Comments have come out suggesting Aaron Rodgers is part of the problem preventing the Green Bay Packers from reaching their peak. These statements are sure to infuriate any Packers fan predicting a Lombardi this season, yet they are worth further examination.
First, let’s look at Rodgers’ numbers over the last few seasons. The last three full seasons Aaron Rodgers has played have seen a decline in completion percentage, pass attempts, and Quarterback Rating. These declines continued through the transition from McCarthy to LaFleur, despite the move to a heavier RPO scheme intended to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers. Yet that transition is exactly what was necessary for the Packers offense.
If we take a look at similar schemes in Tennessee and San Francisco, both exceeded expectations. Both teams had over-under win totals set at eight before the season began, according to Westgate. While the Titans only went 9-7, they had an impressive run in the playoffs, reaching the Conference Championships behind a rampaging Derrick Henry, only to lose to the Super Bowl Champion Chiefs. The Niners were equally surprising, dominating throughout the year leading to a 13-3 season and Super Bowl berth. Their success was mainly guided, however, by the success of their running games. When forced to put the ball in the quarterback’s hands, neither team did as well. The Tennessee Titans were 4-6 in games (including playoffs) where they rushed below their average. Three of the four games the Niners lost were also games in which they rushed below their average. This is where we must turn our attention to Aaron Rodgers.
For all the “Veteran Player X is in the best shape of his life” and “Quarterback Y is ready to get back and prove everyone wrong”, aging is inevitable. A 36 year old NFL player is not a 25 year old NFL player. Aaron Rodgers will almost certainly not regain his form from 2011 or 2014. However, that does not mean that a veteran Rodgers can not lead this team to a Lombardi trophy. This is no Joe Flacco debate. Aaron Rodgers is an elite quarterback, historically and right now. Veteran Aaron Rodgers put up 26 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions last season. He had a second straight year of an interception rate below one percent at 0.7. This is a third of Tannehill and a fourth of Jimmy Garropolo. Turnovers being the worst outcome of any play, Rodgers is the best in the NFL at reducing those. Coupled with being in the top 10 in touchdowns, Aaron Rodgers can move down the field and score at a level unlike the quarterbacks who share his system.
Let it play out:
Coaches do not come into a team and immediately flip everything on its head. The best coaches bring in the players they need and slowly shape the team into one that fits both them and the players they have. They adjust to the particular strengths and weaknesses of their team while also staying true to their philosophy. Matt LaFleur comes from the Shanahan offense. He believes in a stout run game, tight ends as versatile chess pieces, and what he has called the “illusion of complexity”. That is, running varied but compatible plays from similar formations. Make no mistake about it, the Packers are ahead of schedule in this retooling. They were not supposed to make the playoffs last season, much less the Conference Championship. Allowing LaFleur to complete his vision is not an indictment on Aaron Rodgers, but a show of support for LaFleur on the part of the front office. In fact, given the level at which Rodgers is capable of playing, he is the key to propelling this team to the promised land.
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