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Rodgers' Inaccuracy Drives Offensive Woes

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Rodgers' Inaccuracy Drives Offensive Woes

It is rarely ever wise 'round these parts to offer even passing criticism of Aaron Rodgers. Just a few weeks ago, I commented that a pass into the end zone that went off the fingertips of Donald Driver was a little high and thrown too hard. The repercussions across Twitter were fast and furious. "Oh, what? It hit him in the hands? Favre threw hardballs too, and Driver caught those!"

But after yesterday's inexplicable meltdown on all fronts against the lowly Colts, there are plenty of people pointing fingers: some at Dom Capers, some at Mike McCarthy, or any assortment of players not living up to expectations. It may not be in my own personal best interest, but I'm placing Aaron Rodgers in the cross-hairs.

"But wait!" you claim. "How can you blame Rodgers when the defense gave up 28 second-half points? Or Mason Crosby hitting fans seated on the ten yard-line with his field goal attempt?! Or MIKE MCCARTHY?!?!" Yes, indeed, there are problems on all fronts with this team after yesterday, but the one place we didn't expect problems was on offense, and particularly not with our reigning MVP. After all, as the defense slowly declined into a historically poor unit by the playoffs last year, it was Rodgers and the offense that brought us fifteen wins to only one loss.

"Come on!!!" you scream. "Look at that offensive line? I've seen turnstiles put up more resistance than them! And those receivers are dropping pass after pass, and can't break away from the defenders?!? And our running game?!?! Once we lost Benson, we got NOTHIN'!!!!!" There's no doubt that the supporting cast around Rodgers isn't up to snuff, either.

But the prevailing thought has to be, if our success on offense begins with Aaron Rodgers, so does our failures. Simply put, this is what a quarterback, particularly one that leads the team in passing as well as rushing, is expected to do nowadays.

So, now that we've established that Rodgers is worthy of some criticism, I will offer my reason why the offense has spluttered so far this season, and it has to do with his key ranking on Madden: accuracy.

Hands down, Rodgers' accuracy has always been what has set him apart from other quarterbacks, what set him up to be the MVP-caliber player he is. Heck, remember those training camp contests where he threw 70-yard bombs directly through a Life Saver? His career highlight reel is full of unbelievable passes where he has always been able to put the ball on the head of a pin, usually in the perfect spot where only his receiver could catch it, regardless of the flailing arms of a defender.

Even more importantly, however, are the YouTube collection of balls vaulted 40-50 yards in the air, coming down to settle right in the arms of a sprinting Jordy Nelson or Greg Jennings, who just separated from his defender.

But, in 2012, we've not seen that deadly accuracy. At times, we haven't seen any accuracy at all. Those 40-yard bombs have been attempted, and most have fallen harmlessly five or six yards in front of a wide-open receiver.

The problem is that, while we may not want to face the truth that Rodgers simply hasn't been able to find his accuracy on those long passes, defensive coordinators are embracing it.

One of my criticisms of Matt Flynn was that he was an effective quarterback when he didn't toss the ball farther than fifteen yards. He simply didn't have the long-range accuracy, and rarely hit the long pass. It made him, in my estimation, a serviceable West Coast Offense quarterback, able to nickel-and-dime you in a conservative offense. But he didn't have that extra dimension that Aaron Rodgers brought.

This season, Rodgers has been Matt Flynn: accurate on the short ball, but nearly unreliable on the long ball. And defensive coordinators have figured that out, bringing their defensive backs up closer to the line and challenging the receivers. McCarthy admitted as much following the game.

"They were very aggressive with us," said McCarthy. "That's the M.O.: jump up and challenge the perimeter. That's going to be the M.O. until we start gashing people, and we didn't do it today."

In actuality, other than perhaps the Chicago game, we haven't done it all season, Mike. As with anything in football, teams will overplay until you make them pay, and the Colts were able to send as secondary missing two of its three top cornerbacks and still shut down the passing game.

The question that lingers, then, is where has Rodgers' accuracy gone? Is this hubris, the MVP no longer paying attention to details of the game? Or is it simply a part of the aging process, losing a little touch on the ball as the football-years pile on, accelerated by repeated bone-jarring hits to the head and body?

Get sacked eight times a game and I guarantee you've aged more than three hours.

One might draw some comparison to the previous quarterback under center in Green Bay, who spent the second half of his career trying to persevere through declining accuracy. One could say that Brett Favre would compensate by throwing the ball harder, even though it wasn't always on target. This led to some interceptions, but nearly as many as there could have been if he didn't drill every single pass.

