Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: What's Wrong with Aaron Rodgers?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 21, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 18:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers walks off the field after the Packers were stopped by the Minnesota Vikings during the game on September 18, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

A look at what's happening with Aaron Rodgers, a few rookie quarterbacks making news not named Carson Wentz and an NFL player who made a kid smile. 

   

1. What's Happened to Aaron Rodgers?

First, let's get something straight. Aaron Rodgers isn't playing poorly. Andy Dalton against the Steelers? That's playing poorly. Russell Wilson on one leg? That wasn't pretty. Blaine Gabbert was downright putrid.

No, Rodgers isn't playing poorly, but he is playing poorly for Aaron Rodgers. There's a difference. 

For much of Rodgers' career, there were few like him in the history of football. He has the accuracy of Joe Montana, the football acumen of John Unitas, the mobility of Russell Wilson and the arm strength of Dan Marino.

He has long been, to me and others, the most complete quarterback ever to play the game.

But not lately. And we've seen this version of Rodgers for a large chunk of last season and through the first two games of this year. Against the Vikings on Sunday night, where he was 20-of-36 for 213 yards with one passing touchdown, one rushing score, one interception and one fumble. And despite carrying a 103.8 career passer rating, Rodgers hasn't reached the 100-point mark in any of his last 12 regular-season games.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. With Jordy Nelson back from injury, Green Bay's offense this season was supposed to be different. Rodgers was supposed to be different.

And maybe he will be. It's only two games. He might go on that familiar Rodgers tear and then we'll all shut up. But for now, something is clearly wrong.

What that is, however, has become one of the NFL's most compelling parlor games, focusing on a handful of possibilities:

• Rodgers is hurt. I don't buy this one. He doesn't seem significantly injured, but I cannot stress how much this theory is making its way around some of the personnel men with whom I speak.

Two scouts who watched both of Rodgers' games this season told B/R something seems seriously off with him. Not so much with the offense, but him.

They, and others, think Rodgers is suffering from some sort of long-term issue, like a chronic shoulder problem. I heard similar speculation last season.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 18:  Defensive end Everson Griffen #97 of the Minnesota Vikings knocks the ball out of the hands of quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers for a fumble during the game on September 18, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minne
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This is conspiracy theory stuff. Like UFOs. Well, wait, UFOs are real. Like the Loch Ness Monster. Not buying it yet.

 The offense isn't playing to his strengths. Said one AFC scout: "He's one of the greatest downfield throwers this league has ever seen but they run a dink-and-dunk offense."

I'm not certain how accurate this is, but I would say, with one exception, Rodgers doesn't have the high-quality receivers to run an explosive, downfield offense.

 The offensive talent around him just isn't that good. This is the theory I believe.

Look at the roster. Nelson is good, but he's a 31-year-old receiver whose game is built on speed coming off a serious knee injury. The offensive line is OK. The running game is OK. The other receivers are OK. The defense is OK. That's a lot of OK.

Yes, Rodgers could play better, a lot better, for sure. Yet when I watch the Packers, so much is still on Rodgers' shoulders.

There's no Stefon Diggs. Or DeAndre Hopkins. When Le'Veon Bell was suspended, the Steelers turned to DeAngelo Williams, and he responded.

Which player (not named Rodgers) on this Packers team can you turn look at and say, "That guy will bail them out?"

 The problem with Aaron Rodgers is all of us. That is what one general manager told me. The expectations for Rodgers are so stratospheric they're unrealistic. There is some truth to this.

"No other quarterback is held to the standard he is," the general manager said. "Not even Tom Brady."

It's only two games into the season. The Packers are my Super Bowl pick. That hasn't changed. Too early to change that, or my belief that Rodgers will one day be viewed as the best ever to play the position, a spot, to me, that Brady holds currently.

Now, though, something is not right. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Even after just two weeks.

It will get better, but in the meantime, the "decline" of Rodgers will remain one of the biggest growing questions hovering over this season. 

    

2. Meanwhile, in Dallas...

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 18: Quarterback Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys passes against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedExField on September 18, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

Rookie Dak Prescott has thrown 75 passes in his first two games without an interception. That's an NFL record, and represents a remarkable start for a player who appears to be the real dealand the future of the Cowboys

He likely will take a seat when Tony Romo is healthy. But what happens next season?

Would Jerry Jones cut Romo loose for the younger Prescott? He's considered crazier stuff, like, you know, drafting Johnny Manziel.

No matter the time frame, it appears Dallas has its next signal-caller on the roster. Even if the season goes down the drain, that's no small accomplishment.  

    

3. ...And in New England

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Jacoby Brissett #7 of the New England Patriots looks to pass the ball during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

If Jacoby Brissett starts for the Patriots in Week 3, as expected, he would be the second quarterback to start a regular-season game for them this year. When Brady returns, he will be the third quarterback to start a regular-season game (I can do math real good). The last time the Patriots had three different players start regular-season games in the same year was 1992, when they started four. Here are three of them.

Should Brissett start and somehow win, or even make the game close with the Texans, it would be a testamentyet another oneto the system Bill Belichick has built in New England.

Hate him, love him, do whatever the hell you want, but if Belichick wins with a third-string rookie at quarterback against a good Houston team, then, well, there needs to be another GOAT category for coaches, like, Super GOAT.

    

4. Nobody Wins a Fight in the NFL

Jae Hong/Associated Press

An ugly situation was caught on video that surfaced of a fight between fans during the Rams-Seahawks game. It's nasty stuff.

While it's no one's fault when fights erupt, except for the brawlers themselves, increased security is one way to stop the fights. And indeed, the Rams intend to boost security at Memorial Coliseum. 

The incident, however, should have teams, and especially the Rams, on notice. One team official told me those are the types of things that can have serious impacts on game attendance. If people think there will be a bunch of fights at stadiums, the official explained, they'll stay home.

