Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are coming off a tough season. At just 6-9-1, they finished third in their division and missed the playoffs for the second straight year (the first time since 05-06). Rodgers certainly wasn’t up to his usual gold standard, and that was glaring at points throughout the season. But within the last 18 months or so, the narrative surrounding Rodgers has changed drastically. From a QB that many considered the best in the league and arguably the best ever to one that has somehow slipped out of most’s top five. From a superstar to a diva. How exactly did number 12’s image take such a nosedive?
To start, read the first two sentences over again. Going under .500 and missing the playoffs doesn’t bode well for anyone. A quarterback rating under 100 doesn’t look great. For the first time since 2010 (not counting injury-riddled ’18 and ’13), he dipped under 30 passing TD’s. It wasn’t a pretty season. When 41-year-old Brady wins the Super Bowl, first-year starter Mahomes wins MVP and Mitch Tribusky wins the division, it’s hard to pin Rodgers’ rank among the best of the best after such a rocky year. The off the field drama that seems to follow Rodgers definitely piled on. The firing of McCarthy magnifies Aaron’s reputation as a drama queen. He also shattered the record for most throw-away’s in a season, which looks really bad considering all that came out about his hatred for McCarthy’s and assorted OC’s play-calling.
The NFL is incredibly fluid. It’s hard to remain on top for long. Carson Wentz, for example, went from MVP and future superstar to hard to coach, selfish, and less talented than Nick Foles in the course of a season. I can understand why the majority of people are higher on Mahomes than Rodgers at this moment in time. But the general feeling about Rodgers is ridiculous. In the past few months, Madden rated him lower than Luck and Rivers, Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless have slandered him at every turn, and former teammate Greg Jennings took shots at him multiple times. That’s just the big stuff. It feels like the past year and a half have been brutal to Rodgers. The bottom line is the narrative shift is completely unfair.
Not even a full calendar year later and everyone has somehow forgotten about Aaron Rodger’s injuries. In week one of this season, Rodgers went down with a left leg injury. His heroic return to the game and eventual comeback victory overshadowed the injury that clearly affected him throughout the remainder of the season. Two seasons ago, Rodgers missed 9 games with a broken collar bone. In the past two seasons, Rodgers has been significantly affected by injuries. His injury history is a fair criticism, but the reality is 2017 was basically a lost season and 2018 was one dealing with knickknack injuries.
Rodgers has also had to deal with incompetent coaching and a sub-par roster year in and year out. McCarthy’s firing was well deserved but far too late. The offense was boring. Predictable. Flat. Unimaginative. Give Aaron all the flak you want for audibles, but what else was he to do? How do you blame a QB for not respecting a coach that’s skipping team meetings to get massages in his office? Not to mention Ted Thompson’s refusal to add weapons. In his 11 seasons as a starter, the only guys they’ve pursued and signed have been James Jones and Jimmy Graham. They let Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and – ironically – James Jones walk right out the door. Their receiving corp, especially in recent years, has been terrible. Ask anyone outside of Wisconsin and they’ll have no idea who Marquez Valdes-Scantling even is. Their running game has been a carousel of mediocre backs. The defense has been atrocious for years. In his last three full seasons, he’s been sacked 49, 35 and 46 times. But despite the coaching woes and the roster holes, the packers have still been very very good in the Rodgers era.
The other argument has been that Aaron has declined in recent years. Which, by the numbers, is true. But he hasn’t fallen off a cliff. His passer rating has dipped from 107 to 96. Completion percentage went from 66% to 63%. Yards per attempt went from 8.4 to 7.1. He’s gotten older. Injuries have taken their toll. And yet, he’s still around the same numbers. He threw 40 TD’s in just 2016. We’ve seemed to have just forgotten how good this guy is.
The NFL is the ultimate what have you done for me recently? league. Rodgers has had two injury-riddled and losing seasons in a row. But context matters. And somehow, people are throwing it out the window when it comes to the Rodgers conversation. The same reasons Aaron is being knocked aren’t being applied to other great QB’s. Brees and the Saints have missed the playoffs more times than the Packers in this stretch of seasons. Rivers and the Chargers have reached the tournament even fewer times. Andrew Luck has missed more games than Rodgers. We seem to ignore that guys like Brady, Wilson, and Brees have all had very good coaching. Guys like Ryan and Big Ben have all had better rosters. And yet Aaron has accomplished just as much as, if not more than all of them.
People overreact, and they do it too quickly. For a two time MVP and the all-time leader in QBR and TD/INT ratio, everybody has seemed to completely give up on him. To be fair, this is a make or break season. At 35, this could be his last chance. But we can’t punish a great QB for not winning when his receiving corp, defense, and coaching are all far below average. To call Rodgers overrated is blasphemous. To keep him out of your top 5 QB list is laughable. He has been the most talented and the most consistent QB in the NFL during this stretch, and he’s going to continue to prove that next season.
Stats provided by ProFootballReference