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A Realistic Improvement Plan for Aaron Rodgers

Let’s get right to it. Here are some preliminaries and assumptions.

I love and admire Aaron Rodgers as much as any other loyal Packers fan. I want him to excel and succeed, but that’s not the trajectory his career path is on. Changes are needed – for his own good and for the good of the team. No one is perfect.

As shown over the past three years, Aaron has not been able to maintain his standard of excellence. All of the team’s coaches, coordinators, and quality control guys haven’t been able to stop the bleeding. Coach Mike McCarthy gave Aaron an unusual amount of independence and freedom to do his thing – the new coach now needs to rein in that independence a bit.

Matt LaFleur is a smart guy. At this point in the season, he very likely has a good grip on where the faults lie in Aaron’s game – and everyone else’s for that matter. He must have a good idea of what areas of his QB’s game need improvement. It’s understandable that a young new head coach would assert himself cautiously into modifying the game of a future Hall of Famer, but it’s past time to begin to undergo the process in earnest.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Dec 15, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during warmups prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The sports world, as does the overall business world, relies heavily on past and current performance data. Targets or goals are established for motivational purposes, as a way of focusing, and in order to measure progress. It’s called benchmarking, or best practices benchmarking, which Wikipedia defines as “the practice of comparing business processes and performance metrics to industry bests and best practices from other companies. Dimensions typically measured are quality, time and cost.”

How does this translate to the NFL, and specifically to NFL quarterbacks? The predominant rating for NFL quarterbacks has come to be the league-approved passer rating. Aaron formerly had no equal when it comes to this benchmark, but his passer rating has been on a descent ever since his high-water mark of 122.5 in 2011. This year he has struggled to keep his rating in triple digits, and his current number, 100.4 is only tenth best among his peers.

However, passer rating, which consists of a variety of components, isn’t something a quarterback can hone into and focus on as a guide to his play. It’s a cumulative result of several factors.

Almost everyone from the casual fan to the most astute football minds seem to agree: Aaron has over the years become hesitant to make his throws. He holds onto the ball too long, and goes through too many progressions in trying to decide who best to throw to. One popular theory is that he’s become obsessed with avoiding interceptions. Another is that he overthinks things.

Whatever the reason for hesitation, this allows pass rushers to pressure him, force him out of the pocket, make him throw on the run, and all too often get sacked. His style of play also exposes him to serious injury. I will credit him with doing a bit better in 2019: his 32 sacks is only 12th worst so far this season.

Aaron’s hesitancy has undoubtedly contributed to his steadily eroding completion percentage. From a high of 68.3% in 2011, it has sunk to below 65% the last three seasons. Currently, it’s at 63.3%, which ranks him only 18th best in the league.

There’s a wealth of data out there, but which one or ones might we look to as a key yardstick to apply to Rodgers? I believe there is one particular performance indicator ideally suited to Aaron’s situation. If our beloved but beleaguered quarterback would focus on – and commit to bettering – this particular performance indicator, I’m confident it would turn his game around.

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers throws football

Dec 15, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass in the second quarter during the game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Time to Throw

NFL Next Gen Stats, as the name implies, has been creatively coming up with non-standard ways of measuring pro football performance for some time now. Since 2016, they’ve been keeping track of several new quarterback statistics.

Go here to view their quarterback chart, with its 15 columns of data. The very first statistical column, labeled TT, records time to throw, which is the time from the snap from center to the QB releasing the ball.

By clicking on “TT,” you’ll get the TT numbers arranged from quickest to slowest release time. Check it out, and you’ll find that Rodgers so far this season has an average TT of 2.91; tied for 34th out of 37 qualifying QBs. In 2018, Aaron’s number was 2.95 (35th); in 2017 it was an uncharacteristic 2.65 (15th); and in 2016, it was 2.86 (34th).

If we can agree that being hesitant to release the ball has come to be a major problem in Aaron’s game, then if he and the coaching staff were to concentrate, successfully, on shortening his TT, his performance across the board should improve dramatically: fewer sacks, higher completion percentage, more passing yardage, more third-and-short downs. As a bonus, he wouldn’t be exposing himself as much to serious injury.

