Packers Film Study - Dropped Passes in Super Bowl XLV

Looking at what Rodgers' Super Bowl XLV numbers would have looked like without all the drops

It's Super Bowl week! Sadly, the Packers will not be participating, so I wanted to take a look back at the performance of Aaron Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV.

Rodgers had a great postseason run, capping it off with a tremendous performance in the Super Bowl. Let's look at his numbers:
24/39 (61.5%), 304 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs for a QB Rating of 111.5. That QB Rating gave him the 20th best performance in Super Bowl history (by QB Rating).

But the drops! Those drops! If not for a bad case of the butterfingers by his receivers, Rodgers' numbers would look even better and the Packers likely would have put the game away much earlier than they did.

I've always been curious what Rodgers stats would have looked like in the Super Bowl if his receivers had just been able to hold onto the ball. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me, so I decided I would just do it myself.

I went through the game, paying attention to each incompletion. I have 5 drops (3 by Jordy Nelson, 1 by James Jones and 1 by Brett Swain). If we want to get picky, we can peg 1 more drop on Nelson, bringing the total number of drops to 6. In addition to that, Rodgers had 3 throws that I have tagged as throwaways.

Since this is all a judgment call, I wanted to cover as many options as possible. I came up with 3 main options, then 2 versions of each of those options.

The options:

Conservative - I gave Rodgers a completion for every drop. I added in the yards, but only where the WR dropped it. No yards after the catch.
Aggressive - Same as the Conservative option, but estimated yards after the catch. 
Super Aggressive - Same as the Aggressive option, but I assumed more yards after the catch on a couple of the drops.

Along with each of those, I came up with an Adjusted version. In the Adjusted versions, I took throwaways out of the equation.

For each play we look at, I'll talk about the potential yards lost for each option.

Let's look at the drops!

Drop 1: 3rd & 7, 11:19 remaining in the 1st quarter, Packers tied 0-0

In the first gif, it's tough to tell how this looked. On the second gif, it's clear that it actually passed between both hands. No "edge of the fingertips of one hand" stuff here. That's a drop.

Yards lost: 
Conserative: 36
Aggressive: 36
Super Aggressive: 36

Drop 2: 3rd & 5, 12:57 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 21-10

This is a big one. This ball hit James Jones in stride, leading him up the field and away from Troy Polamalu in the middle of the field. Troy Aikman said what the vast majority of Packers fans were thinking: "That's a touchdown."

I don't know that I fully believe that. Polamalu was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 (you can argue that Clay Matthews deserved it more, but Polamalu has that hardware in his cabinet). I gave Jones additional yards after the catch in the Aggressive scenario and gave Jones the TD in the Super Aggressive scenario.

Yards lost:
Conservative: 10
Aggressive: 25
Super Aggressive: 75 (TD)

Drop 3: 2nd & 7, 9:36 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers leading 21-17

Over the middle, in-stride, past the first down marker. Nelson was going to take a shot after this, but the ball hit him squre in the hands. Given the fact that he's being contacted as the ball arrives, I don't give him any extra yards after the catch.

Yards lost:
Conservative: 12
Aggressive: 12
Super Aggressive: 12

Drop 4: 3rd & 10, 0:37 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Packers lead 21-17

Ah Justin Perillo Brett Swain. An on-the-money throw between defenders on 3rd down. Just can't get it fully secured. Like the previous play, he gets no extra yards from the Aggressive scenarios.

Yards lost:
Conservative: 19
Aggressive: 19
Super Aggressive: 19

Drop 5: 2nd & 10, 13:16 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers lead 21-17

You're killing me, Jordy. Again, middle of the field, on-the-money, and just straight-up dropped. If you look at that first gif, you'll see that side of the field pretty well cleared & Polamalu is leaning the other direction, so he's got some room after this catch.

Yards lost:
Conservative: 15
Aggressive: 25
Super Aggressive: 40 (TD)

Drop 6: 3rd & 5, 2:15 remaining in the 4th quarter, Packers lead 28-25

This one is pretty dicey for me. I'm counting it as a drop only in the Super Aggressive scenario, because anything goes in that place. It's like counting stats in international waters. It's blanket coverage and Rodgers put the ball where only Nelson has a chance at it, but it's a pretty slim chance. There are a lot of people who say that if it hits any part of your hand, you should catch it. I don't necessarily subscribe to that belief, but the Super Aggressive scenario certainly does.

Yards lost:
Conservative: 0
Aggressive: 0
Super Aggressive: 5 (TD)

So those are the drops. Now let's talk numbers, a bit of context, then some more numbers. I know. Exciting stuff.

Here are the yards lost totaled up for each scenario:
Conservative: 92
Aggressive: 117
Super Aggressive: 187 (3 TDs)

Now for a little context.

Of the 6 dropped passes we looked at, 4 of them occurred on 3rd down, meaning they effectively ended the drive. The other two occurred on 2nd down. On Drop 3, Rodgers was sacked on the very next play by James Harrison and the Packers punted the next play. The other 2nd down drop (Drop 5) was followed up on 3rd down with a 38 yard completion to Jordy Nelson and the Packers scored a touchdown 2 plays later.

