Aaron Rodgers In Focus

Sam Monson points to an example of Aaron Rodgers' decision-making process as some of what sets him apart.

| 3 years ago

Aaron Rodgers In Focus

In-FocusOver the course of this offseason I have had to duck for cover to avoid the wrath of irate Patriots fans after I suggested that Tom Brady should be scrubbed from the quarterback Mount Rushmore. I think the top three quarterbacks in the league right now are clearly Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, with a gap to the next group of passers.

I’d actually go a little further than that and suggest that Rodgers and Manning stand where Brady and Manning once did – atop the quarterback mountain as the finest the game has to offer.

Rodgers displayed the abilities that make him as good as the NFL has to offer in a little under a half of play against the Raiders.

Playing quarterback in the NFL is probably the hardest thing to do in sports. The sheer volume of information you need to be able to process and react to in mere seconds is beyond compare, and there are so many different variables that one of the keys to playing the position is the ability to make instant correct decisions.

Rodgers and Manning are the best around at that. While some passers can prove viable in the NFL because they are able to execute a game plan and succeed when things go to plan, Rodgers excels when things break down and he is forced to react.

My favorite play from this game traveled just 8 yards in the air downfield and Rodgers’ portion of it lasted around two and a half seconds, but during that time his recognition and reaction to what developed was incredible to watch.

He took the snap from the shotgun and worked his eyes to his right, where he recognized that DLE Lamarr Woodley was peeling off to cover James Starks coming out of the backfield. Starks was running a wheel route up the right sideline, and this is a beneficial matchup for the Packers’ offense anyway, but Rodgers instantly recognized that he could put Woodley in a no-win situation, make the throw easier, and maximize the yardage on the play all at the same time with a move towards the lineman.


Rodgers took just a few steps in his direction, threatening to scramble with no intention of doing so, but Woodley had to respect the threat of a guy as athletic as Rodgers, so froze, leaving Starks to continue his route down the sideline. Once he had put Woodley in a catch-22 situation, he simply flipped the ball over his head to hit his running back in stride down the sideline for a big gain on 3rd-and-5.

The thought process itself isn’t complicated, and when you watch it take place and think about it it all makes sense, but what makes it amazing is how quickly all of this was processed inside Rodgers’ head, almost as if it was automatic. Muscle memory that required not so much thought as just leaning on instincts.

Rodgers will make tougher throws, bigger plays and provide far more highlight-reel fodder than this over the course of the season, but this play is a glimpse into why he is the best quarterback in the NFL, or at least as good as it gets.


Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Ben Peterson

    This is the kind of thing that Russell Wilson is getting pretty good at too. It’s really cool to see what the “Elite” quarterback do to make them elite, and where other QBs (Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson specifically) can do to grow into that role.

    • Garrett John Browne

      hahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahah no.

      • Ben Peterson

        Any reasons behind that? or are you just resistant to change?

    • Michael Terry

      Wilson is already there, it’s just going to take awhile for analysts to admit it. By PFF’s own stats, Wilson was under pressure in less than two seconds more than all but 4 QBs last year, but Wilson still had >100 passer rating.

      Wilson calmly eviscerated the Bears pas defense, despite no Seahawk offensive lineman having a green pass blocking grade, and rookie right tackle Britt giving up 7 pressures, more than any tackle this preseason, I believe. Wilson was under pressure almost every snap, yet went 15/20 with 2 throwaways and a drop. His craftiness and unflappability are unparalleled. Watch for an MVP award coming his way this season.

  • LightsOut85

    So….despite giving him a fantastic grade last season (only P. Manning had less “negative” bullets in your QB breakdown series), you think Rivers “clearly” is still across the gap after the 3-mentioned passers? (I don’t care if you would say all 3 are better, but I definitely think he’s top-tier).

