Regular season game six vs. Miami: Rodgers’ regression troubling « Ol' Bag of Donuts

Regular season game six vs. Miami: Rodgers’ regression troubling

The 2010 season was supposed to be the year of Aaron Rodgers, the year he joined the truly elite group of signal-callers in the NFL.

His face was on the cover of every football-related magazine over the summer. Fans, analysts and media members alike gushed over what he would do. His time had come.

Six games into the season, 2010 is looking like it will go down as the year Aaron Rodgers regressed.

We saw more of that again and again Sunday in the Green Bay Packers’ 23-20 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins at Lambeau Field. The loss, Green Bay’s third in four games, drops the Packers to 3-3 on the season.

Some fans will point to anything else they can, other than Rodgers. They will blame the refs, Mike McCarthy, the special teams or the injuries. They’ll tell you that Rodgers has little or no chance playing behind such a poor offensive line, that he’s been killed by the drops from the receivers. Can some truth be found in these options? Yes, there can. Certainly, it’s not all his fault this team keeps losing, despite consistently gutty efforts from an injury-ravaged defense, a unit that has allowed just 18.7 points per game this season.

But do not fool yourself, either. Rodgers simply has not been very good. The offense is a struggling, sputtering vehicle. Well, who is the driver of said vehicle? Oh, that’s right – QB12.

Numerous aspects of Rodgers’ game have fallen off during the season. The biggest, of course, being his complete inability to get rid of the ball in a timely fashion. We saw plenty of that Sunday. Some of Miami’s five sacks and 10 quarterback hits fall on an overmatched offensive line. But, far more often, Rodgers was given plenty of time to make a play. For whatever reason, he failed to do so. 

(Quick – count how many times you yelled, “Get rid of the damn ball, Aaron!” at your television. I bet it’s more than the amount of fingers you have.) 

This resulted in countless plays where he either took a sack or eventually had to run out of the pocket before simply tossing the ball out of bounds (the latter a huge reason he finished just 18-of-33 passing). Those dead plays were especially crucial in the second quarter. Clinging to a 10-7 lead, the Packers whiffed on two drives in Dolphins territory. Rodgers took two sacks and almost threw a pick in those series, in case you weren’t sure.

Miami had been rattled by the way Green Bay stormed back into the game early in quarter two. Had the Packers capitalized there, they could have put a stranglehold on the game. An elite quarterback would have gotten the job done. Rodgers didn’t. Making matters worse, you could sense he wasn’t going to do it.

Some may point to his receivers and say the sacks/pressures Sunday were due to them not getting open. That might be true (I’m not Cris Collinsworth – I can’t access the coaches tape). It seems impossible that the receivers could be completely blanketed on each of those plays week after week, though, doesn’t it?

The real problem here is that, far too often, Rodgers seems unwilling to attempt the tight throws, the “dangerous” throws. Making such throws isn’t always a good idea, but consistently turning them down isn’t, either. Think I’m wrong? Put on some tape of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. They often have small passing windows. They still make the throws, though, because to be elite, you have to.

Rodgers won’t do it, even with all the non-Jermichael Finley talent at his disposal. If he doesn’t have a clear passing lane, that ball is not coming out. My best guess is that he’s intent on being the anti-Favre. No dangerous throws from me. Honestly, that approach was fine when he wasn’t throwing picks. But he’s already thrown seven this season (he had seven all of last year). He won’t make the dangerous throws, but he’ll still throw interceptions? Not good, and even worse when you toss in all the sacks he’s taken.

And if he’s the player many make him out to be, wouldn’t he be able to get it done when it mattered most? Yes, he was great on the final drive of regulation, leading Green Bay to a game-tying score. You can not take that away from him. But in the clutch – the real clutch – Rodgers has flat-out failed in consecutive weeks. Last week, against Washington, he turned in a three-and-out (in which he was sacked on third down) and a game-changing interception. Sunday? Another three-and-out, which included taking another horrendous sack on third-and-6. How many chances does he expect the defense to give him?

