Aaron Rodgers has regressed. It's just a question of how far.
Let's get that out of the way right off the bat. There's no two ways about it. Over the course of the last 10 quarters of football, Rodgers has made three or four big plays - while making a ton of bad ones along the way. His biggest offense? He has completely reverted to his extremely bad habit of holding the ball forever in the pocket. He's also started to look like a first year starter, rather than the multi-season veteran he is, when he darts like a jackrabbit at the faintest hint of the pocket pushing in around him, rather than keeping his eyes downfield, standing tall in the pocket and delivering the football.
For a perfect example of Rodgers holding the ball for far too long, take a look below:
Many fans have mentioned the block by Korey Hall as a reason for this sack but Hall does his job. It's a three step drop - Rodgers looks to his right, sees his guy is covered...and holds the ball. He needs to hit John Kuhn the second he determines his first read is dead. If he's got a guy in his face, he needs to throw it at Kuhn's feet. ANYTHING other than take a sack. (Now would be the time to point out that I mentioned this area as a point of weakness in Rodgers' game this past summer, a point that was dismissed by the quarterback himself)
Heading into a nationally televised game against your arch rival, who just happens to be quarterbacked by a living legend who's job you took is probably not the best venue to work out your fundamental issues but work them out Rodgers must. Not unlike last year when the team was coming off two brutal losses to the Vikings and Buccaneers, the Packers head into Sunday's matchup needing to get back to basics on offense. For all the talk about the lack of a running game, the absence of Jermichael Finley, etc - the number one thing Rodgers can do to get the offense rolling again is to take his drop, set his feet, make his read, and pull the trigger.
A lot has been made of the man coverage the Packers have been seeing with two deep safeties over the top. Head coach Mike McCarthy and Rodgers would do well to go back to the building blocks of the West Coast offense, much the way they did when the season was hanging in the balance last year against the Cowboys. That was the game that turned around not only the Packers' season, but Rodgers' play at quarterback as well.
Take a look at the pass below to Driver. Watch how Rodgers executes the playfake, sets his feet, and makes the throw.
This is exactly the type of play that has been missing from the Packers' arsenal. Stretching the field horizontally, using the pass as a long handoff, getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers and letting them get four or five yards on first down. That should be the lifeblood from which the offense flows. The last three games have seen, much like the first half of the season last year, a bevy of receivers running deeper routes and Rodgers bailing from the pocket, often unnecessarily, when the route combos fail to open up.
McCarthy needs to make the same adjustment he made last year - dive back into the horizontal game that enables Rodgers to get the ball out of his hands and into the hands of guys like Driver, Jennings and Nelson. Even the young tight ends, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree, have shown promise when given the chance to run after the catch.
Rodgers turned it around last season. There's no doubt in my mind he can do it again.
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