Zeke Bratkowski Talks About Aaron Rodgers and the Offense of the Packers

rodgers-vs-the-colts

This Sunday the 4-3 Green Bay Packers will be hosting the 3-5 Indianapolis Colts at Lambeau Field. This game will be only the ninth time the two teams have met in the regular season since the Colts moved to Indianapolis from Baltimore.

Overall, the Colts lead the all-time series 21-20-1 with the Packers. Since the Colts moved to Indianapolis, the Colts have won five of the eight games that they have played against the Packers. That includes the only time Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Andrew Luck have faced each other playing quarterback.

Luck and the Colts beat Rodgers and the Packers 30-27 in 2012 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Rodgers had a nice game, as he threw three touchdown passes versus one interception for 235 yards. No. 12 also ran for 57 more yards in that contest.

Luck attempted 55 passes, completing 31, as he threw two touchdown passes versus one pick for 362 yards. Luck also ran for 24 yards on the ground, including a three-yard touchdown run.

Looking back at the history of the Packers and the Colts, the  most famous game between the two teams was the 1965 Western Conference Championship game at Lambeau Field.

I wrote about that game earlier this summer after talking with former Green Bay quarterback Zeke Bratkowski. The former Georgia Bulldog star, who also wore No. 12 just like Rodgers is currently, had to come into that classic game in relief of Bart Starr, as No. 15 was injured on the first play of the game.

Bratkowski threw for 248 yards in that game, as the Packers won 13-10 in overtime. The game was controversial because a number of observers felt that kicker Don Chandler had missed the game-tying field goal late in regulation.

Bratkowski was sure that the refs were correct in saying that the kick was good.

“The field goal was good,” Bratkowski said. “The reason I say that is Bart and I were both holders. If he was hurt and couldn’t hold on kicks, I would hold. In practice, the quarterback who wasn’t holding would be under the goal posts catching the kicks, just like in that game.

“But with those short goal posts, unless you were under them, you couldn’t tell if a kick was good or not. And that’s were the officials were when they said the kick was good.”

I had another opportunity to talk with Bratkowski this week and I wanted to get his take on the play of Rodgers and the offense of the Packers in general as of late.

“The running back injuries to [Eddie] Lacy and [James] Starks can really effect how productive the offense will be,” Bratkowski said. “Without them, you really can’t utilize the play-action pass.

“I have to congratulate Coach McCarthy for spreading out the offense because of the injuries at running back. The offense has really been effective since he has done that.”

rodgers-meets-with-mccarthy

There is no doubt about that. In the past two games, Rodgers has put together two of his best efforts in the past year or so. Versus the Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons, Rodgers has thrown seven touchdown passes without tossing an interception for 572 yards. That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 113.7, as he has two straight games of having a passer rating of over 100.

Having a passer rating of over 100 used to be the norm for Rodgers until the 2015 season. In fact, Rodgers had six straight seasons of having a passer rating of over 100 up until last season. In addition to that, Rodgers is the No. 1 quarterback in NFL history with a career mark of 103.6 based on 1,500 pass attempts.

Russell Wilson (100.5) of the Seattle Seahawks is the only other QB with a career mark of over 100 in NFL history.

But starting last season, the passing game of Rodgers and the Packers started to struggle somewhat.

At first glance, looking at the 2015 season Rodgers put together for the Packers, it looked fairly normal.

Why? Because Rodgers threw 31 touchdown passes compared to just eight picks last season. That was very comparable to what No. 12 did over the previous six seasons.

But when you peel back the onion, one can see a number of declining stats.

The yards passing for the season was one red flag. Rodgers threw for just 3,821 yards last season, which was the lowest of his career, based on a full season.

In addition to that, Rodgers also only threw for an average of 239 yards per game in 2015. That is a steep decline based on the previous six seasons which averaged 279 yards per game.

The passer rating also went way down. In 2015, the passer rating of Rodgers was just 92.8, which was the lowest of his career since he became a starter in 2008.

