It would be shocking if Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play Sunday or misses any time for his knee injury sustained last Sunday night, provided he doesn’t re-injure it. But it is clear, based on comments by Mike McCarthy and Rodgers that the injury is significant, and appears to be a mild MCL sprain(tear), as surmised by Dr. David Chao, the Chargers former team doctor. The question then becomes how effective can he be?
Lets start by looking at other game in which he had a leg injury and his movement was restricted. In December 2014, Rodgers sustained a calf injury vs Tampa. It was significant and lasted the final three games. In 2016, Rodgers injured his hamstring at the Eagles Week 12. He then injured his calf in Week 14 and was significantly hampered for at least three games between the two injuries.
Week 16 (2014): Home vs The Detroit Lions.
- 17/22 226 Yards, 2TD 0INTs, Passer Rating 139.6.
- Two rushing Attempts – 14 Yards and a TD.
- Highlights: This was an incredibly efficient effort by Rodgers, in what was the NFC North championship. It was nothing particularly fancy. He aggravated the injury on his 1st touchdown pass to Cobb when he steeped up in the pocket then moved to his right and came out of the game for a series. His second touchdown was a simple quick slant to Cobb throw on a 3rd and 3 from the 12.
Divisional Playoffs (2014); Home vs The Dallas Cowboys
- 24/35 316, 3TDs 0INTs, Passer Rating 125.4
- No rushes other than the victory formation.
- Highlights: This was an unforgettable performance. For all the controversy surrounding the Dez Bryant drop, there is no reason to believe Rodgers wouldn’t have driven the Packers down the field to win had the play been upheld. On all three of his touchdown throws, Rodgers climbed the pocket, with two of them being pin point throws to tight windows. With 16 seconds left in the first half Rodgers hit Cobb on a corner route to the left sideline to get the Packers into field goal range. He stood tall in the pocket and there the ball at the top of his drop.
The best of them all being this throw to Adams on 3rd and 15, down eight. Notice how he climbs the pocket. The top of his drop is the Packers 45 yard line and he throws the ball from the Packers 48. This makes the job of his offensive line much easier. And it is not something that you see much from a healthy Rodgers, especially on 3rd and 15, when he tends to break the pocket around the tackles and looks to create a play down field.
NFC Championship (2014) at The Seahawks
- 19/34 178 Yards, 1 TD 2 INTs, Passer Rating 55.8
- One Rush 12 Yards
- Highlights/Notes: Out of all the games detailed this is by far the worst of his performances. One of the interceptions was a drop by Randall Cobb. Overall his numbers were held down because they were playing with a lead and either it was a very conservative game plan or he was check down Charlie, and of course the Seahawks defense was very good. Week One that year when the Packers played the Seahawks, Rodgers numbers were similar.
Week 13 (2016): Home vs the Texans
- 20/30 209 Yards, 2 TD’s 0 INT’s, Passer Rating 108.9
- Three Rushes 16 Yards.
- Highlights/Notes: This was a quiet, yet efficient game. It was also played in the snow.
Week 14 (2016): Home vs the Seahawks
- 18/23 246 Yards, 3TD’s 0 INTs, Passer Rating of 150.8.
- Two Rushes for -5 yards (other than kneel down before half).
- Highlights/Notes: The most memorable play, by far was the 66 yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to Davante Adams. Rodgers sustained a calf injury on that play, which he surmised was due to compensating for the hamstring injury. His last touchdown was a nine yard score to Jordy Nelson. He had time in the pocket, climbed it and found Nelson late in his progression. Ty Montgomery had three catches for 45 yards.
Week 15 (2016): At Chicago
- 13/31 252 Yards, 0 TD 0 INT, Passer rating 87.0
- Three Rushes for 19 Yards
- Highlights: How could anyone forget this one? Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for 60 yards on 3rd and 11 to set up the game winning field goal. On the play Rodgers slid to his left while staying in the pocket and waiting for the play to develop. It was very subtle but important movement to give keep himself clean.
In these six games in which Rodgers was clearly hampered by a leg injury of some sort his collective numbers were as follows.
- 111/165 1427 Yards, 11 Touchdowns and 2 INTs (He added one Rushing TD on a One Yard Sneak)
- 67% Completion Rate
- 8.65 Yards/Attempt
- 6.66% TD Rate
- 1.21% INT Rate.
- Passer Rating 111.35
- Notes: These figures are all above his career figures. The passer rating is better than all but two of his full seasons (2011 and 2014). In 2016, it is interesting to note that Rodgers played poorly (for his standards) prior to his injury with a couple of exceptions including the Eagles game before he was injured. But once he became healthy he continued his elevated level of play, staying within the pocket mostly, but using his legs to his advantage as he is capable of.
It is counter intuitive that he plays better when he has a leg injury but it seems to be the case. On Sunday night, in the second half, he climbed the pocket, and delivered the ball with incredible placement, and didn’t lose any velocity or ability to throw deep. He slid when he needed to, and he went through he progressions. Also, he made fair amount of quick, rhythm throws. This is consistent with his previous play while injured, outlined above. In the first half, while he was under duress, he wasn’t in rythym, didn’t climb the pocket and didn’t make one completion that resulted in a 1st down. While the offensive line blocked poorly in the first have, Rodgers staying within the pocket makes their jobs easier. That could have been effectively his pre-season as well.
But what it forces him to do is to use what it between his ears and his arm talent. Obviously, he can diagnose matchups and he has the best arm in the league. He cannot step into his throws as much, but his arm can overcome that. And he often, like Brett Favre, doesn’t step into his throws, even when healthy I would expect Rodgers and the offense to not miss a beat the next few weeks and it history serves as a guide, a greater level of play can be expected.
Originally from Glidden Wisconsin, Jason Straetz is a lifelong Packers\' fan, who has lived in Maine for over 30 years. He is a writer for packerstalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @jsnstz