Why Aaron Rodgers will overcome back-to-back losses
After Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers, a game that ended up a lot closer than it should have been, I questioned why Rodgers and company couldn’t get it going for a second consecutive week following their bye. The loss to the Broncos was well documented as an otherworldly defensive effort, and the Panthers do have one of the better defensive units in the NFL, but shouldn’t the best quarterback in the world be able to carry his team to competitiveness and not get dominated?
The issue actually stems back further than just the Packers’ two losses. In Rodgers’ last four games, he has a -1.2 overall grade and a -4.4 passing grade. PFF analyst Mike Renner was prompted to tweet this following the game against the Chiefs earlier in the year.
It’s kinda concerning that the Packers have no semblance of a dropback/timing passing game. Can only rely on broken plays for so long.
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) September 29, 2015
Rodgers’ has always been able to make plays with his legs, but to think his running grade is better than his passing grade over a four-game stretch is almost unheard of. In fact, it has happened just one other time in his career, and that was 2008—his first year as a starter. In Weeks 9 through 12, Rodgers was -7.2 overall (-7.5 passing), throwing five touchdowns and five interceptions. This was merely a blip, as he did finish the season third overall in our QB grades.
The easy problem to point out this season is the loss of Jordy Nelson. He accounted for 98 catches on 146 targets, 1519 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014. When targeting Nelson, Rodgers had a passer rating of 128.2, which ranked third in the NFL, while his +23.2 grade was second. With Randall Cobb being the only returning WR that Rodgers trusts, the absence of Nelson has reared its ugly head the past four weeks, as James Jones’ early season success was unsustainable.
To elaborate on Mike Renner’s tweet, Rodgers average time to throw (TTT) is 2.98 seconds, which is the fourth-longest in the NFL. While that mark isn’t far off from his MVP season (2.86 seconds), his passer rating when throwing at 2.6 seconds or later has taken a big fall from a league-high 115.7 to 99.8. In the last four games, that drops to 80.8, which ranks 18th among QBs. This stems from a problem of his receivers not getting open and him not trusting his receivers in tight coverage to catch contested balls.
The interception in the Panthers’ game is an example of his hesitation to trust his receivers to get open. Randall Cobb ended up wide open on a well-designed play, but Rodgers never gave it a chance, looking away before the pick by Thomas Davis. Rodgers had the time in the pocket with good protection in the scheme of the play. While he was pressured, Rodgers allowed that pressure to happen because, even he admitted, something “scared” him.
Rodgers’ under pressure splits are a concern as well over the past four games. His pocket awareness is typically uncanny, allowing him to seemingly move in the pocket at will, manipulating the pass rush at his leisure to give him extra time. In the first four weeks, he was incredible at 115.79—but that drops to 70.83 in his last four games.
I fully expect Rodgers to figure out the issues that are ailing him and the Packers’ offense. However, the rest of the team around him may bring other concerns. HB Eddie Lacy is breaking tackles at an absurdly low rate of 8.45 touches per forced missed tackle, compared to 3.93 touches per forced MT a year ago. (Lacy was our third-highest graded RB last season; this year, he’s 45th.) The offensive line is suffering from several injuries that has last year’s No. 4 ranked unit struggling to run block, and allowing more pressure this year (on pace for 166 pressures allowed compared to 112 last year).
Reasons for optimism: This is Aaron Rodgers we’re talking about here. His lowest grade in a healthy season came in 2008, and he hasn’t finished lower than +31 in any other season (in injury-ridden 2013, Rodgers finished +15.8 in 7 games).
In his own words to Packers’ fans “R-E-L-A-X.” Even in the first quarter of this season, Rodgers had the best QB grade at +17.4. He was 80.7 percent accurate in that first quarter, and while he might not reach his MVP level metrics, a rise to his incredibly high average level of play is likely. The offensive line has shown in the past that it can improve its protection. If Rodgers can learn to trust in his WRs, and head coach Mike McCarthy schemes plays to break open his receivers, the Packers’ offense will start clicking again.
It doesn’t hurt to have a home game against one of the weakest defenses in the league in Week 10, as a visit from the Lions will help remedy the Packers’ offense as it kicks off four straight NFC North matchups, a division in which Rodgers has dominated the past four seasons.
Follow John Kosko on Twitter at @.