Aaron Rodgers Is Playing Worse Than We Thought

Sometimes when a player hits a rough patch, it becomes too easy to overstate how badly they’re playing, especially when that player is a high level talent.

 Aaron Rodgers has had the slowest start to a season in his career this season.

Aaron Rodgers has had the slowest start to a season in his career this season.

Such is the case with Aaron Rodgers. Or at least, that’s what I thought.

In trying to understand his increasingly evident struggles this year, I tried to find a historical analogy for this year’s Packers team. 2009 came to mind for a few reasons.

First, that team had an unusually strong defense, at least when it came to the Packers’ recent history. The 2009 Packers defense ranked first against the run, seventh in points allowed, and 28th in total passing defense. This year’s team ranks first against the run, twelfth in points allowed, and 24th in total passing defense. So far, the comparison is apt.

What I didn’t remember, though, is how good Aaron Rodgers was that year, just his second season as the starting quarterback. I thought I recalled Rodgers starting the season more slowly before mounting an increasingly strong push down the stretch, culminating in his shootout in the desert with Kurt Warner.

In reality, Rodgers was excellent from the start, completing 77 of 127 passes over his first four games, accumulating 1,098 yards, six touchdowns, and just one interception during that stretch. He’d finish the season with ten games where his passer rating was higher than 100.

Rodgers is playing at a level well below that you’d expect from a historically great quarterback.

Contrast that to this year, where Rodgers is 78 of 139 passing for just 876 yards. Yes, he’s thrown for nine touchdowns, but he’s also put up three interceptions, and he’s averaging just 6.3 yards per attempt, two full yards less than he averaged during what I thought was a slow start in 2009.

Now, there is good news… sort of. Every other two-time MVP quarterback in the modern era has produced a stretch that’s at least somewhat similar to what we’re seeing from Rodgers so far this season. Take a look:

This chart represents the worst four game start to a season after each of these quarterbacks won their last MVP, and there are a few reasons to be encouraged.

For starters, each of these players falls into one of two camps: either they started poorly in a season that was either their last year or close to the end of their career (Montana, Favre, Manning), or they went on to recover from their poor starts, salvage their seasons, and have better seasons later on (Young, Warner, Brady).

Rodgers has also managed to throw significantly more touchdowns than anyone on this list, which is a good sign even if touchdowns can be a little bit fluky at times.

However, these numbers are also a big red flag in a few areas, particularly completion percentage and yards per attempt. Rodgers is simply not producing when the Packers decide to throw the ball. It’s astonishing how inaccurate he is right now, though drops have played a part in some of those recent struggles.

I wish there was better news to be had here. While it’s certainly possible that Rodgers will rebound, he’s playing at a level well below that you’d expect from a historically great quarterback. If something is going to change, I hope it’s soon.