As downside passing game struggles, Aaron Rodgers heads to Packers film archives

JASON WILDE For the State Journal

GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers didn’t do it to feel nostalgic for the past. He did it to make things better in the present – and, he hopes, teach his youngsters how to be better in the future.

Nonetheless, when the Green Bay Packers quarterback — or, more accurately, the team’s crack video staff — put together a veritable highlight reel of successful deep balls Rodgers threw in the 14 last seasons as a Packers starter to use as an instructional video for young wide receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson (and to refresh the memory of veterans like Allen Lazard), Rodgers surely found himself remembering wistfully how they used to make it look.

For Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur, the game against the New York Jets will mean a little more.

Jordy Nelson. Davante Adams. Greg Jennings. James Jones. They were all about the montage that Rodgers presented to his passing targets when they met earlier in the week.

“But ’87’ and ’17’, mostly,” Rodgers pointed out.

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And why did Rodgers deem it necessary?

“That’s why. That’s always the why. What are we trying to accomplish on this piece? And why do we do it a certain way? Rodgers explained. “We just need them to understand why, to allow us to play freely and react. When a player is thinking, he’s always going to be slower and he’s going to count his steps, he’s not going to be fluid. So how do we get them to understand the why of the concept so they can play freely and react to everything they see? »

It remains to be seen how much the digital walk into the digital past will help, but going into Sunday’s game against the New York Jets at Lambeau Field, it’s undeniable that the Packers offensive arsenal was missing the long ball.

At the start of the week, Rodgers’ average pass completion had gone just 3.83 overhead yards down, according to official NFL stats — the shortest of 32 NFL qualifying quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers has made just 6 of 22 deep ball attempts (defined as throws 20 yards or more on the pitch) in five games, a success rate of just 27.3% – worse than luminaries such as Mitchell Trubisky, Joe Flacco and Marcus Mariota.

Compare that to the last two seasons. Rodgers made 39.1% of his throws from the field last year and 41.6% in 2020, leading to back-to-back MVP awards. In the 2020 season, he was No. 1 in passing yards down and No. 3 in touchdowns from deep.

“You always want to threaten all levels of defense, so any time you can shoot, you want to shoot,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said. “It’s not like we stream it every other game like that. But you choose your spots and I think for the most part we landed a good majority of them.

While the stats may show otherwise — for the record, Stenavich said being “50/50” on deep balls is the goal of the Packers offense, and Rodgers isn’t hitting at that rate — the next sentence from Stenavich’s mouth was undeniably true.

“If you want to win in this league,” he said, “sometimes you have to hit the home runs.”

The Packers’ problem at this point is that they don’t have Aaron Judge types in their roster. Watson opened wide on a starting road on the very first offensive play of the season – only to let what should have been a 75-yard touchdown through his fingers – but was plagued with hamstring issues. leggings basically since and won’t play against the Jets. Doubs doesn’t have Watson’s blistering speed, but he’s shown he can get behind defenses, both at the University of Nevada and in the first five games. But he and Rodgers are still working to improve their connection.

Still, there haven’t been enough success stories on these deep balls, and the biggest reason is the lack of a consistent, proven, on-the-pitch threat. Adams, of course, was capable of such plays – there’s really nothing the Las Vegas Raiders can’t do, road-wise – but the departure of Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s free agent may have was even more substantial. While he might have been a one-trick pony whose specialty was getting the better of opposing defenses, the sheer threat of his downhill speed was valuable even beyond his production.

But it’s worth noting that Valdes-Scantling, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, also had his ups and downs as a threat on the field and dropped several potential touchdowns before leading the NFL in yards per strike ( 20.9) in 2020. This season, MVS is averaging just 13.6 yards per catch with Patrick Mahomes, and his longest reception was 36 yards.

In his four seasons in Green Bay, Valdes-Scantling had four touchdowns covering 70 or more yards.

When asked which receivers could fill that void, Stenavich named each of his best receivers before adding, “I’d like to see Christian get a few of those.” I think that’s a great skill set he has with his speed. In the future, this is something we hope to take advantage of.

In the present, Rodgers knows the offense must find a way to threaten the defenses on the pitch. Although Rodgers said he felt he was accurate on throws from deep “for the most part,” coach Matt LaFleur cautiously pointed out that not all throws were successful.

“The farther you throw the ball down the pitch, the less percentage it’s going to be complete. I’m sure you’d always like to throw the perfect ball every play, and that’s just not going to happen every time. “Said LaFleur. “Certainly I think there are some things we can do from a protection standpoint to maybe give Aaron a little more time (so he can be) balanced. in the pocket, then the gaps creating a separation. I think everyone can improve.

And that includes Rodgers, whose 39 completions thrown from behind the line of scrimmage are the most in the NFL and account for 34.2% of his total completions.

“I think it’s a lot of detail, whether it’s the details of the practice points or the guys remembering those things, or just not hitting the right spots on some of those routes,” Rodgers said. “That’s part of the feeling, of course, for some of these guys. Moreover, on some of them, the timing was not respected. We do five-step moves (by the quarterback) sometimes when it comes to seven-step timing. Or the opposite. We just have to all be on the same page.

The Green Bay Packers scored 20 points in the first half against the New York Giants on Sunday, then stalled in the second half.

“It’s all about timing. As I always say, the most important thing for a receiver is to be open on time, not to execute the perfect number of steps or the initial angle of attack. So, where should I go and at what time? (That) is the most important thing. That’s always what we emphasize a lot in these conversations, and we just have to go from the boardroom to the training ground to the playing field and start hitting some.

Hence the special cinema session at the beginning of the week.

“You have to show some of these clips and be able to coach what’s happening on those clips,” Rodgers said. “I’ve always said there’s an offense on paper and an offense on the pitch. We just have to transfer some of those and the expectation of what’s going to happen there, allowing our instincts to take over when it’s not cookie-cutter like it’s on paper .

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