There comes a time in every person’s life where they have to let go of something they love; a toxic friendship, a beloved pet, or a pair of Super Mario sneakers that lit up with every step you took that you wore every day even though they were 3 sizes too small but you didn’t care and curled your toes up and walked on blisters just to look cool to your third grade peers. Trust me, those shoes were amazing. In Aaron Rodgers’ case, it’s time for him to let go of the football. I’m not saying he needs to let go of football the sport and retire, but to instead get the ball out of his hands on time.
Aaron Rodgers is an all-time great quarterback, and part of what makes him special is his ability to navigate the pocket and extend the length of passing plays which can lead to more open receivers downfield. On the flip side of that same coin, it gets him sacked a lot. With the knee injury that he suffered in week 1, Rodgers has a severely limited ability to escape initial pressure but he still chooses, at times, to hold on to the ball too long. Compounding this issue is a lack of aggressiveness from Rodgers throwing the ball into tight windows. In 2016, Rodgers ranked 32nd out of 39 eligible quarterbacks in NFL Next Gen Stats’ Aggressiveness %. In 2017, he was 35th out of 41 (Brett Hundley was 40th). So far through four weeks in 2018, he’s 36th out of 37. Of course a lot of factors go into this, but it is one indicator of the problem.
The unwillingness to throw into tight windows hasn’t drastically hindered the offense; part of this is because Rodgers is very good at finding the open receiver on any given play, and part of this is because even when receivers are covered, Rodgers’ ball placement makes the catches easier for his receivers. But, as Rodgers stated himself after their week four win against the Buffalo Bills, the offense hasn’t had much rhythm and has generally left opportunities missed.
If you’re having trouble picturing what I’m talking about, well, you’re in luck. I’m going to go week by week and show you examples of where Rodgers should have pulled the trigger and, for reasons unknown, left a play on the table. Important caveat: Rodgers is still the best in the world and can do things that no one else on this earth can do with a football, so please do not misconstrue my words into thinking Tim Boyle should be our starter - this is merely a collection of missed opportunities so far in 2018.
Why not start at one of the best football games in recent history? While Rodgers played brilliantly in the second half in week one against Chicago, a lack of trust was already beginning to develop. Down 17 with 1:32 to go in the third quarter, Rodgers inexplicably looked off two open receivers in the middle of the field and ended up with an intentional grounding.
Perhaps he was trying to pad his stats, as he got the yardage back as well as a first down on the very next play, but it was a head scratcher. Here’s the behind angle:
Both Adams and Graham, the only two receivers in which Rodgers is looking, are both open (Graham more so than Adams). If the ball comes out on time, this is an easy reception.
This habit carried into the second game against Minnesota. In the first quarter, Green Bay runs a clearout for Adams off of play-action. As soon as Adams makes his break inside he throttles down a bit, as he recognizes there is a middle linebacker 12 yards in front of him. The linebacker doesn’t see him and continues to backpedal, and Adams has nobody particularly close to him.
Nope. Rodgers holds on to the ball and has to throw a dumpoff pass to Montgomery that falls incomplete. When Rogers is at the end of his drop, This is what he’s looking at (that’s Adams in the top left corner):
Lay the ball between each linebacker and it’s 10+ yards.
Here, again against Minnesota, Rodgers has his eyes on Geronimo Allison. This one isn’t as egregious; Allison has three defenders who are all about three yards away from him, but this is still a throw Aaron Rodgers can, and has in the past, made.
Harrison Smith eventually covers up Allison well, but there’s a window at the top of Rodgers’ drop to deliver this ball. If the throw is to Allison’s body, and not out in front of him, the only way Smith makes a play on the ball is to go through Allison. Allison either draws a DPI if Smith is there too soon, or he makes a catch and absorbs a hit. If you want to avoid Allison getting hit, throw it to his back shoulder which makes him stop running or throw it in the dirt at his feet and the play is done - just don’t hold on to the ball and absorb a sack.
The week three game against Washington had more missed connections than the classified ads of Craigslist. Rodgers wasn’t seeing the field well at all, and when it appeared he did see his receivers, he was unwilling to sling it.
On Green Bay’s first offensive snap, Rodgers looks off the safety in the middle of the field and Davante Adams beats his guy. This is a typically routine pickup for a healthy, confident Rodgers.
Instead, after missing Adams and not pulling the trigger on a pass to a crossing Allison, Rodgers reverts to sandlot football and throws an incompletion. The misses and hesitations continued throughout the afternoon. Jimmy Graham in the red zone (or Aaron Jones underneath). Graham in the red zone again. Randall Cobb over the middle in the fourth quarter for a likely TD. And, a personal favorite of mine, the double look-off that came in the fourth quarter:
Think he was looking somewhere else? Look again:
What else do you want as a receiver? Jimmy Graham is a guaranteed two yards at the very least. Aaron Jones, three yards. Rodgers had his eye on both of them and didn’t throw the football. While you needed five for a first down, it was only second down; instead, a throwaway on second down keeps you at 3rd & 5 without even giving your playmakers an opportunity to do something more.
The problems in the Buffalo game were less of a ‘Rodgers not letting go of the football’ problem, and more of a ‘scheming for our best playmakers’ problem (and “problem” is relative, as the score was 22-0), but the hesitations still popped up every now and then. Rodgers held off on a throw to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the endzone instead opting to comeback to Ty Montgomery, and, despite routinely beating the Buffalo cornerbacks on curl routes during the game, deciding not to throw a pass to either Graham or Davante Adams. Both of those plays were during the first quarter and as the game progressed Rodgers did seem more comfortable to sling the ball in tighter windows, but it wasn’t enough to buck a concerning trend.
Again, this isn’t to say that we need to re-evaluate the quarterback position in Green Bay. Rodgers is still tremendous, but the offense is running at less than 100% and this tendency is one of the reasons why.