Aaron Rodgers is back for the Green Bay Packers’ game against the Carolina Panthers, and Packers fans have renewed hope that this team can win out and find a way to make the playoffs.
But just how justified is that hope? And what should we expect from Rodgers and the team in these final three games? That’s the topic for this week’s Walkthroughs.
Paul Noonan - Sky’s The Limit
My only reservation is the coaching staff’s occasional bad habit of lapsing into the old way of doing things. The team that Aaron now possesses is vastly superior to the one that existed when he was hurt. Gone is Martellus and his constant drops. Gone are the backup tackles. Davante Adams is now known to be amazing, there will likely be a Jordy bounce, and the running game is a true threat. Putting together a defensive game plan to shut down the Packer offense sounds awful, and I’m glad I don’t have to do it. Which is good because the secondary is going to allow Packer opponents to score at will.
Shawn Wagner: A slow start
Call me pessimistic, but Rodgers’ return won’t cover up a porous Packers defense. When Carolina and Green Bay last met, Cam Newton had his way. I’m solely concerned with winning this difficult game before jumping to playoff conclusions. If they don’t, the Packers will be all-but-eliminated from the postseason and Rodgers may not be on the field again.
I have two concerns about this matchup for Aaron. First, how healed is his collarbone? The Packers sought the opinion of several doctors and an 80% healed right collarbone, his throwing side, is far from a 90-100% one. How many times can Rodgers pass without pain creeping up and will he have the same velocity? There’s little doubt Rodgers is tough and a gamer, but how anxious will he be about taking hits? In his first game back in 2013, many people remember his season-saving fourth down pass to Randall Cobb against Chicago. But Rodgers also threw two uncharacteristic interceptions in that game. The risk of getting injured again may be in the back of his mind against a Carolina defense that has generated the third most sacks in the league.
Second, the Panthers’ defense is fierce and Rodgers’ layoff has been significant. The transition between preseason and the regular season has never been smooth for Rodgers and company when they are getting used to each other again. By Sunday, Rodgers will not have played in live action for two months. He doesn’t get a cupcake his first game back, playing a defense that ranks in the top five in run and total defense, as well as seventh against the pass. Green Bay’s rushing attack is improved, but will it have enough success to give Rodgers’ shoulder a break?
I’m excited to see 12 back and expect to see a few impact plays that Brett Hundley wouldn’t have made, but I’m cautious about what we can realistically expect.
Evan “Tex” Western -- it all depends on the offensive line
I wrote this morning about how Rodgers has historically carved up the Panthers’ defense. He even put up great numbers in the teams’ 2015 meeting, thanks to a furious second-half comeback. Still, I keep finding myself thinking back to the 2013 game against the Bears, his return the last time he broke his collarbone.
In that game, Rodgers was sacked three times, all of which came in the first half (and one of which became a hilarious touchdown by Jarrett Boykin). Rodgers also threw two picks in that game, on each of the Packers’ first two drives. However, he got better protection in the second half and threw for two scores after halftime, including the game-winner to Randall Cobb.
With Carolina having one of the better pass rushes in the league (ranking first in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate), the offensive line will need to keep him comfortable and clean in the pocket, or at least give him the opportunity to escape without taking many hits. If they can do that, I think Rodgers can provide some explosive plays, the likes of which we haven’t seen in his absence, and that will be enough to keep the Packers alive for at least one more week.
This dependence on the line goes for the final two games as well. We saw what happened to Rodgers the last time he played the Vikings, and we’d all rather not relive it. If he stays clean, he is more than good enough to beat anyone, and I expect that he’ll have no limitations even if his collarbone is at 80% instead of 100%.
Jon Meerdink - Sudden relevance from Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson
Brett Hundley did some good things during his two month run as the Packers’ starting quarterback, but regularly looking for receivers other than Davante Adams was not one of them. Too often, Hundley locked on to his favorite receiver and didn’t look anywhere else. Coupled with the ever more readily apparent reality that neither Cobb nor Nelson is the receiver they once were and it often looked like the Packers only had one wide receiver on the field.
With Rodgers back, I think we can expect increased production from both Cobb and Nelson. At the very least, Rodgers should be able to put both in positions to make more plays than they have over the past two months.
Bob Fitch -- Reduce the scrambling, increase the yardage
I’m not going to say that I expect the Packers to win out and clinch a playoff spot and eventually dance on the gravestones of the Vikings by winning a Super Bowl in their home stadium, because I don’t believe that Green Bay is going to get into the playoffs. Since we’re talking specifically about what we expect from Aaron Rodgers, however, I think that we will actually see improvement in his play.
This is going to be a tough task to accomplish, since the Panthers create tremendous pressure and the Vikings are a top-10 unit defensively. Not playing fully healthy, however, will mean Rodgers is going to get rid of the ball quicker and not look to roll out of the pocket and take unnecessary risks. I generally think (not substantiated by any fact whatsoever) that Rodgers and the Packers offense as a whole plays better when they run an up tempo, no huddle system that can get into a rhythm throwing short and medium distance throws and occasionally hit a deep ball, rather than 7 step dropbacks with downfield routes. We know that Rodgers is the best in the world at extending the play and making completions on the run, but his and (hopefully) McCarthy’s focus will be on having a clean pocket and working on sharp, 8 yard out routes and the oft reliable slant route.
I’m not confident that Jason Spriggs can handle an average defensive end by his own for anything more than 2 seconds, but if Rodgers can play more conservatively in terms of pocket presence and whip the ball around quickly, successes will be plentiful.
Let it be known that none of what I just wrote will 100% not be true, Aaron will pick up 50 yards on the ground and throw for 300 more with the majority coming off of broken plays. Long live the King of the North.