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A Surgical Look at Aaron Rodgers’ 2020 Performance

Just prior to this season, Aaron Rodgers mentioned that he spotted something while viewing game film from 2010 – something he thinks will greatly help him this year. Pundits rushed to speculate what it was. Rodgers isn’t telling, but like everyone else, I’ve got a hunch.

Near the tail end of, the 2019 season, I brazenly contributed a post titled “A Realistic Improvement Plan for Aaron Rodgers” (here). I analyzed Aaron’s statistics from the start of 2019 through mid-December. Many of the stats and opinions are worth another look.

Here are several snippets from that late-2019 analysis:

“Aaron Rodgers had one of slower release times among current NFL quarterbacks – he throws his passes on average 2.95 seconds after he gets the snap – that’s 35th in the league. Here are some other well-known names: Ben Roethlisberger, 2.55 (2nd); Drew Brees, 2.59 (4th), and Tom Brady, 2.61 (7th).”

“The Packers quarterbacks (mostly Rodgers) took 102 QB hits in 2018. Drew Brees and the Saints incurred 52 hits. By his style of play, Rodgers exposed himself to just about twice as many hazards as has Brees. More hazards = more injuries = more missed games = fewer wins.”

“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.”

“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…”

“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.”

“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.”

 

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers scrambles

Sep 13, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) drops back for a pass in the first half against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

 

Time to Throw

I then proceeded to focus on “Time to Throw” (TT), a “Next Gen Stat” that the NFL has been keeping since 2016. Though it’s only been two games, Aaron’s TT versus the Vikings was a very decent 2.59 seconds, ranking him 13th. This contrasts sharply with his performances of the last several seasons: 2.87 and 34th out of 39 in 2019; 2.95 and 35th in 2018; 2.65 and 15th in 2017; and 2.86 and 34th in 2016.

Yes, Aaron reverted to a 2.93 TT against the Lions, but I’m not going to panic over one game. Just a few six- or seven-second scrambles, like Aaron made on Sunday – and which the TT king, Drew Brees, never does – can greatly alter this average.

In that previous article, I offered the following potential solution: “(I)f 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.”

Here’s what we’ve seen Aaron accomplish in these first two games: once getting sacked, a completion percentage of 67.6, and 604 yards of passing. As a bonus, Aaron has suffered only five QB hits – thereby seldom exposing himself to injury.

Though Aaron’s completion percentage is currently only 14th best in the league, if we were to turn five of those dropped passes into completions, he’d be up to 74.3%, which would be fifth best – and that’s the same percentage as Drew Brees’ league-best average in 2019. And even the 67.6 mark is a huge improvement over 2019, when his Aaron’s completion rate of 62.0% was good for only 21st place.

With increased completion percentage comes more third-and-short downs. I laboriously calculated that of the 26 third downs Rodgers has faced so far in 2020, 11 of them were with four or fewer yards to go, and ten were with from five to eight yards to go, leaving only five cases of longer than eight yards to go. That’s a big improvement over the past few years.

Even with a number of third-down drops, Rodgers is still 12 of 23 in third-down conversions on the young season. A percentage of 50 or more puts you in the league’s top ten. Last year Green Bay finished at 52.4%, placing sixth in the league.

As you can see, many of these statistics are interrelated. Better first- and second-down play calls and higher completion percentages lead to better third-down situations, which lead to more successful long drives and a higher time-of-possession differential. The Pack had the ball over nine minutes more against the Lions, and a ridiculous 22-plus minutes more than the Vikes. They also ran eight more plays that the Lions, and 27 more than the Vikings – which tends to tire out the opposing defense as a game goes on.

It appears that LaFleur went after Minnesota’s inexperienced cornerbacks, whereas he felt the Lions’ run defense was the exploitable weak link. LaFleur’s play calls on Sunday centered around Jones from the git-go. Aaron Jones and his mates chewed up 259 yards on the ground on Sunday, for an average of 7.4 yards per rush. Someone will figure out when was the last time that’s happened.

Against the Vikes, however, Green Bay went pass-heavy, 44 times out of 76 plays. It appears that LaFleur and his staff are going to more prominently tailor offensive game plans according to opponents’ defensive strengths and weaknesses – and to a greater extent than McCarthy seldom, if ever, did.

 

Aaron Rodgers with Matt LaFleur on the sideline

Sep 20, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) talks with head coach Matt LaFleur during the third quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Rodgers’ Turnaround

I don’t know if Aaron picked up on how much more quickly he was releasing the ball when he reviewed his film from 2010. Regardless, I doubt that he brought about the changes we’ve seen the past two weekends all by himself.

