Daily Focus: What PFF grades say about Rodgers' 2015 (and why he'll rebound in '16)
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for the teams involved.
What the PFF grades say about Aaron Rodgers’ 2016 season: As part of the Packers’ season preview for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bob McGinn wrote that Aaron Rodgers is “coming off his worst year at the helm of the Green Bay Packers.”
Do our grades agree? Rodgers’ +21.5 overall grade was slightly his lowest overall grade since becoming a starter, with his previous low of +22.5 coming in 2008. He earned below-average (-1.0 or lower) passing grades in five games, the most of any of his past seasons. After ranking among the top 10 quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage every year as a starter, Rodgers dropped to 20th in 2015.
There’s no question that the loss of wide receiver Jordy Nelson affected the entire offense and was a factor in Rodgers not being as successful as he had been in the past. The Packers’ passing offense is often predicated on quick passes, but all year their receivers struggled to get separation from defenders. Randall Cobb was forced into the No. 1 wide receiver role, where he didn’t step up and had his first negative receiving grade in a season along with a career-high 12 drops. Davante Adams performed even worse, finishing with the second-lowest overall grade among all wide receivers and among the bottom 10 in yards per route run and drop rate. When he was able to get the ball, he ranked among the lowest in average yards per reception and average yards after the catch.
Drops plagued the Packers, as their 41 dropped passes were fourth-most in the league. It got to the point where Rodgers seemingly lost trust in his receivers and became even more conservative with his throws at times and took even fewer risks. His 37 throwaways were not only a career-high, but a dozen more than his previous season-high.
Their issues continued beyond the receiving group, however. The Packers did not run the ball as well in 2015, either, and it showed up when it came to using play-action. Rodgers had a passer rating of just 71.8, the lowest among qualifying quarterbacks and over 30 points lower than any of his three previous years. Pass protection wasn’t as much of an issue as it had been in the past, but on the few occasions Green Bay was forced to go to Don Barclay at tackle, he made things even more difficult, leading the team in total pressures, sacks, and hurries despite playing less than 38 percent of pass plays.
Still, Rodgers was easily the top quarterback in the NFL just a season prior in 2014. Nelson was a top-5 wide receiver in 2014, and his return should go a long way toward helping Rodgers regain that elite form. With near-impossible Hail-Mary throws and other impressive throws into tight windows and while on the run, Rodgers has shown that he hasn’t lost any of his arm talent. His 2015 season looks more like an off-year for an elite quarterback with an offense that underperformed in several areas than it does a sign of things to come for 2016.
(PFF Fantasy Insight: Rodgers disappointed fantasy owners in 2015, but his legs alone ensure a high fantasy floor. Getting Jordy Nelson back should help the offense overall. As it stands, Rodgers is the No. 2 quarterback in our staff consensus rankings.)
Is Odell Beckham Jr. right to say he made Josh Norman relevant? With the frequent discussions that Josh Norman and Giants star WR Odell Beckham Jr. will face off twice per year going forward, now that Norman is with the Redskins, Beckham stated in the NFL preview issue of GQ Magazine that “the reason he’s (Norman) become so relevant is because of me.”
It’s true that the Giants-Panthers game and the matchup between the two players did receive a lot of media coverage due to the several penalties which resulted in a one-game suspension for Beckham. However, Norman was relevant well before that game. Norman had graded at or above average in all 13 games prior to the Week 15 matchup, and had the highest coverage grade among cornerbacks through Week 14.
Interestingly, the Giants game was actually Norman’s lowest graded game overall on the season, and second-lowest in coverage, due to the multiple penalties and three missed tackles in run defense. Beckham also had Norman beat deep early in the game for a likely touchdown to only drop the pass. Still, Norman was one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the league in 2015 and these two will be a fun matchup to watch this year.
Impact of Amini Silatolu signing on Chicago offense: The Bears signed former Carolina Panthers guard Amini Silatolu to a one-year deal on Wednesday. Silatolu will provide Chicago with some more depth at guard, after Manny Ramirez retired not long after signing a free-agent deal with the team. Silatolu is a former second-round pick, with the majority of his playing time coming in his 2012 rookie year when he earned below-average grades as both a pass- and run-blocker. In the three seasons since, he’s played in just 14 games for 830 snaps combined. He’s not the caliber of player Ramirez was, but for a backup signing this late in the offseason, Silatolu is a fine addition.
Should Arizona give Tyrann Mathieu and Calais Campbell big-money extensions? Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said he’s hopeful to sign defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Calais Campbell to contract extensions, but should they give them big-money contracts? For Mathieu, the only concern at this point is his health. After off-field issues caused him to drop in the draft, Mathieu has had no known behavioral issues, and instead it has been two torn ACLs in three seasons that have affected his playing time. When healthy, Mathieu has proven to be one of the best defensive backs in the league, whose versatility allows him to have an even greater impact for the Cardinals’ defense. Despite missing the last two weeks of the season, Mathieu was the highest graded cornerback in overall, coverage, and pass-rush grades in 2015, and he ranked second in run defense.
As for Campbell, he has been a model of consistency, even if he doesn’t quite reach the level of impact of someone like J.J. Watt. Campbell has graded among the top 10 3-4 defensive ends each of the past five years, and in the top four all but the past season. In fact, in the 78 games over those five years, he has earned below-average grades in just six games. He turns 30 prior to the start of the season, but he has yet to show any signs of slowing down.