Throw in his truly poor body language throughout Sunday’s contest – don’t tell me his displeasure with the refs didn’t bring down his game at times, because it did – and you come away with a picture of a quarterback who seems to have very much lost his way. That’s troubling. I’m not ready to say he’s hit his ceiling yet, but I am wondering how high his ceiling is, exactly.  

For some reason, certain Packers fans just can not bring themselves to criticize whoever’s manning the quarterback position. Sorry, but this writer spent a decade and a half glossing over every flaw the last quarterback had, simply because he was a fan. He will not make that mistake again.

And it just so happens that that last guy is making his way back to town next Sunday night. Rodgers can erase many of my doubts with a strong performance in that one.

The season hangs in the balance. If it’s not panic time, it’s getting awfully close.

Your stage is set, Mr. Rodgers – what do you plan on doing with it?

-Chris Lempesis

9 comments to Regular season game six vs. Miami: Rodgers’ regression troubling

  • Bryan Jensen

    I am starting to wonder what we have in Rogers as well. He has a 1-11 record in games decided by 4 points or less.

    Is he simply a guy that will put up incredible stats but is missing the “it” factor like Manning, Brady, Elway, Favre (pre-trade), Marino, who can will their team to a win? Is Rogers = Matt Schaub?

  • admin

    Bryan,

    Great stat on the 1-11 record. That’s very telling, isn’t it? And I agree on missing the “it” factor. He doesn’t have that yet. At the moment, he’s a good, but definitely not great, player, very similar to Tony Romo.
    Lastly, he can’t be Schaub. Schaub is 4-2 this season. Okay, I kid….sort of….

    -Chris Lempesis

  • Anita

    This is basically a cut and paste of what I just posted to Alex on that “other Packers blog.” I think it applies here as well. Well, that and it’s 3:47 am and I don’t want to rewrite it again. And please excuse the fact that I use f-bombs for effect. It’s my favorite word tonight. Wonder why.

    As someone who’s earliest Packer memories are of the “suck years” sandwiched between Lombardi and the first Super Bowl era (who I only read about because it was before my time, before you make any wisecracks about my age), and the mid-90’s Wolf/Holmgren Super Bowl era, I can only roll my eyes at the bloggers jumping off the Rodgers band wagon tonight. I remember the not-even-fucking-close-to-elite QB tenures of Randy White and Don Majkowski, and names like Anthony Dilweg and Blair Kiel, all the way back to vague flashes of David Whitehurst and Lynn Dickey. My Packer memories go before the arrival of #4 and the idea that Rodgers is suddenly not good enough is laughable. Suddenly he’s what the psycho Favreophiles-who-can’t-let-go, say he is? Right. It’s all on him. Has nothing to do with having half his team on crutches. Has nothing to do with a rookie being schooled on the field to protect him. Has nothing to do with his receivers dropping his passes, a sub-par running game and a defense who couldn’t even put a grass stain on Chad Henne’s (are you KIDDING ME?) uniform for a game. I doubt the Dolphin equipment manager even has to do laundry this week. Just spray some Fabreeze on Chad’s jersey to get the sweat smell out of it, and he’s good to go for the next game.