From what I’ve seen of Matt LaFleur – I hope my love affair with him from the day he arrived in the Fox Valley doesn’t get too gushy – the former college quarterback wasn’t about to sit around and watch his legendary quarterback decline well before his time is up. My guess is that during the offseason and training camp LaFleur pushed and cajoled Aaron to commit himself to the head coach’s quick-pass attack plan. And succeeded!

And let’s acknowledge: the drafting of Jordan Love constituted the clearest wakeup call an organization can send to a player.

These first two games have amply demonstrated that quick passing doesn’t mean short passing. On Week 1, Aaron went for 45 and 39 yards to MVS. 40 and 24 to Davante, and 38 to Lazard – and that doesn’t count a bad misthrow to Adams and a long ball dropped by MVS, both of which would have resulted in touchdowns.

Against the Lions, Valdes-Scantling had a 41-yarder, Jones a gorgeous 30 yarder, and Lazard a 25-yarder. But for the drops – MVS (thrice), Sternberger (twice), and Lazard each dropped easy catches that would have netted over twenty yards a piece – Aaron’s passer rating of 107.6 would otherwise have been on a par with the 127.5 rating he rang up during his dismantling of Mike Zimmer’s once-stout defense.

Staying on Course

Among the concerns that we can lay to rest after just two games is that Aaron Rodgers at age 36 has experienced a significant physical decline in his passing ability. His reflexes and vision are quick as ever, and his arm strength and precision are still the match of any QB in the NFL. It’s only his foot speed that has noticeably slowed – an additional reason to transition to quick-passing.

In that previous post, I brought up the concept of benchmarking. Well, it took a good five years for Aaron to develop some pretty bad habits, and I’m not expecting an immediate and permanent cure. That’s why it’s critical that the Packers continually measure Aaron’s progress – carefully monitoring his time-to-throw stats on a weekly basis is a great way to do that.

I’ll be closely tracking Aaron’s TT stats over the course of the season, watchful for signs of regression. I’m hopeful that LaFleur and his coaching staff will do the same.

If Rodgers can stay on track all season, we’re looking at passing efficiency that can match that of his 2014 or 2012 seasons. Even without a big change by Rodgers, now that Matt LaFleur is in his second year of installing his potent brand of offense, I’d expect a 10-point increase in Aaron’s passer rating, which slid to 95.4 last year, from that alone.

The legendary veteran might even approach his record of 2011, when he established the all-time NFL passer rating standard of 122.5. The only thing that stopped that juggernaut of a team from grasping the Lombardi Trophy was a porous defense.

Oops, sorry I dampened the celebration by bringing that up.

Tags:
Rob Born

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

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10 Comments

  1. Stiggy September 22, 2020

    Good piece Rob.

    Reply
  2. Deepsky September 22, 2020

    Here’s my crazy theory for the improvement. Rodgers wants LaFluer to fail. You see it was clear to me back a few years ago that at some point Rodgers began running purely Mccarthy’s offense and stopped improvising, with the intent the offense would stagnate and Mccarthy would get fired. And it worked. Rodgers thinks he’s a genius, which I don’t think is a negative trait. So he decided this year to run purely LaFluer’s offense and not improvise, to show everyone LaFluer can’t call offenses. Except now that he’s actually throwing on time, throwing crossing routes and dump offs, drives stay alive.

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 22, 2020

      Like Skinny, you got it all figured out Deep. Kudos my man. Keep us informed.
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      Legalize weed!!!!

      Reply
  3. PF4L September 22, 2020

    Condensed….
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    Rodgers slow time of release has nothing to do with open receivers. All our receivers are usually open in 2,5 seconds (cough).
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    QB hits….have nothing to do with the O line. The fault lies in Rodgers style.
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    This sums things up nicely. It’s fairly evident that LeFleur has fixed a broken QB.
    He has taken a broken, hesitant QB with low confidence, and made him into a somewhat capable NFL QB.
    .
    Lets all bow to Matt LeFleur.

    Side note: Rodgers owes Matt an apology for getting pissed off when Matt called a timeout out. I don’t know who Rodgers thinks he is sometimes, pretending like he knows what’s going on. That was a real dick move. If that shit keeps up, put in Jordan…fuck it. Matt doesn’t need the attitude when he’s trying to mold Rodgers into an NFL QB.
    .

