BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 01/08/2020

Thiel: Is Packers’ Rodgers good as ever? Um, no

Green Bay’s Rodgers is still good, but no longer the wizard who extends plays. That’s Russell Wilson, tasked with a deed the Seahawks have done once in a half-century.

The long, extended plays for which Aaron Rodgers became famous aren’t happening nearly as much. / Wiki Commons

The departures from the NFL playoffs of senior eminences Tom Brady, 42, and Drew Brees, 40, have given rise to speculation that Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who turned 36 in December, might be next to succumb to the cruelties of time, gravity and sacks.

The speculation is sharpened by the more obvious observation that the two hottest quarterbacks for the regular season and the playoffs are low-mileage youngsters: Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, in his second year at 23, and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, in his third year at 24.

Since the Seahawks meet the Packers in Green Bay Sunday (3:40 p.m., FOX) in the playoffs’ second round, the speculation in Seattle about Rodgers is acute. It is the successful custom of the 12-5 Seahawks to prey upon teams who have key players absent or diminished — or, in the case of Sunday in Philadelphia, removing the key player, QB Carson Wentz, with an early hit by DE Jadeveon Clowney that has been called by some as late, cheap and dirty, but drew no foul.

Back to Rodgers. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much visible decline. He was good and healthy enough to lead the Packers to wins in their final five games (only one foe, Minnesota, had a winning record) to finish 13-3 and win the Central Division title, as well as a bye in the first round and the right to host in the second.

That means the Seahawks again have to travel east and play in front of the Lambeau Field hostiles in 25-degree weather (no snow yet in the forecast). As four-point underdogs, the Seahawks will look for any edge upon which to hang their helmets.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel may have discovered one.

For every one of the Packers’ 571 snaps on pass plays this season, the newspaper clocked the time it took Rodgers to release the ball. The data was grouped into three categories: Two seconds and under (quick passes), 2.01 to 4 seconds (multiple progressions or deep shots), and over 4 seconds (extended plays).

The latter category is the Rodgers specialty: Running forward, backward, sideways and falling down, he somehow gets the ball to receivers who have shed defenders to produce copious gains. But this season, the trademark seems to be on a fade.

The J-S compared the 2019 results to the same in Rodgers’ most successful statistical year of 2011, when the Packers went 15-1 and he was named league MVP.

The results showed a nearly 50 percent decline in rating on extended plays. Per the J-S:

 In 2011, Rodgers and a group of receivers that included Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Randall Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finley were sublime. The Packers extended only 13.4% of their pass plays beyond four seconds that season — 2.53 percentage points less frequent than this season — but Rodgers threw a touchdown pass once every 6.7 passes. This season, Rodgers has thrown a touchdown once every 45.5 extended passes.

The difference in passer rating is colossal. Rodgers’ 137.28 rating on extended plays in 2011 must rank as one of the most impressive feats in recent quarterbacking. His 71.86 rating this season isn’t even pedestrian.

“That group,” Rodgers said of his 2011 receivers, “really understood the scramble drill, I think. We had guys, I mean, Jordy was the best ever with it. We had guys who really understood, I think, what that felt like, and where to get to in those drills. I think that’s been one of the bigger problems, and you’ve seen it when you watch the film out, is just not being on the same page in that scramble drill.

“Whether it’s guys boxing out instead of pushing up and coming back, or guys coming short when they should be going deep, or two guys running the same area, we just haven’t had the success.”

Rodgers did not mention whether his diminishing skills might have contributed to the decline. I’m sure it was just an oversight. Although I would like to buy Mike McCarthy, the former Packers coach hired this week to replace Jason Garrett in Dallas, a few drinks and ask for his thoughts.

For whatever reasons, Rodgers’ passing numbers have slipped. ESPN’s QBR formula had Rodgers 18th in the league at 53.5. The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson is seventh at 69.4. The Ravens’ Lamar Jackson is tops at 81.1. In plain completion percentage, Rodgers is 22nd at 62.3, Wilson is ninth at 66.5 and Brees is No. 1 at 75.5.

For Rodgers and the Packers, the nadir of the season was Nov. 24 in Santa Clara, a 37-8 loss to the 49ers in which he was 20 for 33 passing for 104 yards, five sacks and a lost fumble. You may recall that the Seahawks have twice played the Niners more respectably.

As was mentioned, the Packers recovered from the debacle to win their final five games. But their record has undergone scrutiny similar to Seattle’s regarding an absence of dominance.

The slide by Rodgers is by no means predictive of the outcome Sunday. But he is he no longer the formidable spaghetti-Western gunslinger portrayed by Clint Eastwood.

That guy now is Wilson, who at 31 is at the apex of his powers.

Yet he is going to a place where he has done little.

