Breaking Down Why Aaron Rodgers Is the Best QB in NFC North
As the NFL has shifted into a passing focused league, so too has the NFC North.
The quest for a premiere quarterback has been something the once ground-and-pound division has embraced wholeheartedly, adding some of the best passers in the business to their rosters (and Christian Ponder).
It's hard to argue that Jay Cutler and Matt Stafford aren't among the league's best.
It's damn near impossible to argue that Aaron Rodgers doesn't eclipse both of them.
Let's take a look at what makes him who he is.
For this piece I am not just looking for raw numbers, though there are plenty here to use. I'm not just looking for how many touchdowns he's thrown. I'm looking at how and why he got them and got his production.
I'm also not just looking at last year, but across their careers. Last year weighs heavily overall but it's not all I am looking at.
With that in mind, let's do this.
Rodgers has a keen ability to put the ball right where his receivers need it, and when he is in sync with them, it's hard to stop him. Even the balls that don't make it won't often end up in the defense's hands. Out of 2,113 attempts, Rodgers has only thrown 38 interceptions or just 1.7 percent.
Compare that to the 132 passing touchdowns, which translate to 6.2 percent.
It's tough to compare that to Matt Stafford, who has played far less games due to injury and less time in the pros, and impossible to compare it to Christian Ponder.
Jay Cutler is another matter. Cutler has one less season under his belt, but also one more as a starter. He has thrown 2521 pass attempts in his career (and it'd be higher if he hadn't missed so many games in 2011) with 86 interceptions to show for it or 3.4 percent. Just 4.6 percent were completed for touchdowns.
He ranks 23rd all time in completion percentage (61.1 percent), 12th among active quarterbacks. Neither of those stats are shabby in the least, especially considering the offensive line and receiver issues in Chicago since his arrival.
For what it's worth, Stafford ranks 38th and 23rd in the above respective categories, but with a much shorter resume
Along with his general accuracy, Rodgers has a deft touch with the ball. he can drop it in a bucket if need be, zip it between defenders on a rope or feather it along the sideline where only his guy will get it.
He's not infallible and when he's off, he's really off (case in point, the playoff loss to the Giants last season) but 99 times out of 100, he's locked onto his receivers.
As you can see in the numbers, none of the other quarterbacks in the division can quite touch him in this department.
Now, some pushback on this will be 'Cutler had no weapons' and 'Stafford had no offensive line,' and those are true. I would point out that there were years where the Packer receivers have been shaky, and like everyone in the division, the Green Bay offensive line has had its share of issues.
You play the hand that you're dealt. The stats are what they are and the fact is that Cutler has had some erratic years regardless of the talent around him and Stafford is still getting his feet under him in many ways.
I was going to file this under a more general 'protection' label but the fact is, as I said a few paragraphs ago, that the whole division has some sort of line issues. Even the Vikings, who Pro Football Focus ranked seventh overall last year.
So while I will say that Rodgers' protection has, for the most part, been better than the rest of the North, it hasn't been leaps and bounds better.
In fact, Rodgers has spent the last several years running more often than not which is something we'll talk about further down the page.
No, poise is a more critical aspect of this because everyone in this division gets hit, faces immense pressure and watches their line collapse before the receivers bust free to some extent.
How they handle it is what counts.
Rodgers does not get shaken. He doesn't panic no matter how bad the rush is. One of the reasons his interceptions are so low is because by and large, he makes excellent decisions under pressure.
Poise. It's watching your line suffer injury after injury and hanging in the pocket anyway because you have to or rolling out left because that's the only way to stretch the play.
Every good quarterback in the NFL has poise in varying degrees. Ponder is developing it, Cutler has it at times and Stafford appears to be cool under pressure.
Cutler is the big mess in the division when it comes to poise. The more you pressure him, the more erratic he gets. The key to beating Cutler is to hit him early and often. Do that and watch his accuracy nosedive.
Hit Rodgers as often as you want, lay a hand on him or get in his face as he throws and you get the same reaction—he picks himself back up, brushes off and heads into the huddle. No screaming, no crying, no look of fear. Just another play.
I recall that during the first year as a starter, there were times Rodgers got clobbered for whole quarters. Just hammered again and again. If you watched game to game, it was crazy enough but when you viewed the season in totality, it was brutal.