    Those who think that Aaron Rodgers isn’t good enough are those too young to remember anyone except #4 as QB. And contrary to Favre worshippers opinions, Brett Favre did NOT take us to glory on his own. His lone Super Bowl win came with a defense led by a Hall of Famer (see anyone like that on the current Packers roster?) and a supporting roster built to compliment Reggie White perfectly (Sean Jones, Santana Dotson among many others). A running game that featured two underrated and durable 1000 yard per year capable running backs, and a weapon on special teams that stole the Super Bowl MVP out from under Favre’s nose, and yeah, a kicking game (which includes the punter) that was a bit more reliable than what Rodgers has now. Yet, Rodgers was supposed to lead this team to the SAME glory as the ‘96 team, with less than Favre had, and because it’s not happening, he suddenly sucks. Doesn’t matter that he’s spitting his chicklets onto the turf at Lambeau Field, getting his brain scrambled, and taking shots that referees never let anyone get away with when Favre was on the field. I saw guys on Twitter saying that “Mark Sanchez led his team back this week” as a comparison to what Rodgers should be doing, and insinuating that Sanchez has passed Rodgers in status. Are you seriously comparing the team Rodgers has left standing around him, to the Jets right now? The Jets, who have a relatively healthy team, and all their model citizen/problem children/drunks and baby daddies off suspension?

    I would admit to putting Rodgers on the same level as Romo record wise, but to say that he’s anywhere close to Romo as far as gaffes that cost his team actual games, is not accurate. Not even close. I’d take Rodgers over Romo in a heartbeat.

    When #12’s contract expires and he leaves town after finally having enough of the “you’re not good enough” crap he’s had to endure since the circus retirement of his predecessor, it will not surprise me one bit. Who wants this fucking job? Toss a three hundred yard game, pass for a TD, run for a TD, leave parts of your dental on the field, and still get blamed when your defense can’t stop a second rate QB after your punter gives him the ball on the 50 in OT? Okaaaay.

    P.S. Why isn’t Charles Woodson taking some of the Rodgers heat from you guys? You remember him? Our defensive MVP leader? The guy who was supposed to be just as valuable to the team on the defensive side of the ball as Rodgers is on O? All I hear are crickets so far this year in regards to his play. Well, crickets and yellow hankies hitting the ground all around him.

  • [...] Chris at Ol’ Bag of Donuts says that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers’ regression is troubling. [...]

  • Mark

    The defense is playing well enough with all their injuries to keep the offense in the game and to win games, the offense just can’t put the game away by gettin the first downs. Someone needs to light a fire under Rodgers ass. I say we go get Barber from the Cowboys also, wouldnt hurt.

  • Bryan Jensen

    Anita,

    You seem to miss the point. One criticism of Rogers after the 2008 season was that he could not win the close games, thus the 6-10 record that year. That citicism was seemingly answered when he drove the Packers with under two minutes in 2009 Week 1 to beat the Bears. But, after three opportunities this year, Rogers has failed to do this. It is true that the defense could not stop the Dolphins after Masthay gave them the ball at the 50, but it is equally true that the punt was preceded by another 3 & out in overtime. You cannot call people out for having the Favre blinders on but at the same time have the Rogers blinders on. He simply has not played well this year. His sack total, interception total, and QB rating speak to that.

    Why does having half his team on crutches affect his play? You then say it was the defense’s fault that Miami scored in OT, yet that is the side of the ball missing 5 starters and a key backup. I thought they did a fairly admirable job considering they lost another player early in the game that was in for another jured player.

    I too remember all the QB’s you mentioned, but to say we should give Rogers a break because 20 years ago we had some bad quarterbacks is not realistic. I do not find myself saying durig games, “Man, imagine how bad we would be getting beat if Blair Kiel was out there.”

    Quite simply, Rogers has to play better. He set the bar last season and is falling woefully short this season. He is 1-11 in games decided 4 points or less and 4-3 in games decided by 5-7 points. Looking at the McCarthy era, Mike is 5-13 in games decided by 4 points or less and 9-5 in games decided by 5-7 points. However, within McCarthy’s records was two seasons with the other guy at QB. During these two seasons the Packers were 4-2 in games under 4 points and 4-2 in games decided by 5-7 points.

    Please don’t say Rogers has less to work with than Rogers now has. Do you forget that during the ‘96 season Robert Brooks was lost for the season in Week 1, Antonio Freeman missed several weeks with a broken arm, and Mark Chumura missed time as well. Why do you think Andre Rison was signed? Those were the top three targets. Imagine now that on top of losing Finley the Packers also lost Jennings and Driver. I don’t think this team would have a single win.

