Following my own advice, I was actually able to enjoy last week’s Packer game, despite them losing to one of the worst teams in the league. Rather than extreme frustration, I watched the game as a fascinated observer. I wondered how it could be that a team that has been so good for so long could lose this “must win” game against a poor opponent, who didn’t even play particularly well. While it is certainly no “hot take” to hold Aaron Rodgers accountable for this particular loss, I’ll make the case that his culpability goes much further. Aaron Rodgers, in fact, is what is wrong with the Packers.
Let’s refresh our memories a bit. In March, Rodgers signed a 3-year, $150M extension. As one of the best quarterbacks of all time and the reigning two-time MVP who had shown little sign of decline, he clearly earned that money. While the Packers were limited by what they could do in free agency with the impact of the contract, the front office was largely able to maintain the core of that NFC Championship team. While the team lost Davante Adams, they were able to use his money to re-sign De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas. The team also has quite a few advantages compared to last year: the addition of a top special teams coach and some special teams aces, the return of one of the top cornerbacks in the league, the partial return of a top left tackle, and the addition of some talented rookies buoyed by picks received in the Adams trade.
So, if the talent is comparable to last year despite Rodgers’ contract, why are they losing? It certainly isn’t the special teams, who while not great, are certainly better than last year. The defense certainly has not lived up to expectations, but they are ranked 18th in DVOA, which is four slots higher than last year. That’s not good enough for the Packers to reach the Super Bowl but it’s not the reason they’re losing. The primary issue on the Packers is that they are 5th from the bottom of the NFL in scoring. But, how is that possible considering Aaron Jones is ranked #3 in DVOA in the NFL?
The reason is Aaron Rodgers. After a difficult 2019 season offensively, LaFleur and Rodgers spent countless hours in the offseason working to meld their offensive approaches. A similar approach should have occurred this past offseason with the seismic changes at receiver and the need to change the offense to fit the strengths of the team. Had that occurred, perhaps the Packers offensive identity as an elite ball control team would have been established in the offseason. Instead, our first glimmer of it came against the Bills when the Packers punished the #1 defense in the league against the run for 208 yards and 6.7 yards per carry. Shockingly, Rodgers came away with a different impression: “we’re going to have to push the ball down the field in order to win games in this league.” Somehow, Rodgers came away with the exact wrong lesson from that game. What has always been clear is that the Packers need Rodgers to be a disciplined pocket passer in the LaFleur’s scheme. Done correctly, the scheme makes use of a strong running game and motion to scheme open the young, talented receivers. Instead, Rodgers wants LaFleur and the offense to adjust to him. He wants minimal motion and shotgun formations with pre-snap reads and RPOs. He wants receivers to read and react the way he expects (or they can sit). He wants an offense where a running game is a change of pace. And, he wants players to be accountable to him without showing accountability himself.
I want to be clear: Aaron Rodgers is not washed up. He has an incredible mind and still has so many unbelievable physical talents. The Packers gave him a king’s ransom while allowing him to dictate just about every facet of the organization: from the draft to free agency to offensive scheme to play calling to determining playing time. The problem is that he has lost the ability to change the one person who would actually allow the Packers to be successful: himself.