It's Time To Challenge Aaron Rodgers
"I desperately want to be coached."
That's what Aaron Rodgers told The Monday Morning Quarterback last September. It's time for someone to do it.
No sensible person would disagree that Rodgers needs to play at his best for the Packers to have a true shot at a Super Bowl. In 2010, he did just that. Rodgers played probably the best stretch of football we've seen from him, at least in terms of his dominance when it was needed most. Just thinking about his evisceration of the Atlanta Falcons still makes me smile.
Rodgers playing at 90% probably gets you to the NFC Championship game. Hobbled by a calf injury but still playing well, that's probably what we saw in 2014.
Rodgers last year wasn't close to either of those performances. The Packers, as a result, weren't close to that level of success, even with two Hail Mary pases.
It's time for someone to do something about it.
Is Aaron Rodgers in decline?
I have previously scoffed at rumors of Rodgers' decline.
In August, I responded to some analysis by Greg Cosell about Rodgers’ playing style. He described Rodgers as a “jazz beat” player, someone who operates at his best outside the structure of a play.
Then and now I agree that there’s something to that analogy; Rodgers makes incredible plays when he’s not working in the structure of a play.
But I wonder if he’s trying to do it too much.
Last year, we saw repeated examples of Rodgers bailing on plays, trying to make something happen, and being unable to connect on a key play. His fundamentals were all over the place, seemingly trying to perform the NFL’s equivalent of the NBA’s much-derided “hero ball.”
The deciding play of last season’s de facto NFC North title game comes to mind. Trailing by seven with just over two minutes left, Rodgers failed to set his feet appropriately and tried to throw across his body to James Jones in the end zone. The pass was intercepted and Minnesota was able to run enough time off the clock to put the game out of reach for Green Bay.
If Rodgers had been able to plant and throw the ball on a line to Jones’ outside shoulder, there’s a good chance he could have completed it. Instead, the Vikings found themselves atop the NFC North.
So, who should be coaching Rodgers?
Early returns on the 2016 version of Rodgers aren’t much different, and we saw many of the same bad habits early in last week’s Jaguars game. Far too often, Rodgers broke away from a play early on and tried to make something happen.
He got away with it against Jacksonville, but I’m not sure the same thing works against a much better Minnesota defense. It didn’t last year at Lambeau Field.
Someone has to help Rodgers break these habits. If he truly believes what he said last year and he really does love to be coached, that person should be Mike McCarthy.
But if McCarthy speaks, will Rodgers listen?
Other quarterbacks have, including Rodgers’ predecessor.
In 2006, Brett Favre returned to the Packers despite his declared reluctance to learn a new offensive system. He’d thrown 67 interceptions the previous three seasons, and it was McCarthy’s job to rein him in.
Favre’s interception percentage dropped from an average of 4.1% from 2003 through 2005 to 2.9% in 2006 and 2.8% in 2007, McCarthy’s first two years on the job. Despite early resistance, McCarthy was able to help the three-time MVP regain some of his previous form.
Rodgers rarely makes the same sort of spectacular mistakes that Favre did, but they can be very similar in other respects.
Both make tremendous plays outside the pocket when a play breaks down. Both have a serious distrust for young receivers (the USA Today said that part of the blame for Favre’s 29 interception season in 2005 was throwing to “young receivers with whom he wasn’t familiar”.) Both have a near photographic memory.
And both have holes in their game that a competent coach can and should correct.
It’s time for someone on the Packers to challenge Aaron Rodgers and help him do just that.