Playing the “What If” Game for Aaron Rodgers’ 2011 Season
That’s what I’m about to do here. Even if you’re a part of the group who doesn’t prefer hypotheticals, I urge you to stick with me.
But before we get to the “what if?” part of the equation, let’s run down some of prefacing to it.
On Monday, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports wrote a great piece about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and how a week off after his second concussion of the season helped propel him to his incredible six-game stretch to end the season.
The story has been well-told, but here’s the semi-quick version:
In early December of last year, Rodgers scrambles out of the pocket in Detroit and gets his head slammed to the Ford Field turf, causing his second concussion of the 2010 season. He was clearly fighting the cobwebs and didn’t play the second half. As head coach Mike McCarthy told Cole, “I knew he wasn’t going to play” the next week while on the plane ride home from Detroit.
But while Rodgers did his best to play that following week, he was still suffering symptoms and was sent home both Wednesday and Thursday of that week—unofficially ruling him out for the Packers upcoming game against the New England Patriots.
The time off was “brutal” for Rodgers, as he wasn’t allowed to practice, attend meetings or prepare like he does for a normal regular season week. Instead, Matt Flynn started in New England and nearly gave the Patriots just their third loss of the season. The Packers lost, 31-27, but the game served as a springboard for the team’s championship run to end 2011.
How well Rodgers played in his return was obviously the biggest reason for the Packers’ six-game winning streak to end the regular season and into the playoffs. He almost singlehandedly willed the Packers to wins against the Giants, Falcons and Steelers, all while putting together one of the best statistical performances in Packers’ playoff history.
When Cole asked Rodgers how he plans to continue on that kind of path next season, the Packers quarterback had a smart answer:
“Good question. I like to write a lot of stuff down. I wouldn’t call it journaling, but I definitely wrote a lot of thoughts down during those six weeks about how I did things,” Rodgers said. “I’m definitely going to reflect back on those things as the season starts and … remember the things I did in order to be successful on the field and try to replicate that.”
Rodgers’ plan to recapture his 2010 season-ending form got me thinking.
What if Rodgers played like he did during the six-game stretch over the course of a full 16-game season?
Finally, we have our “what if?” that I’m sure you’ve been waiting for. To answer this question, the most obvious place to go is the stats.
During his six-game stretch, from New York to Pittsburgh, Rodgers completed 134-of-197 passes (68 %) for 1,727 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also ran for 101 yards and two scores while throwing just three interceptions.
I probably don’t need to tell you, but those are fantastic stats for a quarterback. His passer rating of 112.6 during those six games would put him fourth on the all-time regular season list behind Peyton Manning (121.1, 2004), Tom Brady (117.2, 2007) and Steve Young (112.8, 1994), and just above Joe Montana (112.4, 1989) and Brady (111.0, 2010).
If we extend out those stats from a six-game sample to a full 16 game season, this is the stat-line:
369-for-542, 4,749 yards, 39 touchdowns, 8 interceptions; 278 yards rushing, 5 touchdowns
Again, those are elite level stats from a quarterback. A season with those numbers would do some damage to the Packers passing record book.
The 112.6 passer rating would obviously set a new Packers mark. 369 completions would rank Rodgers second all-time in Packers history, just three behind Brett Favre’s 372 in 2005. The 4,749 yards would shatter the Packers franchise record of 4,458, which was set by Lynn Dickey in 1983. And the 39 touchdowns would tie Favre’s 1996 mark.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking; “Putting up those kind of record-setting numbers over the course of 16 games is wishful thinking.”
You could be right. But is it really that far out there for Rodgers?
Rodgers had two games during the stretch that, statistically speaking, were outliers in comparison to the rest. His 404 yards and four touchdowns represents the best regular season performance of his career, and the 31-for-36, 366-yard masterpiece Rodgers put together in Atlanta has to rank near the top of postseason passing performances for any NFL team.
But Rodgers also had some average games in between, throwing for 229 and 244 yards, respectively, against the Bears in Week 17 and the NFC Championship game. He threw for just one score and three interceptions in those games.
His stat line in Philadelphia was solid but unspectacular, throwing for three touchdowns and 180 yards. I wouldn’t say it evens out, but there were definitely some peaks and valleys in there.
NFL insiders and Packers fans alike will tell you that Rodgers has now reached “elite status” as an NFL quarterback. But as we’ve seen from the likes of Manning and Brady as they traversed to the summit of quarterbacks, these guys are consistently great. The peaks and valleys that come with just “good” quarterbacks generally tend to disappear.
For instance, Brady’s worst games from last season: 248 yards and two interceptions vs. the Jets in Week 2; 292 yards and two interceptions vs. the Ravens in Week 6; 163 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Packers; 140 yards and three touchdowns vs. the Bills in Week 16.
Mind you, these are Brady’s worst performances from last season. The dips don’t dip quite as far for elite level quarterbacks, which again, is what everyone now considers Rodgers.
On the other hand, the peaks come more frequently and can sometimes produce some fantastic results.
Brady’s best games from last season: 350 yards and three touchdowns vs. the Steelers in Week 10; 341 yards and four touchdowns vs. the Lions in Week 12; 326 yards and four touchdowns vs. the Jets in Week 13; 369 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Bears in Week 14.
Rodgers was rightfully praised for his performance against the Falcons, but Brady put up comparable performances several times during the regular season. If Rodgers is now part of the elite, it should be expected of him to have consistently great games just like Brady does year-in and year-out.
Barring any kind of injury, fans should be expecting a Brady-like season from Rodgers.
GM Ted Thompson continued to give him weapons this offseason, selecting Randall Cobb and D.J. Williams in April’s draft while also re-signing James Jones, whom Rodgers publicly vouched for. Add in the return of dynamic tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Ryan Grant, plus the emergence of James Starks running the football, and this offense has no excuses. Absolutely none.
The rest of this equation is now up to Rodgers.
He has the best receiving corps in the NFL, and, in my mind, second place isn’t even close. There’s simply no team that exists on this planet that can match Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Jones, Cobb, Finley, Williams and Andrew Quarless. Rodgers has more toys to play with than your average four year old.
With Grant, Starks and possibly Alex Green splitting carries, the Packers should be able to run the football—which helps keep defenses honest. He lacked this for most of 2010, but you’d be crazy to think that the emergence of Starks at the end of the season didn’t help Rodgers accomplish what he did during his stretch.
He also has a playcaller in Mike McCarthy who isn’t afraid to open up the playbook and wing it to win football games. McCarthy will ride Rodgers in heavy doses when he feels it necessary. See: Super Bowl XLV.
And finally, Rodgers is a year older. I, for one, wouldn’t discount how his run to the Super Bowl MVP last season could transfer over to this year. Rodgers should be as confident in his quarterbacking abilities than he ever has in his life. I’m no NFL defensive coordinator, but a more-confident Aaron Rodgers scares the hell out of me no matter what kind of personnel or schemes I could throw at him.
Still, you might think that nearly 4,800 yards and 39 touchdowns (44 total) over a season is too much. Again, you might be right, as those are all-time great numbers. But even if you do think that, would you be surprised if he did post those kind of numbers in 2011?
I doubt even his harshest critic would be all that surprised.
Let’s be honest here. Most around the league agree that Rodgers is an elite NFL quarterback. He’s won a ring and a Super Bowl MVP, and he’s shown over a six-game stretch just how good he can be.
It’s not unfair anymore to pose this question:
What if Packers fans should now expect the kind of season suggested in this article?
That’s a what if I can answer truthfully.
They absolutely should.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2