Silverstein: Aaron Rodgers keeps missing the mark
CHICAGO - The next head coach of the Green Bay Packers will come into his new position with a striking reality that he can’t brush off with some analytics mumbo jumbo.
Crunch the numbers however you want, but here is the list of quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers was able to beat in his first 14 games of this season:
» Mitch Trubisky
» Josh Allen
» C.J. Beathard
» Brock Osweiler
» Matt Ryan
Yep, those are the five guys Rodgers bested during his colossal fail of 2018.
On Sunday, Trubisky joined the club of quarterbacks who beat Rodgers. In all, the list includes such greats as Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, some old nemeses such as Matthew Stafford, Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins and a couple of upstarts named Josh Rosen and Jared Goff.
During his best moments in the NFL, Rodgers beat Brady, Wilson, Stafford and anybody else when given the opportunities he had Sunday at Soldier Field. Many of the plays Rodgers has made in this stadium had much higher degrees of difficulty than the ones on this unseasonably warm, sunny day in Chicago.
Rodgers was under pressure all day from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s outstanding unit, but great quarterbacks make plays when the opportunity presents itself and Rodgers didn’t.
This has been a recurring theme since the Packers suffered a gut-wrenching loss to the Los Angeles Rams on the first leg of their grueling four-road-games-in-five-weeks stretch beginning Oct. 28.
It’s looking more and more like president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst are going to have to hire an offensive coach. They’re going to need somebody who can both coach Rodgers and tell it to him straight, someone who isn’t afraid to be critical of him in meetings or in public.
The degree to which Rodgers’ invincibility has shrunk this season has to make any coaching candidate cringe when thinking about taking this job. Maybe a change of scheme will help, along with a veteran wideout or two, but there are great quarterbacks who have won with ordinary receivers (see Brady, Wilson, Philip Rivers).
Rodgers’ injured left knee could have played a part in some of his misses, but over and over again, we’ve heard from coaches and Rodgers alike that his mechanics are fine and his injury isn’t bothering him that much anymore.
Every week, Rodgers seemed to miss open receivers or make inaccurate throws that were almost always completions in the past. And it was not just a matter of missing them, it was a matter of missing them when the team needed them the most.
At New England: Underthrows receiver Davante Adams on a corner route that should have been a touchdown; throws low on a receiver screen to Randall Cobb that destroys the play; misses Equanimeous St. Brown down the right sideline with the game still in reach.
At Seattle: Fails to throw a post to Adams in the end zone or a dump-off to a wide-open Aaron Jones with the Packers in position to take an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter; throws at the feet of Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a receiver screen that would have kept the last drive going.
At Minnesota: Throws poorly to Adams deep on a play in which the Vikings jumped offside and then misses him on an easy touchdown throw that would have cut Minnesota’s lead to 24-21 with more than 2 minutes left.
Vs. Arizona: Take your pick, there were misfires all over Lambeau Field.
And then came this game, a chance for the Packers to keep their slim playoff hopes alive and at least make the end of the season interesting. They had a chance to give interim coach Joe Philbin a gift and prevent the Bears from clinching the NFC North title.
It was a tall order with the right side of the offensive line (tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard Byron Bell) out with knee injuries and running back Aaron Jones missing the second half because of an MCL sprain.
But Rodgers has faced bigger hills to climb.
This is the guy who completed a 60-yard pass to Jordy Nelson in freezing temperatures and heavy winds to set up a game-winning field goal that helped the Packers reach the playoffs in 2016.
This is the guy who escaped around Julius Peppers and found Cobb wide open down the slot for a game-winning 48-yard touchdown on fourth down to vault the Packers into the playoffs in 2013.
This is the guy who raced down the field after throwing an interception to Brian Urlacher near the goal-line and tripped him up as he ran toward a momentum-changing touchdown in the NFC Championship in January 2011.
That guy has not been anywhere to be seen this year and it has cost the Packers victories and maybe Mike McCarthy his job.
Though he was harassed all day and sacked five times, there were at least four times Rodgers had a chance to make this game his own.
“It’s just not being on the same page with the guys we’re throwing to,” Rodgers said of his misses, then adding, “You know, some of the ones you probably think are missed throws maybe we are just not on the same page.”
Not the case, on third and 9 at the 23-yard line in the second quarter. Rodgers threw too far to the middle on a post route to St. Brown that, if caught, would have tied the game at 7-7.
“I missed it,” Rodgers said. “I missed that one a little inside, I think. He (St. Brown) was keeping an angle pretty high. But I don’t think it was a bad route; it was a bad throw.”
Early in the third quarter, Rodgers escaped to his right and had Cobb crossing in front of him for a sizable gain, but he sailed it over his head. In the fourth quarter, with the game tied, he scrambled to his left and had Cobb wide open on a deep over route, but sailed that one, too.
“The wind just took that one up in the air,” Rodgers said of the second throw.
On the very next play, Rodgers had Valdez-Scantling running open deep on a post route. Rodgers threw the ball high and long, but it sailed over Valdes-Scantling’s head and erased a perfect opportunity to tie the game at 21-21.
“It’s disappointing,” Valdez-Scantling said. “I wanted to make that play. I’ve got to make it.”
While Rodgers was missing critical throws, Trubisky was making them. When he wasn’t making them, he was running for first downs. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns (120.4 rating).
The play that sealed it for the Bears was Trubisky’s throw to tight end Trey Burton in the corner of the end zone that put the Bears up by seven with 10:21 left in the game.
“That’s a big-time throw,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “Big-time play and big-time situation. I’ll just say this, Mike Pettine, the defensive coordinator for the Packers, he does an amazing job on defense.
“I think he’s a really good top defensive coordinator in this league and so he does not make things easy for you. So, for Mitch to come into this game and play the way he did… I was excited about that.”
And Rodgers? He’ll have to be excited about next year.