Sunday’s debacle has seemingly been analyzed to death, though I think there’s still a point or two that haven’t received proper emphasis. Everybody is saying that the Packers, across the board, weren’t ready to play against the Saints. There is certainly some truth in that, but in my mind the game came down to one terrible performance. I didn’t hesitate to single out Kevin King in the Packers’ postseason loss to the Buccaneers, so I’m not going to change now: Aaron Rodgers played a stinker of a game, and it dragged down the rest of the team in which he’s the acknowledged leader.
It’s not easy to record a passer rating of under 50, yet Aaron managed to compile a 36.8 rating on Sunday. It was far and away the worst Game 1 performance among all qualifying quarterbacks. Even the rookies fared much better: the Pats’ Mac Jones had a rating of 102.5, the Jets’ Zach Wilson was at 82.9, and the Jags’ Trevor Lawrence came in at 70.1 – almost double that of Rodgers. Twenty-one QBs were rated at 90 or better.
Though the Saints played inspired football, they were ripe for the picking on Sunday. A number of their key players were injured. The crowd at Jacksonville was rooting heavily for Green Bay. The Saints were launching a rebuild season: Instead of all-time great Drew Brees at quarterback, they started a reclamation project in Jameis Winston, who had barely got on the field with New Orleans in 2020.
Rodgers is no stranger when it comes to turning in abysmal performances. In his 17 years, I believe he’s turned in ratings around 50 or below maybe a half dozen times. Though he’s has had a number of stirring comeback wins over the years, we’ve many times seen Rodgers fall apart in the course of a game that wasn’t going well – and we watched this happen again last Sunday.
We’ve heard a lot of talk about the Saints’ cover-2 defense, in which the safeties play well back and dare the opponent to run the ball. Against such strategies, which are becoming fairly common, you’d at least expect a quarterback to complete a high percentage of short passes. Instead, Aaron went 15 for 28, a completion percentage of just 53.6, again the worst showing of Week 1. Seventeen QBs had completion percentages of 66% or better last weekend.
Aaron’s average yardage per pass thrown was also an anemic 4.8 yards, second last to Matt Ryan’s 4.7. Pro Football Focus gave Rodgers an atrocious overall grade of 43.3.
There’s no need to get into any deep psychoanalysis of Mr. Rodgers. I’m sure many fans have noticed the famous Rodgers scowl. When things start to go wrong for Aaron, he increasingly tends to storm around the field and on the sidelines, venting his displeasure and frustration. The TV cameras of course love to capture these moments of emotional turmoil.
Aaron has a career-long problem with keeping his composure and focus when things go awry. When a team’s leader loses emotional control and displays his disgust and frustration, it should be no surprise that his teammates also suffer a loss of focus and confidence.
Spurred on by the awareness that Rodgers was in a funk, New Orleans played well, though not exceptionally. They would not have scored 38 points without being gifted with three turnovers. Jameis Winston had a big day in terms of touchdown throws (which gave him a great passer rating of 130.8), but he was otherwise pedestrian: 14 of 20 for 148 yards. Alvin Kamara was his usual self, though the Packers’ defense still kept him to 83 yards in 20 rushing attempts (4.2 yard average), and a long run of 14 yards.
Offensively, Rodgers agreed that the Pack’s pass blocking was not the problem. He had essentially the same set of receivers – though with another year of experience – as he had at the start of last season. Though much of the media set up a smokescreen by saying that the Packers were terrible in all phases of the game, it draws attention away from the obvious: you’re going to get trounced whenever your QB has a passer ratings of under 40.
Okay, Game 1 of this all-in year for the Packers is behind us. On Monday night, Green Bay confronts the Detroit Lions at Lambeau, another team on the rebuild. The Lions are now led by Jared Goff, the former LA Rams QB and top draft selection in 2016. In an overtime loss in Game 1 to the 49ers, Goff threw a Pick-6 in the second quarter, but then led a furious second-half comeback. The resulting loss left all four NFC North teams with a winless record. Green Bay should be a strong favorite.
Back on June 13, I issued this ominous warning:
“As of June 8, when Rodgers failed to show up for mandatory team training, he has definitely already done real damage to the team’s chances in the upcoming season. His not being around to adequately train with his offensive teammates is inexcusable. . .Because Aaron Rodgers’ holdout is doing real and irreparable damage to the Green Bay Packers – right now – in terms of lost practice opportunities with young or inexperienced teammates. He’s also damaging the team in other ways, such as creating distractions, dividing the fan base, and hindering planning. . .”
I believe the genesis of last Sunday’s loss goes back to the quarterback’s antics and attitude during the off season. Fans should not be too concerned over whether the team will rebound, but rather: will Aaron Rodgers rebound?