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GMC Playbook: What if Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers Switched Teams?

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We look at the quarterbacks' deep passes to see if the Packers might change their philosophy on offense if they had a different number 12 under center.

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With our Green Bay Packers playing the New England Patriots this week, Marshall Faulk and the GMC Playbook cast a close eye on the premier game of week 13. Specifically, the quarterback play from both teams has been excellent, so Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady get the "swap" treatment. See what I mean in Faulk's question below:

Before I get into answering the question, I'll say that it's tough to imagine Mike McCarthy without Aaron Rodgers at this point. The two are practically joined at the hip from a football perspective, so the types of audibles and options that Rodgers has at the line of scrimmage might not be so prevalent with Tom Brady as the quarterback. That said, Brady is a student of the game and plenty able to read defenses in his own right, and McCarthy would quite feasibly be willing to turn over control at the line of scrimmage to him much as he has to Rodgers.

Probably the most significant difference between Rodgers and Brady right now is their effectiveness on deep passes. Rodgers possesses a stronger arm, and the statistics bear that out. Look at the difference in stats for the two quarterbacks on passes that travel more than 10 yards and more than 20 yards downfield, as reported by Pro Football Focus:

Passes 10+ yards downfield
QB Att Comp Comp % Yds Y/Att TD INT
Rodgers 119 67 56.3% 1575 13.2 16 1
Brady 136 72 52.9% 1401 10.3 12 4
Passes 20+ yards downfield
QB Att Comp Comp % Yds Y/Att TD INT
Rodgers 35 17 48.6% 722 20.6 9 0
Brady 45 12 26.7% 378 8.4 4 2

Those are pretty astounding splits, particularly in the 20+ yard category. Certainly, Rodgers has the benefit of one of the league's top deep threats in Jordy Nelson, and Brady would likely be able to throw downfield more effectively with number 87 getting open for him than he does with Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell being his primary deep threats.

Another interesting number to note is how often the two quarterbacks do throw deep. Brady has 10 more attempts of 20+ yards, but adjusting for the total number of attempts, deep balls are thrown at a similar frequency - 10.2% of Rodgers' total passes to 10.8% for Brady - despite Rodgers' significantly higher efficiency on those throws.

With this in mind, it seems likely that Mike McCarthy and company would focus more on short and intermediate routes if Tom Brady were the Packers' quarterback. In the Packers' offense, efficiency and per-play results are maximized rather than total aggregate statistics. It is therefore possible that the passing game would focus more of Brady's throws in the areas where he is most effective - passes shorter than 20 yards.

Of course, Packers fans are perfectly happy with our number 12, while Patriots fans no doubt are pleased with the rings that their team has won with Brady under center. Likewise, Packers fans would not want to split up the dynamic duo that is Rodgers and Nelson. But if they did, the Packers' offense would likely focus more on shorter passes and yards after the catch rather than their deep shots off play-action.

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