I have no idea how he didn't get hurt. All I really recall is seeing him get up play after play, brush off and get back under center.
He didn't let it faze him, he just kept going. Maybe it was the Favre years when the team never knew whether Favre was returning. Maybe it was the drop in the NFL Draft.
Rodgers just shrugs setbacks off.
Like I said, I like Stafford in this area as well but he's still working on it. I'll be interested to see how Cutler does without Mike Martz forgetting he has an offensive line to prepare.
It's actually an underrated aspect of Rodgers' game, and when I was looking for Andrew Luck comparisons back in March, I was surprised how little people realize that Rodgers can move.
That's probably a great deal of the reason he looks poised—he always knows he can scramble with the best of them and buy more time. As I mentioned under poise, he spent a lot of his early days running for his life, buying a few more second so someone might get open.
He can also use his legs to gain positive yards. Rodgers has tun for over 200 yards all four years he has been a starter, two of them over 300.
Stafford only just broke 100 for the first time (given his injury history you really don't want him running), while Cutler has averaged around 200.
Cutler is a pretty good scrambler, like Rodgers he's been forced to be due to his offensive line. He's not quite as mobile, but like Rodgers he can throw pretty well on the run.
Again, as with all the categories, Ponder is a little too new to really compare though you do see some mobility.
This one is very hard to quantify, really. All we really know is how the guys sound in media bites and rumors. You hear different things about Cutler, good and bad. He leads on the field and that really is most of what counts.
Stafford is certainly coming into his own as a leader and has done a good job rallying the troops when the chips are down.
It helps both Cutler and Stafford to stay on the field. Cutler couldn't lead much from the sideline. Stafford couldn't come into his own when he was out for the year.
Rodgers has missed almost no time (more on that momentarily) and come through a firestorm around Brett Favre's retirement/non-retirement/retirement mess.
I think that was the tipping point for Rodgers in that locker-room, by the way. When Favre was waffling, when he'd left and was elsewhere, when day after day Rodgers was being asked about following Favre—hell when his teammates were being asked and not always clearly in his corner—Rodgers said the right things and just kept grinding.
The team must have seen how hard it was and how he conducted himself. After that, they follow him wherever he goes.
Rodgers doesn't always succeed in pulling the team together—he's only human, he's no Tim Tebow! It's clear, though, that both sides of the ball believe in him, have faith in him and will listen to him.
When that is the case, there is little that a team can't accomplish.
I've mentioned several times how Rodgers has avoided injury in his career. He's had a few issues but has missed just one game for health issues in the last four years. There were concerns heading into 2011 due to a concussion he had in 2010, but those fears never came to be.
It bears repeating—you cannot lead from the bench. You need to be on the field to win. Last season was Stafford's first complete season. Cutler missed one game in 2010 due to concussion, but six games last year with a broken thumb.
Cutler had a hard time of it in Martz's offense, with little protection from an underwhelming line. By and large, he hasn't been terribly injury-prone, and frankly, it's amazing he wasn't more seriously hurt either of Martz's two years.
Consistency is what you get when the quarterback is always healthy, the result being a better offense and a more productive team.
We saw that with Stafford in 2011. We'll see more of it with Cutler in 2012. We always see it with Rodgers, every year.
Again, I point to that first year as a starter and how brutally he got hit play after play. How he just kept getting up no matter how sure I was he was done. (The same feeling I had for Cutler from 2010 to Week 11 of the 2011 season)
He stays on the field, no matter how hard you hit him.
There are plenty of arguments to be made for Stafford and Cutler. Cutler may finally have the talent around him and an offensive coordinator who knows how vital proper blocking is. Stafford is finally healthy, and that offense is insanely good.
Best QB in the Division is:
Each of the other three quarterbacks in the NFC North have some of the above traits. It's why they are so good (and Ponder better than he showed in 2011).
Only Rodgers has them all. He has those traits to go with great offensive weapons, tremendous production and a Super Bowl Ring.
You have to beat the Champ to be the Champ—until Cutler, Stafford and Ponder prove they can hang in all five categories, they're good. Maybe even great.
Just not the best.
Check out the new B/R NFC North Facebook page - like us and keep up with everything NFC North on Bleacher Report!
What is the duplicate article?
Why is this article offensive?
Where is this article plagiarized from?
Why is this article poorly edited?