How Much Has Aaron Rodgers' Absence Really Hurt the Packers?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IDecember 5, 2013

No injury in the NFL this season has been as devastating, significant or season-altering as the fractured collarbone suffered by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers

On the surface, that fact is very easy to see.

Only a month ago, the Packers were 5-2, riding a four-game winning streak and staring straight ahead at a schedule that appeared primed to make Green Bay a 12- or 13-game winner. For all the injuries elsewhere, Rodgers was holding together a football team that looked like a Super Bowl challenger in the NFC. 

Just one hard sack by Chicago Bears defensive end Shea McClellin 31 days ago changed a season, a division race and a conference. When Rodgers broke his collarbone on the first series of Green Bay's 27-20 loss to the Bears on Nov. 4, the Packers began nose-diving towards irrelevance. 

Green Bay has now lost four games and tied another since the injury. The Detroit Lions took over control of the NFC North. And teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers have become the front-runners to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. 

Losing Rodgers is the easy answer to why the Packers have fallen so hard and so fast. But digging deeper into the numbers provides evidence of just how important Rodgers is to the Green Bay offense.

As anyone could have predicted, losing Rodgers has meant a decline in offensive production. Yet the depth and veracity of that regression shouldn't have been expected.  

Packers Offense, Before and After Rodgers Injury
Before (First 7 Weeks)After (Last 5 Weeks)*
Total Yards/G438.9344.4
Offensive TD227
Passing Yards/G297.4229.8
TD Passes152
Rushing Yards/G141.4114.6
Third Down %46.425.4
Red Zone TD %50.040.0
Games Under 20 Points13
Expected Points Added (OFF)87.38-17.67
*Rodgers played one series vs. CHI

Even without Rodgers for the majority of the last five games, the Packers have remained 11th in points (24.5 per game) and fifth in total yards (399.5). But those numbers remain more about what Rodgers left after seven games than what Green Bay has accomplished over the last five. 

With Rodgers on the field for the first seven weeks, the Packers ranked in the top five of several major offensive categories: points (28.3, third in the NFL), yards (438.9, second), passing yards (297.4, fifth), rushing yards (141.4, third) and third down percentage (46.4, third). Only in the red zone, where Rodgers' offense ranked 17th in scoring touchdowns, were the Packers outside the league's top five. 

Despite losing Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb and Eddie Lacy for stretches early on, Green Bay was still operating at an elite level. The days of offensive production and efficiency went out the window when Rodgers went down. 

In succession, Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn have quarterbacked the Packers to league-low offensive ranks over the last five games. 

Regression Factor: Packers QBs Splits
Aaron Rodgers168/251221815/4108.0
Source: Pro Football Reference

Since Week 7, Green Bay ranks dead last in the NFL in points per game (16.4). The same can be said for third-down conversion percentage, where the Packers have converted just 15-of-59 third downs (25.4) since Rodgers' injury. In touchdown passes (two) and passer rating (68.5), Green Bay is in the NFL's bottom five. 

Pro Football Reference calculates an "expected points added" statistic for each NFL game, and for all three facets—offense, defense and special teams. With Rodgers, the Packers offense added 87.38 points, or the third most in the NFL over the first seven weeks. 

Since the injury, Green Bay has actually lost expected points. The Packers' five-game stretch of minus-17.67 points is the second worst for offense during that stretch. 

Across the board, Green Bay's offensive numbers are down. 

The Packers have lost almost 100 total yards per game since Rodgers injury, falling from nearly 440 to just 344 in the past five games. Passing yards have fallen by almost 70 per game, while the rushing totals are down from 141.4 to 114.6. 

Green Bay is also running fewer plays (down to 63 per game) and holding less time of possession (25:49). Over the last three games, the Packers are 32nd in the NFL in controlling the football (23:57). 

While the defensive collapse has contributed to the fall of those numbers, so has offensive inefficiency. Converting one out of every four third downs isn't a great way of running a high number of plays or staying on the field.  

Losing Rodgers has also had a trickle-down effect on other members of the Packers offense. 

Over the first seven weeks, rookie running back Eddie Lacy averaged 87.2 rushing yards in the five games he started and completed (discounting his one-carry game versus Washington). Over the last three, he's dipped to 51.0 and a yards-per-carry average under three. 

The same can be said for Rodgers' receivers. 

Jordy Nelson, who averaged 92.7 receiving yards per game with Rodgers on the field, has since dipped to 62.4. James Jones, who had two touchdowns and two separate games with more than 100 yards receiving with Rodgers, has zero of each since his injury. Production from the tight end position has all but dried up, although that does have a lot to do with Jermichael Finley's season-ending neck injury. 

Green Bay hit rock bottom on Thanksgiving in Detroit, when the Rodgers-less offense could only manage seven first downs, 126 yards of total offense and 19:26 of time of possession. All 10 points scored came off turnovers, including the lone touchdown—a fumble return by Morgan Burnett in the first half. 

Overall, the holiday massacre was Green Bay's worst offensive showing since 2006, when the New England Patriots held the Packers to five first downs, 120 total yards and zero points. 

Green Bay still doesn't know if it will have Rodgers back on Sunday, when the Atlanta Falcons visit Lambeau Field for what is nothing less than a must-win for the Packers. There are still feasible scenarios in which the Packers could win out and still make the postseason at 9-6-1. But a win Sunday must happen for any of those scenarios to play out. 

While he has practiced in each of the last two weeks, Rodgers still hasn't gained medical clearance to play in a live game. It's probably unlikely that he will gain that clearance before Sunday, no matter how badly he wants to return.

If that's the case, the Packers will need to start reversing some of the ugly offensive trends that have taken hold since Rodgers was knocked from the starting lineup. This is an offense that has been stuck in reverse, taking the Packers once-promising season with it. 


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