While our 2009 wasn't as successful as it was for other teams, we saw enough to expect more success in 2010 and beyond. There's a lot to like about the Green Bay Packers going forward, unless of course you're cheering for the other team. But which players fit in the best? Which don't? Which ones are keepers, and which ones need to be driven out of town? It's time to look at who did well (and who didn't), and ultimately what their role will be going forward.
Between 1992 and 2007, Green Bay was associated with one man. In 2008, there was some question as to whether or not the team could establish a new face of the franchise. In 2009, we found that face, who just happened to play the same position as the old one. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Aaron Rodgers.
Obviously, Rodgers' starting debut in 2008 was very good. However, his 2009 season was downright stellar. Between the two seasons, Rodgers increased his yardage, completion percentage, yards per attempt, TD:INT ratio, passer rating, rushing yards, and total touchdowns. He was voted to his first Pro Bowl, led the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth, and looked sharper as the year went on.
In all honesty, there isn't much for Rodgers to improve. He showed off outstanding accuracy, excellent touch on all his throws, the ability to connect with a receiver on any route, a cannon arm able to stretch the field vertically, fantastic mobility, Favre-esque durability, and a knack for finding gaps in the defense. In a nutshell, he's everything you want in a quarterback from a physical standpoint.
But what about the intangibles? After all, players like Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Ryan Leaf, and JaMarcus Russell all had the physical tools to succeed. What does Rodgers have that they didn't? As it turns out, he's got a lot. He commands the huddle and has the faith of his teammates. He has the work ethic to keep improving his game. He has the poise to stay cool under pressure, both from opposing defenders, media spotlight, and the drama of replacing a legend. He even has the respect of his opponents, if this quote from Cardinals' safety Antrel Rolle is any indication:
Let me tell you something – that dude is scary. We have a great defense, and we were up on him and ready to pounce, and he found ways to tear us apart. I don’t ever want to face him again in my life. I am dead serious. I’ll face Drew Brees any day of the week before I face him again.
High praise from a player on a defense that got shredded by Breesus the following week. Regardless, Rodgers' reputation around the league is similar to the gist of Rolle's comments. At 26, he's a two-year starter who learned from a Hall of Famer on an offense that is tailored to fit his strengths, which are only going to improve going forward.
Of course, nobody is perfect, and neither is Rodgers. He still needs to make better decisions at the line when making audibles, including line protection calls. He also needs to know when it's right to fight to extend a play and when it isn't, relying too much on his natural talents and athleticism instead of simply throwing the ball away and taking the incompletion. Most of all, he needs to improve his pocket presence and release the ball quicker. These three things will all help to fix the biggest problem in Rodgers' game: taking sacks. His 50 sacks were a league high, and nearly 40% of them could have been avoided had Rodgers gotten rid of the ball sooner.
Still, if our biggest complaint is something that is more the fault of the five guys up front than the one guy behind them, it can't be that bad of a situation. Just imagine the season Rodgers could have had were he not cursed with horrid protection for the first 8 weeks, or the running game been more consistent, or his receivers not suffered from an unusual case of the dropsies all year long. He could have topped Brees' completion percentage, Marino's yardage, or Brady's touchdowns. There is no conceivable ceiling going forward if the team can fix the rest of the problems. He's that good.