Since this is a bye week, I decided to go slowly, dig deep and hopefully bring you some in-depth insight on a few things I have noticed. Therefore, I will be breaking my film study up into a series of articles over the next week.
As I sat down to re-watch the Packers - Vikings game, remote control in hand, I wondered about one thing; Is Aaron Rodgers as good a quarterback as I think he is? The answer, for the most part is YES. The part that still needs improvement may only come with time, but it's definitely missing right now. Aaron Rodgers does not feel the pressure if it's not right in front of him. Then, when the pressure is upon him, in that fateful moment of truth, Rodgers is not yet making the right decision. Yes, there are times when taking a sack is the best thing to do. But that wasn't often the case in the Vikings game.
I studied every one of his sacks, over and over again. On five of them, Rodgers had every opportunity to either throw the ball away or look for a safety valve. In each case, he kept looking down the field, hoping against hope and holding on to the ball too damn long. It's nothing more than bad decision-making in that critical moment.
The two best examples are these:
After moving the Packers down the field nicely on their first possession, the Packers have a first and ten on the Minnesota 24 yard line. Rodgers, takes a quick 3-step drop, looks downfield and doesn't like what he sees. Right in front of him is his safety valve. Ryan Grant has run about 5 yards past the line of scrimmage and is all alone - closest Viking player is 7 yards away and backpedaling in the opposite direction. Rodgers gets pressure from the right and all he has to do is just toss it to Grant for an easy and safe completion and probably a 7-10 yard gain.Instead, he freezes with the ball, and tries to navigate out of the pocket - which is pretty impossible to do on a 3-step drop when everything is closing in around you. He runs right into the path of Jared Allen, who gets the sack and strips the ball, causing the fumble.
There were roughly 7 minutes left in the game with the Packers looking at 3rd and 10 on their own 1yard line. Rodgers in the shotgun in the end zone with Grant to his left. Ball is snapped. Grant helps T.J. Lang with Allen. Rodgers has a nice pocket to step up into, which he does. When Allen gets pushed deep, he stops on a dime and reverses his direction, leaving both Grant and Lang looking at the back of his jersey. In the meantime, Donald Lee, who had lined up in the backfield, ran a quick turn turn-around. He is available for a quick dump off. Sure, it wouldn't have been a first down, but it would have been better than a safety. Instead, Rodgers is looking deep. He shifts his weight back, winds up and starts to let one fly. For some reason, he stops his throw. A split-second later, Allen is on top of him and the Vikings have a safety. Why would Rodgers change his mind there at the very last second? Heave it as far as you can. Not much to lose. An interception down the field would be like a punt. But he doesn't feel Allen behind him, doesn't see Lee in front of him, hopes he'll have time for a better option, and gets sacked.
In both of those situations, Rodgers had an easy dump-off to avoid the sack, but chose to keep looking down field. Contrast those with a play that Brett Favre made to neutralize the Packers blitz. On a second and eleven, with about eight minutes left in the second quarter, the Packers run their all-too familiar crossover blitz with the two inside backers (Barnett and Chillar). Chillar finds a rare open lane and is coming through untouched. As soon as Favre saw what was happening, he didn't hesitate, he immediately turned and threw to his safety valve, Adrian Peterson out in the flat. Peterson was stopped for no gain on the play, but there was no sack, no fumble, no interception.
This appears to be about the only thing Aaron Rodgers is lacking right now. He's already led several drives down the field late in games this season, so that monkey is off his back. He looks to have all the tools, the confidence and the leadership qualities you will find in a premier quarterback. He just has to get over this final hump. If he does, I think he can be a top-5 QB in this league.
You'll notice I haven't discussed the offensive line. For those of you yelling at your screens that it's the line's fault, I say - somewhat. But that's a separate article (hopefully in a few days). However, no matter how good a team's offensive line is, a top-flight QB will have to face moments like these in a game. Rodgers has to learn to handle it and make the right decision - period. That's how you become a Peyton Manning or the Patriot's Tom Brady.
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