It was only three years ago that the "knock" on Aaron Rodgers was that he couldn't win a playoff game. This of course followed Rodgers' first playoff appearance, a wild 51-45 shootout that resulted in an overtime loss. Many condemned Rodgers' inability to push the Packers down the field in overtime to clinch the game, ignoring the fact that without his five touchdowns, the Packers wouldn't have even made it to overtime. For these critics, it didn't matter that Rodgers was the best player on the field for either team that day. Rather, they judged him solely on the "L" the team received and ignored the context that created that result.
The flaw in this approach is easy to identify. Not only did Rodgers perform fantastically -- 28/42 for 423 yards and 4 touchdown passes plus another score on the ground -- but the Packers' defense gave up 45 points in regulation. Had they only allowed 42 points to Arizona, the Packers would have walked away victorious. That's not to say the entire blame belongs with the defense either. Rather, employing wins and losses -- both team statistics -- to judge the performance of an individual player is a faulty practice.
Unfortunately, it's also a common one.
Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar recently wrote an article entitled, "Why Aaron Rodgers is not truly great." The piece uses the Packers' record in games where they trailed by less than 8 points as proof that something important is lacking from Rodgers' game. It's yet the latest example of a team statistic being applied to an individual player to grade performance. It's especially disappointing given that it comes from Football Outsiders, a site dedicated to evaluating the NFL through advanced metrics.
As with the playoff game criticism, the factors that determine the outcome of a game are too numerous to credit to an individual player. Take Sunday's game against the Bengals. Few would disagree that Rodgers had a substandard game, throwing two interceptions and averaging less than 6 yards per pass attempt. Yet, if Johnathan Franklin converts on fourth and inches late in the fourth quarter, the Packers almost certainly walk away with a victory. Would that simple twist of fate -- one completely out of Rodgers' hands -- make him a more clutch quarterback? Obviously not, yet less than a week later it's a national discussion. If a stat can be so easily manipulated by factors clearly outside of the individual's control, it cannot serve any evaluative purpose for that individual.
What's worse is that there are a plethora of viable methods to grade individual players. We at Acme Packing Company regularly utilize services such as Pro Football Focus to inform our post game coverage. Sites like this study each player on every play in order to determine performance, a more holistic and nuanced method for grading players than on team statistics. These options aren't infallible, but they provide insight into a player's performance that his W-L record just can't.
Consider instead Rodgers' individual numbers in the fourth quarter when the score differential is a touchdown or less. From 2008-2013, Rodgers has completed 261 of 410 pass attempts (63.7% completion) for 3481 yards, 26 touchdowns and seven interceptions, good for a passer rating of 104.5. Yet, even that robust rating doesn't quite do Rodgers justice, as five of those interceptions came during 2008, his first year as a starter. Looking instead only at 2009 to present, Rodgers' rating shoots up to 111.2. In either case, Rodgers' performance grades out at an elite level, further proof that judging a player solely by W's and L's fails to provide the complete picture of how that player performed.
So the next time you want to blame Rodgers for a loss or credit him with a win, remember that even the quarterback is just one cog in a much larger machine. Teams win and lose games, not individual players.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn
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