Breaking Down Aaron Rodgers (Injury Update 9/29)

So it's week 4 and we've gone from 2-0 and "This team is the real deal!" to 2-2 and "This team is in trouble!".  As it's been noted here, here, and possibly here, the running game has some major issues.

But quarterback is the glamour position; it has been for decades.  The signal caller often gets the glory and the blame, whether it's deserved or not.  People are blaming Aaron Rodgers for the loss, because people love blaming the QB.  So lets look at Aaron Rodgers' performance against Tampa Bay.

Statistically, he was below average.  His stat line was 14-27 for 165 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions.  His completion rating of 51.9 was ten points below his season average of 61.9, and his QB rating was 55.9, well shy of his 91.4 rating overall.  Quarterbacks have days like this, whether they be nobodies, big time busts, or future Hall of Famers.

However, when I actually got a chance to see what had happened, I feel much, much better about Aaron Rodgers.  Based on the little that I saw, he did a good job of setting his feet, moving the safeties with his eyes, and following through on his throws, all of which are trademark components of his game.  However, I didn't see any of his incompletions, so I can't judge his game as a whole.  I will, however, comprehensively breakdown the highlights I did see, including both touchdowns, the injury, and the three interceptions.

First of all, he started the game very well, leading a drive ending in a nice pass to Greg Jennings, who put a killer move on Ronde Barber to get open for the easy TD.  After that, Green Bay tried to establish the running game, which just wasn't happening, so they had to go to the pass.  And that's when things started going downhill.

On his first interception, Rodgers was looking for a deeper route, but Tampa had 8 men in coverage.  He set his feet and sent a decent throw to Brandon Jackson on the checkdown route, which was the correct response to the defense.  However, Jackson made the all-too-common mistake of looking away from the ball before he caught it, resulting in the ricochet interception.  Clearly, that one was not Rodgers' fault.

On the second interception, Tampa brought a strong rush and stunted the weak-side end and tackle.  The stunt was well executed in that the defensive end got shallow penetration on the left tackle (Chad Clifton) and pushed into the left guard's zone, allowing the defensive tackle to swing around him unhindered and rush the now-vacant edge lane.  This was a great defensive effort, and it caused the pocket to collapse. 

Aaron did a decent job stepping up to avoid contact, but when the crossing tackle did touch him, he panicked.  He moved up, failed to set his feet properly, which in turn prevented him from pushing off his back foot on his throw, resulting in him overthrowing Donald Driver and the consequent interception.  Definitely Aaron Rodgers' fault, but an outstanding defensive play to force the pick.

Then in the third quarter, Rodgers hurt his shoulder (possibly seperating it) on a scramble.  Watching the tape, I've had plays end up like that myself, and I assure you, it hurts like hell.  He definitely needed to go to the sideline to get it worked on.  When he came back, he threw another long touchdown to Greg Jennings, who may be on his way to becoming Rodgers' favorite target.  And you could tell that it hurt to make that throw; just watching him run off the field with no celebration with his right arm hanging stationary was proof of that. 

The throw itself was definitely ill-advised, even for a non-injured quarterback.  Jennings was lined up in the slot, and was in bracket coverage from a linebacker and a safety.  He was covered, plain and simple, and Aaron forced the pass.  Rodgers did make a near-perfect throw to thread the needle and prevent either defender from making a play on the ball.  But it was a bad throw that had no business being completed, much less for a long touchdown.  But we in Green Bay have certainly experienced that before.

On the last interception, people might want to blame Chad Clifton for blowing an assignment.  But that's not what happened.  On the play, a short while after Aaron came back into the game, Tampa lined up six players at the line, with a DB in blitzing position slightly further back on the strong side.  Green Bay had two tight ends to the left side (one as a slot back), and both of them went out for routes at the snap.  Tampa ended up rushing only four of the seven players, with the weak side DE and the middle linebacker faking the rush and dropping into short zones.  Because of the balance of the defensive front, the offensive line was pass blocking to the weak side. 

Clifton never saw Gaines Adams coming because he did what linemen are supposed to do when the defense is rushing more than the offense has blocking: protect the pocket from the inside out.  The Buccaneer's play drew the offensive line into a small area in the middle, freeing the backside end.  Clifton was drawn in because the rest of the line needed help against the other five defenders...but only three of them rushed.  Great stunt by the Tampa defense, which allowed Adams in for the big hit, ruining Rodgers' throw and forcing the interception.

Make no mistake, Rodgers didn't have a good game.  But he didn't do nearly as bad as his stat line leads to believe.  Again, Tampa Bay deserves enormous credit for the defensive execution they pulled off.  But Green Bay definitely could and arguably should have won this game, and the majority of the blame lies with the running game, and not with Aaron Rodgers.

UPDATE: According to, Rodgers only sprained his shoulder.  This is much less serious than a separation, as originally feared.  Rodgers is questionable for next week's game against Atlanta.

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