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Green and Bold: Forget It; The Rules Don't Apply to Aaron Rodgers

In 2017, the Green Bay Packers have played like two different teams in the first and second halves.

Through five weeks, the Packers have scored 9.4 points on average in the first half, which ranks 21st in the league. (Compare that to 2016, when they were scoring 14.4 points in the first half, good for third-best in the NFL.)

In the second half, however, Green Bay has averaged a whopping 17.4 points. Only one team has been more prolific in the third and fourth quarter, and it's the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. 

After the second game of the season, in which the Packers lost to the Atlanta Falcons 34-23 after only putting up seven points in the first half, I wrote about how the Packers' habit of falling into a hole before halftime only to stage a late comeback is not sustainable over the course of an entire season. 

I wrote, "Perhaps it's time to stop forgiving the unit when it's able to touch greatness in the second half—which, sometimes, is simply because the opposing defense has switched to prevent mode to limit quick strikes."

Well, Green Bay did it again on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, heading into halftime down 21-12 before coming back to score 23 points in the second half, including 20 in the fourth quarter alone, to win 35-31. (Incidentally, the Packers are No. 2 in the league in fourth-quarter points per game, with 10.6.)

But you know what?

Forget it.

Forget everything I said.

Forget the hand wringing about the Packers offense being slow to start.

Because, let's be honest: when your team has Aaron Rodgers under center, you can break every rule in the book.

The Packers are not necessarily achieving success within the framework of their offensive system. Mike McCarthy's play-calling often requires second-half adjustments. Pass-catchers (ahem, Martellus Bennett) are dropping balls or missing time due to injury. 

But Rodgers can mitigate all of that. Rodgers can create success outside the framework of Green Bay's system, because he can save a play from falling apart, or turn it into a new play altogether.

He can extend plays with his feet. He can throw his receivers open.

Hell, he can even do it himself, as he did when he scrambled for 18 yards on third-and-8 in the fourth quarter against Dallas to get the Packers into the red zone and set up the touchdown pass to Davante Adams to give the Packers the lead.

With 16 seconds left on the clock. 

Would it be ideal if the Packers looked like a more balanced offensive team throughout all four quarters? Absolutely. 

Is it extremely possible, as we've seen happen in the past, that the time Rodgers' magic comes up short might be in a crucial postseason elimination game? Sure. 

These types of issues would doom an average team with an average quarterback. On their MMQB 10 Things podcast this week, Gary Gramling and Andy Benoit discussed how the Packers and the New York Giants are two similarly built offenses (no surprise, as Ben McAdoo is at the helm in New York), with one big difference. You guessed it: quarterback.  

When the game plan falls apart in New York, the Giants often lose. Eli Manning simply isn't capable of making everyone and everything around him better the way Rodgers is. He doesn't even need his best weapons; Jordy Nelson was on the sideline on that game-winning drive against the Cowboys. He creates his best weapons. 

"But," you say, "what happens if Rodgers gets injured? Is the Packers' season over?"

Very possibly. Perhaps Brett Hundley could come in and operate the Packers offense within the framework of its design well enough to guide the team into the postseason.

Certainly, however—and this is the take-home point—the reason the Packers keep climbing out of second-half holes begins and ends with Rodgers. Take that away, and who knows what their record would look like.

But that's, in many respects, a useless game of "what if?". Because, right now, the Packers do have Aaron Rodgers. And, for better or worse, that alleviates a lot of what could otherwise be fatal flaws in their offense. 

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Bedrock's picture

After the phantom penalty against Martinez (and after calming down), I reminded myself "good teams make their own luck" and other comments of that nature. Forget making luck, we have Aaron.

RCPackerFan's picture

The Packers offense has started out really well in games. In 4 of their first 5 games they have scored a TD on their opening drive. The only game they didn't was week 1 against Seattle in which the drive ended on an interception.

The biggest struggle for this team has come in 2nd quarter of games. Whatever reason the offense has been stalling out in the 2nd quarter. It needs to get that figured out. They come back in the 2nd half and put up a lot of points which is great, but it would be nice to not have to have bigger come backs either.

So far this season the Packers average 6.8 points in the 1st quarter, which is ranked 3rd in the league. They average 2.8 points (31st ranked) in the 2nd quarter. They average 6.8 points (ranked 6th) in the 3rd quarter. They average 10.6 (ranked 2nd) in the 4th Quarter.
They are ranked 6th overall in points per game averaging 27.4.

Once they get Bakhtiari back, I think we will see the offense getting back to where we want them to be. Also with a true running threat defenses will be forced to respect the run.

