The job of Aaron Rodgers just became a whole lot harder this week when he lost favorite target Randall Cobb and possibly James Jones for this Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.
And it gets no easier with an inexperienced receiving corps to throw to, such as Jarrett Boykin, who played all of 10 snaps this season prior to last week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. Also added to mix this week are receiver Myles White and tight end Jake Stoneburner, both of them undrafted rookies newly promoted from the practice squad.
The challenge of working with neophyte group of receivers while trying to play ball-control football just became a whole lot harder, but Rodgers is going to rely on his own veteran maturity and know-how to get the job done.
“I’ve played a lot of football,” said Rodgers. “Each play has a particular read or a side of the field you start with. I like to go through my progressions and throw to the open guy.
“Now there might be a certain case where a guy might be more open than other guys. I might give him an early look, but I like to throw it to open guys and the guys wearing our colors.”
Rodgers has had a good albeit not great season thus far in 2013, throwing 10 touchdowns compared to four interceptions, but the Packers are among the worst in the NFL with a negative-three turnover differential that ranks tied for 25th out of 32 teams.
Certainly the burden of winning the turnover battle doesn’t fall on Rodgers’ shoulders only. Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, for example, has lost two fumbles this season.
And on the defensive side of the football, the Packers have grabbed the fewest interceptions in the NFC with only two.
Still, with the quarterback position as important as it is in today’s NFL, Rodgers knows he can’t press.
“You just have to fight the urge to force the football into people and live to fight another day,” said Rodgers.
There’s perhaps no better predictor of winning any particular football game than turnover differential.
In simplest terms, the Packers have a 56-6 (.903) regular-season record when they win the turnover battle since Mike McCarthy took over as the head coach, and they have 9-24 (.273) mark when losing.
What makes 2013 so different from previous seasons is that the Packers have been nothing short of terrific in terms of winning the turnover battle in the McCarthy era.
The Packers have finished in the top 10 in the NFL in turnover differential each of the past six seasons, the only team in the league to accomplish such a feat over that span.
They also have a plus-62 turnover margin since 2009 that ranks second in the NFL in that timeframe, behind only the New England Patriots.
Ball protection has been a point of emphasis under McCarthy, and he’s gotten results with the three best giveaway seasons in franchise history having all come under his direction with only 16 in 2009 and 20012 and merely 14 in 2011.
When they have zero giveaways under McCarthy, the Packers are 28-5 (.848). But when they have three or more, they’re just 5-11 (.343).
On defense, the Packers have been nearly as effective having forced 228 takeaways since McCarthy took over in 2006, which ranks third in the NFL.
Just like giveaways, takeaways are similarly influential. When they have three or more takeaways, the Packers are 31-6 (.838) under McCarthy, but they’re only 2-15 (.125) if they don’t force a turnover at all.
That statistics speak for themselves. That’s why it’s so imperative for the Packers to improve upon their turnover differential in 2013 and why Rodgers has to be sharp even in the face of adversity with injuries to some of his best receiving options.
“Injuries to the guys running routes is never a good thing, but I think it gives guys opportunities,” said Rodgers. “Jarrett Boykin is going to get an opportunity. Myles is going to get an opportunity. Jake’s going to get an opportunity. Those guys are going to get an opportunity to show the fans, the Cleveland Browns and this organization what they’re capable of doing, and I’m excited to watch them play.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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