Aaron Rodgers won his fourth MVP in 2021 but really struggled in one particular phase of the game. That phase will be put to the test in 2022.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers is the four-time MVP, two-time reigning MVP and Hall of Fame-bound quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. Baker Mayfield is the failed first overall pick of the 2018 draft, Trevor Lawrence is the unproven first overall pick of the 2021 draft and Zach Wilson is the unproven second overall pick of the 2021 draft.
What do they have in common other than job description? They all struggled miserably when under pressure last season. According to Pro Football Focus, 32 quarterbacks faced pressure on at least 100 dropbacks in 2021. Rodgers ranked 30th in that group with a 38.4 percent completion percentage, just worse than Mayfield (41.8) and better than only Lawrence (also 38.4 percent) and Wilson (29.3 percent).
That is a troubling stat for the Packers headed into the 2022 NFL season. If Rodgers performed that poorly with Davante Adams as a trusted security blanket, how will he perform when he’s got pressure in his face and no reliable option?
Because of the unsettled state of the receiver corps, you can bet defensive coordinators are going to test Rodgers at every turn. For years, they’ve been reluctant to blitz Rodgers because he’s always had the answers through his arm talent and uncanny accuracy along with his wealth of experience and film study.
As Adams said in comparing Rodgers to his new quarterback, Derek Carr: “They both know everything that’s going on out there. A lot of times, I’ve seen Aaron call out a blitz when the safety is 17 yards off the ball just kind of creeping back there. He said, ‘Hey, he’s coming.’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ And then, sure enough, dude comes flying in on the snap from 17 yards down the field.”
Being able to diagnose the blitz is one thing. Being able to beat it is another. On a key third-and-10, when the defensive coordinator sends a six-man blitz at Green Bay’s five-man protection, will Rodgers’ first or second read be able to win their one-on-one matchup before the free blitzer gets to Rodgers?
In a story on under-pressure quarterbacks at Pro Football Focus, Rodgers was right in the middle of the pack on how he was graded when there was a clean pocket vs. when he faced pressure. He was better than the Rams’ Matthew Stafford and the Buccaneers’ Tom Brady but not as good as Patrick Mahomes or even Carson Wentz.
As noted by the writer, Bryant Horn, Rodgers faced pressure on 150 dropbacks and completed only 30 passes that resulted in first downs. That’s an open invitation for defensive coordinators to take some chances.
A healthy offensive line, obviously, will help Rodgers. The Packers expect former All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari to be ready for Day 1 of training camp after essentially missing last season with a torn ACL. Former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins should be back at some point, too, and the interior trio of Jon Runyan Jr. and 2021 rookies Royce Newman and Josh Myers should be a year better, too.
They’ll need to be at their best to give Rodgers and the receivers time to do their thing. Rodgers’ passer rating when pressured last season was 69.2, far below his clean-pocket mark of 123.7. His 5.1 yards per attempt when pressured ranked 29th; his 8.5 yards per attempt from a clean pocket ranked fourth.
In 2020, with Bakhtiari earning All-Pro honors, Rodgers when pressured completed 45.3 percent, averaged 6.8 yards per attempt and posted an 89.3 passer rating that ranked third in the NFL.