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Packers 2018 Roster Grades, QBs: Aaron Rodgers’ struggles were due to numerous factors

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The future Hall of Famer wasn’t himself in 2018, a big reason why the only NFL head coach he’s ever known is now unemployed.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the Green Bay Packers’ 2018 roster position-by-position, providing our grades for each spot and looking ahead to free agency. Today, we begin with the quarterbacks.

The Green Bay Packers had one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history start 16 games in 2018. The fact that the team went 6-9-1 is a function of that quarterback not playing up to his ability, but also likely due to injury and the coaching staff not working to keep him at the standard he has set in the past.

Still, this is the fourth straight season that Aaron Rodgers’ numbers have been disappointing relative to a stellar six-year stretch from 2009 to 2014. Hopefully a new head coach will be able to get the 35-year-old back on track in 2019.

Starter: Aaron Rodgers

Started all 16 games
Passing Stats: 372-597 (62.3% completions), 4,442 yards (7.4 Y/A), 25 touchdowns, 2 interceptions; 97.6 passer rating
Rushing Stats: 43 carries, 269 yards (6.3 YPC), 2 touchdowns

What a weird year for a quarterback. Rodgers’ yards per completion rebounded in 2018, jumping back up to 11.9 after three straight seasons around 11.0. That helped his yards per attempt reach 7.4, his highest mark since an 8.4 number in his last MVP season in 2014. He also set the NFL’s lowest mark for single-season interception rate, throwing just two picks for a rate of 0.3% while setting a record for most consecutive attempts without an interception.

And all the while, Rodgers struggled with his accuracy, missing deep balls that were routine for him. His footwork seemed off, as he would throw from odd platforms even when protected well. And on third downs, Rodgers too often held the football rather than throwing to open receivers, taking 49 sacks this season — two short of his career-high in a single season.

A knee injury that Rodgers suffered in week one clearly affected him all year. It seemingly impacted his mechanics, even when that knee became less of an issue later in the season. There is reason to suspect that a multitude of other minor ailments bothered Rodgers this season as well, which could help explain some of the consistent issues he displayed.

However, the Packers’ offense looked at its best when Rodgers was getting the football out of his hands quickly and in rhythm. Ironically, the best example of this was in the second half of the opening game, when he returned to the field in the third quarter and led the team to a thrilling comeback win over the eventual NFC North champion Chicago Bears. In that game, Rodgers was precise, he was decisive, and he looked like the Rodgers we all knew and expected.

After that, it fell apart, as he and Mike McCarthy seemingly could not get on the same page. With McCarthy out and Matt LaFleur in, it’s time for Rodgers to do some serious self-scouting and buy in to the new offense that will start being installed this April.

Backup: DeShone Kizer

Active for 16 games
Passing Stats: 20-42 (47.6% completions), 187 yards (4.5 Y/A), 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions; 40.5 passer rating
Rushing Stats: 5 carries, 39 yards (7.8 YPC), 1 fumble

Kizer saw action in three games this season, first filling in for Rodgers in the first half of the first game against the Bears, then taking one knee in a convincing win over the Falcons and finally playing most of the final contest against the Detroit Lions. In that time, he was responsible for exactly zero points for the Packers and seven points for their opponents, courtesy of a Khalil Mack pick-six.

Kizer’s athletic ability was clear, especially against the Lions, when he ran four times for 40 yards. His arm strength is there as well. However, his presence in the pocket still needs significant work, and his accuracy and decision-making are both terribly inconsistent.

Third String: Tim Boyle

No stats

The big-armed Boyle was a preseason darling, as he showed off his cannon on multiple occasions. However, he was only an insurance policy for the Packers this season, as he suited up on game day only a few times in the immediate aftermath of Rodgers’ knee injury.

Overall Grade: C

Was it a down year for Rodgers? You bet. But it wasn’t his worst season as a starter, which was undoubtedly that ugly 2015 season. Furthermore, the knee injury he suffered in week one taints the entire campaign, and the Packers’ injury issues and lack of experience at wide receiver complicate the grading as well.

Ultimately, we settled on a C grade for this unit. While dealing with the challenges mentioned above, Rodgers was probably the single biggest reason why the team won as many games as it did, and he was historically good at avoiding turnovers. Thrilling comebacks against the Bears in week one, the 49ers in week six, and the Jets in week 16 can be almost solely attributed to the quarterback. And yet, too often he missed or passed up open receivers, he threw the ball away at a stunning frequency, and he was one of the biggest reasons for the team’s issues with converting on third down.

Meanwhile, Kizer played so little that his performance barely factors in here at all, though his individual grade probably deserves an F for his handling of the second quarter of the Bears game alone.

Getting Rodgers’ play back into the A range will be job number one for new head coach Matt LaFleur. If he can get Rodgers’ yards per attempt back up around 8 or higher next year, that should put him back squarely in the MVP conversation and should return the Packers to serious playoff and championship contention.