Since Aaron Rodgers succeeded Brett Favre as Green Bay’s starting quarterback in 2008, offense has never really been an issue for the Packers. In their six seasons with Rodgers under center, the Packers have been a top-10 offense five times, and they’ve never been below league-average.
Until now, that is.
On Sunday, Detroit held the Packers to seven points or fewer for the first time in a game that Rodgers played from start to finish. After being stuffed by the Lions 19-7, the Packers now rank 28th in the NFL in total offense with an average of just 289.3 yards per game.
How have they been so ineffective with one of the league’s most consistently excellent quarterbacks controlling the ball?
Well, in short, Rodgers hasn’t been himself this season.
This season, Rodgers has posted his lowest QB rating (95.1) since 2008, and the worst completion percentage (62.7) of his career as a starter, including a 43.8 percent clip in the red zone. He’s failed to top the 200-yard mark twice in three games after doing so just twice in 39 complete regular-season games between 2011-13.
The Lions sat back with two safeties for most of the afternoon, cutting off the Packers’ deep routes and forcing Green Bay to win with its running game and short routes.
This is far from the first time opponents have taken this strategy against Rodgers and the Packers. The problem is that in the past, Green Bay has had deep threats such as James Jones (who led the NFL in receiving touchdowns two years ago) and Randall Cobb (who felt embarrassed after dropping two passes on Sunday) who toasted the defense for big gains, anyway.
An offense that’s lost Greg Jennings, Jones and Jermichael Finley over the past couple years yet still managed to keep chugging along might have finally reached a breaking point. Jordy Nelson, who’s still second in the league with 351 receiving yards, can only do so much.
The running game isn’t doing anything to help the cause, with Eddie Lacy enduring a heck of a sophomore slump behind an offensive line that’s both injury-ridden and underperforming. Even though Green Bay’s defense caused three turnovers against the Lions to claim a +2 turnover margin, the Packers couldn’t establish any sort of consistency on the ground and ended up losing the ball possession game for the third straight contest.
Detroit didn’t even need to send extra men to pressure Rodgers, as the Lions sent just four linemen on 25 of his 29 dropbacks. When the remaining seven defenders dropped back in coverage, Rodgers completed 58.3 percent of his passes for just 5.8 yards per attempt.
And Detroit’s health-challenged secondary -- which played its fourth, fifth and sixth nickel cornerbacks of the season against Green Bay -- certainly gave Rodgers his chances. The former MVP underthrew a 4th-and-5 attempt to wide-open Jordy Nelson that would’ve been a game-tying touchdown. He also missed Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin on failed third-down attempts that ended Green Bay’s first two drives of the second half.
Those were part of a disturbing trend. One week after hurling six underthrown incompletions, the most of his career according to ESPN Stats and Information, Rodgers threw five more against Detroit.
Even with those accuracy issues, Rodgers has been better than the average quarterback this season. But as demonstrated last season, when the Packers scraped over .500 and only made the playoffs after Rodgers heroically returned from a broken collarbone in Week 17 to chuck a division-winning Hail Mary, Green Bay can’t flourish with a quarterback that’s just slightly above-average.
The Packers have rebounded from 1-2 starts the past two seasons to win the NFC North, so another turnaround certainly isn’t out of the question. But if they’re going to have a prayer at pulling off that feat again in 2014, the real Aaron Rodgers has to stand up.