    Reply
  4. PF4L September 22, 2020

    Anyone here suggest Adams be cut from the roster awhile back so a different receiver gets as many chances as he got?
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    The defense rest your Honor.
    .

    Reply
  5. Steve September 22, 2020

    I’m impressed. It would be nice to have Gilbert Brown back about now. It was so great when Burger King named a huge burger after him. With Gilbert ( The Grave Digger ) playing NT on the line, we wouldn’t have such problems stopping the run. A lot of the Packers could have this kind of success this season, if a few of the players tuned up their game. Just think of it, the Aaron Cook’s burger, is probably already coming, and Aaron Rodgers is deserving as well. It only takes a few duds to make this impossible for the rest of the team. Davante Adams is so much more than earning his keep as well, and the great efforts of the offensive line, get unnoticed as well when we got the players that can’t catch the football. Don’t look to see Burger King producing too many burgers for us this year due to dropped passes through. I had high hopes of people being able to order : A Great Catch Stern-Burger this season, but it’s looking pretty glum so far.
    Go Pack Go …🚀😁
    Cheese Is Good … 🐀🧀
    😎…🍔

    Reply
  6. Howard September 23, 2020

    “It appears that LaFleur went after Minnesota’s inexperienced cornerbacks, whereas he felt the Lions’ run defense was the exploitable weak link.”
    .
    I think LaFleur put in a game plan that would take advantage of the weaknesses of the Vikings and Lions defenses, and both teams had inexperienced cornerbacks. However; I’m fairly certain LaFleur and Rodgers have checks that get the team out of a bad play and into a good play against certain defenses. Among many other things one of Rodgers strengths is to get the offense into (change) a play at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of a defense.
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    My recollection is the Vikings were stacking the box and the Lions were playing coverage. The reason the Packers passed more against the Vikings was the Vikings were bringing an extra defender close to the line, whereas the Lions were doing the opposite, for the most part. LaFleur with Rodgers input are preparing game plans to take advantage of what the defense shows. LaFleur has the trust in Rodgers to make the correct adjustments at the line, and Rodgers has the ability to make the correct adjustments.
    .
    In regards to what Rodgers saw on film, I think it had something to do with his mechanics(?) not just a quicker release. The quicker release has more to do with receivers getting open/running correct route, and how well the line is blocking. LaFleur’s passing concepts is scheming the receivers open quicker, so that also helps in a quicker Rogers release.
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    I would not even hazard a guess what Rodgers saw from 2010 that is helping, but what ever it was it must not be very obvious or several QB coaches, offensive coordinators, Head coaches, team scouts, and GMs would have seen the problem and requested corrections. Maybe it is as simple as go out, stay loose, and have fun playing the game.

    Reply
  7. PF4L September 23, 2020

    “The quicker release has more to do with receivers getting open/running correct route, and how well the line is blocking. LaFleur’s passing concepts is scheming the receivers open quicker, so that also helps in a quicker Rodgers release,
    Very well put.
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    Now..after doing it to two teams giving up about 35 PPG. We’ll see how they sustain against more challenging defenses. But damn that was fun watching that passing attack against the queens, quick, precise, surgical. That took me back some years when the gettin was good and we had more weapons. We’ll see how this thing turns out as the weeks go by. So far so good.
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    Best start tightening up that defensive scoring though. Plenty of time, but not a good start.

    Reply
  8. SCPKRBKR September 24, 2020

    I think having that crazy Danica who is used to losing out of his headspace dramatically helps his focus. She was toxic given her lack of winning and still getting paid. I have a hunch that toxic thinking rubbed off on A-Rod and he actually thought “fuck it” I will mail it in and I will still be paid. We now see an emergence of the A-Rod of old, yet older and wiser.

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 24, 2020

      Mordecai…Just to be clear…i don’t like, or dislike Danica, she does nothing for me, i’m neutral, but…..
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      A woman entered a man’s world. I’m not sure if that’s easy.
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      At the same time….that same woman finished each season ahead of a bunch of men in her sport.
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      She made a living and raced Indy Series including the 500 and finished 3rd once.. She transitioned to Nascar, and finished 8th in the Indy 500 and earned a pole.
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      Not sure what you’ve done, or what she could do to impress you.
      But some may think she deserves a little credit and respect.
      Yea….she got paid, But how many women do you know that have raced both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500? ( i know of one). If it was easy…everyone would be doing it.
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      Just sayin.
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      Hailie Deegan is next.

      Reply

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