The Role Model

For those who peruse the TT column of Next Gen statistics, it makes sense to see where the most productive passer in NFL history – who happens to be a contemporary of Aaron – rates. The great Drew Brees is also the league’s most accomplished “quick draw” passer.

Aaron had his most productive year in 2011, when he passed for 4,647 yards. From 2011-2016, Drew never passed for fewer than 4,870 yards. Drew has exceeded 5,000 yards five times – no one else has done it more than once. It’s no coincidence that Drew, the NFL’s greatest-of-all-time thrower (I didn’t say winner or most valuable player), is always at or near the top of the TT column.

To date this season, Drew’s TT is 2.53 seconds, which ranks him second fastest among the 37 qualifiers. In 2018, it was 2.59; in 2017 it was 2.58; in 2016, it was 2.42. Drew conclusively proves that one can consistently release the ball quickly and still be the best there is.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, a quick release time doesn’t mean a low completion percentage. Drew also rules the completion percentage column (third from the right). So far this season, Drew is again number one, with an astonishing 73.6% completion rate. I have no doubt that if Aaron can reduce his TT, he’ll have a corresponding increase in his completion percentage.

Nor does a quick-release time mean one is confined to mostly short passes. On the season, Aaron’s yards per pass attempt is 7.4, 17th best; Drew’s is 8.2, tied for sixth best.

There could be a corresponding increase in his interception rate, though I doubt it would be very significant. Despite Drew being a high volume thrower, his interception totals from 2017 to the present have numbered only 8, 5, and 4.

The Saints’ Receivers

Maybe you’re thinking that Brees has been blessed with a much better stable of wide receivers than Rodgers? I don’t see it. In Brees’s illustrious 19-year career, here are the only wide receiver names that stick out to me: Marques Colston (2006-15), Brandon Cooks (2014-16), and Michael Thomas (2016-19).

Colston was an average athlete, out of Hofstra, but a very disciplined and focused player. Cooks is blazing fast but also a troublemaker, who’s already with his third team in six years. The youthful Thomas was a first team All-Pro last year, and leads the league in passing yardage again this season.

To digress briefly, the parallels between Michael Thomas and Davante Adams are striking. Thomas has 4.57 dash speed (29th percentile), he weighs 212#, has a 35” vertical jump, a 6.80 3-cone drill time, and a 4.13 20-yard shuttle time. Adams’s corresponding marks are 4.56, 212#, 39 ½”, 6.82, and 4.30. Thomas is two inches taller than Adams.

In sum, Brees has shown throughout his 19-year pro career that he can excel with whatever supporting cast he’s provided. He certainly made Jimmy Graham an All-Pro, whereas Russell Wilson and Rodgers haven’t had nearly as much success with him.

I wish I could compare Aaron’s time-to-throw averages in his best years (2011-14) with his more recent TTs. I’ll bet they were notably lower. Aaron’s hesitancy in throwing the ball, especially to receivers who aren’t wide open, is a bad habit he’s acquired over the years. It will take a strong commitment, and lots of patience, to fix it.

An Intervention Plan

Aaron has been unable to reverse the trend by himself, so it’s time for a strong coach to intervene. I would hope that Aaron – for the good of the team – would buy into such an idea.

My remedial plan is simply to establish “time to throw” as the primary yardstick of Rodgers’ performance. It should be the main focus at practices, and diligently graded and studied following each game.

As part of the plan, Aaron should watch Brees highlight films incessantly, like this one. What he’ll see is a rhythm thrower, one who trusts (not second-guesses) his play caller, one who hits receivers shortly after they’ve made their break and established maximum separation, and one who’s not reluctant to throw into tight coverage.

And Brees does it, almost every pass play, in about two and a half seconds. And yes, Drew is considerably smaller than Aaron, not nearly as athletic, he doesn’t possess a rifle-like arm, and he’ll be 41 in less than a month.

Put succinctly, Aaron has become too slow in making his throws. He needs to grip it and rip it. Maybe the above proposal, or some version of it, would help.

