Life without Aaron Rodgers: the Green Bay Packers have been here before, but certainly not by choice.
Over the past decade, Rodgers has missed just eight starts due to injury. The Packers are 2-5-1 in those games without the California quarterback under center, over stretches in 2010 and 2013. Interestingly enough, those seasons resulted in postseason appearances and even a Super Bowl title after Rodgers’ return. (Note: we’re excluding the week 17 Matt Flynn game in 2011, since Rodgers was rested with the Packers having locked up home field.)
This time, however, Green Bay may be playing without the two-time Most Valuable Player for the rest of the season, including the playoffs. And unlike 2013, the Packers have been grooming a quarterback for a situation such as this.
Brett Hundley was almost traded on draft night 2017, according to multiple reports, as Green Bay reportedly was interested in Deshone Kizer in the second round. Despite those rumors, the Packers have showed the utmost confidence in Hundley’s ability to lead since Rodgers’ injury on Sunday. Although Hundley’s abilities as a starter are still unknown, Green Bay must feel fortunate it held on to the UCLA product and has been given the ultimate opportunity to showcase Hundley’s value to the rest of the league. In limited opportunities from 2010 to 2011 when Rodgers missed games due to a concussion or simple precaution, Matt Flynn made himself a lot of money. Coincidentally, Flynn, like Hundley, was in his third season as a pro when he took over for an concussed Rodgers late in 2010.
But while Green Bay finds out what it has in Hundley, we take a look back to 2013 when Rodgers missed substantial time with a fractured left collarbone. The Packers went to battle with Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and the returning Flynn under center. While the cast of characters are different today — a new quarterback, new running backs, and a different defensive crew — here are a few numbers that tell the story of how Green Bay was able to win in 2013 without Rodgers and how it can still win in 2017.
Third Down Conversions
A team’s conversion rate on third downs is usually a telling statistic of overall team success. In 2013, Green Bay averaged a 47% conversion rate on third down attempts in the eight games Aaron Rodgers was healthy and was 6-2 during that stretch. During the eight-game stretch in which Rodgers was injured, including the tragic Chicago game on November 4, the Packers converted only 34.7% of their third down opportunities. In three of those games, Green Bay had a success rate of 20% or below - one game was a tie and the other two were losses.
On the flip side, the Packers recorded their two highest percentages — 47% and 54% — in their lone two victories. For the Green & Gold to be successful the rest of the season with Hundley, they must get into manageable third down yardage situations and be as close to a 50-50 conversion rate as possible.
One of the best ways to help a young quarterback and make those third downs more manageable is to have a viable running game. In today’s NFL, a balanced rushing attack is not necessarily required to have a potent offense but remains helpful in opening up the passing game just enough to keep defenses honest.
In 2013, Green Bay was in a position to win games without Rodgers when its rushing attack eclipsed 100 yards. The Packers rushed for 112 and 150 yards, respectively, in wins over Atlanta and Dallas, 196 yards in a tie with Minnesota, and 199 and 151 yards in one-touchdown losses to Chicago and Pittsburgh. Green Bay was two or more touchdowns from winning in the three games when the team didn’t hit the century mark. With Ty Montgomery and the rising Aaron Jones in the backfield this season, Green Bay needs to ride its young backs enough to give Hundley help.
Time of Possession
Third down conversions and a productive ground game lead to a longer time of possession and, according to the stats, a strong chance to win.
Rarely was Green Bay able to control the clock longer than its opposition without its franchise quarterback in 2013, but when time of possession was close to even or in the Packers’ favor, the game was fairly close.
Time of Possession-Weeks 9-16
|Opponent||Outcome||GB TOP||OPP TOP|
|Opponent||Outcome||GB TOP||OPP TOP|
|New York Giants||L 13-27||24:46||35:14|
If Green Bay can control the ball and control the clock, it can also help control its outcomes this season. Whether that comes in the form of short passes, running plays, or defensive three-and-outs, Green Bay must sustain drives and keep the other offense off the field.
It’s not a secret that whoever wins the turnover battle is in prime position to win football games. The stats from 2013 further support that notion. Green Bay began the season with a +2 differential and 5-2 record with Rodgers at the helm. After Rodgers went down midway through the season, the Packers accumulated a -1 turnover differential with their trio of backup quarterbacks, which was good enough to keep the team competitive and pull out a couple wins.
The defense was critical to the team’s success in the turnover category, recording at least one turnover in all seven games Rodgers didn’t start. Even more telling was that Green Bay’s only two wins came when the turnover battle was either tied or won. With the Packers currently 4-2 and +3 in turnover differential this season, it is integral to the team’s success to maintain that rate.
Opponent Quarterback Rating
Looking at NFL quarterback ratings, as recorded by ESPN, the defense’s performance in pass coverage was just as important as turnovers in Green Bay’s wins in 2013. Beginning with Green Bay’s matchup with Chicago, the defense allowed a minimum opponent quarterback rating of 90.7 in its first five games minus Rodgers under center, reaching a low point against Philadelphia in week 10 as Nick Foles posted a 149.3 rating. To no surprise, Green Bay was 0-4-1 in that stretch.
But during the Packers’ final three games without Aaron Rodgers, the defense tightened up and kept ratings within a range of 80.0-83.5, with the lowest two marks coming in Green Bay victories. Dom Capers once referred to the opponent’s quarterback rating as being among the most important figures in determining the success of a defense. From these statistics, it’s difficult to argue that point. Quarterback rating figures to be a true sign of Green Bay’s defensive acumen the rest of the 2017 season and a pivotal factor in its win-loss record.