As Packer fans, there's a couple things you can count on pretty much every NFL season:
1.) Troy Aikman will call games so one-sided that he'll say and do everything short of appearing on-air wearing a cheesehead with a knife through it.
2.) One of our offensive lineman's legs/knees/back/arms will explode.
Oddly enough, I'm not sure which is more painful. As you might have heard by now, the latest entrant into the Packers season-long infirmary is Bryan Bulaga, who tore his ACL. For some reason, this has led people to question the Packers training staff, who, apparently haven't been keeping the players up on their daily ligament workouts, or something. Obviously, this makes very little sense since A.) There is no such thing and B.) The idea that ligament tears can be prevented or made less likely was completely shot down when Adrian Peterson (who is likely a government science project) tore his. When a player as supremely conditioned as Peterson can rip his knee to shreds, it's safe to say that avoiding injury is more a function of luck than anything.
The better question is really, what do the Packers do going forward? Unless David Bakhitiari becomes Joe Staley 2.0 or Ted Thompson goes on a hot streak of drafting linemen, Aaron Rodgers will likely spend the better part of his career frantically running around the backfield in an effort to avoid very large men trying to tackle him. And if history tells us anything, it's that at some point, Aaron Rodgers, as age and injuries increase, will become less adept at doing such a thing. It's a crossroads that will likely determine whether Rodgers goes on to a Peyton Manning-like career - aging gracefully into his upper 30's with masterful command and intelligence to make up for his diminished physical abilities.
Another option is to have a career trajectory like Steve Young, who suffered a bunch of concussions, retired at 37 and now looks like a slightly better version of Nick Nolte's mugshot.
Rodgers is only one part of the offense affected by the Packers offensive line woes, but he's also the most important part. The question Mike McCarthy will soon have to decide, however, is whether to let Rodgers continue to play the way he has, or to rethink how the offense runs. Granted, a Super Bowl title, MVP award and record-setting passer ratings qualify for the ‘If it ain't broke' argument, but there's one key thing to remember here:
Aaron Rodgers has gotten sacked more than any other quarterback in the league since taking over in 2008.
That stat has come up a lot over the last day or so in reference to Bulaga's injury, but that number (202) beguiles an even more important part of the story. It's not just the offensive line's lack of talent (Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz) or healthy bodies (Bulaga, Sherrod, Clifton, etc.) that causes Aaron Rodgers to get hit.
It's how the offense itself is designed.
Deadspin covered it pretty well a couple years ago when the Packers offense was busy mowing through the league, but this quote by Barry Petschky sums things up in a nutshell:
"The key to the Packers steamroller is deceptively simple: patience. When a quarterback has no one open, he generally has three choices: throw it away, try to force it into traffic, or run. When Aaron Rodgers has no one open, he waits"
Well, yeah. He waits while dodging and ducking 300 lb. linemen. That Rodgers can do such a thing is both a blessing and a curse for McCarthy. On the plus side, it allows McCarthy to call plays that lesser quarterbacks could never pull off. Where Brett Favre happily got rid of the ball (aka: threw it into quintuple coverage), Rodgers buys time until a receiver is open, thus minimizing the risk of interceptions while still allowing the offense to flourish.
The downside of all this is in the punishment that Rodgers endures. If Mike McCarthy has the keys to a Ferrari in Rodgers, he's redlining the hell out of it. Sure, it's fast and fun and looks good doing it. But one day, the engine's gonna blow.
There is however, a fourth option for quarterbacks that Deadspin failed to mention - know where to throw it before you even get to the other three. Call it the Peyton Manning school of quarterbacking. For those who've watched Manning and to a lesser degree, Tom Brady, over the years, you know what I'm talking about. Like the Packers key to success, it's a method that's deceptively simple in concept (throw to a space where the receiver will be) and equally as tough as evading blitzing linebackers in execution (um, throwing where no one is).
In the most basic of terminologies, we're talking about timing patterns.
Watch any Broncos game from last year (or Colts game before that) and you'll see it in its most virtuosic form - an elegant, perfectly-synched display of coordination and craft. Where quarterbacks like Rodgers and Roethlisberger wait, Manning's Jedi Mastery avoids the waiting game altogether, yet produces similar results.
The puzzling part for the Packers is that when they have run timing patterns (the back shoulder being the most prominent, and before that, the slant route) they've done so with great success. Obviously, there's something to be said about mixing up the play-calling, but when you've got something that clearly works, why not push the boundaries of just how good it can work? The Packers have the personnel, too. While it makes sense to play it safer with less experienced rosters, the Packers with Rodgers, Nelson, Jones, Finley and Cobb seem to possess all the chemistry needed to run timing patterns, where, feel and flow of the game, subtle body gestures and overall knowledge of the game become just as important as outright speed or strength.
In terms of sheer grasp of NFL defenses, Rodgers may never get to Manning's level. Few (if any) have. But Rodgers undoubtedly has the arm strength and accuracy to run all the slants, back shoulders, fades and out patterns McCarthy could call. Is there more risk in those kinds of throws? Sure. But with Rodgers a few months from his 30th birthday and an offensive line in a seemingly constant state of flux, one has to wonder, what's more risky? Doing something new?
Or doing what you've done?