Tags:
Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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28 Comments

  1. John schwarzmann December 17, 2019

    A realistic plan would be to get him some receivers and tight ends. Anybody that dosn’t see that hasn’t watched the games. Other than Adams the wr’s and TE’s have been lousy.

    1. PF4L December 17, 2019

      J P…can you send this guy a t-shirt or something.

  2. Henkster December 17, 2019

    Rob you hit it on the head but doubt at this point in his career he is willing to change no matter who is coach. Let’s hope he looks at the tape of the games when Adams was out , he spread the ball around with shorter passes, and they need to run jones more and get him involved in passing game. The Packers could go deep but it’s on AR to adjust his game…… not likely imho 🙁

  3. gp December 17, 2019

    Wouldn’t it have been great to have drafted a really fast, big play receiver like Deebo Samuel of the 49ers or D.J. Metcalf of the Seahawks? The great teams go after those big play potential guys. The Packers draft receivers in the lower rounds. They just lucked out on getting Aaron Jones so low in the draft. They have drafted high a lot of d backs who don’t have the same impact. Aaron Rodgers is getting the short end of the stick from the Pack. Much like when Brett had Billy Schroeder as a primary receiver. Get Aaron Rodgers some impact receivers!!!

  4. PF4L December 17, 2019

    A realistic improvement plan for Gutenkunst not letting the talent on offense get any further depleted.

  5. PF4L December 17, 2019

    “To digress briefly, the parallels between Michael Thomas and Davante Adams are striking.” (proceed to combine metrics).
    *
    OR…..one could live in reality and understand Thomas is superior than Adams.
    *
    According to this article….”Whatever the reason for hesitation, this allows pass rushers to pressure him”…..As long as the O line gets a pass. Now when we say “whatever the reason” are we talking about the worst receiving group in decades? Or do they get a pass also?
    *
    Should we talk about New Orleans top of the league rated O line?
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    Should we pretend that Bree’s doesn’t have a nice outlet pass with Kamara. Should we pretend that Kamara doesn’t have 235 receptions for over 2,000 yards over the last 3 seasons?
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    Should we pretend that Rodgers has had better play calling than Bree’s has had under Sean Peyton?
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    Should we pretend that Bree’s and Rodgers have had equal talent the last 3 years?
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    Should i pretend i’m not losing brain cells discussing this?

    1. stiggy December 18, 2019

      I dont have a horse in this race but… Rodgers has a nice outlet he rarely uses… Aaron jones. Rodgers has two effective tackles… rodgers has more time to throw than a majority of Qbs in the league…. and rodgers best game of the last two years was against the bears elite defense in week 1 with a broken knee… with an even shittier group of position players compared to this season. In that performance he was doing exactly as Rob says….getting rid of the damn ball. I agree with your sentiments that rodgers is the only thing that makes this team competitive but you spend a bit too much time white knighting for #12… his holding the ball shit has become a problem the same way Favres I dont give a fuck back breaking interceptions became a problem late in his career. If you made a case that the packers organization ruined both their psych with shit player acquisition models you would have a great hypothesis as to the origins of their issues…and neither flaw undoes a magic career but to say they arent issues is being a homer. Rodgers holds the ball too damn long on many plays.. plain and simple..last week alone it cost us a field goal attempt that could have put us up two scores and it usually kills a drive or two every game. For someone who does a great job holding everyone from the president to the damn water boy of the packers accountable you take any critique of rodgers quite personally.

      1. PF4L December 18, 2019

        The reason he has “more time to throw” is because some dude has a stop watch he uses until Rodgers releases the ball, when you scramble out a lot, yes, that number increases.
        ***
        More time to throw, is NOT indicative of your O line giving you more time to throw than other teams give their QB. You didn’t understand this?.
        ***
        I haven’t harped on shit player acquisitions?…that’s interesting Stig.
        ***
        C’mon man…this stuff is simple enough where i shouldn’t have to explain everything.

