Aaron Rodgers is still alive in real life, but he's in the middle of a stunning decline on the field, which can no longer be written off as a slump. It's real, lengthy, and, most distressingly, it might actually result in a new set of standards for a quarterback who was once on course to wind up as the greatest of all-time.
Robert Mays -- formerly of Grantland and currently of The Ringer -- first coined that dragon comparison, which I began using, because I found it incredibly apt.
Before we get into the numbers of his decline, it's important to note that I'm not saying Rodgers can't turn it around and revert back to his previous godly form. He still possesses that God-given arm and the necessary athleticism to threaten defenses with his legs. And it's not as if his demise has turned him into a horrible quarterback. All it's done is turned him into a below-average quarterback, who by the way still owns the ability to make impossible throws, like he did in the Packers' win over the Jaguars earlier this month (see: above).
What I am saying is that Rodgers' slump has gone on for a long enough period of time that it's officially time to worry that the age of the dragon is over. To prove that, I'll mainly rely on statistics (this is a stats column, after all).
Let's begin at the micro level. Through the first two games of the 2016 season, Rodgers has completed 57.1 percent of his passes (ranked 30th), averaged 5.89 yards per pass (31st), thrown three touchdowns and one pick, and posted a 82.6 passer rating (22nd). He's Pro Football Focus' lowest-graded quarterback (34th out of 34).
Probably because of throws like this, which don't get marked down as anything more than an incompletion in the official box score, but are indicative of Rodgers' level of play thus far. This qualifies as a negative play, I'm guessing.
The context: first-and-goal in the fourth quarter. The throw: interceptable.
Though he was sacked five times and fumbled three times against the Vikings on Sunday night, that wasn't due to increased pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers had an average time to throw of 2.8 seconds and was pressured on 25.9 percent of his dropbacks.
The sacks weren't always on his offensive line.
#Packers QB Aaron Rodgers' time to throw on 5 sacks vs. Vikings, per my stopwatch...— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) September 19, 2016
Average: 3.16 seconds
The fumbles were on him, too.
This does not look like Aaron Rodgers. This looks like a dude playing quarterback immediately after being woken up from cryogenic sleep.
Look at how he held the football! I've never played quarterback in the NFL, but I'm guessing this is not how coaches teach ball security.
When looking at his numbers under pressure and in comfortable pockets (via Pro Football Focus), it's easy to see that he's suffered in all conditions. Under pressure this season, he's generated a passer rating of 65.2. Without pressure, his passer rating is just 87.8. When he's blitzed, his passer rating is 76.4. When he isn't blitzed, his passer rating rises to 86.3.
So, like most quarterbacks, his numbers dip when he's pressured. But his numbers don't rise high enough when he's well protected for us to conclude his struggles are entirely due to pressure.
Still, those are just two games. Even Quarterback God Aaron Rodgers goes through two-game slumps. So, let's expand our level of analysis to eight games.
Below, Blaine Gabbert is actually being compared to Aaron Rodgers. And it's not being done out of context.
Your thoughts on the comparison of last 8 games, Rodgers vs. Gabbert? pic.twitter.com/N6sLmwlqVT— Henry Gee (@henrygpromo) September 21, 2016
But eight games is only half a season. So, let's expand again, this time to 14 games, nearly an entire season's worth of games.
It's not any better. As ESPN's Rob Demovsky pointed out, Rodgers hasn't generated a passer rating of 100 in his past 14 games, including playoff games. In Rodgers' past 14 games, he's completed 57 percent of his passes, averaged 5.95 yards per attempt, thrown a touchdown on 4.26 percent of his passes, and tossed an interception on 1.48 percent of his attempts. His passer rating? 82.4.
That's not even average. That's some 7-9 ... you know how the rest of the saying goes.
But again, let's expand. This time to 16 games, a full season.
Jay Cutler, one of the most maligned players in all of football, is often unfairly compared to Rodgers. So, let's compare them.
Last 16 games:— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) September 22, 2016
Aaron Rodgers: 3,709 yards, 57.3%, 6.2 yards per pass
Jay Cutler: 3,807 yards, 65.1%, 7.7 yards per pass
Let that sink in: Jay Cutler has been a better quarterback than Aaron Rodgers in the past 16 games.
Now, let's examine Rodgers' numbers using 2014 as a cutoff point.
Completion percentage misses a lot of things, but for Rodgers, it's pretty representative.— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) September 19, 2016
Cmp% through 2014: 65.8
Cmp% since: 60.4%
Rodgers Y/A through 2014: 8.22— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) September 19, 2016
Rodgers Y/A since (627 attempts): 6.57
Again, not good. Rodgers' career trajectory used to look like Jack Bauer's (from a deadly government agent who worked 24-hour days to the President of the United States without even grinding through an election cycle). Now it looks more like Tywin Lannister's (from the Hand of the King to an untimely death on the toilet).
