Aaron Rodgers and the Anatomy of a Balanced Passing Attack

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Aaron Rodgers and the Anatomy of a Balanced Passing Attack
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The agonizing wait continues. Will he or won't he?

I'm talking about the availability of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Since Rodgers fractured his clavicle on Nov. 4 versus the Chicago Bears early in the game, the Packers have gone 0-4-1 since then.

That should tell you how important No. 12 is to the Packers.

Not only have the Packers lost the dynamic passing ability of Rodgers since he was injured, but a number of phases regarding the play of the Packers have been affected since that moment. Not just offensively, but defensively as well.

First, does Rodgers have a chance of playing against the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday at Lambeau Field?

Rodgers talked to the media about that situation on Wednesday via Packers.com.

It’s a medical decision, there were three parts to it. The strength, the range of motion and then the evidence that we see on the scan. Two out of three are passed so far.

 

Rodgers also talked about when a decision about when his availability might be made, and whether it might be a game-day decision.

It wouldn't be fair to Matt Flynn to make a decision on his status on the day of the game. I don’t think that’s fair to Matt if we do that. I think by Friday or Saturday at the latest there will be a decision.

 

Packer Nation is obviously hoping that Rodgers will be available on Sunday. Since his injury, the Packers have now started three quarterbacks. First it was Seneca Wallace, then Scott Tolzien and most recently Matt Flynn.

Although there have been some bright moments for Rodgers' three replacements, none of them have come close to his level of play. Among Wallace, Tolzien and Flynn, the three have thrown just two touchdown passes, compared to seven interceptions. The overall quarterback rating for the three in a hair less than five games is a combined 68.2.

That is not exactly being productive.

In the seven games that proceeded the injury, Rodgers threw 15 touchdown passes versus just four picks. His quarterback rating was 108.0. In fact, heading into the 2013 season, Rodgers had four straight seasons with a quarterback rating over 100, and he has the highest mark in NFL history at 105.2. A quarterback can accumulate a rating like that when he posts career numbers of 23,879 yards and 186 touchdown passes versus just 50 interceptions.

Rodgers has also been named to play in three Pro Bowls in his five seasons as a starting quarterback. Plus he was named NFL MVP in 2011.

Individual stats are nice, but football is a team game. And Rodgers has done well in that department too, leading the Packers to a win in Super Bowl XLV win, for which he was named the game's MVP.

The Packers' overall playoff record with Rodgers at the helm is 5-3, and he has a postseason quarterback rating of 103.6, which is the third best in NFL history. In those eight games, Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdown passes for 2,312 yards.

Since taking over as Green Bay's quarterback in 2008, Rodgers has led the Packers to the playoffs four times, and he has also led them to two consecutive NFC North titles. Overall, Rodgers has a 57-29 record as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

There is no doubt that he is truly a special quarterback.

The week before his injury, in a game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis, there were two throws by Rodgers that very few NFL quarterbacks could make. Both of the throws resulted in touchdowns to wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

In both cases, Rodgers had an extremely tight window into which he could possibly complete the pass. Let's look at the first one, which occurred early in the game.

NFL Game Rewind

Here's a closer angle of that pass from Rodgers to Nelson. Talk about a very snug opening in which to complete the pass, as cornerback Josh Robinson had excellent coverage on Rodgers' favorite target.

NFL Game Rewind

Bottom line, Rodgers had an 11-yard touchdown pass to No. 87. Then in the second quarter, Rodgers threw a similar pass to Nelson, also into another very compact area.

NFLGame Rewind

The result? It was a 76-yard touchdown, as Nelson beat linebacker Chad Greenway on a slant pattern. Greenway had pretty good coverage as well. But not when you are playing against an elite quarterback like Rodgers.

The talent of Rodgers opens up things for the Packers in the running game as well. That has been evidenced by the great year had by rookie running back Eddie Lacy.

In 2013, Lacy has rushed for 822 yards and has six touchdowns. The biggest reason for his success, at least while Rodgers was behind center? Opposing safeties would play back in two-deep coverage to guard against the downfield threat posed by Rodgers and Green Bay's passing attack.

That hasn't happened very often, if at all, since Rodgers has been injured. The Packers are seeing seven and eight men in the box to stop the running attack, as opposing defenses clearly don't fear the Green Bay passing game without Rodgers at quarterback.

The stats don't lie. In the games that Rodgers started at quarterback, Lacy ran for 596 yards in 134 carries. That's a 4.4 yards-per-carry average. In the four games since Rodgers was sidelined, Lacy has rushed for 226 yards in 73 carries, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry.

The loss of Rodgers has also affected the defense. The Packers are now having way too many three-and-outs, as the passing game has been too inconsistent and the running game too bottled up to sustain possessions.

The result? The defense is on the field much more often than it had been earlier in the season while Rodgers was at the helm.

The biggest issue with the defense is their ability to stop the running game. Before the game against the Bears when Rodgers was injured, the Packers were ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing defense.

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In the five games since that time, the Packers have dropped to 26th in the NFL. Talk about a mighty drop.

Why has this occurred? Shabby tackling is one of the reasons, without a doubt. Players not being sure of their assignments is another. There have also been some injuries to key personnel. But fatigue also has to be part of the equation.

The defense was usually fairly well rested with Rodgers behind center. The new and improved ground game was part of the reason why. But so was the ability of Rodgers to spread the ball around. He did so when he had the Big Three all healthy. I'm speaking of Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones at wide receiver.

After Cobb and Jones were both injured, Rodgers still was able to get the ball to young receivers like Jarrett Boykin and Myles White.

Rodgers was also utilizing tight end Jermichael Finley quite often, and Finley was having his best season ever before suffering a season-ending neck injury.

The offense of the Packers was running very efficiently before Rodgers suffered his collarbone injury. The Packers were in the top five in total offense (second), passing offense (fifth) and rushing offense (third) prior to the game against the Bears. The defense of the Packers was also playing decently, as they were ranked 11th in total defense.

That has all changed in just five games.

The Packers are still fifth in total offense, but have dropped to seventh in passing offense and eighth in rushing offense.

But it is the defense which has plummeted the most since Rodgers has been injured. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has seen his group fall to 24th in total defense. That a drop of 13 spots over five games. And the biggest collapse has been to the run defense. Talk about a free fall.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

But everything revolves around No. 12. He obviously makes the Packer offense much better, which in turn should make the defense of the team play differently. Let's face it, if Rodgers can get the offense back to where it was before his injury, opponents won't be able to run the ball as much. Rather, they will need to pass more often to match the points put up by the Green Bay offense.

The Packers defense will gladly want to see that, as it has allowed an average of 185 yards a game on the ground since the game against the Bears.

The Packers would much prefer to see teams pass, if for no other reason because they are tied for third in the NFL in sacks with 38.

Bottom line, the Packers still have an uphill battle to make the playoffs. It all starts with doing something they haven't done since late October. That's winning a game.

Rodgers obviously gives the Packers their best chance of winning. His track record of excellence speaks for itself.

We will find out soon enough whether or not Rodgers will have the opportunity to excel once again.

 

 

 

 

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