GREEN BAY, Wis. – One thing’s for sure: Aaron Rodgers’ arm isn’t going to be tired.
Through the too-early prism of three games, the Green Bay Packers have made one obvious adjustment to their post-Davante Adams passing attack. It’s short passes by Aaron Rodgers turning into bigger gains after the catch.
According to the official league stats, Rodgers’ average pass travels 5.38 yards and his average completion travels 3.56 yards. Those are the shortest marks in the league – and by relatively large margins. Arizona’s Kyler Murray is 31st on those lists, with his average pass traveling 6.02 yards and his average completion going 3.83 yards. Contrast that to Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, who is No. 1 with 11.47 yards on attempts and 8.99 yards on completions.
With the changes at receiver and his offensive tackles coming back from knee injuries, coach Matt LaFleur’s early-season passing attack has relied on an abundance of run alerts (a called running play in which Rodgers takes advantage of numbers on the perimeter with a quick pass), run-pass options and screens to get the ball into his playmakers’ hands.
“I think it helps all the guys,” Rodgers said this week. “Dave [Bakhtiari’s] always getting on me about holding the ball too long or dropping too deep in the pocket. I definitely wanted to get the ball out against those guys [the Buccaneers], and a lot of the stuff is get the ball into our guys’ hands and let them go. That’s why the ball was coming out quick. They’re great tackling but we wanted positive plays.”
Added together, Rodgers’ passes are 32nd in distance but his average yards gained per attempt of 7.28 ranks a respectable 12th. That’s because his average completion has been accompanied by 6.50 yards after the catch, third-best.
Last season, for perspective, Rodgers ranked 17th in pass distance (7.71), 26th in pass distance on completions (7.71) and sixth in yards gained per attempt (7.75). He benefited from a fourth-ranked 5.95 YAC.
In total, according to SportRadar, the Packers entered the week ranked No. 1 in yards after the catch (478). That’s 159.3 yards per game. Last season, they averaged a fourth-ranked 141.2 YAC per game.
Talk about different offenses: Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has more completions on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield (a league-high 10) than Rodgers has attempts (a 22nd-ranked nine), according to Pro Football Focus. Rodgers is 3-of-9 on those deep shots.
Whether he’s throwing it short or long, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has immense respect for Rodgers. One important area for Sunday’s game will be the key situations of third down and red zone. Offensively, Green Bay is ninth on third down and 18th in the red zone. Defensively, New England is 27th on third down and 22nd in the red zone.
“It's a good football team. They're a very good situational team,” Belichick told reporters this week. “I don't think anybody is any better than Aaron Rodgers through the years. End of games, 2-minute, 4-minute, 4-minute ahead, 2-minute behind, all those situations. Situations, cadence, he just takes situational football to a much higher level. We always study them. We're dealing with all the things that we studied and watched him and the Packers do going back to when Mike [McCarthy] was there. Of course, now with Coach LaFleur, it just continues to be very impressive. Good players, good kicker, clutch kicker. We're going to have to play well for 60-minutes. You can't play well for 59 1/2 against them. That won't be good enough.”