But just like how it's important to note that Rodgers still has the ability to reverse course, it's also important to note that his decline is not entirely on him.
As CBS Sports' Pete Prisco wrote multiple times, Packers coach Mike McCarthy relied too heavily on isolation routes last year considering his receivers weren't able to win in one-on-one coverage. Entering this season, the thinking was that a healthy Jordy Nelson -- a legitimate deep threat -- would solve those issues, so the Packers kept their system in place with the same personnel, with the exception of new tight end Jared Cook, one of the most inconsistent players in the league.
Surprise: So far, the offense hasn't improved due to Nelson -- a 31-year-old receiver coming off a torn ACL -- as subpar talents (acquired by general manager Ted Thompson) -- like Davante Adams -- still can't get open. And when they do get open, they can't catch with consistency.
Furthermore, as CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora explained, the Packers' issues aren't just related to their passing game. Running back Eddie Lacy's weight issues were eaten up by pretty much everyone a year ago and so was his offseason weight-loss P90x regimen, but he's still been ineffective to this point.
As La Canfora wrote:
Green Bay ranks last in first-down efficiency, which is the percentage of first down plays that go for 4 yards or more. The Packers are equally bad on the ground and in the air. They rank 31st in passes of four yards or more on first down and 30th in rushes of 4 yards or more on first down.
Perhaps that's why Rodgers is struggling off play-action.
Aaron Rodgers stats off play action:— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) September 22, 2016
2015: 5.5 yards per attempt (last in NFL)
2016: 3.9 YPA (last in NFL)
It might not be all his fault, but Rodgers is feeling the heat. On Wednesday, he sounded off.
According to Aaron Rodgers, we do not know why Aaron Rodgers doesn't look like Aaron Rodgers anymore.
Rodgers is right. We don't know all of the issues behind the Packers' horrific offense. We don't know the exact game plans or the thinking behind the play-calls. We aren't sitting in on their meetings or film sessions. We do, however, know some stuff -- like how McCarthy's vanilla scheme and Thompson's roster construction are both bleh. Perhaps Rodgers is peeved because the system and his supporting cast won't be changing anytime soon.
Here's an idea: "Serial" should spend its third season investigating Rodgers' demise.
The first suspect: McCarthy. The second suspect: Thompson. The third: His lackluster supporting cast. The fourth: Rodgers himself.
The sneaky x-factor: Cheese.
Rodgers gave up dairy and hasn't been the same since. I'd start there.
1. Or is it the Vikings' defense?
Perhaps, though, Rodgers' struggles last weekend weren't about him. Perhaps they were about the team he faced.
In Week 1, the Vikings defense held Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota to 6.6 yards per attempt and an 86.5 passer rating. They scored two touchdowns, which allowed a Shaun Hill-quarterbacked team to win a real-life NFL game in the year of 2016.
In Week 2, they held Rodgers to 5.9 yards per attempt and a 70.7 passer rating. If not for some bad fumble recovery luck, they would've racked up more than a few takeaways.
So, the Vikings' defense is off to quite the start. As a Reddit user pointed out, Mariota was Pro Football Focus' lowest-graded quarterback of Week 1 and Rodgers was their lowest-graded quarterback of Week 2.
Reigning MVP Cam Newton gets a chance to stop the streak this weekend.
2. Home Joe Flacco vs. Road Joe Flacco
The Ravens visit Jacksonville this Sunday. That is not good news for Joe Flacco.
As Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar pointed out, Flacco's home-away splits are wild.
Joe Flacco's home vs. road split is still crazy. pic.twitter.com/UmAXB6fAhx— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) September 21, 2016
Sure enough, though the sample size is small -- one game at home, one game on the road -- the trend continued into this season. In the Ravens' home game against the Bills, Flacco pieced together a 100.3 passer rating. In the Ravens' road win over the Browns, Flacco's passer rating rested at 72.6 due to this two interceptions and low completion percentage (55.6). Interestingly enough, Pro Football Focus handed Flacco a higher grade in that road game than they did in the home game.
One thing is certain: Flacco's been straight money in one specific area so far this season. In the middle of the field, between 10-19 yards from the line of scrimmage, Flacco has gone 7 of 8 for 120 yards and a touchdown, good enough for a perfect passer rating, per Pro Football Focus.
Take note, Jaguars.
