In order for the Green Bay Packers to reach the promised land in 2020, they will need a strong season from the one person on which their season hinges: Aaron Rodgers.
Moments of inaccuracy hindered Rodgers last season, holding back the Packers’ offense from the consistency it desired in some key moments. But in the past week, the future Hall of Famer has garnered plenty of compliments from camp onlookers and Head Coach Matt LaFleur alike for his sharpness on the practice field. Rodgers offered a possible reason for the improvement, citing film from a previous season.
“It’s interesting. We were watching some old film of some of the cut-ups. As we do the installs, we’ll put some film alongside it. I just noticed something from a clip from 2010, actually. It kind of hit me. And I know it was 10 years ago, but the next day I went out to practice and started working on what I saw on the film, and the last couple days kind of happened. It’s just a good reminder for all of us the tape of yourself can often be the most important to watch. Because you can always pick things up. I won’t get into exactly what I saw, but it definitely has helped me the last couple days.”
While we will never quite know which clips Rodgers was referring to, there are two throws from the 2010 season that stick out. In fact, they are two spectacular, precise throws to Greg Jennings in the biggest moment of Rodgers’ career: Super Bowl XLV.
In this first example, Rodgers completes a third-down pass to Jennings in the waning moments of the game that led to a final Packers’ score.
This throw from Rodgers is one of the most decisive throws of his career, trusting his eyes at the line of scrimmage into the play itself. He takes his drop and sets his feet while pointing them in line with the direction he is about to throw. He then steps up and into the throw, unleashing the full force of the arm strength that has produced wildly successful pass plays throughout his career. The result was a perfect throw in stride to Jennings despite good coverage from Ike Taylor. Not only did the Packers pick up the first down, but they created a big play without deviating from the play call.
The second play to Jennings (at 2:42 into the video below) is very similar.
Rodgers reads the defense at the line and again trusts his read. While this pass, just like the previous throw, must be pinpoint with tight coverage and is a risky throw, Rodgers makes it work. Again, he drops back, steps up and into his throw with a great follow-through, and releases a bullet to Jennings for the touchdown. The throw is a tad behind Jennings, but if thrown anywhere else, the pass would have been defended.
Both of these throws are memorable passes from Rodgers’ career. But neither throw has been made with the type of frequency needed from the quarterback for several seasons.
There has been no denying that Rodgers still has exceptional arm talent, but that type of arm has allowed him to make a living off of passes thrown from uncharacteristic angles and mechanics. With Rodgers at a very different point of his career, he must get back to the fundamentals that only complement his tremendous physical tools, and perhaps it is some of these small fixes that he has found in reviewing the film.
The success of each play above, in turn, leads to a few criticisms of Rodgers as of late. The first is decisiveness itself. While Rodgers has always improvised to some degree, he has been increasingly leaving the pocket prematurely and rolling out in attempts to create chunk plays. A lot of Rodgers’ highlight film from 2010, including the Super Bowl, came when he stood in the pocket and delivered the ball quickly. Whether it is a lack of trust in his current receivers compared to his older ones or past injuries causing him concern, Rodgers has been requiring much more “seeing his receivers open” now than he did as a younger pro. His willingness to trust his reads and the play itself is just not the same, and even the bulk of his highlight throws from a year ago reflect a more improvisational nature.
The next noticeable difference is Rodgers stepping into throws. The 2019 season saw a lot of overthrows and underthrows from Rodgers as he routinely faded away on the delivery. While this is not necessarily uncharacteristic of his career, it is a growing habit Rodgers cannot afford to prolong as he continues to age. The arm strength is still there for now, but just think of how much quicker, more accurate, and on time Rodgers’ passes would be if he stepped into throws with his upper and lower body working together with frequency. It is easy to imagine when watching the clips above.
Finally, while not a mechanical aspect of his game, Rodgers’ former willingness and confidence to throw over the middle is highlighted in the two cut-ups. In May, APC pointed out the incredibly low percentage of throws that Rodgers made in that vicinity during the 2019 season, a staggering 24.6%. Whether via slants or seams between the hashes, Rodgers just has not had that same desire to target the middle like he did in the early part of his career. In Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers attacked it head-on in crucial moments, which only led to opportunities along the sidelines as the entire field needed attention from the defense. For quarterbacks in today’s game, being able to use the middle to one’s advantage can be considered a fundamental ingredient.
While Rodgers could have looked at footage from a number of games in 2010, two of Rodgers’ most amazing throws in the Super Bowl showed just how accurate he can be when his fundamentals are sound. Certainly, not every play or throw is ever going to run according to script and certain moments are going to call for off-balance throws and unusual throwing angles. But with dedicated practice like Rodgers has shown, perhaps some of the bad habits he has developed can be corrected and the rhythmic, picture-perfect throws he was once accustomed to can become more of the norm again.