Gilson’s Sports Guide: The return of Aaron Rodgers

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Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers throws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. Photo by Morry Gash/AP Photo.

On April 23, 2020, the Green Bay Packers moved up four spots to select QB Jordan Love with the 26th overall pick in the draft. And while that move was hated by fans at the time, now almost five months later it doesn’t look so bad. This is by no means because of Jordan Love — who didn’t do anything to prove his worth as a first rounder in training camp — but because the pick has given Aaron Rodgers something to prove. And when people begin to question Rodgers, you do not want to be on the other side of the ball. Let’s look at a little history. 

In 2013, Rodgers fractured his collarbone in Green Bay’s Week 9 matchup against the Chicago Bears. The team was 6-3 at the time, and Rodgers had thrown for 2500 yards, but just 17 touchdowns with six INTs, both respectively worse than his season averages from years prior. Critics began to question whether he could lead the team with an aging receiving core and lack of running game on a lingering injury, so let’s review what happened next season. 

In 2014, Rodgers tossed for 4400 yards, 38 TDs and ranked second in the league with a 112.2 passer rating, all while only throwing five picks, his lowest since becoming a starter in 2008. The Packers finished the season 12-4 with Rodgers winning the MVP and made it to the NFC Championship before falling to the one-seeded Seahawks in OT. Fast forward to the past couple of years and we find ourselves in an eerily similar situation. 

Since the 2018 season, it’s been clear that Green Bay is transitioning to a run-first offense, utilizing their thunder and lightning duo of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Accordingly, Rodgers’ numbers have taken a hit, and the once top-2 QB has fallen down the ranks in fans’ eyes to that of a much more average one, with nothing flashy about him. But if we take a look at the numbers, he has been the same elite QB he was for the past ten years, he just doesn’t have the personnel to match. 

In 2019 Rodgers put up 4000 yards, 26 TDs and four interceptions. These are very respectable for most QBs, but for one who was just two seasons removed from compiling 4400 yards and a career-best 40 TDs, this was considered subpar. But if we take into account his cast of pass-catchers, keeping in mind Davante missed four games due to injury, those numbers look a lot better. The reality of the situation is that if Rodgers had even a slightly better supporting cast out wide, his numbers would have been as impressive as ever in 2019. 

Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers talks to Detroit Lions’ Jamie Collins after an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers won 42-21. Photo by Morry Gash/AP Photo.

Tapes from last season show that Rodgers’ WR group left almost 1300 yards and 15 touchdowns on the field off of catchable passes. And while we should obviously assume some of these will be dropped, there were too many occasions where a big gain or TD would end in a dropped pass, hurting not only the team but also Rodgers and his numbers. This, compared to the 750 yards and eight TDs players failed to convert on catchable passes in his 2014 MVP season show how significant his lack of help has been on his numbers. So, let’s do some quick math. 

If we take half of those dropped passes and pretend they were caught like they often should have been, that puts Rodgers’ 2019 numbers at 4642 passing yards and 34 TDs, good enough for third and second respectively in those categories. While I understand this is speculation and we can apply the same to other QBs, the sheer number of passes that should have been completed make the case that Rodgers still has the stuff. Still, a 13-3 record and a trip to the NFC Championship wasn’t enough for fans who now believe him to be well past his prime, so let’s check out Rodgers’ 2020 early on. 

Week 1 brought a matchup against what everyone is calling one of the best defenses in the league in the Minnesota Vikings. Sure, they have a couple of injuries and Yannick Ngakoue still had some things to learn, but overall this defense was still considered among the best. With no fans, Rodgers didn’t even bat an eye, completing 32/44 passes for 364 yards and four TDs. He looked pretty quick and about as accurate as we’ve seen, pinpointing exactly where the ball needed to go and finding his receiver on multiple occasions. And while Week 2 was a little bit more run heavy, we still got a glimpse of what an angry Rodgers can do. 

Against the Lions, Green Bay went down 14-3 after the first. Rodgers kept his composure and took over in the second, leading the Packers down the field and finding Jones and Robert Tonyan on consecutive drives to take the lead for the first time in the game, the only time they would have to. The rest of the game was controlled by the run game as Jones finished with 168 rushing yards, but it was clear that when the Pack were down, Rodgers had no trouble stepping up. He’d finish the game with 240 yards and 2 TDs on 30 pass attempts. 

So while Rodgers may not have quite the bounce back compared to his jump from 2013 to 2014 and he probably won’t walk away with his third MVP, he remains an elite quarterback in the league who can turn it on when needed, even with a depleted supporting cast. He always has and always will be one of the best; fans have just awoken the beast to give him that extra motivation. 

 

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