        1. PF4L December 18, 2019

          Just so you understand, a QB staying in the pocket throwing to a receiver who got open (TAKES LESS TIME).
          *
          A QB who holds the ball and scrambles to find an open receiver TAKES MORE TIME.
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          Thus…some college geek with a stop watch declares Rodgers has more time to throw than other QB’s
          *
          I hope that helps..as usual…no charge.

        2. Stiggy December 18, 2019

          Or Rodgers could throw to his outlet and get three yards.

          I understand your point..m I also understand the offense looked better with even less talent (Adam’s out) than it does with him…which shouldnt be the case.

          As I’ve also mentioned Rodgers iconic game of the last two years was his week one bears masterpiece on a broken knee. He fucking dominated like I haven’t seen in quite sometime when he was forced to stay in the pocket and get the ball out immediately. It was an absolute clinic in quarterbacking. Throws were on time..and accurate…and he made the best defense in the nfl look helpless.

          1. PF4L December 18, 2019

            Different teams, make for different match ups. Different match ups make for different play calling. What may work against one team, might very well not work against another team. This is why, if team (A) beats team (B). That does not mean your team can beat team (B) just because you beat team (A), Besides talent….This league is about match ups, and coaching (adjustments).
            ***
            Remember when the defense held teams to 11 points/game the first 3 games, then gave up 25 points per game thereafter for about 5 or 6 weeks? What happened? Coaches tape, different match ups, adjustments?
            ***
            It’s not all based…on the QB alone. Every player, depends on other players, coaches, to perform. There is a litany of reasons Rodgers hasn’t performed to his usual VERY high standard, including himself. When you play a certain way at a very high level, change doesn’t always come so easy. Especially if a new offense is implemented at the same time his talent around him got depleted. When Rodgers said this offense was a work in progress, he didn’t give it a end date. It is what it is….just like the Packers record.

  6. Kato December 18, 2019

    If we are being perfectly honest here, we can’t blame Rodgers for Graham’s lack of production. The guy is like 6 years older than his last year in New Orleans, and has had a patellar injury since then, which has proven to greatly affect a players speed in the aftermath. Victor Cruz was out of the NFL soon after his

  7. PF4L December 18, 2019

    Graham isn’t that bad, he ranks 19th among tight ends.
    ***
    Graham has 1,018 yards and 5 TD’s in only 2 seasons, and all it cost the Packers was 22 million. Which might be considered a bargain….to Russ Ball and Gute

  8. Deepsky December 18, 2019

    It’s kind of difficult to compare Aaron Rodgers this year with other years as the scheme has changed significantly.
    When Aaron Rodgers had his highest QB rating of 122, the Packers only had 12 rushing TDs all season and 3 of those came from Rodgers himself.

    Aaron Jones has 14 rushing TDs himself, by far the most TDs of any running back in Aaron Rodgers career. It is by design in this offense that the running backs produce and that’s what is happening and it’s a good thing. Add 5 or so TDs to Rodgers quarterback rating and he goes up to about 104, about average for Rodgers.

    That being said, I think Rodgers has been declining for many years now. At first he was no longer buying into McCarthy’s system (overthinking as Rob says), and now he’s physically declining. His throwing accuracy has dropped significantly since the broken collarbone on his throwing arm. He can’t run anymore and doesn’t run well since his tibial plateau fracture. He says he wants to play until 40, but unless the defense becomes a top 3 defense and he has reason to believe he can win a Super Bowl, his physical issues may cause him to retire before that. It wouldn’t come as a shock to me that all of the sudden, he’s throwing more INTs than TDs as his physical skills suddenly drop. This is what happened to Manning, Favre, Young, Marino and others, one really bad year, and they retire.

  9. Stickman December 18, 2019

    #17 is the only receiver he has had for a long time, yet the packer organization has left money on the table for much of his time in GB. Just saying, but maybe spend some of that money on some help instead of the amusement park circus around Lambeau. Are we trying to win Super Bowls or are we buying sled riding hills and water slides. Did #83 and #81 get cut yet????

