June is seldom a bountiful month in terms of Packers news. Fans are pretty much reduced to beer chugging events and the like. But when someone gets a microphone in front of Aaron Rodgers, we often get bits of insightful news or impressions.
Last week Rodgers spoke to a member of the media a time or two after practices. Some of what he said was pretty enlightening.
Aaron gushed over the “fantastic” training sessions Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been having. I think we can safely say that this wasn’t just an effort to build up MVS’s confidence level. It seems Aaron really feels that MVS is coming along, will be a regular starter, and is going to have a great second year in the league.
I found what Aaron said in relation to Jimmy Graham to be even more insightful – but first let me set the stage.
My Advice in 2017
As Aaron was readying to return to the lineup at the tail end of 2017 – after healing from his second broken clavicle, I posted an article on 12/2/17 titled Are Broken Plays a Plus for Aaron Rodgers? To recap, I produced a lot of statistics comparing Aaron’s productivity when passing inside the pocket and when scrambling. My conclusion:
“The upside that Aaron Rodgers has customarily gotten when he scrambles out of the pocket has been substantial, but that upside has been on the decline the last year or two, and history tells us that the decline will increase with each passing year.”
I also made some comparisons with other top, but aging, quarterbacks, illustrating the link between scrambling ineffectiveness and advancing age.
As Aaron was about to return to action, I did a follow-up article on December 13: Aaron Rodgers Needs to Change His Ways. This time around, I made statistical comparisons first with some of Aaron’s peers who were among the league’s most active scrambling quarterbacks: Carson Wentz, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Rodgers. Even among these daredevils, Rodgers had the highest sacks-per-game average. All four of these QBs also have had significant injury histories.
I then offered up sacks-per-game stats on Aaron and four other all-time great quarterbacks: Miami’s Dan Marino, Peyton Manning (Colts and Broncs), the Saints’ Drew Brees, and the Pats’ Tom Brady. Here’s that comparison: Marino, 1.12 sacks per game; Peyton Manning, 1.14; Drew Brees, 1.62; Tom Brady, 1.91; Aaron Rodgers, 2.55. I was attempting to show that you can be a great NFL quarterback without regularly resorting to scrambling. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that these four greats have mostly avoided serious injuries over their long careers.
Will 2019 Differ from 2018?
Immediately after I wrote the above two posts, Aaron returned – the Packers, with a 7-6 record and still with a chance to make the playoffs, faced the Panthers in Carolina on December 17. Rodgers was of course rusty – and he was still playing his same reckless style. Cam Newton, meanwhile, did most of his damage from the pocket.
The stat lines say it all: Rodgers went 26 of 45, for 290 yards, 3 interceptions, 3 sacks, and a 71.5 passer rating – and he ran six times too. Newton went 20 for 31, for 240 yards, no interceptions, 1 sack, and a 128.0 passer rating. The Panthers prevailed 31 to 24, and the Packers finished the year at 7-9.
As Rodgers was recuperating, he was asked if his injury might prompt him to change his ways, and do more pocket passing and less scrambling. He made it clear he had no intention of doing things differently. And he’s been true to that statement in 2018 – as he scrambled a lot and the Packers were the third most sacked team in the league with 53 – 49 of which were sacks of Rodgers.
So, can we expect Rodgers to exhibit his same broken plays and scrambling style in 2019? Well, here’s one of the less examined comments Aaron made to an interviewer last week:
“The league’s about matchups. I think that’s what I’m liking about this offense. We’re constantly trying to find ways to get those guys in positive matchups. Every play has a scheme or a motion or an adjustment that can get those guys to be the No. 1 or 2 in the progression. If you’re throwing the ball on time, that’s where it’s going to go. So more opportunities for Jimmy (Graham). Some of the stuff we’re doing gives him opportunities to get the ball in rhythm instead of relying on off-schedule or third or fourth read on the play.”
The insight I’m getting from this comment it that Aaron and his new coaches – LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, and QBs coach Luke Getsy – have been talking at length about the desire for more pocket passing (throwing the ball on time, getting the ball in rhythm) and fewer broken plays and scrambles. They appear to be good salesmen.
The coaches seem to be saying that our scheme will get intended receivers more open, and in turn they’ll expect Aaron to not show the reluctance to release the ball to the intended receiver that he so often displayed last season. I take “off-schedule” to equate to having a broken play.
We’ve reported on how excited Davante Adams is about the “electrifying” offense the new coaches are installing. It sounds like Aaron Rodgers is also fully on board with the changes that he’s seeing. Any worries about Rodgers accepting instructions from coaches not much older than he don’t seem to be a concern.
Yet another take from Aaron’s comments is that Mike McCarthy’s dreary offense is being viewed as a major factor in Jimmy Graham having such a poor year. The team’s offensive strategists are clearly taking steps to see that won’t be the case in 2019.
In 2019, I’m expecting fewer sacks of Rodgers, fewer throw-aways, fewer broken plays, more throws from the pocket, faster release times, and a completion percentage at least five points higher than last year – when Aaron completed only 62.3% of his throws, tied for 26th best in the league.