Nick Perry's picture

I think Rodgers is the Best QB of all time. The "GOAT" goes to Brady until Rodgers gets at least 2 more SB, but the "Best" is pretty damn good no matter what. With that said I have to take the Packers "2nd half success" with a grain of salt.

The Packers have come back from 21-7 and 21-6 against the Bengals and Cowboys, not exactly powerhouse defenses. You still have to give them credit but it's not something they can have long term success doing, especially in the playoffs.

Rodgers is amazing and he'll win many more games than he'll lose. For the sake of THIS piece I suppose the rules don't apply to Rodgers, at least 90% of the time. BUT...The goal this year like every year is to win the SB. Rodgers is in the position he is each week because they have a defense that reminds me of a 99 Cent Store wet paper towel. Ted Thompson has TRIED to fix it but hasn't...FOR 7 YEARS!!! As happy as I was Sunday after Dallas there was still something ugly going on in the pit of my stomach. That last Dallas Drive will be in the back of my mind all season. The first half of the Dallas game will be there too. My "Homer Hat" has come off when it comes to our defense and I can only hope Rodgers gets the ball LAST every game. If that happens I have no doubt he can bring us back.

RCPackerFan's picture

'I think Rodgers is the Best QB of all time. The "GOAT" goes to Brady until Rodgers gets at least 2 more SB, but the "Best" is pretty damn good no matter what. With that said I have to take the Packers "2nd half success" with a grain of salt.'

In terms of "GOAT", SB rings should be a factor but shouldn't be the final deciding factor in who is the GOAT. Brady won his 2nd to last SB while on the sidelines. The defense won it with an interception. Had Seattle scored and not thrown an interception does that mean that Brady no longer would be the "GOAT"?
And if Championships are the deciding factor then Bart Starr should be ahead of Brady because he was the first QB to win 5 championships.

Nick Perry's picture

For the GOAT SB Rings are exactly what should be the deciding factor IMO, It's all a matter of opinion and what your definition of "Great" and "Best" are. IMO Greatness doesn't always mean the best. But at the end of the day Brady has 5 rings, Rodgers has one and he's never had a chance to win a second.

Bart Starr will never get his due because of the era he played in. Bart Starr is/was the man but he also had absolutely GREAT Defenses, Lombardi, and a running game from hell backing him up. What the hell does Rodgers have?? Sure he's got a pretty good group of WR but his group in 2010 & 11 were better as a whole. Did you see the look on Rodgers face as he watched his defense give up first down after first down as the Cowboys chewed up over 9 minutes? I started screaming at my TV to let them score with about 2 1/2 minutes because I was as sure the Cowboys would score as I was the Packers would score if they left Rodgers any time.

You also kinda helped make my point about Thompson. The defense won Brady's 4th SB and you could say the same thing about the first 2 as well, that and a hell of a clutch kicker. While Thompson has been here the Packers have never really had a defense that could carry a team except 2010. It starts and ends with Rodgers..PERIOD!

RCPackerFan's picture

I think SB rings should be a factor but not the deciding factor. For example Is Eli Manning better then Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers? No he's not, but he has 2 SB rings... Peyton Manning's 2nd ring came from a great defense.

Starr will never get the recognition because he came from a different era.

Rodgers IMO is the greatest QB, because of his skillset. He can run, he can throw. That sets him apart from Brady. Brady has had much better defenses.
Rodgers has a really good group of WR's, but the last 2 years they have been injured. 2015 all year, and last year he was basically playing without 3 of his top 4 WR's in the championship game.

Honestly the only thing I was hoping for with the Cowboys game was they would leave enough time on the clock for Rodgers. And they did.

This team starts and ends with Rodgers. But you have to have the supporting cast to win a Super Bowl. Brady doesn't do it himself. No QB does.
I do believe the Packers defense will be a top 15-top 10 by the end of the year. Once they get Daniels going again, Perry gets rid of his club cast, King is allowed to play, and they stop getting players hurt. Also add in the hope that Adams and Biegel can be key players later in the year. Speaking of which I heard Dean Lowry tell Bill Michael that Adams is the real deal. That he is going to be a hell of a player for them. They just are getting him back to full strength. Thats very encouraging.

For Rodgers, he just needs an average to good defense. I believe they will have that.

dobber's picture

"This team starts and ends with Rodgers. But you have to have the supporting cast to win a Super Bowl. Brady doesn't do it himself. No QB does."

Pretty much spot on. It's hard for a QB to elevate his offensive teammates to greatness. It's even harder for a QB to elevate his defensive teammates.

