Almost no one would question that Aaron Rodgers is the Packers' most important player, but the 2013 campaign really hammered that point home.
In 2013, in games that Aaron Rodgers started and finished, Green Bay had a 6-2 record. In games with Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn at quarterback, the Packers were 2-5-1.
Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports
By Paul ImigFOX Sports Wisconsin
Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig has analyzed the 25 most important players to the Packers' success in the 2014 season. Find the entire series here.
NOTE: This is not a list of the team's 25 best players, but rather it's a list of which players mean the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player's position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
A question for the past several years with the Green Bay Packers centered around how many wins they'd pick up without Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Some argued that as great as Rodgers is, the Packers were built to win even if the former NFL Most Valuable Player had a prolonged absence. Well, it turns out that Green Bay is only as good as what Rodgers can be.
Almost no one would question that Rodgers is the Packers' most important player, but his seven missed starts (and pretty much missing eight full games) last season made it perfectly clear that he's No. 1 on this list by an incredibly wide margin. Eddie Lacy is a dominant running back, Clay Matthews is a great pass-rusher, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are key receivers, but none of them even comes close to matching Rodgers in terms of overall importance in the win-loss column.
In 2013, in games that Rodgers started and finished, Green Bay had a 6-2 record. In games with Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn at quarterback, the Packers were 2-5-1.
While J.J. Watt was the best defensive player in the NFL in 2013, it still only brought his Houston Texans team a 2-14 record. Joe Thomas has been one of the best offensive tackles in the league over the past seven years, yet he's never been in a playoff game. The quarterback position is just that much more impactful to a team's ability to collect wins, and with Rodgers in, Green Bay wins far more often than not. When Rodgers is out, losing streaks happen. There is now proof of that.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2014
If a quarterback suffers a fractured collarbone like Rodgers did, there's not much he can do about it. Football is a physical sport and quarterbacks have 250-to-350-pound defensive players charging at them. That Rodgers only missed one game due to injury in his first five seasons as a starter was a really good streak, one that was likely to end sooner or later. However, anything that Rodgers can accomplish in 2014 begins with him staying on the field. The Packers' pass protection was quite good last season, but further improvement would certainly be welcomed by Rodgers. Maybe he needs to get rid of the ball quicker in the pocket and scramble less. But regardless of which measures are taken, the outcome needs to be a healthy 16 games from Green Bay's most important player.
Assuming that Rodgers gets back to playing every week, there are things for him to improve upon. His touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2011 was tremendous (45:6) and it was very good in 2012 (39:9). But last season, Rodgers was on pace to throw twice as many interceptions as he did in 2011.
He'll also be challenged in having to work with a group of wide receivers and tight ends that don't have the overall credentials that the group did in past seasons. A year ago, Rodgers had to adjust to not having Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Now, Rodgers has to get by without James Jones and (presumably) Jermichael Finley. That means Rodgers will be tasked with helping to take players like Jarrett Boykin and Brandon Bostick to the next level in their careers. And whether Rodgers is able to successfully do that will go a long way in the debate about if he can turn almost any decent receiver into a big-time player.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
Last season, general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy mistakenly believed they could get by at backup quarterback by signing Wallace right at the onset of the regular season. That experiment failed miserably. Seemingly determined to not make the same mistake twice, the Packers now have a No. 2 quarterback behind Rodgers that they know and trust.
Whatever it is about Flynn and Green Bay or Flynn and McCarthy's offense, it's a perfect match. Flynn's NFL career seemed on the brink of being over midway through last season. That's when his desperate former team called and wanted to bring him back. Flynn was nowhere near perfect in his four starts (Week 13 at Detroit was a disaster), but he performed at a high level in a major comeback in Dallas in Week 15 that helped keep the Packers' playoff hopes alive. Flynn was given a bit of a break by many critics and fans when he wasn't on point due to the fact that he had just re-joined the team. He won't get those same breaks in 2014 after going through a full training camp in Green Bay.
Tolzien's brief time as the No. 1 quarterback on the Packers' depth chart was marred by interceptions, but he did do a lot of impressive things. Like Wallace and similar to Flynn, Tolzien didn't have a lot of time working in Green Bay's offense before being thrust onto the field. Again, it appears the Packers learned from mistakes of the recent past and will go into the 2014 season with two relatively dependable backups, both of whom will have gone through a full offseason in Green Bay, and that should make a big difference.