Packers Annual Checkup: QB Aaron Rodgers

Today is the 40th day of FOX Sports Wisconsin Packers writer Paul Imig’s offseason evaluations of every player on Green Bay’s roster. Click here for all of Paul’s previous evaluations and come back every day through mid-March for Paul’s in-depth film and statistical analysis. Coming up soon:

Saturday, March 9: WR Jeremy Ross
Sunday, March 10: OT Derek Sherrod
Monday, March 11: CB Sam Shields
Tuesday, March 12: G Josh Sitton
Wednesday, March 13: ILB D.J. Smith
Thursday, March 14: James Starks 


Season stats: 18 games (16 regular season, two postseason); 420 passes completed out of 624 attempts (67.3 percent), 4,826 passing yards, 42 touchdown passes, nine interceptions, 108.0 passer rating, sacked 55 times; 59 rushing attempts, 299 rushing yards (5.1 average); six fumbles

Best game: Week 6 win at Houston (24 of 37 passing, 338 yards, six touchdown passes, zero interceptions, passer rating 133.8; sacked twice; two rushing attempts for 17 yards; season-best 8.5 PFF rating)

Worst game: Week 12 loss at New York Giants (14 of 25 passing, 219 yards, one touchdown pass, one interception, passer rating 81.9; one fumble lost, sacked five times; three rushing attempts for 22 yards; 1.7 PFF rating) season rating: 48.2 (best on Packers offense; second-best among all NFL quarterbacks, behind only Peyton Manning)

Expectations at the start of the season: High

Expectations were … Met

Looking live: The Packers can only go as far as Rodgers is able to take them. He is one of the NFL’s elite players on a team that may not even have made the playoffs in recent years if an average quarterback (such as Josh Freeman or Tony Romo) were behind center. No matter how much hype surrounds Rodgers, no matter how many Super Bowls he wins or how many MVP trophies he collects, it would be impossible to overstate how important he is to Green Bay’s success. Entering his eighth NFL season — fifth as a starter — when he reported to training camp in July, Rodgers was coming off one of the greatest years for a quarterback in the history of the league. To surpass in the 2012 season what he did in 2011 (when the Packers won 15 regular-season games and Rodgers was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player) was highly unlikely to happen. Teams across the league had spent time in the offseason studying what had made Green Bay’s offense so dominant, while also figuring out how to slow it down. For most teams, the answer to containing Rodgers was keeping two safeties deep and forcing the Packers to be content with shorter underneath routes and running the ball. Going against those looks, Rodgers didn’t light up the scoreboard as much this past season, with Green Bay falling from the league’s highest-scoring team to fifth.

Upon further review: It was a season of adjustments — and some frustration — for Rodgers. Early in the season, it was apparent the Packers weren’t getting the same deep, downfield looks that were open in 2011. Coach Mike McCarthy had to game-plan accordingly, and Rodgers had to accept that short passing plays were sometimes all that was available. It didn’t help that the wide receivers group wasn’t healthy together for most of the season. Greg Jennings was out eight games, Jordy Nelson missed four games and Randall Cobb sat out the regular-season finale. Green Bay’s offensive line allowed far too much pressure on Rodgers, often leading to throws on the run outside the pocket. Rodgers is one of the league’s best quarterbacks at those types of plays, given his quick feet and strong arm, but it’s certainly not the way things are drawn up. Rodgers was sacked more than any QB in the NFL, but he didn’t do himself any favors by showing a tendency to hold onto the ball too long and getting hit. Of the 55 times he was sacked, 10 of them were attributed to Rodgers. That strategy was intentional by Rodgers, as he is very cautious about throwing the ball into tight coverage and potentially causing game-changing turnovers. Throwing the ball out of bounds is typically the best approach for a quarterback when pressured, but Rodgers was so good at making plays in a collapsing pocket that the pros arguably outweighed the cons. 

Overall 2012 grade: A-

Status for 2013: 100 percent chance of being the Packers’ starting quarterback next season. Rodgers has two years remaining on a contract that pays him significantly less than what he is worth. With Joe Flacco’s record-breaking new deal in Baltimore, Rodgers is currently scheduled to make less than half of what Flacco is in 2013. That disparity is why Rodgers and the Packers will likely work out a new contract sooner than later. Rodgers is 29 and should have four years left in his prime. Even when he reaches his mid-30s, he could still be one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, much like Drew Brees (34), Tom Brady (35) and Peyton Manning (36) currently are. Considering how early in his career Rodgers won a Super Bowl, though, the Packers need to make sure he’s surrounded with enough talent so that it’s not a repeat case of what happened to Brett Favre, who won a Super Bowl in Green Bay at age 27 and never did again.