Week 3’s win over Detroit was great medicine for fans who feared the Green Bay Packers’ lethal passing game might be a thing of the past. For the first time in 15 games, Aaron Rodgers had a quarterback rating of over 100. For one half at least, the passing game looked like it has through much of the Rodgers’ era, and the scoreboard reflected the welcome change.
What caused the turnaround? Criticism, good honest criticism, properly directed at the primary cause of the decline in the team’s passing game. For 14 games, coaches, sportscasters, fans — and even most critics — pointed everywhere but to the most obvious cause. They said it was due to the loss of Jordy Nelson, a switch in the offensive play calling, too many dropped passes, receivers not separating themselves from defenders, inadequate pass blocking, a weak running game, or failure to “stretch the field.”
What hardly anyone said, however, was that the Packers were experiencing poor quarterback play. It was only after the disheartening loss to rival Minnesota that the pot boiled over, and criticism poured out from all quarters, mostly directed (for the first time) at Aaron Rodgers. Finally, after an almost year-long exercise in futility, blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of the league’s Most Valuable Player of 2014.
The criticism was justified, and in fact it was far too slow in coming. Though some view criticism as a negative thing, it can also perform wonders at bringing about a cure.
Packers fans watched this very phenomenon happen in the first half of the Lions game. Aaron Rodgers came out focused, committed, and disciplined. He trusted the plays that were called and he relied on his teammates. No matter what the play was, he delivered the ball crisply to the intended receiver – no hesitation, no dancing around, no leaving the pocket, seldom looking for a second or third option or progression. The timing was good, the receivers got open, and the result was a four-touchdown, 31-point first half.
The near-perfect performance was notable in how unspectacular it was – no highlight-reel catches, no “threading the needle” into dangerously tight coverage, no spectacular deep balls. It was a vintage Rodgers’ performance: precise, finely-tuned, surgeon-like. Rodgers was in total control and command of the field. As Aaron himself has said, it’s not as easy as it sometimes looks, but against the Lions he made it look very easy indeed.
Of course one half of football isn’t enough to declare the patient cured. The focus and precision was not maintained in the second half, when the Packers were only able to add three points to the scoreboard.
But a lesson was handed out against the Lions. The quarterback is by far the most important cog in any NFL offensive machine. If that engine breaks down, there’s an obvious place for a repairman to look. Rodgers is a smart guy, a student of the game. My bet is that he learned greatly from the Detroit game, and that he now grasps how badly his game had unraveled, becoming tentative, unconfident, and untrusting.
I’ll be surprised if Rodgers ever goes through a slump like that again. I think they’ll be a lot of Rodgers’ performances the remainder of the year resembling that great first half against the Lions. Rodgers showed us that no one is perfect — but he’s a remarkable player, and I think he got over a very personal hump.
That wonderful first 30 minutes at Lambeau was just what the doctor ordered!