For my final numbers, I gave Rodgers credit for a completion on Drop 5, but didn't give him any additional yards. After all, if they ended up scoring a touchdown to cap the drive, it's not like he could have had any more passing yards than he already did on that drive. Perhaps all it means is that the 38 yard pass to Nelson on 3rd down is a 23 yard gain on 1st down or something. There's no way to know so I'm making wild assumptions, because wild assumptions are the best assumptions.

Final numbers: 
Conservative: 77
Aggressive: 92
Super Aggressive: 147 (2 TDs)

Let's look at a couple tables showing how those scenarios end up. I put his actual numbers for the game in the first row for the sake of easy comparison


And now here are the adjusted scenarios. As a reminder, these are the scenarios where I remove the 3 throwaways from the Attempt column.


That's a pretty big difference across the board. In looking at the best Super Bowl performances of all time, the Super Aggressive model would have put Rodgers #1 all-time (Phil Simms currently holds down that spot with a QB Rating of 150.9 in 1986). Even if we go Conservative or Aggressive, that would put him 7th of all time, just behind Steve Young's 1994 performance (QB Rating of 134.8).

There is one more thing to keep in mind. As I mentioned, 4 of the 6 drops occurred on 3rd down, with 3 of those drops immediately followed by punts. There is no way to know exactly how many more completions/yards/attempts Rodgers would have had if those drives continued. I know I was speculating pretty widlly earlier, but this is a place I can't really do that. I'm sorry I failed you.

Hope you enjoyed this. I know I certainly did.




Dusty Evely is a film analyst for Cheesehead TV. He can be heard talking about the Packers on Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter at @DustyEvely or email at [email protected].


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7 points

Comments (13)

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Denver's picture

January 31, 2019 at 04:58 pm

Thank God for Jennings that nite. Too bad he turned into such an asshat later on.
Nice article!

2 points
Skip greenBayless's picture

January 31, 2019 at 07:35 pm

Yep, like him or hate him, Jennings had a Lynn Swann moment with that critical 3rd and long catch. He arguably should/could have been MVP. Hell of a clutch catch.


1 points
Handsback's picture

January 31, 2019 at 05:50 pm

I was watching from the end zone on Jordy's drop #6...and I thought to myself that if the Packers lost the game it would be because of Nelson.

2 points
Leatherhead's picture

January 31, 2019 at 06:35 pm

I think it's easier to write about catching/dropping a pass in a big game than it is to do it. Everything's harder under pressure.

0 points
DustyEvely's picture

January 31, 2019 at 07:40 pm

I agree!

0 points
LeotisHarris's picture

January 31, 2019 at 06:39 pm

Good stuff, Dusty. Thanks!

0 points
Bearmeat's picture

January 31, 2019 at 07:13 pm

Thanks for this, Dusty. I've long wondered about how great Rodgers would have been that night had it not been for the drops. There were WAY too many of them.

2 points
cthawkinson's picture

January 31, 2019 at 08:13 pm

Nice job on the film study. A nice memory to look back on after a rough season.

I had forgotten about the first two to Nelson (who could have had a 12-200-3 night if he caught everything), but the others stood out enough for me to remember them in spite of my short memory.

To me the two easiest to account for statistically are the ones Jones dropped and drop 5 by Nelson.

Looking at Jones drop I think Polamalu's angle is too flat (he is running almost directly down the 45 yard line, perpendicular to Jones when he is running up field at the 40). Because of that angle I think Jones would have scored fairly easily, so adding a completion, 70 yards and a TD seems very reasonable.

If Nelson catches that In route in the forth I think he probably scores. If he does, take away 1 completion, 3 attempts and 6 yards. And maybe, if Nelson scores he doesn't tweak his knee and he catches that ball prior to the 2 minute warning... Nelson's big game turns huge if those two things happen.

Anyways, with just with those two changes Rodgers jumps Steve Young.

25 36 69.4 368 4 138.5

That stat line seems to be much more in line with how good Rodgers was that game.

1 points
cuervo's picture

February 01, 2019 at 07:25 am

I didn't realize just how poor of a game Nelson had until now. If they would have lost, that stat would have followed Nelson for the balance of his career.

0 points
GLM's picture

February 01, 2019 at 09:44 am

I think it's also fair to say the Jordy of later years would have caught those passes.

0 points
Kevin Gibson's picture

February 01, 2019 at 10:39 am

Highly enjoyable. Thanks for doing this, Dusty!

0 points
ILPackerBacker's picture

February 01, 2019 at 12:56 pm

Nicely written.
Yet the story of Rodgers career.
Most super bowls with ending the typical fan recalls are on receivers making great catches.
Few of those for Rodgers in his career. Jordy COULD have made a great catch for a TD, did not. Other bounce off his hands.
That was all time great QB play.
Now it is considered average and anything less is 'where is Brian B?"

0 points
PatrickGB's picture

February 02, 2019 at 05:39 pm

Imagine if we had lost! ? Then those drops would still be tearing our hearts out! The defense showed up and help give Rodgers more shots at a win.

0 points