One model all teams should follow is New England. When I covered the Patriots in the early 1990s, it was one of the most violent places in all of the NFL. Fans used to do the whole battery-in-a-snowball thing: take a battery, cover it in snow and ice, put it in freezer the night before the game and then throw them at players, both Patriots and visitors.

When Robert Kraft took over some years later, he beefed up security and cleaned up the stadium's image. It's now one of the best stadium experiences in all of sports.

Teams can end most of the fighting and drunkenness. The owners just have to spend money to do it.

    

5. The Return of Colin Kaepernick

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines against the Los Angeles Rams in the second half of their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Th
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The 49ers are saying no, but around the league, many believe they will turn their offense back over to Colin Kaepernick.

San Francisco plays Seattle this week, and one AFC assistant coach said he wouldn't be shocked if Blaine Gabbert was benched for Kaepernick at halftime of the Seahawks game, assuming the 49ers are getting blasted. Which is a reasonable assumption.

        

6. A Cheater By Any Other Name Is Still a Cheater

Why is Pete Carroll not viewed as a cheater like Bill Belichick? 

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks watches the game in the third quaarter of the home opening NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Coliseum on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (P
Harry How/Getty Images

Rhetorical question.

The Seahawks were fined for the second time in three years for running afoul of a fairly serious rule in the collective bargaining agreement: violating contact rules in offseason practices.

Coaches may complain about the rule. They may hate it. Some players might not even like it, but it remains one of the most important changes the league ever made to protect players. The amount of contact during offseason drills is limited. There are a number of reasons the league made the change, but foremost among them was the desire to limit the amount of head trauma that players suffer. It's an imperfect rule, but it's a sensible one.

Carroll has shown no respect for it, as the NFL punished him a second time for violating it. The league fined the Seahawks $400,000 and docked a fifth-round draft pick from them, while Carroll was fined $200,000.

Yet where are the diatribes detailing how Carroll breaks the rules? Belichick is genuinely regarded (wrongly so) by many non-Patriots fans as a cheater. (You should see my Twitter timeline whenever I say something positive about himor check the comments section for this story.) But Carroll generally isn't seen that way. What he has done in the NFLand we won't even get into what he did at USCis worse than anything the Patriots did.

New England was punished for videotaping other teams' sidelines (something everyone did) and puffing and stuffing footballs (something everyone did). This isn't to justify it or relitigate it (and I originally blasted the Patriots for Deflategate) but this is what happened.

Carroll has now twice undercut the spirit of a rule designed to protect the long-term health of his players. So why doesn't he get the same level of vitriol that Belichick does? 

Easy answer.

Carroll is liked by many in the media; Belichick isn't. Carroll is generally liked by the league office; Belichick is hated. Belichick hasn't helped himself ("We're on to Cincinnati"), but he's been at odds with those two powerful forces for a long time. And as a result, both the media and the league have shaped Belichick as a cheating ogre, while Carrollmostlyhas gotten a pass from both.

Maybe people will now look at Carroll with the same critical eye that's applied to Belichick.

    

7. If Ray Rice Doesn't Get Back in the NFL Now, He Never Will

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 16:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens sits on the bench against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of their preseason game at AT&T Stadium on August 16, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This is the most banged up I can remember the running back position being in quite some time. At least seven starting backs were hurt in Week 2, including Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster

I'm hearing some teams are taking a hard look at Ray Rice but nothing seems imminent for the moment. And if not now, then when for Rice?

    

8. Jay Cutler Is Still Terrible

He's never going to change. He will always be Jay Cutler, meaning he will always throw horrible interceptions. If Cutler could throw a pick-eight, he would.

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 19:  Quarterback  Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears fumbles the football against  Destiny Vaeao #97 of the Philadelphia Eagles in the second half at Soldier Field on September 19, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Stacy Revere
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

After Cutler aggravated a thumb injury in the Monday night loss to the Eagles, it's possible we've seen the last of Cutler with the Bears. Not likely, but possible.

And if the Bears let him go, there may not be another team in the league who will trust him as a starter. Why would they after he posted an 11-19 record over the past two seasons before this year's 0-2 start?

Put simply, we may be seeing the last days of Cutler as a starter in the NFL.

    

9. Next Stop, the Hall of Fame

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 18:  Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals makes a catch for a touchdown over cornerback Brent Grimes #24 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter of the NFL game at University of Phoenix Stadium
Norm Hall/Getty Images

Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Gates both had touchdown catches on Sunday, giving Fitzgerald 101 for his career and Gates 105.

This is where things get interesting. Only six players in NFL history have recorded 100 career touchdown catches with a single team, according to the NFL. The other fourJerry Rice (176), Marvin Harrison (128), Cris Carter (110) and Steve Largent (100)—are each in the Hall of Fame.

Both Fitzgerald and Gates have already passed Largent and should have little problem passing Carter soon. That's history in the making, some of the most impressive the NFL has produced at that position.

Let's enjoy it.

    

10. Making a Kid Smile

NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 20:  Delanie Walker #82 of the Tennessee Titans on the sidelines during a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Nissan Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Panthers defeated the Titans 26-16.  (Photo by
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The media, including me, often write about the jerks in sports. Many times, deservedly so. Then something happenssomething smallthat makes you remember not all athletes are that way. 

On Sunday, Titans tight end Delanie Walker gave a football to one young fan in the stands, and it lit up his world. The kid's mom wrote about it on Facebook.

It was a touching post and a reminder of the power players possess over many kids. This isn't that tired argument about athletes as role models. It's not that deep.

They just have power and can affect people positively in many ways. This is what Kaepernick argues. His is a grand act. What Walker did is powerful as well.

   

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.

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