GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers vs. Jimmy Garoppolo.
By reputation, the edge goes to Rodgers, who despite uneven performances this season has received the benefit of the doubt from opposing coaches, who still often view him as the most dangerous person in the Green Bay Packers’ offense.
Rodgers is coming off his best postseason performance since throwing for four touchdowns (125.2 rating) in a wild-card victory over the New York Giants in January 2017. His 113.7 rating (16 of 27 for 243 yards and two touchdowns) in the 28-23 victory over the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday was the sixth-highest in his 18 career postseason games.
Having turned 36 on Dec. 2, Rodgers finished the regular season with a 95.4 passer rating, his second-lowest since becoming a starter in 2008.
Garoppolo won the first postseason game of his career last Saturday against Minnesota, completing 11 of 19 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown with an interception (74.7 rating). The San Francisco 49ers quarterback's 102.0 rating during the regular season ranked eighth in the NFL, four spots ahead of Rodgers.
Garoppolo, 28, had the fourth-most passing yards in a season for a 49ers quarterback and joined Joe Montana and Steve Young as the team’s only quarterbacks to throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a game.
To get an outside opinion on the two quarterbacks, we spoke with former Packers coach Mike Holmgren, who hosts a radio show in Seattle and has watched both quarterbacks.
Holmgren went to five Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks (Montana, Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck) as an assistant with the 49ers and head coach of the Packers and Seahawks. Including postseason, he had a head-coaching record of 174-122.
Q. The 49ers run a lot of play action, and the Packers run a fair amount also. Does that affect how well quarterbacks can just drop back and throw from the pocket when they need to?
Holmgren: “I think it’s part of the big picture. Good play-action teams usually have pretty good running attacks, and they can use that because the defense has to honor that and react to that and it buys you a little bit more time to throw the ball down the field. The other part of that, with the type of quarterback that’s coming into the league now — the Russell Wilsons, Lamar Jackson, DeShaun Watson, these guys that can run, Kyler Murray — it’s different than a Matt Hasselbeck or a Peyton Manning or Drew Brees even. These are pocket passers. The offenses are different.
“I think that has added to the amount of play-action passes you see now because those guys can move. They can go out and improvise. A lot of times they don’t throw it; they run around and then they throw it. It’s part of the evolution of the game.”
Q: You got to see Garoppolo twice against the Seahawks this season. What is your impression of him? Is he a system quarterback or more than that?
A: "I think very much, he is. Kyle Shanahan does a really nice job in his concepts and his passing game, and he (Garoppolo) is a very accurate thrower. He is a pocket guy. They move him a little bit with the play action and the “keep” (bootleg) passes that we used to like a lot. And he’s very effective with that.
“He’s a very accurate thrower, particularly between the hashes. And he’s a tough guy. He hangs in there pretty good. The Seahawks, he didn’t have, in my opinion — all though he came back and both games were very close — I thought if you put pressure on him, like most quarterbacks, it’s hard. And he’s not the biggest guy in the world. But they use him in the pocket as much as anything.”
Q: How much does the running game aid him?
Holmgren: “His effectiveness comes from running the ball. They have a good rushing attack and that helps any quarterback. They’re going to try to do that (run the ball). But they’re very capable of passing the ball. But look at the game last week, the drive against Minnesota that scored late, they ran the ball eight times in a row. They (the Vikings) were tired. Give Shanahan credit. He realized that and he just went for the jugular. As an observer, I said, ‘OK, he’s doing that right.’”
Q: What have you thought of Rodgers this year?
Holmgren: "I didn’t see him a lot. But Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers. I love the guy. He is fun to watch. I would have loved to coach Aaron Rodgers. Aside from the fact he’s multi-talented, I just like the stuff he does. (He) appears to me not to have lost very much. Honestly, people say he’s older and I say, ‘So, what?’ Yes, he is. No one can play forever. He’s moving pretty good, he’s making good decisions.
“The thing I see is that every once in a while, he will give up something easy to get — and I say this affectionately — get a little greedy, go for the big one instead of just dumping it off. But he did a nice job in the game last week.”
Q: Did you see the Detroit game and if so, what did you think of the passes he missed in that game?
Holmgren: “I watched some of that and I thought they were out of sync. It was funky. It was just weird. But he’s really good. ... I like to talk to those guys. He’s a talented man. Sharp guy.”
Q: With aging quarterbacks, what are the things you look for where maybe they need to change their game so they can still be effective?
Holmgren: “I think arm strength. Making the throws that he made and then all of a sudden, ‘Boy, he used to make that throw and now all of a sudden (he can’t). Arm strength, your arm. It becomes older. And then your movement. Those two things.”