Whereas Rodgers and the Packers were still stumbling about with a 2-3 record on Canadian Thanksgiving, they find themselves on American Thanksgiving weekend with a 7-3 record. Five wins in a row.
This, despite injuries at various times to key players, including three of the team’s best pass receivers – Jermichael Finley, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.
In the past five wins, Rodgers has thrown 16 touchdown passes against only two interceptions. Since the Seattle Seahawks’ front-seven beat the crap out of Rodgers on that infamous Monday night loss in Week 3, his TD-to-interception ratio is 24-4.
In that time, Rodgers has risen from the league’s 22nd rated passer to No. 1 – the spot he occupied last season, when he was named league MVP.
On Sunday night, the Packers visit the underperforming New York Giants (6-4) – the team last January that ended Green Bay’s expected march to the Super Bowl.
This week I asked Ron Jaworski, the former QB and current analyst with ESPN, how he accounts both for Rodgers’ slump and his return to pre-eminence.
First, the slump.
“Aaron Rodgers is clearly a phenomenal quarterback. His skill set I believe is the best in the National Football League,” Jaworski said while on a conference call. “But when you look back, I think that Seattle game (was) the first time in a long time where I saw Aaron Rodgers get a little frenetic in the pocket, where the rush began to affect how he was playing.
“He normally is a guy that is cool, calm, comfortable in the pocket – not too much bothers him, great focal point downfield reading the coverage. But he was getting hit, and getting hit, and getting hit. I played the position for 17 years in the NFL, and trust me – no one likes to get hit. It can impact how you play the game. And I actually thought Aaron got a little bit off his game for a few weeks.”
I have yet to come across any NFL insider who doesn’t respect the hell out of Packers head coach Mike McCarthy as an innovative offensive strategist.
Back in March, at the NFL annual meeting, McCarthy told me an offence must evolve after each season, because rival defensive coaches pore over the previous season’s game tape and figure out better ways to stop your best plays.
McCarthy said the Packers installed 47 new elements on offence before last season, and it would “probably be that or even a little bit more this year. I think it’s important to keep challenging Aaron and give him the tools to be successful. And our offensive staff, we’ve done a good job of that the last five or six years.”
Perhaps some of the new wrinkles this year were slower-to-develop plays, which exposed the Packers’ below-par pass protection – as Seattle happily exploited to the tune of eight first-half sacks.
McCarthy and his coaches clearly have adjusted on the fly.
“It’s still not the best offensive line in the world, but Mike McCarthy does a great job with their schemes and how they block things up,” Jaworski said. “And they use their tight ends in their protection schemes.”
The rub: More time for Rodgers in the pocket has in recent weeks has equated to more grief for pass defences.
“When Aaron gets clear definition of what the receivers are doing, the ball comes out – let it be in three-step drops, five-step drops or in play-action,” Jaworski said. “Even if they don’t block the pass rushers, the ball’s going to come out. He’s in that groove right now. He’s seeing the field with great clarity.
“I think as you go down the stretch, Aaron Rodgers will continue to play as great as he has been playing over the last quarter of the season. To me, he is the best in the business right now, and the Packers are just starting to warm up.”
AARON RODGERS, Packers
2012, after 3 games: 78/115, 67.8%, 745 yards, 3 TD, 2 int, 6.5 yds/att, 81.5 rating (22nd)
2012, after 10 games: 238/354, 67.2%, 2,619 yards, 27 TD, 6 int, 7.4 yds/att, 107.3 rating (1st)
2011, full season: 343/502, 68.3%, 4,643 yards, 45 TD, 6 int, 9.2 yds/att, 122.5 rating (1st)