Nick Perry's picture

If you think this defense will be Top 10 by the end of year you must poop rainbows an ice cream sprinkles ! Optimism is great when there's reason, but the Packers defense has given us NOTHING to suggest Top 10. Until these guys do it on a consistent basis, like 5, 6, 7 games in a row I'm not jumping on the "Hope" train again.

No disrespect meant RC, You know I'm normally a huge fan of your comments. Your optimistic for the both of us right now, I just can't believe it until I see it anymore. I'll be "Hoping" you're right..Just like I have since the 2011 season when it comes to defense.

RCPackerFan's picture

'The Packers have come back from 21-7 and 21-6 against the Bengals and Cowboys, not exactly powerhouse defenses. You still have to give them credit but it's not something they can have long term success doing, especially in the playoffs.'

Maybe not, but early in the year playing with the OL they have had to, without their best defensive player, and numerous other injuries, I would say these are great wins. These are wins that can build a team into a championship caliber team.

chugwater's picture

'Thompson has TRIED to fix it, but hasn't...FOR 7 YEARS!!!'

While I agree the defense has been the Achilles heel more often than not since 2010, you can't say it's been the problem the whole time. There was a very bad stretch from 2011-2013, but the 2014 was more than enough to compliment AR and win a championship. Same with 2015. We started 6-0 before Rodgers and the offense sputtered. Last year we reverted back to form where the defense ended any chance for a Super Bowl, but the overall point is the record is mixed, not an absolute.

This year's defense depends on getting players healthy. Would love to see Daniels play more than 2.5 games. Or get Beigel and Adams on the field. We're young in the secondary so maturity can vary greatly from opening game to playoffs. We may not be a top 10 defense statistically by the end of the year, but we might be *playing* like one in December.

One other note...Yes the Packers play better defense against poor offenses, but so does everyone else. Seattle got to play STL and SF twice a year. NE has had a six game gimme vs BUF, MIA, and NYJ every season for some time. That goes a long way to securing a bye come January. We're not world beaters, but I'd put us somewhere in the middle right now defensively with some upside.

As always, love your insightful comments NP.

MarkLee22's picture

I've had this argument with many Patriots fans..... Rodgers is the MOST TALENTED QB ever, while Brady can claim the GOAT. ARod can do so much more than Brady. But New England has had a decent defense all these years. And that is the difference in the amount of Rings.

Finwiz's picture

Actually their defense hasn't been all that great at times, they just have a more consistent offensive scheme that generates points. And I think they get off the field on 3rd down in key situations, but NE has given up yards. This year they are last in defense in most, if not all categories, along with Indy.

croatpackfan's picture

I think that Aaron Rodgers do not make his team mates looks like excellent players. I think he elevetes excellent players level of playing to the heights his team mates are not aware they can play on! This is his strenght!

Also, because of insufficient number of snaps in the preseason, Packers O has problems in the beginning of the year. They are using regular, September games as games where they are coming together, gelling as unit. To support my "theory" look at points scored by Packers - 17, 23, 27, 35, 35. We may argue that opponents D were different, but I believe it is more to Packers O than opponents D. Of course Bears game is anomaly here...

I believe we will see Packers offense in full strenght after rest during the bye week...

chugwater's picture

I've thought this myself. Takes a good 4-6 games to get the machine going, especially when you're changing parts (I.e, tackles) every week.

Jonathan Spader's picture

Limitted preseason playing time isn't unique to the Packers. If more preseason play time led to faster starts the Redskins should have been red hot from the start after how mich time they played Cousins for in the preseason.

The Packers really haven't started all that slow. We just expected their offense to be on a whole new level with 2 TE sets. That obviously hasn't happened. Offense couls have looked better faster if MM had givem Aaron Jones a shot sooner rather than beong forced into it due to injuries. Aaron Rodgers throwing uncharacteristic interceptions has also hindered the offense.

Handsback's picture

I can't say I agree with Croatpackfan about that, but I will say slow starts are going to come back and bite the Packers. They are a better team than these slow starts indicate. I think, don't know for sure, that injuries leads to these slow starts especially on the defensive side of the ball. If Jordy is out any length of time, they will need a stronger run game to do some damage until the passing game gets cracked up.

LayingTheLawe's picture

The slow starts have specially been on offense. The offensive line has given up a tremendous amount of pressure at the start of the game and the coaching staff has made adjustments to get the offense going. Against Dallas they were getting Rodgers killed early and went to a quick tempo passing game and running the ball well and got things going.

This has to improve for sure, but if you score 30 plus points it doesn't matter when you score them you are going to be in ever game you do that.

dobber's picture

"When the game plan falls apart in New York, the Giants often lose. Eli Manning simply isn't capable of making everyone and everything around him better the way Rodgers is"

And, yet, Eli has two rings and will likely end up in the HOF.

mnbruton's picture

Say it with me, folks: "Deeeeeefenseeeeeee!"

