Aaron Rodgers knows the Packers offense needs to step it up
There are plenty of teams in the National Football League — 25 of them to be exact — that would snap your hand off if you held out an offer of the 3-0 record currently held by the Green Bay Packers. But despite their numerically perfect start to the season, there is a lot to ponder in Green Bay, and Aaron Rodgers is the focus of much of that rumination.
Heading into Thursday’s clash with the Philadelphia Eagles, Rodgers and his offense have had surprisingly little to do with the team’s three victories so far, with the star performances in each of those games coming from the team’s suddenly spectacular defensive unit.
That new defense-first reality has led many to question if there is a ceiling on the Packers’ success this season, but there is another way to look at Green Bay’s offensive anemia. Is there anything more dangerous than a team that is already 3-0, yet has a ton of room for improvement — and has arguably the best quarterback in the business leading the charge for that proposed upturn?
“It’s time for us to do our part on offense,” Rodgers told reporters this week, ahead of the Eagles’ visit to Lambeau Field. “Moving forward, we’re going to play a stretch of really good football teams. At some point, we can’t expect our defense to shut everybody down … At some point, the offense is going to have to wake up and start making some plays.”
So far this season, Rodgers’ offense ranks just 28th in the NFL in total yards and 27th in passing yards. Rodgers has thrown for 647 yards across the three games, with four touchdowns. The Packers squeaked by the Chicago Bears on opening night, then held on for dear life against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 before riding the defense against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Gardner Minshew, Arizona newcomer Kyler Murray and Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen are among the multitude of NFL QBs to have thrown more yards than Rodgers to date this season. Realistically, things are likely going to level out — perhaps even for the Packers defense as well.
How much pressure is on Aaron Rodgers tomorrow?
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) September 25, 2019
Green Bay has matched up against inconsistent QBs Mitchell Trubisky, Kirk Cousins and Joe Flacco to this point. Starting with Carson Wentz on Thursday, they are moving into a stretch where opposing offenses are expected to get tougher. Dak Prescott’s Dallas Cowboys and Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs loom large on the calendar.
Rodgers needs to get things going starting now, and perhaps that’s why he came out firing with his call to action this week. Amid his own struggles, he senses opportunity.
“The reason people should be the most optimistic about the Packers is, the offense has not clicked yet,” FS1’s Nick Wright said on First Things First. “Their 3-0 is not New England’s 3-0. It is not Dallas’ 3-0, as far as competition. The pessimist would say the offense isn’t clicking, and it’s not going to click.
“But if you think Rodgers is going to continue to improve, Green Bay has a golden opportunity. If they can be 4-0 before the offense really gets going, it speaks to their ability to have home field (in the playoffs and) go through Green Bay for the first time in a long time.”
Rodgers was deeply frustrated when last season turned into a dismal trot towards missing the postseason, with the Packers able to win just once on the road and a total lack of cohesion between the QB and then-head coach Mike McCarthy.
His partnership with first-year coach Matt LaFleur is still a work in progress, but thanks to the Packers’ defensive excellence, that relationship is being massaged while the pair are still winning games.
"The reason people should be the most optimistic about the Packers is the offense hasn't clicked yet. … If they can be 4-0 before the offense really gets going, it speaks to their ability to have home field go through Green Bay for the 1st time in a long time." — @getnickwright pic.twitter.com/h0jjeQ5iin
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) September 24, 2019
“I thought we did a lot of good things, but it just kind of left everybody with a sour taste in their mouths,” LaFleur said of last weekend’s game. “Our goal is to score every drive and when you don’t do that you know there is more out there for you. We are not satisfied but we are going to keep working.”
Green Bay’s defensive strength is no accident. While the Packers spent heavily to give Rodgers a new contract, they also invested a ton on the other side of the ball. Free agent outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith arrived at a combined cost of nearly $120 million, while still leaving cap space for safety Adrian Amos, who is a force.
After three games, the Packers defense has conceded just 35 points, the fewest of anyone except the New England Patriots. The last time Green Bay had a genuinely elite defense, the team ended winning the Super Bowl — Rodgers’ only title — in 2011.
Rodgers knows making another deep postseason run only becomes feasible if the offense starts firing.
“I want to play better,” he said. “I want to score more points. Obviously you love having a defense, but I don’t take any satisfaction in having an okay performance. No. I want to have greatness out there.”
Rodgers has shown greatness on the field before, plenty of times, season after season … yet often without the right supporting pieces to make it count. With an upper-echelon defense putting together a string of wins and with nowhere to go but up for the offense, this could be his greatest chance to capitalize.
"Aaron Rodgers has lost nothing, he's just playing differently…. Because the Packers defense is so good he doesn't need to take unnecessary risks. In the course of a season, the offense is going to have to score… and Rodgers will be Rodgers." — @ShannonSharpe pic.twitter.com/12B902Tt5h
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) September 25, 2019