As the Packers prepare to host the 1-5 Bears in a game the home team should win, questions persist regarding the struggles of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
On Thursday’s PFT Live, I addressed 10 potential explanations, harvested not from film review or hot-take short-order cooks but from people in position to know what’s going on.
Here are the 10 possible explanations, all or some of which are causing the guy who not long ago was the clear-cut best quarterback in the NFL to experience a sharp decline while still in his prime.
1. Too many hits.
Although it doesn’t account for the full range of Rodgers’ struggles, which began with a 77-yard performance against the Broncos last October, recent issues may have something to do with the pounding he took against the Vikings five weeks ago. While never on the wrong end of a huge hit, Rodgers was constantly peppered with shots from an aggressive Vikings pass rush.
This has created a belief that he’s paying too much attention to the blocking and the rush, and not enough to watching which of his receivers is or will be open.
2. Defenses are keeping him in the pocket.
As noted recently by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, whose assessments of the situation are regarded in league circles as completely accurate, Rodgers throws much better when he escapes the pocket. By keeping him inside the pocket, Rodgers is simply less effective than he otherwise could be.
3. Free plays aren’t happening.
Rodgers had become very good at using the hard count to get a defensive lineman to jump in the neutral zone, quickly call for the snap, and fire a nothing-to-lose ball down the field, often resulting in a big play.
Per McGinn, last year Rodgers turned neutral-zone infractions into gains of 52, 34, 29, 27, and 22 yards — along with a 52-yard pass interference penalty — in the first six weeks of the season. Since then, none.
4. Receivers aren’t getting open.
As noted both by McGinn and future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, the receivers aren’t getting open quickly enough. Whether that’s due to the offensive design, which requires receivers to beat man coverage without a bunch of gimmicks and tricks (like bunch formations), or the limitations of the receivers, if they’re not open, it’s hard to get them the ball.
5. Rodgers isn’t trusting what he sees.
Rodgers may be partially responsible for the receivers not being open because he’s not trusting what he sees when receivers are trying to get open.
By not anticipating that the receivers will get open and waiting until they are, the delay in the process of seeing them open and delivering the ball results in them not being open by the time the ball arrives. Or it results in Rodgers holding the ball too long and missing the window completely.
6. Rodgers lacks a high-end pass-catching tight end.
Every since the retirement of Jermichael Finley, the Packers have struggled to replace the production of the tight end position in the passing game. Without that presence putting pressure on the middle of the defense, it’s easier to account for the pass-catchers on the outside.
7. Sitton’s departure.
Some think the absence of Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton is a factor in the regression of Rodgers. But the problems began while Sitton was still there.
Put simply, the belief is that the issues would still exist, even if Sitton was still a Packer.
8. Impaired running game.
It’s no secret that a potent running game makes it easier to throw the ball, especially via play-action. The Packers haven’t had a potent running game in recent months, which has allowed defenses to skew toward stopping the pass.
9. Rodgers may be freelancing.
It’s impossible to know this unless someone publicly or privately breaks ranks, but there’s a theory from some in the know that Rodgers has developed a habit of ignoring the plays that have been communicated to him from the sideline. Apart from creating extra tension with the coaching staff (regardless of whether Rodgers’ efforts are successful), it’s possible that Rodgers is changing the play from something that would have worked to something that doesn’t.
“My guess is that Rodgers, after 12 years as a pro, would be a hard man to coach,” McGinn recently wrote. That can manifest itself in many ways, including Rodgers thinking he knows what works better than the men paid a lot of money to decide on what will and won’t.
10. Personal issues.
Last year, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com threw a rock into the hornet’s nest by suggesting that Rodgers may be having issues with girlfriend Olivia Munn. For that reason and plenty of others, I won’t be nearly that specific.
But the reality is that personal issues can indeed make it harder to be successful at work for anyone. It can be even more of an issue for NFL franchise quarterbacks, who carry their work pretty much everywhere they go.
Regardless of what the issues may be or how they may have arisen or who they may involve, when trying to identify the potential reasons for a consistent dip in the play of a short-list franchise quarterback, it’s fair to wonder whether something unrelated to football is affecting his football performance.
This isn’t about intruding on his privacy or pouring salt into any wounds. It’s about trying to understand why, at a time when his remaining physical skills and ever-accumulating experiences should be causing him to enter the mid-30s sweet spot where he essentially becomes a coach on the field, Rodgers isn’t playing like he did in his 20s.
That said, he still has the skills and the brains to turn it around. If/when it happens, the Packers will be a dangerous presence down the stretch and in the postseason.