Aaron Rodgers has been getting a great deal of applause over the last month or two. Deservedly so, I might add. Rodgers made himself a center of the storm when the Packers were on the verge of a terrible season. He put the team on notice by talking about running the table. He stepped in and became the confident center of attention. He definitely made everyone feel like they could do more and then helped them do it.
Rodgers finished on a tear through the last seven games of the year and into the first round of the playoffs. Over that span, Rodgers completed 68.7% of his passes and had a touchdown to interception ratio that was 22:0. He was averaging 297.5 yards per game in this span — other-worldly numbers, to be sure.
Still, there is a name that is not getting nearly enough credit for the turn around: Jared Cook, who came to the Packers in the offseason. Of course, all free agent acquisitions are considered miracles around the world of Green Bay Packers fans, but Cook has been a Godsend. The 2015 Packers were disappointing in their lack of offense. The strong group of corners helped keep the Packers in games, but the offense was lacking. Ted Thompson made a move to bring in a serious tight end target. Jared Cook had put up respectable numbers with very subpar quarterbacks in Tennessee and St. Louis. His time with the Packers has been more important than is immediately apparent.
Cook had a poor statistical year comparatively. His 30 receptions for 377 yards and a single touchdown hardly inspire confidence. On a per game basis, he looks little better. Cook missed six games between Weeks Five and Ten. If you were to stretch the average over a 16 game season Cook had a pace of a 48 catch, 603 yard season. Still, okay numbers, but not awe inspiring.
Here is the most critical component. Aaron Rodgers is vastly better with Jared Cook on the field. All the things Cook adds that do not count in the stats are crucial: his speed and ability to draw in safeties, his presence in the run game. Counting the playoff win, Rodgers has now played eleven games with Cook and six games without him.
In those six games without Cook, Rodgers completed 178 of 275 passes (64.7%). These completions netted 1,793 yards, or 298.8 yards per game. Rodgers threw 15 touchdowns in these games, but had six of his seven interceptions in these contests. All this combines for a Quarterback Rating of 92.3. Okay numbers, but not much like Rodgers.
Now, look at the eleven games where Rodgers had the services of Jared Cook. Rodgers completed 248 of his 375 passes for 2,997 yards. Now the increase to 66.1% completions is not terribly impressive and the 272.4 yards per game is a decrease. However, here is the biggest stat: Rodgers had 29 touchdowns and just one pick in that span. This combined to give Rodgers a Quarterback Rating of 115.1. If you were to extrapolate those eleven games over an NFL season, Rodgers would have 4,359 yards, 42 touchdowns and one or two picks. Even compare this eleven game episode with Tom Brady’s twelve game season.
This was not a fluke of the schedule either. The Packers faced six games against defenses ranked in the top ten of Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) pass defenses. Five of these six games happened with Cook on the field. On other words, the games with Cook were actually the more difficult games from a competitive standpoint. Here are the teams Jared Cook did not face with their pass defense DVOA in parentheses: New York Giants (4), Chicago Bears (17), Dallas Cowboys (18), Atlanta Falcons (19), Tennessee Titans (26), and Indianapolis Colts (27). Here is the final stat for you: Packers were 9-2 with Cook and 2-4 without him.