In fact, this would lend some credibility to why Rodgers threw that pass so hard and high into the endzone a few weeks back, the one that went off of Driver's fingertips. Yes, "it hit him in the hands", but when you are asking a receiver to stretch out to his highest vertical point, you don't need to throw a 90 mile-per-hour fastball to get it there. That would be one of those passes that, if placed exactly where it could be caught by the receiver (and no one else), simply needed to be crisply put on point...giving the receiver a better sense of timing for the ball's arrival.

But Favre didn't survive simply by moving the pocket and throwing fireballs. His receivers adjusted to him. Go back and look at some of Favre's passes post-Super Bowl. Many of them weren't in those sweet spots, and his receivers knew they were going to have to catch the ball at nearly any point around their body. Many times they had to reach back for the ball, or change their route. I believe that Favre's receivers often made him look better, and the receiver that couldn't adjust (i.e. Robert Ferguson) was more indicative of Favre's accuracy issues.

Not even dreaming of comparing Favre to Rodgers at this point, but I do dare to compare the receivers. Going back over the past several seasons, Rodgers has placed the ball consistently on a pinpoint, almost always in stride and ahead of the receiver in his route. Now, with more balls not on those pinpoints, coming a little ahead or a little behind on the timing, we're seeing more and more drops from those receivers who are used to Rodgers' old accuracy.

In fact, which receiver has not been bitten by the dropsie bug so far this season? Randall Cobb. Think about it.

I've been concerned about the dependence on Rodgers on the offensive side of the ball for some time now. No one likes to listen to stuff like that when you're 13-0. "What's the matter? 13-0 isn't good enough for you? Do we need to be thirteen-and-oh-ier???"

But Rodgers' accuracy (and mobility) gave McCarthy the leeway to pursue the no-huddle offense, eschew the running game almost completely, and allow his quarterback to essentially be responsible for 70-90% of the yardage each and every week. And when his accuracy returns to that of mere mortal men, the whole machine suffers.

Since I am already prepared for the onslaught of criticism about to be opened up upon me in the comment section, I will leave you with one final thought. Rodgers is not to blame for the entire team falling apart yesterday. He can't kick field goals or rush the quarterback or cover Reggie Wayne. But, he gets full credit when the offense is playing at a record-setting level. No one, be it player, coach, or management, is above criticism, especially when the team has lost in such embarrassing fashion.

The passing offense was supposed to be the one thing we weren't supposed to be worried about this year. And after getting shut down by the Colts, we're worried.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (33) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Jon's picture

Sadly, you are mostly right. Rodgers has played poorly even though his numbers are not terrible. Inaccurate on deep balls and holding the ball too long are the two areas that need the most work. McCarthy's shoddy play calling and at times abandoning the running game has made things worse. Hopefully he can turn it around or the Pack is done. I for one did not see this coming.

joym13's picture

I'm an Aaron Rodgers defender and apologizer like no other, but I can't disagree with you here. I've had a thought in my head for a long time, but have never said it out loud. He took a hit last year - I think it was in the KC game. His accuracy has not been the same since. Maybe it's my imagination (I hope so) but as this season goes on I wonder. :(

Kparis99's picture

We were having this exact discussion at work today. Yes it was blasphemy, I was getting on Rodgers for holding the ball too long, and commenting on how it seems he refuses to pull the trigger unless the WR is wide open. Something IS different this year. He's not throwing into those tight windows any more. Yes, I don't want him to just throw up a "Favre" but make the decision or throw it away. Giving up sacks gives such a boost the opposing defense. Our MVP isn't the same and I hope we aren't at that point were the coaches don't dare say a word to QB1 to coach him up, like it was at the end of Favre's career. The Packers need to improve everywhere this year, and QB1 is one of the areas. Thanks for being brave and bringing this up.

Don Hutson's picture

Maybe part of the blame for this goes to a coaching establishment who refussed to replace Rodger's QB coach with someone intimately farmiliar with the QB job. Is there an arrogance in the Packers coaching establishment that rejects bringing someone in from outside their hierarchy of progression, and assumes coaching excellence can overcome content ignorance? I think Mike McCarthy is the root of the Packer's problems. A guy who has had one good season, and has shown he can't adjust and sustain success.

