Aaron Rodgers ‘ 2015 season did not go according to plan. The star quarterback posted career lows in completion percentage, yards per attempt, yards per completion, and quarterback rating, while also leading the Green Bay Packers to their lowest offensive efficiency (per Football Outsiders’ DVOA) of his eight-year tenure as their starter.
There were, of course, mitigating factors. Rodgers’ No. 1 wide receiver, Jordy Nelson , was lost for the season to an ACL tear during the first half of the Packers’ second preseason game. The team’s No. 1 running back, Eddie Lacy , struggled throughout the season with weight issues and general ineffectiveness. Left tackle David Bakhtiari was limited by injury at the start of the season and then missed two games at the end of it, while right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed four separate games due to injury as well.
Despite all those factors affecting his play, Rodgers actually had a season in 2015 that would be considered sparkling by almost any standards other than his own. His passer rating of 92.7 was approximately equal to the career mark of Joe Montana (92.3). In other words, Rodgers still played well — just not quite at the otherworldly level we’re used to seeing from him.
With Nelson returned to the fold, Bakhtiari and Bulaga healthy, and Lacy back at a reasonable playing weight, the general consensus is that Rodgers will be back to the Rodgers of old in 2016.
His season-opening game against the Jacksonville Jaguars , though, was a bit of a mixed bag. Rodgers completed just 20 of 34 passes and totaled 199 passing yards — a paltry 5.9 per attempt. Even those numbers were only arrived at after Rodgers made an absurd 29-yard touchdown toss to Davante Adams while being thrown to the ground:
That’s the type of play that seemingly only Rodgers can make, but the fact that he had to make it to yield even his pedestrian (by his standards) numbers speaks to how he played throughout the rest of the game.
The style of defense the Jaguars played is one that seems like it can be replicated by this week’s opponent, the Minnesota Vikings . Jacksonville sent extra rush men on only 11 of the Packers’ 37 drop backs, per Pro Football Focus tracking, and it was on the plays where they simply rushed four and sat back in coverage where they saw the most success. Rodgers finished the afternoon 13 of 23 for 93 yards and a score on plays where Jacksonville rushed four, and 7 of 11 for 106 yards and a touchdown when they blitzed.
Like the Jaguars, the Vikings sport a strong defensive line that should be able to generate at least a modicum of pressure on Rodgers without having to resort to blitzing too often. The Vikings were fourth in pressure rate last season despite blitzing on only 26 percent of opponents’ drop backs, per PFF, which was about three percent less often than the average team. The Vikings were also able to get a ton of pressure while rushing four (or fewer) defenders in their matchups against the Packers. Per PFF tracking, they generated a sack, hit, or hurry on 29 of the 72 pass plays on which they sent three or four rushers at Green Bay’s offensive line.
If the Vikings can get pressure just with the group of Everson Griffen , Brian Robison (or Danielle Hunter ), Sharrif Floyd , and Linval Joseph up front, they can sit back and let their strong cornerback trio of Terence Newman , slot man Captain Munnerlyn , and either Xavier Rhodes (if he winds up playing) or Trae Waynes (if Rhodes sits again) do battle with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb , and Davante Adams — with the benefit of help both underneath (linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks ) and over the top (safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo ).
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer loves to send Barr after the quarterback on the occasional blitz to take advantage of his skill as an edge rusher (Barr blitzed on 19.4 percent of opponents’ drop backs last season, per PFF) and there’s no doubt he’ll do so a few times on Sunday night, but using him to help out in underneath coverage could be especially beneficial against a Green Bay offense that loves to get the ball into its receivers’ hands quickly on slants, screens, and hitches in order to let them generate yards after the catch.
That was part of the Vikings’ strategy last season (Barr blitzed on 16 of 88 pass plays) and, along with the absence of Nelson and strong coverage from Rhodes, Newman, and Munnerlyn, it helped Minnesota have success against the Green Bay passing game. In fact, Zimmer’s defense has stifled Rodgers in four of the six games in which they’ve squared off.
|DATE||OPP||W-L||COMP||ATT||COMP %||YDS||YPA||TD||INT||QB RTG|
|CAREER||ZIMMER||3W – 3 L||122||206||59.2%||1,373||6.7||10||3||89.3|
Zimmer’s defenses have held Rodgers to a passer rating almost 15 points lower than his career average, and that’s despite being lit up for five touchdowns on only 46 attempts in 2014. His passer rating in the other four games (78.3) is basically equal to the career number posted by EJ Manuel . In order to experience a similar amount of success on Sunday, the Vikes will have to get sterling efforts from their trio of corners. If they’re not on the top of their games, Rodgers will make them pay — just as he did in 2014.
Munnerlyn will almost certainly match up with Cobb in the slot. Cobb has proven himself one of the NFL’s best slot weapons since becoming a starter back in 2012, while Munnerlyn has come into his own as a slot corner over the last two seasons. The two have done battle there in each of the four games these two teams have played since Zimmer took over the Vikings, with Cobb catching 10 of 15 passes thrown his way for 106 yards and a touchdown when the two have matched up. Cobb has struggled when operating on the outside against Minnesota, catching five of 11 passes for 37 yards and a touchdown.
The returning Nelson seems likely to draw Terence Newman for much of the evening. Newman operates almost exclusive as Minnesota’s left corner, while Nelson tends to run about half of his routes as the team’s right wide receiver (he was there for 50 percent of his routes in Week 1; the same percentage as his last healthy season), while splitting the remaining half between the left side and the slot. Newman has consistently been a better player when working with Zimmer than when working with other defensive coaches. Zimmer has rejuvenated the ageless veteran’s career twice in four years now, having turned him back into a useful player when Newman left Dallas for Cincinnati and did it again when he left the Cincinnati Bengals for the Vikings last offseason. Newman was targeted in coverage nine times in Week 1 by Marcus Mariota , second on the team to only Trae Waynes, who seems likely to draw Davante Adams if Xavier Rhodes sits again.
Adams was again inefficient with his opportunities in Week 1, catching only three of seven passes thrown his way, for 50 yards and the preposterous touchdown shown above. (So he caught just two of the other six passes thrown his way, for 21 yards.) Drawing Waynes in coverage, though, gives him a better chance to succeed than he had in the opener when he was matched up against the much more solid Prince Amukamara .
Adams has flashed the ability to take advantage of specific matchups in the past, even if his overall level of play has left something to be desired. He beat up on Cortland Finnegan for four catches and 52 yards in 2014, and destroyed poor Sterling Moore for five catches and 92 yards in the Packers’ playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys later that season. Last season, his best game came against the Carolina Panthers , when he drew Josh Norman in coverage on only two of his targets. He beat Charles Tillman , Bene Benwikere, and Roman Harper for six catches and 80 yards on the plays where he matched up with them.
Rodgers has never been afraid to pick on a particular player in coverage, or avoid another one entirely. (We all remember the 2014 season opener, when he didn’t throw at Richard Sherman all night.) He wants to work the ball to his best receivers (Nelson and Cobb) whenever possible, but when they draw the toughest matchups, it’s sometimes beneficial to work the weak link until the defense reacts and opens them up. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Rodgers test the Adams-Waynes matchup early in on to see if he can take advantage, then come back to his more reliable targets as the game moves along.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Here’s why Aaron Rodgers might struggle again vs. Mike Zimmer and the Vikings D