I apologize for the tardiness of this weekly feature. The Monday night game's late finish coupled with my travel arrangements on Tuesday kinda ruined any free time I had. But, I am now at home in Wisconsin, and I am here to deliver the goods. Or, in this case, the not-so-goods.
Brandon already had an outstanding wrap-up of the game, and I don't want to re-hash the points he made. I do, however, I want to focus on one player in particular. This player had a performance that is a near-perfect reflection of the Packers season thus far: inconsistent.
Er, wait. I said "inconsistent". Not "terribly horribly God-awful". Is it just me, or does it look like he's looking back behind him to find the ball? And isn't it sad that we halfway believe it when talking about Derrick Frost?
No, I'm not talking about the Packers' sorry excuse for a punter. I'm talking about Aaron Rodgers.
Firstly, let's take a look at the numbers:
By his stat line, it looks like Rodgers had a below-average outing. His 3 interceptions ties his season high, and his completion rating and QB rating are much lower than average. The first two drives of the first quarter were especially bad in that Rodgeres missed open recievers on at least two occasions.
But anyone who watched the game knew it was a Jekyll and Hyde performance, where every facet of his play was either magnificent (especially in the first half) or terrible (especially in the second half). Let's go to the game film:
11:48, 1st Quarter - Rodgers pass short right to Grant to NO 29 for 8 yards
The offensive line did a great job giving New Orleans' linemen a good pop before releasing into their screen route. Rodgers looked the defense off by keeping his eyes away from Grant and on the left side of the field. His quick feet keep him away from the pass rush, and he does a good job of putting the pass where it needs to go quickly without too much velocity. Mike Tirico says that Grant got two good blocks from the three lineman ahead of him, but that play should have gone for much more than 8 yards if Green Bay's linemen could finish a screen block properly.
2:10, 1st Quarter - Rodgers pass short middle to Driver to NO 31 for 24 yards
Rodgers took the shotgun snap and was quickly faced by pressure from two blitzing Saints LB's. Luckily, Green Bay kept RB Brandon Jackson in to block, so the rush was an even 6-on-6. Tony Moll did a good job pushing his man to the outside, allowing Rodgers to step up and find Driver about two yards ahead of the LOS, but with room to run. Driver then powered his way for an additional 20 yards before the officials ruled the play dead.
13:47, 2nd Quarter - Rodgers pass short right to Jennings for 7 yards, TD
Green Bay set up with the ball on the left hashmark and two WR's to the right, where there was significantly more room. The Saints, having been gashed by Ryan Grant already, brought 8 men into the box, leaving two DB's out to the right and one safety over the top. The playaction freezes the linebackers and causes the safety in the middle to collapse in, and Driver runs a great route that sets a screen on the safety AND brings his man away from Jennings, who manages to get an inside release and position in the end zone. Rodgers winds up and throws a solid pass to Jennings' chest, which prevents the defender from knocking it away.
1:52, 2nd Quarter - Rodgers scrambles right end for 10 yards, TD
Rodgers takes a shotgun snap and immediately surveys the field, but realizes that the protection advantage he has (6 blockers for 4 defenders) opens up a huge running lane near the right hashmark. Since nobody is open and there are no defenders near the LOS on the right side, Rodgers decides to take off, throwing in a pump fake to freeze the defensive backs who could have tackled him. Rodgers manages to evade a half-hearted diving tackle from one Saints' DB and, using his left hand to maintain balance and propel him forward, he dives for the endzone, extending the ball over the plane while in mid-air.
So that was the Dr. Jekyll portion of the evening. Rodgers led three scoring drives, went 11/17 for 108 yards and two TD's (one on the ground), and had the team down only 24-21 at halftime. Shall we move on to Mr. Hyde?
7:52, 3rd Quarter - Rodgers pass short left intended for Jennings, INT at GB 45
The call is a basic I-Formation playaction pass, and the route Jennings was supposed to run was a 12 to 14 yard comeback to the sideline. Jennings, however, ran the route 5 to 7 yards too deep (presumably to get separation with cornerback Jason David) and didn't stop for the comeback until passing midfield. It is entirely possible that Jennings wasn't running a comeback at all, but the critical mistake was made before the ball was even thrown. Rodgers did something on the play that he rarely does: he locked his eyes on one reciever for the majority of the play. As soon as he came out of the playaction, Rodgers' focus was 100% on the left side of the field. David saw this and read Rodgers' shoulders to predict where the pass was going. When Rodgers wound up for the pass, he noticed that David had jumped the route, and immediately short-changed his follow through in accordance to his instinct. This, however, took more velocity off the ball (as he didn't follow through by pushing off his back leg), and made the interception much easier for David to make.
It does merit mentioning, though, that despite the bad mechanics and decision that Rodgers made, he did run down the play and tackle the defender out of bounds before scoring. I like to see that type of behavior in a quarterback: making a mistake and not sulking immediately thereafter. I'd much rather have him not make a mistake in the first place, but you take what you can get.
6:23, 3rd Quarter - Rodgers pass short left intended for Nelson, INT at GB 29
I commented on the game thread that this interception was both a lazy route by Jordy Nelson (which is surprising, given his hard-working persona) and a bad placement of the pass by Rodgers. After reviewing the film, both these stand true. Nelson's curl route was too easy to key in on, as his break back towards the LOS was much slower than necessary. David recognized this and broke to Nelson's inside shoulder, which was exactly where Rodgers put it. Rodgers should have adjusted after seeing David make a break for the ball and put the ball more towards the sidelines. But, again, as was the case in the first interception, I think Rodgers saw the defender and instinctually pulled back on the throw, once again not pushing off his back leg for velocity.
11:50, 4th Quarter - Rodgers pass short left to Martin for 4 yards, TD
Rodgers made up for his second interception on this play, facing the same type of situation (save for the field position). Ruvell Martin ran a short curl to the inside. Rodgers had enough time in the pocket to start his throw from the legs and saw that the defender had the inside shoulder sealed off. Rodgers then released the ball towards the sidelines, making for an easy grab for the TD.
6:08, 4th Quarter - Rodgers pass deep right intended for Nelson, INT in end zone
Rodgers simply panicked on this play. It was 4th and 16 and he got rattled by quick pressure from the Saints' pass rush. He did get away from the pressure and made room for a deep throw, but it hung in the air too long and was easily picked off. He doesn't face many situations like this, and I certainly hope he uses film of this play to influence his performance in such plays in the future.
So there you have it. Rodgers' performance was truly the tale of two halves. The first half started out poor, but he calmed down and played very well for the remainder. Then two poor decisions in the third quarter resulted in interceptions and put the game firmly out of reach.
One can only hope that Rodgers continues to bounce back from bad games (as he has demonstrated earlier this season) and lead an effective charge against Carolina.