    Also, please don’t talk about how Favre was protected by the referees. The NFL did not have the QB protection rules they now have for most of Favre’s career. I can promise you that Favre took some of the same hits as Rogers has for longer than 2 1/4 seasons. And oh yeah, Favre had receivers that dropped balls and lines that didn’t block well too.

    Just as the Favre apologists need to wake-up so do those that think Rogers cannot be held accountable. Rogers has not played well this year and no one seems to know why. I can only cringe when I think about him saying that he would take more chances this year. If this is the outcome, I think I would prefer he go back to last season andjust take 50 sacks. At least then I could be thankful that it is not Blair Kiel out there!

  • Anita

    I really don’t think I’m missing that much, actually, and I’m comparing the hits Rodgers is taking NOW with the way Brady, Manning and Favre are being coddled on the field NOW. If someone touches a hair on Tom Brady’s Bieber-esque coiff, they’re flagged. The only time I saw the refs swallow the hankies in regards to Favre was last year in the NFC Championships (and I have to admit, I enjoyed it tremendously). I wasn’t comparing the rules now, with the rules back then, because that would be ignorant. But, you know, thanks for assuming I am just that obtuse.

    Aaron Nagler just posted an excellent analysis, called “Where is the slant,” putting some of the onus on Rodgers’ stats where it belongs, on the coach/playcaller’s head. You have Donald Driver, the BEST WR as far as the slant is concerned, yet he’s being ignored. Where are the short passes that carved up the Bears’ defense a couple weeks ago….a game that we lost, by the way, despite Rodgers having one of his finest games as a pro. Who’s fault was that one?

    As far as Brooks, Freeman, and Chmura being gone for part of the ‘96 season and St. Brett of the Holy Perfection working above it, I restate the fact that Brett had a much better team surrounding him, on defense, special teams and TWO good, reliable running backs, who were both EXCELLENT receivers, as well, and a coach who knew what plays to call to work around the fact that a couple guys were missing. McCarthy doesn’t seem to have that ability. The ‘96 team also had Ron Wolf, who went out and took a chance on Andre Rison when the receiving corps got a little thin. Brett Favre also had Mike Holmgren to guide him. I’m sorry, but Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have a Mike Holmgren. He has a guy who thought Alex Smith was a better option than Rodgers in 2005, and a GM who seems to be doing a great Nero imitation while his team burns down around him.

    The Packers are 3-2. Rodgers does have some culpability in that, but to place the performance of the team on his shoulders when there is so much blame to go around, is ridiculous. To call him a bad QB is patently false. There are only a hand full of QB’s that we’d be better off having and a couple of them are quite long in the tooth. Or maybe you’d prefer Jay Cutler? His stats say he’s having a better season than Rodgers. You’ll also be getting a head case with an attitude problem and a history of concussions (I’ve read reports that he’s had either five or seven of them so far in his young career). Switch Mark Sanchez and Aaron Rodgers. Put Sanchez behind center for the depleted Packers and Rodgers with the fully loaded Jets. I’m thinking the team records would be about the same as they are now.

  • Briana

    I agree with Chris.

    Call me a hater, but I’ll start off by saying that I graduated from UC Berkeley (the same school Rodgers went to), and I am a HUGE fan of Aaron Rodgers. For the most part, except for the few things that people have been criticizing him for, I absolutely love the way the guy plays. That being said, he is not above being criticized, and the truth of the matter is that Rodgers has not been that clutch in close games and has seemed to regress this year. At least three of the sacks this past game were on Rodgers as he reverted to what he was doing in the beginning of 2009 – holding the ball far too long or leaving the pocket too early. He never seems to want to hit the checkdown and always seems to be looking for the big play. Of course, you don’t want a quarterback to be a “checkdown” king but Rodgers could checkdown a little more. It would take some pressure off of the offensive line and maybe let this offense get into some kind of a rhythm. Of course, this is not completely on Rodgers; playcalling has something to do with it and a little more creativity on offense would be nice. For example, when you go to the shotgun formation as many times as the Packers do, it would be nice to see the mix in a run out of that formation like I saw the Colts do this past Sunday night.

