Rodgers seeks return to MVP form
Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing as well as people expect him to. More importantly, the Green Bay Packers quarterback and reigning NFL MVP says he’s not playing as well as he expects himself to, which is part of the reason why the team is a disappointing 2-3 entering Sunday night’s game at Houston.
"I haven't played as well as the expectations are, obviously," Rodgers said during his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com on Tuesday afternoon. "The ones I put on myself, I like to think are as high or higher than the ones people outside put on me. It's interesting to look at the stats for what they are and think I'm not playing my best football right now.”
On the season, Rodgers has completed 130 of 189 passes (68.8 percent) for 1,307 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions (a 2.1 percent interception rate) with 21 sacks for a passer rating of 97.0. In last Sunday’s 30-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Rodgers was 21 of 33 for 243 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and five sacks for a 103.5 rating.
In 15 regular-season games last season, Rodgers set an NFL record for single-season passer rating (122.5) while breaking the franchise record for touchdown passes (45) and passing yardage (4,643) before sitting out the meaningless regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions on Jan. 1. He completed 343 of 502 passes (68.3 percent) for 4,643 yards (9.25 yards per attempt) with the 45 TDs and six interceptions (a 1.2 percent interception rate) while being sacked 36 times.
Rodgers is NFL’s all-time leader in career passer rating (103.5) and lowest career interception rate (1.8 percent).
"I set the bar high and I expect to play at a higher level. (I’ve) been making just some mistakes I'm not used to making,” Rodgers said.
Asked what those mistakes have been, Rodgers replied, “Throwing the ball to the other team – I've done that four times already. I’m fortunate (linebacker Lance) Briggs dropped one against Chicago as well. Just uncharacteristic of the way I've played. (I’ve also) made some checks that have been unproductive, missed some throws I'm accustomed to hitting. Haven't played the way of the standard I've set.
"My solemn promise is I'm going to work every day to get better. I'm going to clean up some of the things I'm not doing as well as I should. But, the proof is in the pudding. Right now I'm not getting it done. I've got to look at myself first.
"But I can tell you nothing has slipped in the way of preparation or the way that I practice or the energy and leadership that I take to it. Which is probably the most frustrating thing. You can't really point to one thing. I just haven't performed as well on Sundays as I'm used to performing."
Rodgers’ substandard play has been a hot topic for a team that has gone from averaging 35.0 points per game last season to averaging just 22.5 points per game this year. Both coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements, Rodgers’ former quarterbacks coach, were asked Monday about what’s wrong with him.
“I think Aaron, he’s had a solid year compared to the standard that he’s played to, but we’re a different team this year. And that’s always the case. It never just always stays the same,” McCarthy said. “We have a couple new players on offense ... I thought (now-injured running back) Cedric (Benson) was really coming on the last couple weeks, I was excited about him, what he brings to the table. Now, our younger backs will have to give us that because we need the run game. It’s important. I’m not interested in throwing it 50 times a game. So we just need to be more consistent.”
Asked the same question about Rodgers not being Rodgers, Clements replied, “We’re not playing as an offensive group the way we want to play. You could probably say that about most everyone on the offense. It is a team game. When we start playing consistently well as an offense, everyone’s performance will be better.”
One issue with Rodgers has been the combination of his offensive line protection and his decisions to hold onto the ball, resulting in sacks. It’s a criticism Rodgers faced earlier in his career, and the question has resurfaced this season. By subjective count, two of Rodgers’ five sacks against the Colts happened when he held onto the ball. The other three were clearly attributable to blocking.
“I think the telltale (thing) on that is watching the film,” Rodgers said. “I don't think you can watch that film and point to a number of instances where I've been holding the ball too long. There is a combination of different things that can happen.
“There's numerous things you can say, from the protection scheme to the route concepts to the guys understanding the checks, making the proper route adjustments, making the proper reads on their routes. Guys might miss a route change … (but also) there have been a couple of times where I probably have held on to it longer than I should have.
“We need to do a better job as a whole that we can cut down on those. Because that makes for a long season.”
Neither McCarthy nor Clements was overly critical of Rodgers for holding onto the football too long – at least publicly, they were reluctant to say he wasn’t getting rid of the ball when he should.
“I mean, that’s an opinion,” McCarthy said. “We coach every one of our players, quarterback in specific, you grade his footwork, you grade his decision, you grade his throw, I’m sure there’s some plays that Aaron would like to have back, just like I’m sure all of us would.
“But the rush was heavy there at some points and the protection was very good, too. So really what I’m saying is really the consistency of our play, probably as you go through our whole football team, outside of special teams, is not where it needs to be.”
Clements said the coaches have to take some of the bad with the good of the plays Rodgers can make by extending plays and holding onto the ball.
“We talk about that. We also talk about it being a fine line between throwing the ball away and trying to scramble and make plays,” Clements said. “He was able to scramble and make some very good plays with his feet (against Indianapolis). There were times he tried and got sacked. Obviously when you get sacked, you can say, ‘Geez, why do you throw it away?’ and try to avoid the hit, but you don’t want to take away his ability in the scrambling phase of the game. He just has to make a good decision when that happens.”
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