One of the big reasons for the decline of the overall statistics of Rodgers was the season-ending ACL injury suffered by wide receiver Jordy Nelson in the preseason. That, plus the fact that the Rodgers wasn’t given a lot of help by his younger receivers. Namely Davante Adams.

No. 17 struggled with lingering ankle issues for a number of games last season. But that doesn’t excuse the number of dropped passes, running the wrong routes at times and the overall lack of production.

Adams ended up with just 50 catches for 483 yards and one touchdown.

Zeke in Super Bowl II

Zeke Bratkowski in Super Bowl II.

Bratkowski talked about that situation.

“It takes awhile for quarterbacks to get into a rhythm with young receivers,” Bratkowski said. “The ability to run a concise pattern is really a work of art. If the receiver is not where he is supposed to be really creates issues for the quarterback.

“Plus the loss of Jordy really hurt last year. And you can see that it has taken him awhile this season to get back to where he was before the injury. But he’s coming along just fine.”

The lack of production from last year ran into the early part of this season as well for the passing game. Going into the game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field in Week 3, Rodgers had gone 14 straight games without achieving a passer rating of over 100.

But in the game against the Lions, which was also the alumni game in which Bratkowski and so many former Packers greats attended, Rodgers threw four touchdown passes without tossing a pick for 205 yards. No. 12’s passer rating in the game was 129.3.

And with the two straight games of having a passer rating over 100 in Week’s 7 and 8, Rodgers looks to be back on track.

Nelson is looking like his old self again in the deep passing game, at least based on what he did against the Falcons last week. For the season, Nelson has 31 receptions for 415 yards and six touchdowns.

Adams is also having a great bounce-back season and is becoming a huge threat in the passing game. No. 17 has 40 receptions for 424 yards and five touchdowns. In the last two games alone, Adams has 25 catches for 206 yards and two touchdowns.

With his recent success, Rodgers is putting together another very solid season. No. 12 has thrown 17 touchdowns versus just four picks for 1,742 yards. His passer rating (96.4) is not over 100 yet, but is heading that way.

Bratkowski shared his thoughts on Rodgers.

“Aaron has a very nice arm and also has great mobility,” Bratkowski said. “He’s trusting his young receivers more and they are earning his trust. The concept of the offense over the past couple of weeks has been really good.

“But the key to the passing game is pass protection. And the Packers have done a great job protecting Rodgers so he can look over his various reads. Aaron has taken advantage of that situation the past couple of weeks.”

NFL: Super Bowl II

Zeke Bratkowski (No. 12), Bart Starr (No. 15), Don Horn (No. 13) and head coach Vince Lombardi on the sideline near the end of  Super Bowl II.

Bratkowski will be watching the game between the Colts and Packers at his home in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Bratkowski will have a very special guest at his house to watch the game with him. That would be Bart Starr.

Bratkowski and Starr have talked about Rodgers with each other.

“We have a great feeling about what Aaron has done as a Packer,” Bratkowski said. “He has certainly added to the great lineage of the position in Green Bay. Bart and I both admire what he has done.”

I asked Bratkowski if he has ever met Rodgers.

“Except for shaking hands and saying hello at alumni games, I really haven’t had a conversation with him,” Bratkowski said. “I have pointed to my jersey No. 12 and sort of grin, which gets a smile from Aaron.”

Based on my conversations with Bratkowski, I think it would be well worth the time of Rodgers to have a discussion with another No. 12 who played with the Pack. Bratkowski had 15-year career in the NFL as a quarterback with the Bears, Rams and Packers, plus was an assistant coach in the NFL for 26 years.

Bratkowski is an encyclopedia of knowledge about playing the quarterback position. He gained a lot of that knowledge by learning under Vince Lombardi during his time in Green Bay.

Bratkowski talked about being in the quarterback’s meeting room with Coach Lombardi in a story I wrote earlier this summer.

Bratkowski and Starr were together in those quarterback meetings with Lombardi for five consecutive seasons. I’m sure that they will reflect on those meetings as they watch Rodgers lead the Green Bay offense this Sunday afternoon.

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