Idiot Fan's picture

I had hoped that a Superbowl win (followed up by a 15-win season, no less) would calm the irrational McCarthy hatred around here, but I guess it only bought him a few months. Is he perfect? No. But he has shown the ability to change - 2009 and 2010 started very similarly to this season, and they were able to right the ship.

PadLevel's picture

Guess the Packers were just a bit overconfident on the offensive side. How else could you explain the coaching carousel - making the RB's coach the WRs coach, the TE's coach QBs coach and a former lineman & RB's coach the new TE's coach? So we expected these coaches to just step in and excel in their new coaching positions right away?

Idiot Fan's picture

His throws have been off so far this year, it's hard to argue with that. I would say it's a contributor to the issue rather than the driving force, but that's just nitpicking. Accuracy has been off, receivers haven't caught the ball as well or gotten as open, play-calling hasn't adjusted to what defenses are doing, oline is sometimes leaky, Rodgers sometimes holds the ball too long, etc.

I'm actually a little surprised by Rodgers' body language on Sunday. When the O would come off the field, he would just sit down on the bench with a look that bordered on sulking. Stand up and cheer on your defense, or look at play printouts, or talk to your WRs, or something. Where's the fire?

Anyhoo, 12, I still love you.

Joel Nelson's picture

I want to say that I am a huge Rodgers fan. But I couldn't agree more. Rodgers has not been accurate and you can see that in Nelson's stats, as well as Finley. The other thing driving me nuts is that he suddenly won't take the check downs that are there, instead opting to rely on his old accuracy to throw into questionable coverages. I believe he will get back to where he was. He is too talented. I just hope it's soon.

dullgeek's picture

+1 Especially re: check downs.

Joel's picture

Excellent piece. Well done. Although I'd like to chalk Rodgers' accuracy issues up to "just a bad stretch" there's no doubt it has been a considerable factor. You could make a pretty strong argument that had Rodgers played at this level during the 2011 season, last year's team would have been a 10-6ish team. When he didn't play at an other-worldly level, they lost (see Chiefs/Giants games). This year, same thing.

Farah's picture

Hmmm....This is interesting, but I'm not sure the data supports your point. I do agree that, subjectively, he's appeared "off" this year. But if you look at his actual completion percentage data, as compared with last year, its in the range of games we won (although yesterday was his worst game this year in that respect).
You could make an argument that last year was an anomaly, but then we'd have to ask ourselves why that is - because I don't think the defense was better statistically, except for maybe in turnover ratio. I haven't downloaded the stats for 2008-2010 but I'll do it later this week and get back to you.

bkshimada's picture

It does support his argument if you look at the deep ball. From ESPN Stats and Info: "Rodgers led the NFL in yards per attempt and 30-yard completions through Week 5 of 2011, but ranks outside the Top 20 in those categories this season."

Farah's picture

That's a good point. It does feel like we got a lot of TDs out of that long ball to Jordy last year.

bkshimada's picture

Also forgot to include this from Kevin Seifert: "Sunday, Rodgers completed only 3 of 11 attempts that traveled at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage." There have been other stats from Seifert about Rodgers' throwing downfield as well I believe but I don't have time to look them all up.

chris's picture

I hope he clears his head. With Benson gone for 8 weeks he needs to be spot on from here on out.

Bearmeat's picture

Just saw this on JSonline. These Packers can't catch a break this year.

RON's picture

RODGERS IS MISSING MORE LONG PASSES BECAUSE HE CAN NOT SET HIS FEET .HE IS CONSTANTLY UNDER PRESSURE

Bearmeat's picture

Right on. This fault is laid at MM, DC's and AR's feet more than anyone else.

AR is not immune on this one.

Cuphound's picture

"What about the O-Line! I've seen turnstiles put up more resistance than them!" That, sir, was a snappy turn of phrase. I needed the laugh. Thanks!

pkrNboro's picture

When did he quit weight-training?

Those arms look like noodles.

Cuphound's picture

Rodgers isn't a god. He's an absolutely amazing quarterback. What I've never liked about the McCarthy offense is that it pretty much expects him to be a god. McCarthy is like Frank Sinatra: he'a committed to winning HIS way. I don't know why the "all quarterback all the time" system is so awesome. I'd like to see a non-ZBS O-line and a real running game. I'm a realist; I know it won't happen. Still, I wonder if way too much is being thrust onto Rodgers. That piece about Rodgers having had as many concussions as Jim McMahon really haunts me. I like the kid, after all. I know injuries are part of the game, but up until the start of the McCarthy era, I thought the O-Line and running backs were, too. With Cedric Benson out, I'm not certain that more running and shorter passes are in our future. McCarthy has given us miracles before. I just guess I'll never feel better unless I can see why the "all QB all the time" approach is better practice.

pkrNboro's picture

"I’d like to see a non-ZBS O-line..."

