If one was just a casual fan of the NFL, that person would look at the statistics that quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers has put up so far after nine games in the 2015 season and say they are excellent.
I mean, No. 12 has thrown 21 touchdown passes compared to just three picks for 2,270 yards. Rodgers also has a sparkling passer rating of 103.4.
What’s there not to like? A lot. Especially if you look at what Rodgers has done prior to this season from 2008-2014.
Rodgers was peppered with questions from the media about whether or not he is healthy on Sunday after the 18-16 loss to the Detroit Lions yesterday at Lambeau Field.
“Yes,” is the simple response Rodgers gave.
But if one looks at the tape from the last three games, you can see Rodgers wincing on certain occasions after taking a vicious hit from a pass-rusher.
In the past three games, Rodgers has been sacked 11 times and hit a lot more often than that.
Head coach Mike McCarthy gave a bit of different response about how Rodgers is feeling physically when he talked with the media.
“I don’t feel good about it,” McCarthy said of the physical punishment Rodgers has been taking in the past three games. “No one feels good about it. I’m sure he doesn’t feel very good.”
Yes, those last three games. The Packers were 6-0 before the past three games. Now the Pack is 6-3.
It’s one thing to lose to undefeated teams like the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers on the road, but when you lose to a 1-7 Detroit team at Lambeau Field, that really sets off an alarm button.
By the way, the passer rating for Rodgers in the last three games has been 69.7, 96.6 and 83.6. That’s a cumulative rating of 83.3.
That’s also over 22 points lower than Rodgers career passer rating of 105.8.
Something is amiss.
Rodgers was asked whether he is okay with current play-calling done by associate head coach Tom Clements.
“I think it’s been really good,” Rodgers said about working with Clements. “I think it’s been a good flow during the week, we’ve had good preparation. Tom’s in every meeting and there’s not a time where I say something about something I like or dislike in the plan that he’s not within an earshot to hear.”
No. 12 was asked if McCarthy should become more involved with the offensive play-calling.
“I think the way things are going are just fine,” Rodgers said.
When McCarthy was asked whether or not he should involved in play-calling again, the coach wasn’t sure that was the answer.
“I don’t think it’s that simple,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think the game of football is ever that simple. The way you play it is about the simplistic nature you go about fundamentals and so forth.
“But I’m looking at the amount of time and energy that’s put into the process of preparing for each and every game in the season. I like the way our staff works and I like the way they work with our players.”
That may all be true, but the plain fact is that even before the past three games, the offense just has not been very efficient in 2015. The last three games have just put an exclamation mark on the issue.
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers in the stat-line of Rodgers so far in 2015 and explain why they really need to be looked at closely.
First, the physical pounding. Rodgers has been sacked 22 times in nine games, which is eighth in the NFL in that statistic. Why so many sacks?
For one thing, Rodgers does have a tendency to hold the ball for too long, which explains some sacks. But the main reason for the sacks has been the sub-par play of the offensive line this season.
It hasn’t just been the rushers off the edge causing all the issues. It’s come from pressure up the middle of the offensive line as well.
Rodgers has completed 63.3 percent of his passes so far in 2015. That seems like a healthy number, but it isn’t. At least not for Rodgers. Going into 2015, Rodgers had completed 65.8 percent of his passes in his career.
That two percent differential doesn’t seem like much, but in a season when around 500 passes are attempted, that leads to around 20 more incomplete passes. And some of those incomplete passes can occur at key times of the game.
If you saw the game against the Lions on Sunday, you saw Rodgers throw a number of passes that were off-target to open receivers.
Again, something is amiss.
The average completion of Rodgers is just 7.3 yards. That’s 25th in the NFL. Rodgers has thrown for just 2,270 yards. That’s just 14th in the league.
Why is that?
The main reason occurred on August 23 when Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in a preseason game at Heinz Field versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Nelson has always been the deep threat for Rodgers over the past seven years. It’s hard to replace a weapon like Nelson, who had a 15.3 yards-per-catch average in his career in the NFL.
It’s also hard to replace a guy who had 98 catches for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns, which is exactly what No. 87 did in 2014.
That injury put a lot of pressure on the other receivers for the Packers to produce. If that pressure wasn’t enough, the other receivers have been playing with injury issues themselves.
Randall Cobb is still dealing with a shoulder injury suffered in the preseason. James Jones, who re-joined the Packers as a free agent shortly after Nelson’s injury, has been slowed somewhat with hamstring issues.
