The X's and O's of Aaron Rodgers' Greatness
There aren't a lot of teams around the NFL that can say their quarterback situation doesn't worry them at all. Whether they say that publicly or not is an entirely different animal.
There are just a handful of what we'd call "elite" quarterbacks out there right now, which would also be determined by whatever particular definition you might have for the term "elite."
Any way you slice it up or define it, when you watch Aaron Rodgers play quarterback, you know you're watching an elite quarterback. The Green Bay Packers don't have to worry about their starting quarterback situation as long as he's healthy and on the field.
Back in April, Rodgers signed a five-year extension with the Packers that will keep him in Green Bay through the prime of his career. He isn't scheduled to hit free agency until the 2020 season after this extension, which gave him $54 million in guaranteed money. So it doesn't look like the Packers will have to worry about their most important position on the football field for quite a while now.
Rodgers deserved all that money after what he's done over his last two seasons.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are considered "elite" quarterbacks. Rodgers' touchdown-to-interception ratio of six-to-one over the past two years isn't just better than the other best quarterbacks in the NFL right now, it's much better.
It's easy to look at box scores and be impressed with what Rodgers has done since taking over as the Packers starting quarterback in 2008. He's put up huge numbers, video game-like numbers in some cases, and probably still doesn't get enough credit for the kinds of plays he makes look routine, which are anything but routine.
You can find many of those plays in this highlight video from last season:
Below are two plays explained in detail that show just a very small part of what separates Rodgers from many quarterbacks in the NFL right now.
In this first play, you'll notice that Rodgers makes eye contact with wide receiver Jordy Nelson after he's checked over the defensive alignment. The Houston Texans are loading up the box with just a single-high safety in a Cover One look.
Rodgers gives Nelson a signal that's either a "check with me" route, audible or something along those lines.
Nelson is going to run a go route off press-man coverage. It's worth noting that, according to Pro Football Focus' Premium stats, (subscription required), Rodgers threw eight touchdowns and zero interceptions on passes outside the yard-line numbers and 20-plus yards down the field.
Once Rodgers gets to the top of his drop, you'll notice the proper balance and footwork as he's set to deliver the pass down the field. You can see the safety driving towards Nelson from the middle of the field.
Nelson does a fantastic job on this play of leaving room towards the sideline for Rodgers to throw the ball to off his outside shoulder. If Nelson is running too close to the sideline, it'll take away an area for Rodgers to place the ball away from the defender.
This pass needs to have enough air under it so that it's away from the defender's reach, but not so much that it allows the safety enough time to get over and make a play on the ball. It takes a special kind of touch to place this ball in the right spot.
You can see that Nelson was led towards the sideline, and Rodgers hits Nelson's outside shoulder as he catches this pass and takes it in for the touchdown. While Nelson had a step on the defender, the defender still would have had an opportunity to break up the pass if the ball had been thrown off the inside shoulder. It was a great route from Nelson and an even better pass from Rodgers.
This is the kind of pass that separates Rodgers from other quarterbacks. His "touch" likens to a major league pitcher that doesn't just throw strikes and have good "stuff", but also has command.
Rodgers commands where the ball is going, how much arc is needed on each throw and exactly where the ball needs to be placed in order for the receiver to make a play and the defender to not have a chance.
This next play isn't as sexy as the one above, but it shows the kinds of consistent reads and decisions that Rodgers makes that put the Packers in good situations.
It's not always the long touchdown passes but just the short, chain-moving, accurate throws. There's a reason Rodgers has only thrown 14 interceptions over the past two regular seasons. He's accurate, of course, but he also makes good decisions with the ball.
In this first screen shot, you'll see the initial formation the Packers were lined up in against the Texans. As soon as the tight end motioned to the backfield, the slot receiver covered him up by moving up to the line of scrimmage. The Texans safety bailed on what looked like a Cover Two formation and came near the line of scrimmage while the other safety rotated over as a deep single-high safety shading the strong side of the formation.
Rodgers knows they're in man-coverage at this point as the safety moved up eight yards while James Jones, his receiver wide-left, is in a one-on-one situation with the defensive back.
Jones runs a simple hitch route.
Rodgers takes a three-step drop and delivers the football before Jones had even made his break. Such timing is critical on something even as simple as a hitch route.
The Texans are in man-coverage, and the safety isn't near the play. Therefore Rodgers knows the defensive back will have his back turned towards him once he plants his back foot at the top of his drop. There's just a small window for delivering this pass if Rodgers is to give his receiver any chance to make a play after the catch.
The ball is out of Rodgers' hands and on time to the receiver. It's an accurately placed ball that doesn't require the receiver to lose any momentum by adjusting to a ball that's thrown on either side of him. The pass leads Jones to spinning towards the sideline, and he's briefly able to wiggle past the defensive back for a few more yards, which has the Packers picking up the first down.
These are the small things that look easy, like an accurately placed ball that doesn't break the receivers momentum. It's because of that kind of accuracy that the Packers were able to pick up the first down. These kinds of little things are under-appreciated and cannot be overstated.
When it's all said and done, will Aaron Rodgers go down as the best quarterback in Green Bay Packers history?
Many people want to use completion percentage as some kind of statistic determining accuracy. That's about as safe as using the number of NFL Pro Bowlers to determine which teams have the best chance of being in the playoffs (see Kansas City Chiefs).
Sure, it helps and there's a correlation, but it's not definite. You can complete a lot of passes and yet still consistently leave yards after the catch on the field because you weren't properly placing the ball where the receiver needed it in order to make a play. You see it a lot with passes to backs out of the backfield.
Rodgers has every throw in the "NFL quarterback requirements" handbook at his disposal, and when you combine that with great athleticism, competitiveness and football IQ, you're going to have a pretty special football player, and that's exactly what Rodgers is.
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