The 2019-2020 season is the Packers quarterbacks most important of his career
By Tyler Job
When an NFL quarterback reaches superstar status, chances are he knows that high expectations revolve around him as each new season approaches.
High expectations are not a new concept for Aaron Rodgers, who has essentially been carrying the Green Bay Packers on his back for the better part of a decade. For the most part, Rodgers has lived up and even surpassed his own expectations. He’s a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion and MVP, seven-time Pro Bowl selection, the all-time leader in career passer rating [103.1] and owns the best touchdown-to-interception ratio than any other quarterback in NFL history [4.23:1]. Those are just a few standouts on his already impressive resume.
But things have not gone the right way for the Chico, Calif. native the past couple of seasons. Some of it deals with bad luck. Some of it deals with drama. And some it deals with uncharacteristic styles of play Packers fans were not accustomed to seeing.
Rodgers was looking primed and ready for a third MVP run at the start of the 2017 season, helping the Packers take off to a 4-1 record.
Then, disaster struck a week later. Rodgers fractured his right collarbone against the Minnesota Vikings after linebacker Anthony Barr took Rodgers down with all of his weight on him, forcing Rodgers on instinct to brace himself. The impact left the entire Packers community almost hopeless, thinking their superstar’s injury cost the team a shot at a playoff run.
Hope suddenly resurged when the Packers medical staff cleared Rodgers to play before the Packers’ Week 15 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Green Bay had to win the remaining three games and get some help to make the postseason once again.
Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was rust. Maybe it was a combination of both. But Rodgers put on a mediocre performance that game, including three interceptions, and the Packers went on to lose, 31-24.
September 2018 hit; and many were expecting Green Bay to rebound after missing the playoffs after nine consecutive appearances. Instead, it got worse.
Rodgers was never 100 percent the entire season because of a left knee injury suffered in the opener against the Chicago Bears. He threw only two interceptions, but threw only 25 touchdown passes, well below his career average of 31. He was sacked 49 times and compiled a 97.6 passer rating, the fourth-lowest of his career as a starter. Also, drama kept rising between him and Mike McCarthy that it ultimately led to the latter’s dismissal as head coach.
During games, some could sense something was not right with number 12. Sure, the injury had something to do with it. But Rodgers seemed off at certain points, whether that was holding on to the ball for too long, throwing to receivers he only trusts in tight coverage instead of wide-open ones, or flat-out missing throws he normally makes.
All of this led to a forgettable Packers season, which ended the year 6-9-1. Green Bay has only one NFC North title in the last four seasons and has not made the playoffs since 2016.
With the 2019 season quickly approaching, it’s time for Rodgers to hit the reset button and deliver performances people have been used to seeing for more than a decade. Below are three main reasons why this upcoming season is Rodgers’ most critical ever.
1) A new head coach means a new focus.
Many expected Mike McCarthy would be fired after the season concluded. Instead, Mark Murphy relieved him of his duties in December and hired Matt LaFleur a month later. The 39-year-old brings a younger feel to the locker room, and if anyone needed a shakeup of energy, it is Rodgers. He was under McCarthy’s guidance his entire career, but his message eventually dried out to a point that Rodgers needed refreshment.
LaFleur now brings in a new staff of coaches, a new offensive scheme, a new sense of energy, and a new sense of focus for the veteran quarterback. Rodgers has raved about LaFleur’s style repeatedly throughout the offseason and it seems as if both are getting on the same page.
If that is the case, it is now on Rodgers to carry that focus and produce positive results on the field. Rodgers wanted a new head coach, and he got his wish. With a new head coach, a different scheme, and an overall fresh start, expect Rodgers to have more motivation than he has had for a while. He is very competitive, but it’s up to him to execute.
2) Staying healthy is a must.
Rodgers for most of his career has remained relatively healthy, but he’s been bitten by the injury bug the last couple seasons. If the Packers are to be successful, it is imperative Rodgers stays healthy throughout the entire season. When Rodgers goes down, the entire team crumbles. The Packers fan base has witnessed that several times.
Rodgers has already suffered broken clavicles on both sides, a tibial plateau fracture and sprained MCL in his left knee, and a left calf strain throughout his 14-year career. If he suffers another major injury again, he is almost guaranteed to remain injury-prone until he retires.
Let’s also not forget that when Rodgers is at 100 percent, he plays like the best quarterback the NFL has ever seen. And when he plays at his best, so do the Packers. Before Rodgers suffered his first collarbone injury in 2013, the Packers were 58-26 when he started. Green Bay then went 36-18 from 2014 to the moment he suffered his second collarbone fracture in October 2017.
3) The window is closing.
Rodgers is no youngster anymore. He’s 35 and will turn 36 on Dec. 2. We do not know how many quality years he has left, so Rodgers must capitalize on the limited number of years he has left. 2019 would be an ideal time for him to get off to a head start and revitalize himself as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.
The Packers roster is looking stacked from top-to-bottom, and Rodgers has a lot of depth to work with on offense with a group of young, yet promising receivers and running backs. A select few, including Aaron Jones, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow, have already shown how much potential they have. Rodgers now has some experience with his young receiving corps, and his chemistry with the rest of the receivers is only going to continue to build.
All eyes are going to be on Rodgers to see if he rebounds after a rather average year for his standards. I’m not saying that his legacy is on the line because he has already solidified himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. But his reputation will be heavily observed as the season goes on.
The Packers have been spoiled by Rodgers’ greatness for almost a decade and a half, but the results have been frustrating for the Packers community over the last few years. This upcoming season will be a moment of truth for the veteran quarterback, and how the season plays out depends a lot on Rodgers.
If he steps up his game, well, the Packers just might return back to being title contenders once again.