  10. Kato December 18, 2019

    There is no fixing Aaron Rodgers at this point. It’s over. He is a 36 year old player, with an ad lib style of play that is so engrained in his DNA that I honestly don’t think it can be reversed. It worked for so long for him because he had a veteran group of receivers that had been in the system a long time as well. It isn’t conducive to a team that is going to draft and develop talent continually. Rodgers doesn’t trust young players to do what he wants them to do on scramble drills when he wants to extend plays. I mean, if people want to look at the players draft status and just assume they can’t play in this league, that is their peroragative. If he isn’t going to play within the structure of the offense, it might be time to think about drafting a successor.

    1. PF4L December 18, 2019

      ” It isn’t conducive to a team that is going to draft and develop talent continually.”
      *
      What team are you talking about….the Packers? Forget draft and develop, this team is just happy to draft a player who can play in this league.
      *
      Back when the team actually could draft and develop, it seems to me Rodgers was pretty damn good.
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      But yea….you go ahead and keep explaining this to us….so we can learn.

  11. Stickman December 18, 2019

    Sounds good Kato. Let`s trade Rodgers to Cinci for the #1 pick (Joe Burrow) and we can through in #81 & #83 for shits and giggles.

    1. Stiggy December 18, 2019

      I remember people like you when Rodgers was obviously going to be taking over for Favre. I had a lot of fun at their expense.

      1. Stickman December 18, 2019

        I was being sarcastic Stiggy. I love Rodgers and think we are lucky to have him. But I honestly think #83 should be put on the practice squad this year and #81 stinks. There has to be better out there

        1. PF4L December 18, 2019

          There was…Emmanuel Sanders. He would have been a great slot guy with Rodgers

          1. Kato December 18, 2019

            Sure, after, after he took time to learn the offense, then get timing down, then learn what Rodgers wants on each and every play if he decides to run out of the pocket. And for God’s sake don’t fuck that up and get screamed at like Tonyan did on Sunday. How many years does it take to get Rodgers trust? When you will he throw to you when you are wide open? It is his offense, you are just living in it sport! Rule number one of Rodgers club, it’s never Rodgers fault, don’t question it or you will be ghosted for eternity on the field while he either takes a sack or throws it to a double covered Davante Adams.

          2. PF4L December 18, 2019

            Kato December 16, 2019
            I am just going to enjoy this for a few days.
            ***
            PF4L December 17, 2019
            For someone who is just enjoying this you sure do seem to bitch a lot.

          3. Deepsky December 18, 2019

            10 games for third and fourth round pick. That’s a pretty steep price.

  12. Kato December 18, 2019

    Here is an interesting exercise. Let’s talk about Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Which of those guys have had the most receivers grow to be productive recievers under their quarterbacking?
    Brett Favre- Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman, Donald Driver, Javon Walker, Bill Schroeder, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Mark Chmura, Bubba Franks.

    Aaron Rodgers- Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson.
    ******
    Point being, Rodgers doesn’t seem to do well with young players for the most part. He is very particular, and any young receiver takes a long time to earn his trust and get the ball.

    1. Kato December 18, 2019

      Sorry, forgot Davante Adams for Rodgers. Point is, Favre for the most part didn’t care who his receivers were, he got the job done. He did lobby for Randy Moss in his last year (as were Packers fans) because the thought was Favres receivers were trash beyond Driver. Then Jennings broke out, and James Jones had a very good rookie year.

  13. Henkster December 21, 2019

    Got to agree with Kato, doubt if Rodgers will change as he plays the game his way, trusts only certain guys and doesn’t like to play within the system and get rid of the ball quickly. Ad libbing and running around looking for the longer completion is his game, resulting in a lot of 3rd and longs, very hard to convert. I’m sure he’s a challenge for Lafleur as he changes the play often. As you can see from his disconnect with his family, he probably is pretty stubborn and changing his ways is highly unlikely. But who knows, anything can happen in the playoffs and there is still hope. This team will go as far as AR is willing to play within ML’s system. Don’t hold your breath though.

    1. Kato December 21, 2019

      Shhhh. We have Aaron Rodgers fans in here. Can’t make them angry when presenting facts. They are much like the Brett Favre fans 15 years ago.