    I can assume the first counter-point would be his less-than-stellar 2012 season. I would say 2 things to that. 1) In every other type of “ranking” PFF always goes strictly by the current season (ie: they/you don’t let great past 2-3 years boost a guy who had a down current-year) – so why hold it against someone now? 2) I would think it’s not difficult to acknowledge the context of the season (Norv Turner refusing to adjust his play-calling (deep drops & deep passes) when faced with a poor/injured OL & (until Alexander was signed), a receiving group hardly suited to that) – and that the current coaches will continue to not make Turner’s mistakes (ie: It’s logical to assume 2012 was an aberration & he’s doe for more 2013-esque seasons in the future).

    • NinerSteven

      Are you genuienly arguing that Rivers is in “that” category?

      • LightsOut85

        Yes, have you followed his advanced metrics (DVOA/DYAR, PFF**, etc) over the years, or even watched him play (long-term)? Just because the national media doesn’t care about SD doesn’t mean there isn’t good-play happening there.

        2013 – 3rd ranked (by passing) QB (large gap after), 2011 6th ranked, 2010 1st ranked, 2009 1st, 2008 3rd ranked. (You’re posting on PFF, so I take it you follow their grades…)

    • PFFSamMonson

      I think Rivers at his best is probably at that Brees level, but I don’t think he makes it to the Manning-Rodgers platform. His 2012 certainly scares me even if I understand some of the reasons for it.

      It’s also worth noting that this isn’t any kind of official ‘PFF ranking’, rather just how I see the quarterbacks, and so I’m definitely looking at more than just 2013.

      • LightsOut85

        I wasn’t arguing that he WAS (as good as Manning, etc) – just that it was HIGHLY unusual for him to be left out of that “tier” (given how PFF’s graded him over the years) – that he would be with a lower group of guys who would be called “good” but with a giant BUT attached. He’s highly cerebral (I mean, he definitely isn’t athletic, haha) & consistently one of the most accurate QBs in the league.

        Agree to disagree on 2012. A mistake-prone player (who might OFTEN have years like his 2012 (something he never had BEFORE either)) wouldn’t have a 2013-type year the very next year.

        • Jacob Basson

          Seems to me his lack of athleticism is a good enough reason to think of him as not in Rodgers’ tier. you don’t see the kind of play demonstrated in the article, for instance

          • LightsOut85

            Because Manning (& to a lesser extent, Brees) is the paragon of athleticism :) (It was obviously said to mean that, like Manning (& other pure-pocket passers) everyone knows he’s not a threat on the ground (nor doe he have an “elite” arm), so he must use his brain (reading coverage, making adjustments on the fly, etc etc) to win. Something the rest of the “top tier” does).

            I never said he’s Rodger’s equal or the same type of QB. I’m just taking about passing the ball & the end result (grades, metrics etc – always have him near the top).

            I mean….PFF themselves have him in 2008-2011, & 2013 as the 3rd, 1st, 1st, 6th & 3rd best passing QB. So he’s that high up all those years (being higher than Brees & Rodgers many of them – Rodgers only higher in 2011 (his personal career best year)) – but he ISN’T on the same tier as them? That just doesn’t make sense. (I’m not that surprised, Charger players don’t get a lot of attention nationally so even when they’re good they’re no the first to come to mind with people).

          • Jacob Basson

            LightsOut85: “I never said he’s Rodger’s equal…but he ISN’T on the same tier as them?”
            Not entirely sure what you ARE claiming…the article’s original claim is about overall quarterback quality (the mount rushmore of quarterbacks), which means more than just passing and certainly more than just grades.

  • DrAWNiloc

    Doesn’t even the most mediocre QB do this instinctively?

    • PFFSamMonson

      No. Very no. Certainly not at that speed.

  • DrAWNiloc

    Paradoxically, suggesting that Manning and Rodgers are comparable based on individual performances proves that they are not. Manning in 2013 accomplished what he did with 3 healthy superstar WRs and a TE of similar calibre, as opposed to Rogers with Jordy Nelson. Rodgers and his WRs faced significantly tougher opponents (22nd versus 4th and 5th, respectively) in 2013. Indeed, their schedules made it easy to predict that Manning would have a career year in 2013, just as it is clear that, barring injuries, Manning, Brees and Rodgers will be tied in 2014.