3 . The Jaguars' awful streak and awful start
It's 2016 and the Jaguars haven't won a game on the
West best coast since the 2004 season.
Jaguars haven't won on the West Coast since 2004. They've lost 8 in a row, outscored 260-93.— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) September 18, 2016
They host the Ravens this week, so that streak doesn't really matter, but it's so bad that it's worth noting. The Jaguars next game on the West Coast, by the way, takes place ... not in 2016. So, we'll have to revisit this topic again later.
Still, it serves as a transition into the statistics behind the Jaguars' 0-2 start. After two losses, the Jaguars' point differential rests at -28. It's only two games, so the sample size is admittedly tiny, but the Jaguars hardly look like the playoff contenders that so many crowned them as before the season.
After a decent debut marred by a mistake on the game's biggest play -- he checked into the wrong play on fourth down -- Blake Bortles disappointed in the Jaguars' loss to the Chargers this past weekend. Really, he's disappointed in both games, especially when it comes to the deep ball. According to Pro Football Focus, Bortles' numbers from 20-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage are: 4 of 14 for 111 yards.
So, obviously then, receiver Allen Robinson has also struggled after his 80-catch, 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown season a year ago. Through two games, Robinson has snagged nine of his 20 targets for 126 yards and zero touchdowns. A year ago, Robinson caught 19 of 47 passes that were thrown at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. Through two games this year, Robinson's caught 1 of 6 passes in that area.
The defense, even though it's coached by Gus Bradley, continues to be bad. They're giving up 32.5 points per game.
4. Kirk Cousins' red zone woes
During Kirk Cousins' breakout year, he made his money inside the 10-yard line, throwing 16 touchdowns (the third-most in the NFL) and no interceptions. Cousins' 2016 season is not following a similar trajectory.
Kirk Cousins was 0-5 with INT inside Dallas 10. He's 1-8, with 0 TD, 2 Int inside the 10 this year. Last year: 16 TD, 1 Int inside 10.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) September 19, 2016
One example of his work this year, which occurred during a three-point game in the fourth quarter:
This week, Prisco studied the Giants offense for his film-review column. So go read that next.
5. Josh Norman is doing just fine
Lost among all of the chatter about the Redskins not allowing Josh Norman to follow around the game's top receivers in their first two games is that Norman is off to a heck of a start in Washington. When he has been allowed to cover top receivers, he's served as a shutdown corner.
Norman also caused an Ezekiel Elliott fumble this past weekend, using a nifty Peanut Punch to jar the ball loose. Hopefully, for our sake, the Redskins allow him to trail their opponent's top receiver this weekend, because that top receiver is Odell Beckham Jr. and it's about time for Norman vs. OBJ, Part II.
The Redskins will reportedly allow him to do just that.
Beckham will face a stiff test. According to Pro Football Focus, Norman's been targeted eight times this season and he's allowed three catches for 40 yards. Quarterbacks have accumulated a 54.2 passer rating when throwing in his direction. He's the highest graded cornerback thus far.
6. Von Miller isn't going away
Von Miller's contract extension was money well spent by John Elway. In two games, he's already racked up four sacks. Dating back to his past four games, he's been damn near impossible to slow down.
Miller gets to face a Bengals offensive line that allowed Andy Dalton to feel pressure on 17 of his 57 dropbacks against the Steelers. According to Pro Football Focus, Dalton's passer rating under pressure landed at 74.0. When he wasn't pressured, his passer rating rose to a balmy 88.8.
And now: The best photo from 'TNF' goes to ...
🚨🚨🚨 BELICHICK IN GAME SMILE 🚨🚨🚨 pic.twitter.com/XIXx1eemau— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) September 23, 2016
Look at that smile! It turns out, beating a former assistant coach of his with a third-string rookie quarterback is actually enough to make Belichick happy.
Anyway, back to the stats ...
7. Mr. Fourth Quarter
On Sunday, Marcus Mariota somehow dropped in a dime to Andre Johnson between two defenders for a late game-winning touchdown over the Lions. In other news, Johnson has now caught a touchdown pass for three AFC South teams in his Hall-of-Fame caliber career.
This was his only catch Sunday.
Through two games, Mariota's fourth-quarter passer rating rests at 131.8. He's gone 18 of 25 for 181 yards and three touchdowns in the final frame.
8. The Raiders: Both ends of the spectrum
The thing is, as long as the Raiders' offense and defense continue to operate on opposite ends of the spectrum, they aren't going to get any more consistent. They're ranked first in yards gained and last in yards surrendered.
This week, the Raiders play the Titans and Mr. Fourth Quarter.
