This is part 1 of a 10-part series grading the Packers players and coaches. Today, we grade the quarterbacks.
So Aaron Rodgers is human, after all.
Before this year, it seemed all you had to do was roll the ball onto the field and the two-time MVP quarterback would find a way to steer the Green Bay Packers to victory regardless of what surrounded him. It was expected that Rodgers’ greatness was all the offense needed to spin straw into gold.
That was before a sandstorm of offensive issues reached Green Bay this season. A change in the offensive structure didn’t take. Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson was lost for the season with a torn ACL in the preseason. Pro Bowl running back Eddie Lacy reported to camp overweight and never recovered.
The Packers managed a respectable offense early on, but San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini set the blueprint for how to attack the offense in Week 4 when he pressed its receivers at the line of scrimmage and rushed to contain off the edge, restricting Rodgers’ ability to escape the pocket.
It’s a prototype Rodgers and the Packers struggled to defeat in what turned out to be the most challenging season for the quarterback and coach Mike McCarthy, who took over play-calling duties from associate head coach Tom Clements in Week 13 in an attempt to bring the offense back to life.
Rodgers showcased his world-class arm in completing two Hail Marys and his mastery of the offense in forcing a league-high 13 penalties (nine accepted) for 12 defensive men on the field. The next closest was Baltimore and Arizona drawing four, according to NFLPenalties.com.
His 60.7 completion percentage and 92.7 passer rating were the lowest of his career as a starter. After ranking second in the NFL with 8.4 yards per completion last year, Rodgers’ 6.7 yards per completion in 2015 ranked 27th out of quarterbacks with at least 300 passing attempts.
The end result was the Packers losing six of their last 10 games going into the playoffs and the offense finishing 23rd in total yards (334.6 yards per game) and 26th in passing (218.9 ypg).
“I tell you this is the most adversity he had to play through probably since ’08,” McCarthy acknowledged during his season-ending news conference: “In the picture of things sitting down and visiting with him (Monday) I thought he did a heck of a job dealing with that.”
If MVP awards were given out for the first six games, Rodgers’ play easily was deserving of the hardware. He made the offense work in the first two months of the season despite receivers Jordy Nelson (torn ACL) and Davante Adams (sprained ankle) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (torn meniscus) all missing time. He had a 115.9 passer rating in the Packers’ 6-0 start, completing 124-of-182 passes for 1,491 yards with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Green Bay’s offense often went as far as Rodgers’ arm and wits could take it for better and worse. He had an 81.9 passer rating when the Packers lost six of their last 10 games to end the regular season with Rodgers throwing only 16 touchdowns to six interceptions. The offense began to falter once defensive coordinators began pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage and keeping only one safety high.
The NFL’s midseason crackdown on free plays also robbed Rodgers of his ability to throw downfield without consequence, a catalyst for the deep passing game early in the season. He still capitalized on 38 instances of defensive offside and 12 men on the field. His 344 rushing yards were fifth-most among NFL quarterbacks.
The receiving group’s inability to quickly separate led to Rodgers holding onto the ball, leading to criticism about his apprehension about throwing receivers open. It all contributed to him being sacked 46 times, second-most in the NFL this season to Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles (51). He showcased his supreme arm talent on Hail Mary throws to tight end Richard Rodgers and receiver Jeff Janis, but also failed to lead game-winning or game-tying comebacks in losses to Carolina (37-29), Detroit (18-16), Chicago (17-13) and Minnesota (20-13).
Rodgers made the best out of the dearth of offensive weapons, leading the Packers to their seventh consecutive playoff appearance. His numbers weren’t outstanding in the playoffs, but Rodgers seemed to be more willing to air the ball out. The offense exploded against Washington and put together a more respectable showing in its second matchup with Arizona.
A credit to Rodgers, he played in all 18 games despite popping up on the injury report with a right shoulder injury before the Nov. 22 game in Minnesota and taking a nasty shot to his elbow against Chicago on Thanksgiving.
The former Wisconsin quarterback has reworked his mechanics and footwork during his three seasons with the Packers. The organization felt comfortable enough with Tolzien’s growth to give him a one-year, $1.35 million contract this offseason to be Rodgers’ backup instead of re-signing veteran Matt Flynn.
The investment the Packers put into refining Tolzien’s throwing motion was evident in training camp with the ball coming out of his hand quicker. His preseason stats weren’t as out of this world as 2014, but he demonstrated a command of the offense in completing 28-of-46 passes for 250 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
A relentless worker and student of the game, Tolzien has been a trusted asset and resource to Aaron Rodgers and the coaching staff on the sideline. He earned his full $160,000 in roster bonuses for being the No. 2 quarterback on game days. He played 10 snaps in three regular-season games, completing his only pass for 4 yards.
This will be an interesting offseason for Tolzien and the Packers, who must decide whether they wish to keep three quarterbacks on their active roster for the third consecutive season. Tolzien will turn 29 at the start of the 2016 season and certainly will get a chance somewhere in the NFL if it isn’t in Green Bay.
No one made a bigger jump this summer than Hundley. The former UCLA quarterback was green as the grass at Clarke Hinkle Field during the offseason program. Hundley was scattershot in his accuracy, prone to mistakes and seemed to panic under pressure early.
He entered training camp as the No. 4 quarterback behind former UW-Whitewater quarterback Matt Blanchard, who was signed off the street in April. Once the games finally started, Hundley’s true athleticism and pocket presence started to surface.
It soon became clear why the Packers felt comfortable trading up in the fifth round to take the 6-foot-3, 226-pound passer. He was brilliant in the final two games of the preseason, completing 16-of-23 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints’ starting defense in the preseason finale.
He finished the exhibition season 45-of-65 passing (69.2 percent) for 630 yards with seven touchdowns and only one interception. His seven touchdowns were more than the other six quarterbacks who were drafted combined (five). He has inactive for all 16 regular-season games this season, but appears to have a big future.