For as self-critical as quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been about his play thus far in 2012, there’s no crisis of confidence with the reigning NFL MVP.
Asked Wednesday during the weekly media briefing at his locker how his confidence now compares to his peak during the 2010 playoff run and 2011 regular season, Rodgers provided a sharp, one-word answer.
“Same,” he said.
Rodgers’ numbers aren’t that bad, of course. He’s completing 69 percent of his passes and has a 97.0 passer rating, which ranks eighth in the league.
But Rodgers expects himself to perform better, even if his MVP numbers of a year ago (45 TD passes, 122.5 rating) aren’t realistic to repeat. He’s not happy he’s already thrown four interceptions after getting picked off just six times all last season, and he repeatedly mentioned third-down execution as a current struggle.
The Packers are converting 39.7 percent of their third downs, 15th in the league, down from 48 percent and a No. 3 ranking a year ago.
“I just have to do the things I know I’m capable of doing on Sundays,” Rodgers said. “I’m not far off.
“I think there are guys who would probably trade with me right now, kind of how they’re playing and how I’m playing, guys who wish they had the kind of numbers I had, but we have to do a better job of finishing out games, and I have to do a better job on third downs.”
The head coach is not lacking for confidence in his offensive leader, either. Mike McCarthy said what he, as the play-caller, has to guard against is putting too much on Rodgers’ plate, because Rodgers understands all aspects of the offense so well that he will take every check and adjustment with him to the line of scrimmage if McCarthy lets him. That said, McCarthy isn’t about to revamp the offense or reset all of his QB’s responsibilities just because Rodgers wouldn’t win another MVP if the vote were taken today.
“He spoils you as a coach. You have to be disciplined to pull back,” McCarthy said.
“I’m fully confident. I have great faith and belief in him more than I ever have. He’s a special player, and our offensive philosophy will never change, especially while he’s here.”
What the Packers would like to change are the ups and downs in their play, beginning with the sacks the quarterback is taking. Rodgers has gone down 21 times this season, second most in the league.
The most curious thing about those sacks has been their distribution. In the 13 sacks allowed over the last three games, they all came in two halves – eight in the first half in Seattle, then five in the second half in Indianapolis, with no sacks in the four halves in between, including the entire New Orleans game.
“It’s definitely a point of emphasis,” guard Josh Sitton said. “We have to get that number down.”
The consensus amongst the offensive players interviewed on Wednesday was that more consistency will emerge with better balance.
The Packers will be challenged even more this week to provide that balance with running back Cedric Benson sidelined. Benson (sprained foot) was put on injured reserve with the new designation to return, so he’ll miss at least eight weeks of games (minimum six weeks of practice).
McCarthy said that Alex Green would start in his place, with James Starks and Brandon Saine also prepared to play. No matter who’s running the ball, the offense needs production on the ground to keep the team’s fate from falling entirely on Rodgers through the air.
“The best image we had was that Saints game,” guard T.J. Lang said of the Week 4 win in which Benson rushed for 84 yards. “We were balanced. Running the ball effectively took a lot of pressure off him. I think that’s going to be the type of game we have to get back to, where we’re effective running the ball, so we’re not relying on him to make 50 plays a game with his arm.
“Up front, it all starts with the run game. If that’s working, everything else is going to go a little more smoothly.” Additional coverage - Oct. 10