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Analyzing Aaron Rodgers: Beware of big round numbers

Counting stats aren’t a good way to measure a quarterback’s success, and Aaron Rodgers’ 2016 is a good example of why that’s the case.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I have seen a lot of people rushing to the defense of Aaron Rodgers by pointing out that at the midway point of the 2016 season, he was on pace for a 4000 yard, 40 TD, 10 INT season. Those three numbers together look impressive, but there is a lot hiding in the details. For one thing, a 4000 yard season just isn’t that impressive these days. If all current quarterbacks maintain their pace for the remainder of the season Rodgers will end up with 4284 yards, which would be just the 12th highest total among quarterbacks. 4000 just isn’t a special number in the modern NFL, and as it stands, 18 quarterbacks on are pace to eclipse that mark, including Blake Bortles, Joe Flacco, and Jameis Winston.

Rodgers is also on pace for 12.4 picks which sounds very good, and certainly isn’t bad, but it’s also not particularly special. 13 other quarterbacks are on pace to throw 12.4 picks or fewer, including Carson Wentz, Matt Stafford, Andy Dalton, Ryan Tannehill, and Trevor Siemian.

Finally, Rodgers is on pace for 39 touchdowns behind only Brees and Roethlisberger, and just ahead of Matt Ryan. There is certainly nothing wrong with throwing a lot of touchdown passes, but it’s also worth looking down the list a bit to Dak Prescott. One of the league’s most impressive signal callers this season is on pace for just 25 touchdown passes - not because he’s been bad, but because of an all-time great offensive line and rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott, combined with backups Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar, have accounted for 12 rushing touchdowns, whereas all Packer running backs combined have accounted for 0 rushing touchdowns.

As far as winning games is concerned it doesn’t really matter if you run it in or throw it in as long as you score, but in terms of evaluating quarterback play it makes a huge difference. Dak is on pace for 25, but currently has 14 touchdown passes. His average touchdown pass is 19.6 yards, and only 5 of 14 passes have come from within the 5 yard line. Rodgers, on the other hand, averages only 8.9 yards per touchdown pass, and half of his 22 touchdown passes are from 5 yards in. Rodgers has 6 touchdown passes from within 2 yards of the end zone, while Prescott has only 2. The fact is that Rodgers’ lofty touchdown total can be attributed to a general lack of running near the goal line, partially due to the fact that they consistently trail, partially due to play selection, and partially just due to luck.

4000/40/10 looks good just thrown out there as a slash line, and you could, if you wanted, spin it as an underrated season in which Rodgers played brilliantly while the rest of the team struggled. In reality, it’s more like a mediocre yardage total caused by an overly conservative coach and a lack of explosive talent at WR, which does limit interceptions, but not that much. Oh, and belies a terrible power running game that requires all touchdowns to travel through the air. Statistics always require a story for context, and this is the story of a dysfunctional team that looks OK if you don’t think too hard about it. In reality, Dak Prescott has been phenomenal and ranks 3rd in QBOPS and 3rd in DVOA. Rodgers ranks 28th among qualified quarterbacks in QBOPS and 16th in DVOA. Their counting stats are lying to you. Don’t be fooled.