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Aaron Rodgers was a better passer when pressured more often in 2019

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Rodgers is weird, and if the Packers’ offensive line gets worse in 2020, he may actually be a better quarterback.

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

Aaron Rodgers is weird. He’s SO weird. There’s honestly no real comparisons for a guy with his career trajectory or his tendencies. Case in point: many of us at APC and fans alike often joke that Rodgers is better when he is hurt and can’t move as much. The second half against the Bears in the 2018 opener is the quintessential example, but people will also point to his post-calf-strain work in the latter part of the 2014 season and on into the playoffs. And this other calf injury in 2016.

This observation is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there’s also some truth to it. After his calf injury in 2014 he had three of his most accurate performances of the season, followed by the close loss to Seattle in the NFC Championship game. Rodgers’ numbers won’t blow anyone away in that game, but it was against the prime Legion of Boom, and he played very well, especially early. Before the great calf strain of 2016, Rodgers completed 64% of his passes, while after he completed 70.23%. As his mobility decreases, his accuracy consistently improves.

Rodgers is at his best when he throws on time and in rhythm, and he’s often forced into doing so when he can’t buy time with his legs. Essentially, mobility works against him. The other thing that may work against him, for the same reason, is a dominant offensive line. Since the 2015 season Rodgers has enjoyed elite pass protection almost every year, and it’s led to some bad habits that we have chronicled on this site many times over. What’s interesting is that indeed, Rodgers is noticeably worse when he’s NOT being hurried or pressured.

Rodgers struggled mightily in the second half last season, and there are many plausible reasons for it, but let’s focus on pass pressure. Here is a graph of his adjusted yards per attempt, which averaged 9.02 in the first half of the season but fell to 6.25 in the second half. Even removing the big outlier against Oakland, the difference is still stark.

But when we look at the percentage of pass plays where he faced pressure:

Or times hurried:

We can see that Rodgers was pressured less as the season went on. This may be entirely correlation, and not causation, of course. There’s a ton of noise in here between opponents, weather, injuries, and other factors, but I think most people assume that as hurries decline, quarterback effectiveness goes up. Seeing those trends reversed is at least a surprising fact.

So, as I said, Rodgers is just a weird quarterback. Deep dives into the numbers behind his numbers are almost always bizarre, and this is no exception. I’m pretty confidant at this point that when Rodgers has too much time to throw, he’s actively bad, and when you can speed up his clock a bit, he still looks like the vintage MVP we all know and love. It will be interesting to see how teams decide to pressure him going forward. Maybe Dom Capers used the 3-man rush specifically because it was effective in practice? In any case, I’m now hugely in favor of the Ricky Wagner signing, as the Wagner/Turner combo may be just what this team needs.