On Aaron Rodgers and high expectations
October, 9, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
We've spent time this season addressing the relative lack of explosiveness in the Green Bay Packers' passing game. More recently, their play selection -- particularly the balance of runs and passes -- has come into focus. Tuesday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers addressed a more sensitive topic that is nevertheless fair game: The drop-off in his own play.
To be clear, Rodgers' "drop-off" started from an MVP season that has been judged as one of the best by a quarterback in NFL history. Through five games this season, his statistics -- 68.8 completion percentage, 1,307 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions -- hardly suggest a collapse. His 97.0 passer rating ranks No. 8 in the NFL.
But his interception total, which could have been five if the Chicago Bears' Lance Briggs hadn't dropped one in Week 2, is high compared to his previous three seasons as a starter. (He threw seven in 2009, 11 in 2010 and six last season.) He has also taken 21 sacks, the second-highest total in the NFL.
Speaking Tuesday on his ESPN 540 radio show, Rodgers acknowledged "I haven't played as well as the expectations" but noted the relative scale of those expectations. He downplayed the suggestion that he has held the ball too long on sacks but lamented the interceptions. Everyone is accountable to some degree in a 2-3 start. Rodgers is no different.
"It's interesting to look at the stats for what they are, to think I'm not playing my best football right now," Rodgers said. "It's funny to see how far things have come over the last four years. I've set the bar high and I expect to play at a high level. I've been making some mistakes I'm not used to making."
Indeed, Rodgers has made poor throws from a physical standpoint on at least two of the interceptions and has missed more open receivers than we're used to. The most recent example came in the first quarter of last Sunday's 30-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, when he overthrew receiver Jordy Nelson down the right sideline.
"I've made some checks that have been unproductive," Rodgers said. "I've missed some throws that I'm accustomed to hitting. I just haven't played the way, the standard I've set. My solemn promise is that 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 could. The proof is in the pudding, and right now I'm no getting it done."
The stickiest issue in evaluating Rodgers' performance has been assigning blame for the sacks. This is not a new issue for Rodgers, who came under fire for holding the ball too long during the early stages of a 50-sack season in 2009. The sacks are the biggest reason his ranking in Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) is so much lower (17) than his passer rating; ESPN analytics imply the sacks have cost the Packers more points than any other NFL team this season.
On Tuesday, Rodgers said: "I think the telltale on that is watching the film. 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."
Later, Rodgers added: "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."
I don't think we're at the point where we need to take a play-by-play evaluation of Rodgers' performance. I think we can all agree there have been a few moments this season where we've seen an incomplete pass and thought, "Those are the kinds of passes Rodgers hit last season." His last two interceptions, especially, have been throws that made you realize how rarely he made poor throws last season. And the point of this post is that Rodgers has noticed as well. Nothing more, nothing less.