Aaron Rodgers’ injuries might be taking a toll on him, not physically but mentally.
How else to explain the occasional breakdown in his throwing fundamentals? Rodgers has not been the same quarterback this year as in the past, and one of the reasons is he too often is throwing off his back foot when he could step into his throws.
In the last few years Rodgers has sustained two broken collarbones and a sprained knee on hits he has taken while trying to throw.
The sprained left knee was in this year’s opener, and maybe he’s protecting it, or maybe he’s protecting his health in general. Maybe it’s conscious or maybe it’s subconscious. But as it has often been this season, in the Packers’ loss at Minnesota on Sunday night there more than a few plays where he looked more aware of pass rushers than in past seasons.
That in turn appears to be causing him to rely too often on his enormous arm talent rather than good throwing mechanics, and the occasional breakdown in his footwork is probably the biggest reason he has been missing as many throws in a game as he used to in a month.
When Rodgers steps into his throws, he’s usually deadly. He threw 28 passes Sunday night, and when his footwork was good he went 14-for-18. But 10 of his throws were basically off his back foot, and seven of the 10 were incompletions.
The one that stands out most is the free play Rodgers had in the second quarter when he drew Minnesota offside with his cadence. He had Davante Adams open down the left side for a free-shot play. But Rodgers threw off his back foot while backpedaling even though he didn’t need to, and he underthrew the pass, which allowed cornerback Xavier Rhodes to break it up.
If Rodgers had stepped into it and put enough on the ball, it would have been a 46-yard touchdown. Instead the Packers punted two plays later.
Similar was the play with 2½ minutes left in the game when he just overthrew a wide open Adams for what would have been a 20-yard touchdown. Rodgers had a fairly clean pocket but threw enough off his back foot to affect his accuracy. The slight overthrow cost the Packers four points, because the drive ended with a field goal.
There’s no denying that Rodgers’ arm talent is off the charts, and that his ability to make difficult throws on the move is one of the qualities that makes him special. But his accuracy also makes him special, and just like any quarterback he’s most accurate when he stands in the pocket and steps into his throws.
It takes only a couple of bad throws to make the difference between a good game and a bad one. Rodgers is missing more throws than usual, and his feet appear to be the biggest culprit.
In no rush
The Packers’ lack of pass-rush talent caught up with them in a big way Sunday night. Without Mike Daniels (quadriceps) suited up, their four-man rush rarely got any pressure on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who on more than a few plays had all the time in the world to wait for a receiver to come open.
And when defensive coordinator Mike Pettine blitzed, especially with a cornerback from the edge, Cousins usually found the vacated area in coverage and completed a throw to one of his two fine receivers, Stefon Diggs (eight catches for 77 yards) and Adam Thielen (eight for 125).
The Packers simply don’t have anyone who can regularly win a rush on his own. Kyler Fackrell has shown some life as a rusher late this season and leads the team with eight sacks, but he was a non-factor Sunday night. Clay Matthews had a couple pressures but nothing more, and Reggie Gilbert added nothing to the outside rush in his 30 snaps.
The Packers missed Daniels (foot), who along with Kenny Clark usually pushes the pocket on the inside. Clark sacked Cousins once, though it was a coverage sack.
Regardless, the Packers only occasionally put any heat on Cousins, who threw for 342 yards and a 129.5 rating. They sacked him twice – Dean Lowry had the other when right guard Mike Remmers for some reason gave him a free inside release straight to Cousins – and had two other quarterback hits.
But that was it, and far more often than not, Cousins comfortably patted the ball while standing in the pocket and waiting for Diggs or Thielen to come free for a completion that kept the chains moving. The Packers are tied with the Vikings for No. 3 in the league in sacks (36), but statistics sometimes deceive. Sunday night left no question as to who has the better rush, by far: the Vikings.
» Antonio Morrison definitely is a striker against the run at inside linebacker and adds a physical element to the Packers’ defense, but in pass coverage he’s a liability. He doesn’t have the speed to get his zone drops fast enough, and the Vikings took advantage several times, including when Diggs picked up 24 yards on a quick slant late in the first quarter.
At first blush it looked like cornerback Josh Jackson gave up that play, but if Morrison had been faster on his zone drop he might have been able to break up the pass or at least make the tackle for about a six-yard gain. The Packers clearly don’t trust third-round pick Oren Burks at inside linebacker. He played only seven snaps Sunday night.
» Tramon Williams made a crucial error late in the game when a punt he misjudged bounded off the turf, hit him in the shoulder and was recovered by the Vikings. But he deserves credit for being a true professional who played every defensive snap (70 total) and lined up at a couple different positions as the injuries mounted. He opened the game at safety, which is a relatively new position for him, but also played regularly at slot cornerback in the nickel. And when Trevor Davis left the game with a hamstring injury, the 35-year-old Williams took over as punt returner.