Being a northwest native, I was always intrigued by Pac-10 football.
The self proclaimed “Conference of Champions” has been fielding great football teams for decades, including the ever dominant USC Trojans.
When Aaron Rodgers started carving up defenses as a junior college transfer at Cal, I watched and wondered how long it would be before the NFL took notice.
When he set school records while completing 23 straight passes against No. 1 USC during a road loss, I wondered how long it would be before he won his first national championship.
When his No. 4 ranked Bears were overlooked by the BCS and dropped to the Holiday Bowl, I wondered how long it would take during the next season before he finished getting his revenge.
Rodgers surprised many when he chose to forgo his senior season and entered the 2005 NFL draft.
Many analysts questioned his size (6’2 210lbs) and his passing mechanics. They questioned whether a Jeff Tedford taught quarterback could make it in the NFL. They questioned his durability.
But they could not question his football intelligence, demonstrated by his obvious knowledge of defensive coverages and the west coast offense, which he was happy to put on display both in the x’s and o’s on the whiteboard, or on the field, for whichever scout(s) cared to view.
He was passed over during 23 grueling draft picks, taken behind Utah’s Alex Smith and just ahead of Auburn’s Jason Campbell.
Smith came from an Urban Meyer built Spread Offense; built more on Smith’s legs and creativity, rather than his arm or brains. He has since been asked to handle the west coast scheme of the 49ers, and has struggled mightily having to stay in the pocket or trying to out run NFL sized defensive ends.
Jason Campbell came from a run heavy offense built around Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, rarely having to carry any portion of the offense. He has large size and good arm strength, but a game manager in college is hardly the same in the pros.
When Rodgers was drafted No. 24 overall by the Green Bay Packers, I couldn’t help but smile. Here was the kid who had made Cal my favorite team to watch during his two years as a starter, now making the transition to future starter of my favorite pro team.
Brett Favre was and is always fun to watch, but his general disdain for safe play made me cringe. Even when plays went well I could not help but think, how badly it could have been.
I was usually rewarded for my backwards thinking by watching Favre do his worst to match his interception total to his touchdowns.
When the Packers drafted Rodgers, I thought we finally had a guy in place that would work the system in our favor. We finally had a surgeon for a QB, in the mold of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. We finally had a guy who was going to be consistent and dependable.
After watching Favre go through the downs of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, then through the ups of the 2007 campaign, I finally heard the news I had been hoping for.
After showing some pop and sizzle during a game at Dallas in November 2007, Rodgers sparked a cry for playing time. Analysts who questioned if the Packers would survive without Favre got a glimpse of what the future would hold.
The lantern that is Rodgers was doused with Kerosene. The future looked bright indeed.
Favre retired six months later, and the reigns of the Packers were handed over to their new wonder boy.
Spending the summer avoiding the Favre media circus and getting to know his teammates better on and off the field, Rodgers looked poised for a great first season.
He had three years under his belt in the same system, with mostly the same players around him.
He was three years removed from college, so he was absent from the stress and nervous mistakes that plague most rookies as they adjust to the NFL atmosphere.
He had one of the best offensive lines in football to protect him, a quartet of speedy wideouts, and handful of tight ends and running backs to use as escape plans if the pocket broke down.
All this and the team he was handed had just returned from a 13-3 regular season record, capped by a trip to the NFC Championship game.
Things looked very bright, if not blinding.
Rodgers avoided the comparisons to Broadway Brett as he tried to guide his team.
Starting 2-0 with a perfect 4:0 TD to INT ratio, the season was brighter every week.
Then came week three.
In a brutal loss to Tampa, Rodgers threw his first INT and also injured his throwing shoulder. Injuries riddled the defense, and the blocking up front never quite looked right.
Things continued much the same through week 17.
The Packers lost several close contests, and Rodgers seemed to be one of few bright spots on a team full of underachievers.
The defense lost Al Harris, Atari Bigby, Cullen Jenkins, and Nick Barnett to significant injuries.
The offense had most of their playmakers, though that was all in the passing game.
Rodgers, Jennings, and Driver torched secondaries throughout the year, but were undone by their inability to close games thanks in large part to the inconsistent run game.
Rodgers finished with more yards, touchdowns, and fewer interceptions than Favre, while playing behind a shaky line and without a top ten defense.