Ha, that's what we have now!

Next game, you'll see a real ZBS with Houston -- there are coaching connections there that tie to some ZBS masters.

What I've noticed in the past is that no Houston oLineman blocks the guy in front of him; they seem to take on the next guy, and so on, down the line, until there's an overload at one end. It's really a thing of beauty as the runner passes the LOS untouched and usually makes 4,5,6 yards.

The Packers, on the other hand, are ugly. The line is jagged, broken, where half the guys miss a block. There are guys that get stood up, instead of pushing the opponent from the LOS. RBs run into the backs of their blockers. It's sorta like the Three Stooges, except for the nyuck, nyuck, nyucks and the whoop, whoop, whoops.

jack in jersey city's picture

i'm actually worried about rodgers getting killed in this next game. the texans' D-line is pretty ferocious and with the up and down play of both of our tackles coupled with the inability of our receivers to get open, i can see rodgers getting sacked much more than he was in that seattle game! i really hope starks is ready to go and i hope mccarthy is smart about the game plan

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

If we can't set the edge any better than we did in Indy... Foster will run for 200 with the way they block. The Colts had backup o lineman in, and Brown is no Foster. We need to get that "cleaned up".

GBP 4 LIFE

GBPDan's picture

Good article, I've been thinking the same thing. And now it seems Arod is good for a bad game changing pick in some off these games....And just when we needed to start running the ball more to take some pressure off our QB, Benson goes down....Ouch.... I hope Jennings comes back soon. (and Raji)

Paul Ott Carruth's picture

Does anyone remember the amount of 2 man and Cover 2 the teams that beat the Packers in 2010 ran? A lot. The Dolphins...check. The Redskins....check. I'm beating a dead horse here but again, until McCarthy begins to attack all areas of the field from deep, intermediate and short and moves away from only attacking the seam and edge areas of a defense, the Packers will struggle and so will Rodgers. Has he been off? Yes. Has he missed some deep throws? Yes. But McCarthy has done him and this offense no favors. Some 3 step drops would be nice as well as utilizing the backs out of the backfield as part of play design. Until this gets changed the team will struggle.

Don Hutson's picture

In 2010 things turned around when the team was shocked into an adjustment mode by those two overtime losses, and that incredible Jets victory. I just don't see the same realization that change needs to occur this year. But if a 7-9 record is what it takes to get MM fired and to re-build a coaching staff that knows how to lead and adjust, maybe this torture is worth it.

djbonney138's picture

In 2010 we started 3-3, Having lost to to the Redskins, Dolphins and Bears I think. I would assume that this same "adjustment" talk was thrown around then as well. Hindsight allows us to see that the proper adjustments were finally made in 2010 which lead to a Super Bowl. Having similar early injuries this year as we did the year we won the Super Bowl I am convinced the adjustments will come and we will have a successful season. GO Pack Go.

paxbak's picture

To me the difference is so noticeable it has to be something in his personal life. Has it all gone to his head where he doesn't think he needs to work as hard? Could it be he has taken up a new hobby (drugs, drinking) that has affected his play. I noticed in the pre-season that something wasn't right. He clearly is not the same player.

We need to adjust... no more relying on Rodgers... no more "no huddle". Turn him into a game manager and start attempting to run the ball. He is playing like a mid-level NFL QB right now. Don't forget last year he was the greatest QB of all times!! I can barely watch this unfold. Very painful.

Hands's picture

Really haven't thought about the receivers having to change the way they catch the ball. Makes a lot of sense. In the Seattle game, I saw two passes that I thought were vintage Rodgers. The rest were throws that most of the other QBs throw. Nothing special just average.

John's picture

Guys guys guys. There is nothing wrong with Rodgers that a line, receivers that can catch and get open won't cure.

My god one good season with McCarthy????? reserve the stupid hate talk for a bit more would yah?

djbonney138's picture

Because I love my Green Bay Packers and I happen to be single and have plenty of free time I did some investigating
Through 5 games:
COMP ATT PCT. YDS. TD INT.
2010 111 168 66.3 1233 9 5
2012 130 189 68.8 1307 10 4
Maybe we cut the guy a little slack, huh?

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

:-)

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