9. The Bears' second-half drought
The 0-2 Bears lost Jay Cutler to an injury that a surgeon compared to Tommy John (yikes). Half of their starters wound up on the injury report. So no, John Fox's second year in Chicago is not going as planned.
Neither is Dowell Loggains' first season as the Bears' offensive coordinator.
The Bears have just three offensive touchdowns and none in the second half. Dowell Loggains' unit has been outscored 33-0 after halftime.— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) September 20, 2016
If his name sounds familiar, it's because he's best known for receiving that "wreck this league" text from Johnny Manziel on draft night. He's not known for his days as the Titans' offensive coordinator, but maybe he should be. In his only full season as an offensive coordinator in 2013, Loggains' offense finished 22nd in yards and 19th in points.
There's no telling where his second full season will wind up, but as of now it's headed straight for the bottom of Lake Michigan. The Bears rank 31st in yards and 30th in points -- a ranking that's boosted by a punt return touchdown.
They get the Cowboys in Dallas this week. It's also the Sunday night game.
10. The Cowboys' road woes
The good news for the Bears is that the Cowboys can't buy a win at Jerry World.
ICYMI: Wins in Cowboys Stadium in past year:— Michael Casagrande (@ByCasagrande) September 4, 2016
Their last home win? Week 1 of the 2015 season.
So yeah, it's been a while.
11. The worst offenses
The Seahawks and Rams stink on offense. There's no way around it. One team features a top-10 quarterback. The other features one of the game's best backs. It doesn't matter. They're both equally awful through two games.
Let's take a look at the Seahawks' season-long drive chart:
In all, they've mustered one touchdown and 15 total points. In case you're bad at math like me, that averages out to 7.5 points per game -- the second-lowest total in the league.
Yeah, me too.
Meanwhile, the lowest total in the league belongs the Rams, who have garnered more wins (1) than touchdowns (0) at this point. Yet, they still managed to beat the Seahawks.
Here's their drive chart:
- End of game
- End of game
The Rams are averaging 4.5 points per game. That's not ideal.
So the good news for the Seahawks is that Russell Wilson should be getting healthier after injuring his ankle in Week 1 and the offensive line should (hopefully) improve as it continues to play with each other. And those are really the two areas hurting the Seahawks.
The not so good news for the Rams is that their awful quarterback play might not improve considering Jared Goff can't beat out Case Keenum. And if their passing game doesn't improve when (if) Goff takes over, Todd Gurley will continue to see stacked boxes, which will limit his productivity considering he's getting hit so far in the backfield he's racked up more yards after contact, 101, than actual yards, 98 (according to Pro Football Focus).
Fantasy stat of the week
- Blaine Gabbert has the longest current touchdown pass streak at 12 games, which dates back to 2013.
- In 90 straight games, the Seahawks have been within one score in the fourth quarter. That's the longest streak in NFL history, per Football Outsiders' 2016 Almanac, which you can acquire here.
- The Seahawks also haven't lost a game by more than 10 points since Oct. 30, 2011, including the postseason.
- Russell Wilson is the middle of the fourth-longest starting streak to begin a career, according to Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar.
- The Cowboys are 2-14 in the past three seasons without Romo under center.
- With one more catch, Larry Fitzgerald will move past Jason Witten (1,032) for the ninth-most receptions of all time.
- Andy Reid can tie Mike Holmgren for the 13th most all-time wins (174).
- The last time a Colts player rushed for 100 yards in a game? Dec. 16, 2012. The last time one of their players rushed for 1,000 yards in a season? 2007.
Drinking game of the week
The drinking game of the season remains the Jared Goff sad face drinking game, which means you should drink every time Goff looks like this:
Jared Goff made the "I don't really want to go back in, so put Mannion in" face. Mannion was in on the next drive. pic.twitter.com/1TfhuRh3Er— John Breech (@johnbreech) August 28, 2016
The drinking game of Week 3 is to drink whenever John Fox doesn't go for an obvious fourth down.
Best quote of the week (the Bennett Bros' space)
I wasn't a math major and neither was John Fox.
"I was a math major. I wasn't, actually."— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) September 22, 2016
- John Fox
I'm guessing he also wasn't a communications major.
Bad quote of the week (Russell Wilson's space)
"This might be the exact team we need to play," Ryan said, per the Buffalo News. "This might be the best team in the league. And maybe this is the exact team we need to play.
"And it's back-to-back weeks, by the way," Ryan added. "So you got (Cardinals coach) Bruce Arians this week and (Patriots coach Bill) Belichick next week. So it's like, OK. I mean, probably there's a few easier options than those two. But maybe this is exactly what we need."
No one's buying it, Rex.