Favre managed to lead the league in interceptions, was unable to break 4,000 yards, and forgot how to be a competent game manager late in the season during the cold months.
This year is starting eerily similar.
Rodgers is off to a great start, despite a shaky line and a nearly absent rushing game.
The defense is playing much better, thanks in large part to a more aggressive scheme and all the starters being healthy.
The Packers are 3-2, with their two losses coming against Minnesota (6-0) and Cincinnati (4-2). Both of those teams are leading their divisions, and are among the elite teams of the NFL.
I should also mention that both teams narrowly won mostly due to poor pass protection and failed rallies by the Packers. A combined two losses by seven points or fewer to great competition should only harden the battle cries.
The Packers narrowly beat the Bears in week one, despite struggles on offense and defense.
Then came the win against the helpless Rams, who were nearly blown out.
Now the Pack shutout a Detroit team who had Pittsburgh on the ropes, stood toe to toe with the Saints, and came close to defeating the Vikings. This is not the same Lions team from a year ago, but they are not grand competition either.
Detroit was without their starting QB and one of the best wideouts in the game. Still, if your depth on offense is controlled by two of eleven players, the problems may be just beginning.
Green Bay should have a pretty easy go of it next Sunday, as they invade Cleveland looking to hand the Browns their seventh straight loss of the season. Derek Anderson looks awful and the whole team could use a makeover.
After that it’s the showdown in Lambeau, where Rodgers will look for his revenge. Hopefully recently resigned tackle Mark Tauscher can play, because I am not sold on Alan Barbre.
As it stands, It is hard to argue either way who is better.
Brett is clearly the statistical winner, having thrown for more touchdowns, been sacked less, thrown an equal amount of interceptions, and thrown for nearly as many yards. Side note: He is also undefeated.
Aaron is doing everything he can to win games, possibly too much. His line is nowhere near the best in the game, and he knows this.
That means make quick throws or run for your life. He is not always making quick throws, and he doesn’t run as fast as most edge rushers. That is a recipe for disaster.
The Packers need to address their inept blocking, or Matt Flynn better get some 1st team reps in practice.
Rodgers is playing better than most starters in the league, and has not had the ample protection or first rate running backs that Manning, Manning, Favre, or Brees has had the luck to play alongside.
The idea of a great QB is to make those around you better.
So far Rodgers is making his receivers look like heroes and his buddies on the line and in the backfield look like goats.
He needs to get the ball out faster.
Balance the play calling, and games will swing in your favor.
You cant lobby for more pro bowl tackles, so the least you can do is suggest a punishing running back to split time with Grant.
My suggestion would be call the agent of T.J. Duckett or Duece McAllister. Both are bigger backs that can push the pile and wear out the defensive front, leaving Grant or Jackson to speed around the edge.
This will not fix the o-line, but it will keep defenses honest and make them plan against more than just Rodgers.
Playcalling is a cause for concern.
Rodgers threw 37 times against the Lions, while Grant rushed 24 times.
37 pass plays vs. 24 rushes? That is not balance.
Maybe the o-line isn’t very good, or maybe they are worn out from having to block backwards more than push guys around with the running game.
Whatever the case, the bye week was not used properly.
The coaching staff did little to right the wrongs, and the schedule only gets tougher, with the Vikings, Ravens, Bears, 49ers, and the world champion Steelers to look forward to.
All of these upcoming games feature first rate pass rushers, and solid linebackers to boot.
The kid who was so impressive in college had a balanced attack featuring a 2,000 yard rusher, a pretty good o-line, and some so-so receivers.
Now he has a guy who barely breaks 1,000 yards, an o-line that breaks down after just a couple of ticks, and receivers who can beat anyone if he just gets time to find the openings down field.
If Rodgers can average 250+ passing yards per game in these conditions, one can only hope to see just how great this team can be if they really get going.
If the coaching staff sees the film and fixes things, great.
If not, get a better stable of running backs to take pressure off of the QB.
Either one works, just protect the damn QB.
To put it in perspective, I haven’t been hit since high school.
Rodgers has been hit an average five times per week on Sunday since September 13th.
Something has to give, I just hope it isn’t Rodgers’ collarbone or Femur.