Brace yourselves football fans, Aaron Rodgers is back.
In case you missed it, “Mr. Discount Double Check” threw for 429 yards and recorded just as many total touchdowns as incomplete passes with six. He threw five touchdowns to five different receivers and ran one into the end zone himself to boost Green Bay to a 6-1 record. Though this came at home against a middle-of-the-pack Raiders defense, it was finally a sign that A-Rod has still got it.
Green Bay’s defense has been mostly stellar since the season started (with the exception being their lone loss to Philadelphia), but Rodgers himself did not get out to the hottest start. That is not to say that he struggled out of the gate; he did fine by anybody else’s standards. It just was not the level of play people needed to see as proof he is perfectly healthy and back to his old self.
Through the first six games, he eclipsed 300 passing yards just once, and it was a 422-yard, two-turnover effort in the loss to Philly. He also never scored more than two touchdowns in any of the first six games. Even though this was good enough for Rodgers to game-manage his way to a 5-1 record, everybody knew that this was not his full potential, even at 35 years old.
Then on Sunday, Rodgers piloted Green Bay’s air raid and showed everybody what the Packers are capable of when their future Hall of Fame quarterback turns it all the way up. What is especially scary about it is they were able to do it without No. 1 receiver Davante Adams.
In Adams’ absence, Rodgers spread the ball all over the field. Every Packer that caught a pass had between two and four receptions, and nobody caught multiple scores. Rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling led the team in receiving yardage with 133 yards on two catches, with one being a 74-yard touchdown.
The one play that stood out to me the most from this game was Rodgers’ first touchdown of the afternoon. On Green Bay’s first possession of the game following a Raiders’ opening-drive field goal, Rodgers marched his guys down to Oakland’s 21-yard line in just five plays thanks to a 29-yard completion to Jimmy Graham on third-and-7.
On the sixth play, running back Aaron Jones ran a wheel route out of the backfield with a linebacker covering him and two defensive backs helping over the top in the endzone. Jones burned the linebacker on his way to the back-right corner of the endzone, and the defensive back in that deep zone was late getting over to help after trying to help on another receiver. Rodgers saw the breakdown and threw a beautiful touch pass right into Jones’ breadbasket for the touchdown.
Rodgers saw that Jones had a much slower defender on him that he could beat, and knew that he had another receiver going deep to that area of the field. If he could get that defensive back sitting in his zone to commit to the other receiver, he knew that he’d have Jones open.
Plays like these where Rodgers makes a read, then executes the correct throw are going to be a staple to Green Bay’s offense going forward. First-year head coach Matt LaFleur has elected to go with more of a balanced approach on offense than the previous pass-happy regime under Mike McCarthy.
Jones, their featured back, is 11th in the NFL carries, 15th in rushing yards and tied for first with eight rushing touchdowns. Having an effective rushing attack will set Rodgers up to make defenses pay for overcommitting to the run. However, the threat of Rodgers airing it out will also prevent defenses from stacking the box, giving Jones room to work. It’s truly a “pick your poison” type of situation with LaFleur’s offense.
Where LaFleur made the longest stride with the Packers, though, is on the defensive side of the ball. Keeping points off of the board is really what has Green Bay sitting pretty at the top of the standings with wins over the likes of Minnesota and Dallas.
When the Packers missed the playoffs the last two seasons, it was largely because they were trotting terrible defenses out onto the field. In 2017 and 2018, the Packers ranked No. 26 with 24 points allowed and No. 22 with 25 points allowed per game, respectively. So far this season, they have that points-allowed number down to 19.9, which is good for No. 9 in the NFL. Though they are allowing 381 yards per game (seventh-most in NFL), a “bend-don’t-break” style of defense has notoriously worked for championship teams in the past, namely the Patriots.
Speaking of New England, perhaps this is the season that we finally get the Tom Brady versus Rodgers Super Bowl that we have been waiting a decade for. Both legendary quarterbacks are in the twilight of their playing careers and have great defenses this season.
The two could finally face off in Miami for Super Bowl 54… that is, unless Drew Brees or Patrick Mahomes have anything to say about it.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @seanjanos.