THE GREEN BAY PACKERS ARE REELING
The Green Bay Packers are reeling. They’re fresh off a 31-26 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a game in which the Packers were a (-7½) favorite and the Colts struggled in with a 3-5 record. It marked the third time in four weeks Green Bay lost a game in the late Sunday afternoon national TV window and it dropped their record to 4-4. The possibility the Packers might miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008 is now on the table.
One of the oldest truisms in football is that the quarterback takes too much blame in a loss and too much credit in a win. A cornerstone of successful handicapping is pushing past that media perception and into a careful analysis an entire team. But there’s another cornerstone of successful handicapping and it’s recognizing that sometimes the simple conventional answer is the accurate one—and in this case, the play at quarterback really is what’s dragging the Packers done.
With half of the season under his belt, Aaron Rodgers has performed badly. Not badly “by his standards”, but badly by any standards other than those of Fantasy League players who still like the touchdown passes from down close. But when you explore the statistical measurements that best show a quarterback’s ability to drive his team down the field, Rodgers is coming up woefully short.
A 64% completion rate sounds nice, but in this day and age of high-percentage passing games, it’s mediocre. Rodgers actually ranks 18th among NFL quarterbacks in this stat. He still does a pretty nice job avoiding mistakes, intercepted on 1½% of his throws (and saved from a bad interception in the end zone today when the Colts roughed him and drew a penalty). Even this is showing decline though, with a ranking of 14th in an area where Rodgers has traditionally been among the league’s best.
All of that could be overlooked if Green Bay made big plays down the field, but the worst part of this offense is that the passing game has been reduced to a dink-and-dunk effort. Rodgers gets a meager 6.3 yards-per-attempt.
To illustrate how bad that is, it’s not enough to point out that it ranks 29th in the league. It should also be pointed out that quarterbacks who are currently better than Rodgers in generating big plays include Tyrod Taylor, Trevor Siemian and the immortal Case Keenum. If dink-and-dunk is going to work, it has to be accompanied by significantly higher percentage passing and fewer mistakes.
More to the point, Green Bay isn’t built to win with this type of offense. Rodgers is a big-money quarterback in a salary cap system that means dollars taken away from investing in the defense, a unit that ranks 15th in points allowed. Rodgers has to carry this team because he’s being paid to do it. And while his offensive line has been a problem in years past that excuse doesn’t wash this year. He gets solid protection on the perimeter of the pocket and guard T.J. Lang anchors an interior group that’s pretty good.
The Packers face three consecutive road games that could go either way. They play at the Titans, Redskins and Eagles. If the old Rodgers resurfaces, they could go 3-0 and be back in the mix. If things continue as they are, the Packers could fall into serious trouble in the playoff race.