Aaron Rodgers’ return to the game this past Sunday helped give the Green Bay Packers earn the respite of a bye week he desperately needed to help heal his injured calf as much as any injured muscle can heal in two weeks.
It was the stuff legends were are made of. The moment Rodgers went down after his touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, the entire stadium knew it was bad. It felt like November 4, 2013 all over again. Rodgers was down and the future looked grim. We’d been down that path before, and a team without Aaron Rodgers looks nothing like the one with him behind center. Another calf injury, broken bone, torn Achilles or blown knee. The only thing worse than knowing he was injured was not knowing the extent.
What happened next has been described several times over and in much better fashion than I can ever recall. Just like he did when he broke his clavicle, Rodgers returned to the field. Only this time he still had his pads and cleats on. As soon as he reached the sidelines, he started warming up. The cheers for MVP were deafening.
While he played with the same determination that the Packers Nation has become accustomed to, it was obvious Rodgers was not the same. The offense had to adapt. In a way, the Packers were running an Offense Lite that helped protect his injured leg but still managed to propel the team to victory.
So what does this injury mean moving forward?
Most–including Aaron Rodgers himself–believe his leg will not be 100% a week from this Sunday. That means the medical staff will be working in over drive to rehabilitate his injured calf and the team will have to plan accordingly for a less-mobile quarterback.
A calf strain is, by definition a tear in the gastrocnemius muscle of the lower leg. (Note, this is a graphic of a right leg. Rodgers’ injury is to his left.) Strains are graded. A Grade 1 injury is stretching and minor tearing of muscle fibers. A Grade 2 injury means more tearing, or a “moderate” injury. A Grade 3 injury means a complete tear of the muscle group that typically requires surgery. (Think Des Bishop and his hamstring tear.)
I’m going to go out on a limb and suspect Rodgers’ likely has something in the neighborhood of a Grade 2 injury. Only an MRI (which he likely has already had) is the way to make that determination.
And it is certainly possible that he has had two separate muscle injuries. During his weekly radio show with Jason Wilde on ESPN Milwaukee yesterday, Rodger told listeners that the injury incurred on the “inside” of his calf. He also pointed out that this past Sunday’s injury was on the “outside” just like the tear in the graphic above. The gastroc has two muscle bellies, so it is a possibility that he has injuries in both.
The gastrocnemius is kind of a big deal. It play a pivotal role with running and jumping. It’s what makes the foot flex downward. You know, the whole mechanism that propels you forward. Ironically, Ndamukong Suh’s worked perfectly fine as he lifted off on Rodgers’ leg.
And to complicate things even further, the injury is on Rodgers’ planting foot for passes.
Thankfully Packers have already began to adapt to a less-mobile quarterback. There is no question the offensive line has stepped up. Not only are they playing a cleaner game with less penalties, (only one hold last week against David Bahktiari) but Rodgers was not sacked at all during the win against the Lions. They are buying him more time to safely remain in the pocket. This may mean a temporary hold on the the play action pass.
Remember, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Tom Brady has one many game securely in the pocket.
It also means formations that will continue to favor a less-mobile quarterback. Most think of the pistol formation as a tool a running quarterback uses to get the play off or start sprinting quickly. In Rodgers’ current situation, it saves him the five step drop back and he’s ready to either throw or hand off to his running back.
That lack of strength in the planting foot may also mean the long ball may be few and far in between.
Of course that won’t stop Rodgers from occasionally going rogue and calling QB sneak on the goal line once in a while. It may not have been the best thing for injured leg, but he sent the message he isn’t going down without a fight.
On the flip side, the defense may not be able to rely on huge offensive cushions of enormous points. The team will need to play a complete 60 minutes of ball. Bend not break won’t be enough.
In the mean time, how the medical staff rehabs Rodgers’ injured calf will likely be a top secret entity. Rest will definitely be first and foremost. It may involve crutches, maybe even a boot. They won’t say, because some things are not for public consumption.
Aaron Rodgers may not be 100% when the Packers take the field in the next round of the playoffs. But they will have a plan in place to play to his strengths and protect his vulnerabilities.