Davante Adams has been dealing with ankle issues since the second game of the season. Rookie Ty Montgomery has missed the last three games due to a knee injury.
Against the Lions, the Packers gave Jared Abbrederis some reps at wide receiver and the second-year player from Wisconsin had a decent game with four receptions for 57 yards.
But as luck would have it, Abbrederis was forced out of the game with a rib injury after a 32-yard reception.
The Packers also have Jeff Janis on the depth chart at wide receiver, and even though he has the same size and speed that Nelson has, the coaching staff doesn’t feel comfortable giving No. 83 a lot of reps.
Janis has been very good on special teams, however.
As a group, the receivers have had issues going up against press-coverage and getting open at times. That leads to more time in the pocket for Rodgers as he looks for the next options in his progression.
More time in the pocket leads to more hits and more sacks.
One thing that always helps a passing game is a good running game. And right now the running game of the Packers has been way too inconsistent.
Eddie Lacy is a shadow of his former self compared to 2013 and 2014. No. 27 has struggled all season long with ankle, groin and weight issues.
In both his rookie season and last year, the colder the weather got, the more Lacy would excel.
In the last two seasons in November and December, Lacy has averaged 746 yards and nine touchdowns in those two months and has had a 4.57 yards-per-carry average.
But Lacy can’t seem to get untracked in 2015. Plus, he’s had issues holding on to the football.
James Starks has done a better job than Lacy at running back overall this season, but in the game he started against the Lions, No. 44 was held to just 42 yards in 15 carries. That’s a less-than-mediocre 2.8 yard average.
Once again, the offensive line has to be held accountable somewhat. Yes, I know that they have also been nicked up with injuries. But overall, the pass protection that Rodgers has received has not been good enough, nor has the run-blocking been where it was the last two seasons.
So, the response to what is wrong Rodgers is actually a myriad of answers. It’s a combination of things.
The play of the offensive line absolutely has to get better. Both in the passing game and the running game.
Whether McCarthy gets involved or not, the Packers have to put together better offensive game plans. The offense can’t start out like a snail every game like it has the past three games.
The receiving corp needs to get healthier. If all hands are available, like with Cobb, Adams, Jones, Montgomery and Abbrederis, I believe the Packers can better utilize their four-wide set, plus use someone like Montgomery or Cobb out of the backfield.
That leads to faster pass plays like slants, quick outs and quick curls.
The continued use of tight end Justin Perillo must continue. Perillo caught five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown on Sunday versus the Lions. Perillo looks like he can find a way to get open, while Richard Rodgers has struggled doing that recently.
In terms of the health of Aaron Rodgers, I’m sure he’s got some physical problems. But who doesn’t in the NFL this time of year.
In my opinion, the performance of Rodgers would certainly look similar to what we have seen over the past seven years with him, if those surrounding him on offense played better.
And so far in 2015, most of those players in the huddle with Rodgers on offense have not played up to expectations.
The offensive scheme has also been unsteady. I don’t care what it takes, but a coach’s job, no matter the sport, is to design a scheme to help the players succeed.
That has not happened with regularity over the course of the 2015 season, especially over the past three games.
The same holds true with the performance of the Green Bay defense as well.
Special teams was the one area of the team that had played consistently well over the course of the season so far, but even with some nice plays versus the Lions (like the onside kick recovery), the team also laid a couple of big eggs.
Like the 104-yard kickoff return the Packers gave up which set up a touchdown. Or with the game-winning 52-yard field goal attempt, which was shanked by Mason Crosby.
Bottom line, these are situations which have to be fixed right away. Why?
Well, thanks to the three consecutive losses by the Packers, the team now has to travel to Minneapolis to play the 7-2 and NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings next Sunday afternoon.
A loss to the Vikings would in essence put the Packers three games (two games in the loss column and also the tie-breaker) behind Minnesota in the race for the NFC North title.
In the past, Rodgers has always played well against the Vikings. No. 12 is 10-4 in his career versus the Vikes in the regular season. Rodgers has thrown 31 touchdown passes versus just four picks for 3,490 yards.
That adds up to a spectacular passer rating of 119.0.
If Rodgers plays anything like that on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium, the Packers will almost certainly win.
But Rodgers is going to need help to succeed against the Vikings.
Help from not only his teammates, but help from his coaches as well.