In all reality, this is why SB rings are the worst indicator of QB success. (Wins are not a QB stat!) Those Giants teams largely won on the strength of their defense. Now, don't get me wrong - Eli is fine. Especially when you have people like Josh McCown starting. But he's no Aaron Rodgers.

chugwater's picture

He gets into the HOF if they lower their standards again like they did for Terrell Davis.

If Eli dons the golden jacket as a consequence for signal calling two SB teams, then Jim Plunkett should go too. The truth is neither are worthy.

Razer's picture

How can you not love the Aaron Rodgers factor and his being a Green Bay Packer. I do agree with Nick Perry - rallying against poor defenses may be rose colored glasses. We'll see what we can do against the Vikings, who have a solid D.

I would be more impressed with this team if we showed some strength and consistency on defense. I still believe that a defense that can control the line of scrimmage and get the stop is a requirement to win it all. At this point, we may only be better secondary play away from having a good defense. Hoping that the coin drops for guys like Randall, Rollins, Dix and some of the young guys.

dobber's picture

I keep coming back to Atlanta a year ago with an offense playing lights out and a defense that was young at a lot of spots and very porous early on. At some point they turned a corner and that defense went from being a liability to at least competent (if not decent) down the stretch. Maybe it was the level of competition later on, who knows. Sure the offense was great, but they don't get to the SB without the defense playing better as the season progressed.

With that in mind, there are some parallels here between the two teams and how they're constructed. The Packers have a young defense, and a lot of the guys we're talking about--Clark, Martinez, King, Jones--are still establishing themselves. I think the defense has a chance, if it can keep players on the field, to progress as the season moves along. I don't think they're going to become a dominant unit this year, but maybe they'll be just good enough...

Razer's picture

I see the pieces and the potential. I agree that, barring injury, we should see a tougher defense as the season progresses. The additions of Dail and Brooks gave us depth down low. The play of Martinez and Ryan has made the middle tougher.

The secondary is still a soup. Just when you think that safety is set, we watch Dix disappear. And until House and Randall show some consistency, we are totally suspect at corner. Got to hope that, as a group, the secondary comes together.

flackcatcher's picture

The Packers are running a completely new defensive package, in both their base and sub packages. That's not counting their Nitro look, which seems to be one Capers favors. There is not many teams that run first in the NFL, Cowboys and the Bears in the NFC maybe the Vikings. Agree about the secondary, Dix seems to be the only true safety, Brice seems to be creeping up to play a more SS-Hybrid DB back in Capers defense. Packers must really trust Dix and Burnett to put them on a island in both okie and nitro. Aside from injuries, this is a pretty stout group, and giving time, a good defense.

Since '61's picture

Part of the reason the Packers offense is starting slowly during the first half relates to the patchwork OL. Obviously the OL is not firing on all cylinders. The first drive success is due to the drive being scripted and probably practiced throughout the week, unless Rodgers changes the play at the LOS and even then the team probably knows what audible to expect.

The other factor as others have already posted is our defense. Teams have been successful at keeping Rodgers off the field and chewing up the clock, especially in the first half.
In spite of this we are 4 - 1 primarily thanks to Rodgers. We should also keep in mind that Morgan Burnett was not on the field during Dallas' 4th quarter drive. Prior to that the Packers had held Zeke in check for much of the game. If Burnett misses significant time it will be a blow to our defense. We also need King back ASAP.

As for Aaron Rodgers he continues to amaze us. I've said from the beginning that what separates Rodgers from the other great QBs is his mobility and his deadly accuracy while throwing on the run. That separates him from Brady, P. Manning, Marino, Starr, Unitas, etc... His level of play has made him the QB against whom other QBs will be measured for a long time.

Enjoy him while we have him, he is our last best hope for an SB before 2020. Once he's gone who knows after that. Thanks, Since '61

flackcatcher's picture

Rodgers ability to make pin point throws boarders on the unreal. The throw to Adams on MNF last year. The hail- mary at the end of the 1st half against the giants. He put the ball exactly on the spot in the back of the end zone where only Cobb could catch it. It should be noted that not only is Rodgers operating without key OL, but the loss of Monty in the backfield wiped out many of the offensive packages the Packers run. In other words, the Packers were real basic against the Cowboys. It's the first time I have ever heard a player (Jones) apologize to his QB for not knowing all of the playbook in public. I agree with you on Burnett and King. We fans underestimate what injuries do to teams game planning over the season. How Capers made last years defense productive is beyond me. As you say 61, we better enjoy Rodgers while he's here. We will never see this kind of greatness again.

