Does Aaron Rodgers Need to Stop Playing “Hero Ball?”

Over the course of these first five weeks of the NFL season, the Green Bay Packers have looked quite up and down to say the least. So what have the issues really been?

One issue is that the defense has been shaky, and there is evidence of Joe Barry not utilizing the strengths of his players. Another issue is the play selection on offense: Sometimes it seems like the Packers get away from the running game whether they’re up by 10+ points or down by 10+ points, and almost everything in between. The final issue being discussed rampantly is Aaron Rodgers missing on deep balls and continuing to “force” them, hence the mention of “hero ball.”

Defense aside, let’s talk about the struggles on 12’s side of the ball.

Calling the Plays

Now as we all know, the Green Bay Packers lost to the Giants in a completely preventable 22-27 game over in London on Sunday. There were a few issues we can address, but let’s start with the elephant in the room so to speak. The Packers were faced with a third and 2 inside the Giants 10 yard line, and they opted to pass the ball 2 consecutive times. Both passes were batted down at the line.

The fourth down pass was going towards Allen Lazard in the back right corner of the end zone on what would have been a back-shoulder fade ball, so even if it wasn’t batted it was probably a 50/50 at best. So, what gives? A.J. Dillon was on the field for both of these plays and it seems that he should have been given two chances, or at least one, to pick up the short gain needed for a first down.

Not that blame needs to be assigned, but Aaron Rodgers said today that he requested the play that the Packers ran on third down. The design of the play was fine, but Giants first round rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux made a great play and was able to affect the ball in the air and cause it to fall incomplete. Rodgers went on to explain that while Dillon, who was still on the field, could have “maybe” gotten them two yards, he wasn’t going to stand for a run against an empty pressure look with eight defenders on the line.

It sounds to me like Rodgers decided which plays were going to be run on both of those last two crucial downs, but that doesn’t somehow put the loss squarely on his shoulders. Matt Lafleur runs his offense with the fact in mind that his QB can adjust plays as necessary based on defensive formations.

Why So Many Deep Shots?

Aaron Rodgers missed on four deep balls in the second half of the Giants game, and they were all fairly costly misses. I won’t sugarcoat this; Aaron Rodgers is not a demigod. He won’t automatically hit 75 percent of his deep throws in every game just because he happens to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of our generation. With that being said, why were there so many attempts at the long ball in a game that the Packers just needed to control?

Green Bay’s offense went three-and-out on a pivotal drive in the fourth quarter after the Giants had just meticulously driven down the field to tie the game at 20-20. On first down Aaron Rodgers threw deep down the right side to Allen Lazard, incomplete. On second down Rodgers targeted rookie Romeo Doubs over the middle of the field in tight coverage, incomplete. On third down Aaron Rodgers heaved a 50/50 ball to Allen Lazard, this time on the right side of the field; it was incomplete again.

This drive as well as the following commercial break kept Green Bay’s defense off of the field for all of four and a half minutes. Saquon Barkley would then return to the field to help the Giants take advantage of a tired Packers defense and score a go-ahead touchdown to lead 27-20.

So why call three pass plays in a row on a pivotal drive? Aaron Rodgers said he “liked all of the calls” and they just need to execute them better, but a narrative has popped up as the Packers have struggled to put up two halves of good football on offense in any game this season. People are beginning to say things like “Aaron Rodgers is at his best when he plays within the offense,” but who’s to say he’s not? When Aaron Rodgers targets Allen Lazard deep down the field it’s automatically viewed as the Packers offense playing “Rodgers-Ball” when in reality these are just plays that Matt Lafleur has almost certainly installed.

Sure, Rodgers has the ability to change plays at the line, but that doesn’t mean that Matt Lafleur’s offense is the methodical and always-effective approach while 12’s offense is just deep shots to “his friends.” There is a combination of the two minds always at work on the field, and Lafleur knows as well as Rodgers that you need to take some deep shots, even if it’s just to keep the defense honest.

Verdict

In totality, Aaron Rodgers really isn’t playing like the out-of-touch diva some people would have you think he is. In truth, the Packers look very close to being able to click on offense. I truly think we’ll see the Packers offense start a hot-streak at some point in the next few games. Here’s the real question: Can the defense meet the offense halfway and come close to the standards that have been set for it?

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Zack is a college student and cheesehead from California. When he’s not in class or writing, you can find him talking about the Packers on Twitter at @Zack_Upchurch.

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