    Also, I completely agree with the point that Rodgers never seems to want to make the “risky” throws. I believe part of this can be attributed to the fact that he is, in his own words, a perfectionist. When you have that mentality, it means you want to be perfect. Doing risky throws leads to more interceptions, and therefore imperfection. However, it can also lead to victory in close games. Now, to be fair, are all of Rodgers’ losses in close games on him? Certainly not. The 2009 game against the Steelers is a great example of when it was not. Rodgers put the Packers ahead only to watch his defense completely let him down. However, Chris is right in saying the last two games HAVE been on Rodgers – especially in the Washington game. Yes, there should have been a penalty for the helmet to helmet and I am still mad about that because I just can’t stand when the refs don’t call penalties that possibly endanger the players. However, Rodgers threw the pass BEFORE he was hit, so that pick was still on him. It was a bad throw. I can understand why Rodgers was pissed about the refs in this past game – perhaps he was simply frustrated that he never seems to get any calls. Still, Rodgers needs to get past that. He needs to ignore the refs and play the way he is capable of playing. Rodgers is capable of winning as 2009 proved. But he definitely has some things to correct before he can do so. Mike McCarthy could help him out by going back to some of the basics and calling for more three step drops.

    One interesting thing to note is that third year regressions aren’t all that uncommon historically. For players that perform great their first two years (see this Wall Street Journal article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703632304575451521749511284.html), their numbers do seem to slip a bit in the third year. The article mentions Dan Marino’s interception rate in particular being only 1.5 after starting out with a ratio of 2.53 (second best). Rodgers had a ratio of 2.90, so I’m comparing the two of them because looking for all of the players stats mentioned in that article would take too much time. Now Rodgers can overcome history (after all, he is the only QB in history to throw for 4000 yards in both of his starting years), but I just thought that was interesting. Here are the stats:

    Dan Marino G CMP ATT PCT YDS AVG TD LNG INT FUM RAT
    1983 MIA 11 173 296 58.4 2210 7.5 20 85 6 0 96.0
    1984 MIA 16 362 564 64.2 5084 9.0 48 80 17 0 108.9
    1985 MIA 16 336 567 59.3 4137 7.3 30 73 21 0 84.1

    Aaron Rodgers (through 6 games of 2010)
    2008 GB 16 341 536 63.6 4038 7.5 28 71 13 6 93.8
    2009 GB 16 350 541 64.7 4434 8.2 30 83 7 8 103.2
    2010 GB 6 129 201 64.2 1546 7.7 10 86 7 0 89.7

    Sorry for this ridiculously long comment. And I would just like to add that I still would take Rodgers over most of the other QB’s in this league. I would take him any day over Cutler or Sanchez even though yes, Cutler’s stats do say he’s having a “better” season.

  • Mitch

    I think the issue isn’t that anyone’s calling him a bad quarterback. It’s just that, unlike his predecessor, he wasn’t ready-made in clutch mode, and that’s the one talent he hasn’t yet developed under Mike McCarthy–perhaps because McCarthy doesn’t possess that clutch ability. Now on top of that, he was uncharacteristically skittish in the pocket yesterday, understandable due to him sustaining a concussion in the previous game. Oddly for him, though, instead of escaping the pocket laterally, he stepped up into open space, only to hesitate, deciding whether to run or try to throw when there was open grass in front of him. I think at least three of his sacks were from those situations, and they were completely avoidable.

    Right now, I think Rodgers is in his own head a little bit, and the coaches around him aren’t helping him with that. Whether that’s due to willingness or ability is debatable.

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