game) ending injury when his left clavicle snapped as he was pounded to the turf. The Badgers’ own Scott Tolzien was QB2 at the time and looked absolutely lost when his number got called as Rodgers headed to the locker room. It didn’t take long for an interception, the overwhelming mistakes and the Packers never caught up to the Bears. Sure, Tolzien had only been in Green Bay for a few weeks. He was named the understudy, yet he didn’t seem to have even a rudimentary grasp of the Packers’ offensive scheme.
Yet like most QB2, their roles never seem to be to master the entire offensive scheme. Their wheelhouse tends to be Bleed Clock. And when there actually needs to be a more aggressive offensive drive, it always seems to be a Cliffs Notes version of the playbook. Even when Matt Flynn was brought in to take over for Tolzien, he only ran a Packers Lite version of the offense. He did the same as well when he had to step up a few weeks ago and take the place of a concussed Andrew Luck.
So if Rodgers goes down early during one of these last games of the season, Hundley needs to be able to step up and do more than bleed the clock down to zero. He’s going to need to lead the offensive with the same sense of urgency and aggressiveness that Rodgers does each and every week if they intend to run the table and have any hope of a playoff berth.
Unfortunately the offense is already running an abbreviated playbook. With Christine Michael still finding is role in the running game, James Starks all but neutralized in his obsession with running east to west instead of down the field for yardage, and the last great hope of a running game in the hands of wide receiver, it would be hard for the Packers to score early and often in the run, run, run, hopefully not punt offensive scheme that seems to define the QB2 roles across the league. The running game is already limited, and defense will know exactly how to neutralize the shortened playbook if the the Packers take a page from the stereotypical QB2 offensive plan.
Brett Hundley will need to command all of the offense, not just rudimentary running game the Packers possess at the current time. He is going to have to act more like a starter and less like the other 31 QB2s in the league. The means a diversified offensive scheme that balances a running game with an air attack. In his brief appearances on the field this year, he has averaged about a 25% success rate in completed passes. That clearly needs to improve if he is called up to play a bigger role in a game.
Keep in mind he is no slouch from a Division III school. He was UCLA’s starting quarterback. He has a strong arm and is fast on his feet. But the the way he is going to get better at the Packers passing game is to work with the first team offense and develop chemistry and timing with Nelson, Cobb, Adams, Montgomery, etc. I suppose that is the one good thing with Rodgers seeing limited action in practice while he heals is that Hundley will have sustained practice time with the first team and not trying to mimic other teams’ offenses as he does running the scout team offense.
While Aaron Rodgers has every intention of starting the game against the Bears this coming Sunday in Popsicle cold Chicago, the Packers need to remember he is not invincible and not get caught with their pants down like they did when he fractured his collarbone. It would behoove them to practice this week as if Hundley will be starting and maximize his time with the first team offense as there is a very good chance he will be called into to duty and need to do more than just bleed clock.--------------