In his three career starts at Lambeau, he is 0-3 with a 57.3 completion percentage, three TDs and six interceptions. Overall on the frozen tundra, the Seahawks are 0-2 in playoffs and have lost nine of 10 regular-season games (2-2 in Milwaukee), the only victory coming in 1999 in coach Mike Holmgren’s return to Green Bay after being poached by Seahawks owner Paul Allen.

So what we’re talking about in winning at Lambeau for the Seattle franchise is a once-every-half-century proposition, none so far in this century, now in its third decade.

Then I recall watching Wilson Sunday leading his team in rushing and getting 325 yards passing off just 18 completions, seven to a big, fast receiver the club has sought for 43 years, and came to a realization.

The Seahawks made Russell Wilson the highest paid player in NFL history for this Sunday. To be a younger Aaron Rodgers by beating an older Aaron Rodgers.

 


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YourThoughts

  • coug73

    We’ll see. The frozen tundra does something to a man.

    • art thiel

      It does. But it isn’t Minnesota in the 2016 playoffs.

      • Alan Harrison

        22 and no precipitation or wind does not a frozen tundra make. That’s the current (crossed fingers) weather prediction for Green Bay on Sunday evening.

        • art thiel

          True, but the upper Midwest in January is where the careers of weather forecasters go to die.

          • Alan Harrison

            Ick. I know. I’ve watched them railing about wind-chill, lake-effect, and how to set up your card chairs on the street to save parking spaces in the snow. But Russell Wilson did play that one season in Madison (albeit in the fall, not the winter).

          • art thiel

            Wilson is bulletproof to weather. Metcalf remains to be seen.

  • Kevin Lynch

    On this field it’s a very short distance from a Bart Starr to a Dandy Don.

    • art thiel

      I confess you stumped me.

      • Kevin Lynch

        The way things have gone this year Sunday’s game will be won with a one-yard quarterback sneak in the final seconds. Like Starr in the Ice Bowl. Poor Dandy Don Meredith. He easily could have been the winner.

        • art thiel

          Got it. Obscure, but a quality pull.

  • Matt Kite

    Crossing my fingers, but history says the Seahawks might be in for a humbling…

    • art thiel

      As Carroll likes to say, history doesn’t play.

      • Matt Kite

        Love it!

  • DB

    Interesting take, and similar to what many said about Brady this year. I’m not buying. A-Ron is right. The receivers aren’t as good. I didn’t see either QB missing guys, or not being able to make the throws. They simply haven’t gotten the same level of help as in the past. It’s a team sport. Passing stats have some relevance, like wins, but are not truly individual. Just ask Archie Manning.

    • art thiel

      Lots of people saw a QB struggling in the 23-20 season finale win vs DET: 27-55 2 TDs, 1 INT. From USA Today:

      QB Aaron Rodgers: It was a confounding performance from
      No. 12. On one hand, Rodgers delivered at least 5-6 throws that few
      others can make. At times, his accuracy can be other-worldly, but that
      fact makes his misses all the more bewildering. The Packers wanted to
      attack the league’s worst passing defense down the field, but Rodgers
      and the receivers weren’t up to the task. His accuracy wasn’t good
      enough, especially in the first half, but the entire operation looked
      disjointed – a potentially troubling sign in Week 17. Many of the misses
      weren’t off by much and could likely be explained by something other
      than just poor accuracy from the quarterback. Eventually, the Packers
      defense gave Rodgers enough opportunities to create the comeback. His
      3rd-and-10 touchdown pass to Allen Lazard was a great throw under
      pressure..

  • ll9956

    Another, great article, Art. One would hope that all the statistical analysis would translate into a Hawks win. I don’t keep notes, but my observation of Rodgers is that he has a lot of football intelligence, awareness and shrewdness, acquired through natural ability and experience. He has an uncanny ability to make throws that result in substantial yardage, when it looks like he’s about to be sacked. This has to lead to big time frustration, discouragement and fatigue to defenders. This sets up the run game. Once that pattern sets in, things tend to go downhill.

    One only hopes the Hawks can get a few sacks and maybe a pick or two, but I ain’t counting on it. The Packers’ pass protection is quite good.

    • art thiel

      Rodgers was 27 for 55 in his last game vs, Det. Somethin’ ain’t right.

  • jafabian

    IMO, Rodgers hasn’t been the same since breaking his collarbone in 2017. He tried to come back early that season for a playoff push and that was a mistake. I say that as a former basketball player who broke his collarbone.

    Surprisingly Rodgers had a 3-2 playoff home games record and if you factor in the controversial Dez Bryant game its actually 2-3. Gregg Bell of the Times gave some interesting DangeRuss facts on Twitter. Wilson has had 13 starts in games of temps in the 21-40 range and has 28 TDS, 13 INTs, 63% completions and 97.6 passer rating. I’d call this a pick ‘em game. Cold weather doesn’t bother the former Wisconsin Badger though maybe the Lambeau mystique does. I’m calling this a pick ‘em game. The Packers don’t seem to me as good as their record but playing at Lambeau evens things out.