Since '61's picture

flack - good point about Monty. His absence changes what the offense can do. Hopefully Jones will pick up more and more with each game he plays. Thanks, Since '61

Razer's picture

... Enjoy him while we have him, he is our last best hope for an SB before 2020. Once he's gone who knows after that...

Amen to that. My neighbor is a Bears fan. Her love for the sport and her team has waned these last years. The debut of Trubisky was the only spark that I have seen in here since the signing of Culter - then the release of Cutler. I don't want to revisit the years when the hope of a high first round pick was the highlight of the season.

dobber's picture

We talk about player development every year, but that's in support of a playoff team. They talk about it in hope that they'll get to make a playoff run some time in the near future.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

"Because, let's be honest: when your team has Aaron Rodgers under center, you can break every rule in the book."

Meh, that's what they did before with the ISO Only Offense. It didn't work. Now they've finally learned to exploit what the defense is giving them. Let's just hope the lesson lasts.

Qoojo's picture

The offense played fine in the first half against Dallas. What can an offense do from the bench? Defense forced one punt, and that was in the second half.

The others games, I think are more about MM facing reality and giving his makeshift OL more help in the second half. MM decides to not get Rodgers killed.

Then you have to consider that Capers is making some adjustments at halftime, and it seems like the defense plays better in the 2nd half with the defense always getting shredded in the 1st quarter.

2020hindsight's picture

I do not understand why authors talking heads and comments ignore the elephant in the room. That is that Dom Cappers defenses have exibited the same weakness for his entire tenure. That weakness is that they play abysmal defense in late game situations, end of half and end of game. They cannot get off the field without a mistake by the other team. That is a turnover or major penalty. This can be illustrated in example or statistics. PLEASE PLEASE look into this and write an article. Statistics could include 4th Quarter (punts forced,
3rd down %, and points per possession.). Examples could include overtime ,as the only win in eight tries occured on the only punt forced by the defense in those 8 games. The ball is in your court cheesehead authors.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Actual Cash earnings of QBs since 2012:

Alex Smith - $76.25M
Jay Cutler - $81.18M
Tom Brady - $86.77M;
Carson Palmer: $87.02M;
ARodgers - $95.5M;
Roethlisberger - 100.31M;
Phillip Rivers - $104M
Matt Ryan - $106M
Eli Manning - $108.75M;
Joe Flacco - $118.76;
M Stafford - $122.5M (*$51M in just 2017)
Brees - $124.25M.

Yeah, I can see where AR might think he should have gotten $20M or $30M more than he did over the last 6 seasons. I've no idea what AR is going to ask for when he gets extended. Ditto for Brees. Flacco should hit $131M, and Stafford $142M in 2018. I assume that AR nudges just ahead of Stafford next season, but who knows?

flackcatcher's picture

I am gob smacked at those numbers. Flacco, FLACCO! I knew he got a big contract after the Ravens superbowl win, but that much, man... When I am reborn in the next life, I WANT TO BE A NFL QUARTERBACK.

dobber's picture

You might be better off as an MLB starting pitcher. More guaranteed money.

dobber's picture

Who knows what will happen with Brees. He's 38 and on a fluky contract that voids out after the season. I don't see how the Saints don't resign him because he's still playing well, but maybe with the strength of this QB class coming up, you let him go. Rookie QBs have played a lot in recent years and several have been capable. Now you've got all that Drew Brees money to fix your leaky defense for a couple years until the rookie needs to get paid. And if you miss on the QB, what have you lost? Maybe two mediocre years under Brees where you can't afford to fix anything else. It would be terrible PR to just let Brees walk (because he so popular down there), but it might be the right move.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I agree with all you wrote. Brees does still have $18M in dead money. That whole situation is difficult to figure out from a distance. The article I read wrote that Brees wants to retire as a Saint and no one is worried that he will bolt to another team in 2018. He had no trade and no franchise tag provisions in his contract. But maybe NO should not re-sign him or perhaps they should let that rookie QB sit for a year and watch Brees play. NO is 2-2 so far, and would draft something like 13th. I think they're a 6 win team; last year that would get them in the top 10.

AR might get well past Stafford since I can easily see him getting a signing bonus larger than the $50M Stafford got in 2017. AR's earnings could increase to $145M to perhaps $160M. Brady is set to earn $15M in cash in 2018, which would push his earnings since 2012 to almost $100M. [Plus whatever Kraft paid to Brady's LLC, if that rumor is true.]

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