Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is hit as he throws for a touchdown by defender Jared Allen against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter of the game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011. / File/Press-Gazette
Sure, he’s got the arm strength. Just watch him throw those rockets 50 yards downfield to James Jones and Jordy Nelson, those back-shoulder fades to Greg Jennings, those scrambling darts to his tight ends.
And he’s got the smarts. Just look at him before the snap, scanning the defense and making route adjustments.
But of all the things Aaron Rodgers has done this season to boost his completion percentage to a career high, an NFL high and perhaps even a run at the all-time single season record, in his coach’s mind, one factor has been even more important.
“If I was going to rank them, I would definitely start with decision making,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He is clearly the best decision maker that I’ve been around since my time in Kansas City with Joe Montana. He does not get bored throwing completions, and that’s a great attribute to have as a quarterback. He’s clearly in tune with taking what the defense gives you. He has the anticipation, arm strength, dead accuracy to attack the seams. He does a great job of staying disciplined and playing within the offense.”
Rodgers’ most recent outing, on Sunday at Minnesota, was perhaps the greatest example of that in his 3½ seasons as a starter. He completed 24-of-30 passes for 335 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating of 146.5 was the second-highest of his career. His completion percentage — an even .800 — was the highest in a regular-season game in which he attempted 30 or more passes. Only in the NFC divisional playoff game at Atlanta last season did he have a higher percentage (.861) while attempting at least 30 passes. He was 31-of-36 in the Georgia Dome that day in a game that was probably the best performance of his NFL career and set the Packers’ record for highest completion percentage in a postseason game.
A breakdown of his performance against the Vikings showed that it could’ve rivaled the Falcons’ game in terms of his accuracy. He completed his first 13 passes. His 14th was a drop by rookie receiver Randall Cobb. After four more completions, his 19th throw was a spike to stop the clock. His next one, the final throw of the first half, was a drop by running back James Starks.
In the second half, he again had only three throws that failed to connect — a throwaway on a scramble, a tight window to Jennings near the sideline and a seam route that was behind Jennings.
Of his six incompletions, on only one — the seam route to Jennings — did he flat out miss his receiver.
“I’ll tell you right now, he’s in a groove that very few have ever seen,” said fullback John Kuhn, who caught one of Rodgers’ three touchdowns passes against the Vikings. “If he keeps this going the whole season, we’re going to be in every game.”
And Rodgers will probably win Most Valuable Player.
He’s on pace to break all kinds of records, including Drew Brees’ single-season completion percentage mark of 70.62 set in 2009. Heading into this week’s bye, Rodgers leads the NFL in completion rate at 71.5 percent. He also would shatter the Packers’ single season mark of 66.54 percent set by Brett Favre in 2007. Rodgers’ mark of 65.68 percent last season ranks second.
Rodgers already owned the Packers’ career record of 64.43 percent going into this season and that has improved by nearly a full percentage point to 65.35 through seven games this season. He’s approaching the NFL’s career record, 66.05 percent, held by Chad Pennington. Kurt Warner ranked second going into the season at 65.50, but Brees has jumped ahead of him at 65.55 because he’s at 70.90 percent for this season.
This isn’t some throwaway stat, either. The Packers pay attention to completion percentage.
“It’s big,” Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “We go over it every week in the meeting room. It’s one of the things we flash up there every single week because it’s a reflection of the quarterback, obviously, but also how well the guys are catching the ball and those type of things. It’s important (for) the efficiency of the passing game. I think it’s a pretty good barometer of that.”
It’s not like Rodgers is dinking and dunking his way to a potential record-setting accuracy mark. He ranks second in the NFL in passing yards (2,372) behind Brees (2,477) and leads the league in yards per pass play at 9.9, which would top his previous career best, which he set last season, by 1.6 yards per attempt.
“We’re pretty aggressive,” McCarthy said. “We line up with a lot of receivers. We move people around. We stretch the field vertically. I would challenge anybody in the league with our vertical passing game. We’re not just a three-step-and-take-what-they-give-us offense. He’s running a well-oiled machine. It’s an offense that has a lot of weapons, and he’s in great control of it right now.”
With accuracy goes ball security, and Rodgers has thrown just three interceptions. Of the league’s passing leaders who have started every game this season, only San Francisco’s Alex Smith has fewer, with two.
“He does his job, and we do our job, as well, getting open and hopefully giving him big enough windows to throw it in that he’s not having to squeeze it in small holes all the time,” Nelson said. “I think it goes on both sides. He’s doing his job putting the ball in spots, and we’re doing our job of getting open and hopefully making it as easy for him as possible.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.