It’s hard to say exactly when Packers QB Aaron Rodgers made the transition from the guy who could do no wrong to the guy who ends up on the wrong end of headlines, but man oh man is he there now.
And it’s clear that negative coverage bothers Rodgers, which probably isn’t going to help him avoid more of it.
Two things have become particularly fashionable lately: questioning just how good Rodgers still is, and questioning how he got along with old coach Mike McCarthy as well as how things are going with new coach Matt LaFleur.
We had good examples of each this week, so let’s take a spin through them.
*First, FiveThirtyEight asked a pretty bold question in a headline — Rodgers might even call it clickbait, but more on that later — when it wondered: “Are We Sure Aaron Rodgers Is Still An Elite Quarterback?”
My initial response (to nobody in particular, maybe even just in my head) was “yeah, I’m pretty sure he is.” But I went ahead and read it with an open mind.
After starting out noting that virtually all media members and players still consider Rodgers an elite player, the piece draws a line: Rodgers from 2008-14 and Rodgers from 2015-18, noting there have been some troubling drop-offs.
Chief among them: Rodgers has struggled on intermediate throws (between 11 and 25 yards downfield) and has been inefficient on play-action passes since 2015, performing like a below-average quarterback in both of those cases.
It’s some interesting data, though there’s also this: Rodgers still ranked as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best (2018) and fourth-best (2016) quarterback in his last two healthy seasons.
I also wonder if Rodgers’ intentional throw-aways — he’s typically among the league leaders and had a whopping 59 last year per Pro Football Focus (19 more than the next-highest QB, Jared Goff, and nearly twice as many as No. 3 Tom Brady’s 30) — are factored into his downfield completion percentage and over-inflate that struggle.
The play-action piece, as the author notes, could be due in part to a lack of creativity on the part of McCarthy. If LaFleur can dial up more schemes that get receivers open, Rodgers’ numbers could go up.
But there’s still the question of whether Rodgers will stick to the script with LaFleur, which gets to the second point. Rodgers is an unbelievable freelancer, but that ability gets him into trouble at times — particularly as age and injuries perhaps dent his mobility.
Stories have bubbled up already about Rodgers wanting freedom while LaFleur wants him to play within a structure, while there was also the weird Rodgers critique of joint practices.
CBS Sports did a nice job grabbing a bunch of Rodgers’ recent reactions to stories like that, and yeah it doesn’t sound like the QB is too happy about being criticized.
On a Packers.com video, Rodgers called such stories “fake news.”
On Tuesday he complained on the radio about the negative news cycle, saying: “I’m just tired of being put in that news cycle. Because I’ve been saying the same thing over and over. Matt and I, it’s going to be a relationship that grows over time. We’re having a blast. We’re friends. Ton of communication. And we’re having a great time.”
Rodgers told reporters this week, “The conjecture is for clickbait news stories you guys can put on your websites.”
Rodgers, 35, presumably has a very nice lawn and does not want you on it.
But he also would be advised to know this: The best way to avoid the news cycle is to stop feeding it.