GREEN BAY, Wis. - Aaron Rodgers knows a little something about acting. And throwing balls.
So did former Atlanta Braves pitching aces Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Maddux won four Cy Young Awards as the best pitcher in the National League. Glavine won two. Back in the day, they were part of Nike’s famous “Chicks Dig the Long Ball” advertising campaign.
Rodgers, on the other hand, has won two NFL MVPs and has thrown himself squarely into contention for a third with a superb season. The Green Bay Packers’ brilliant quarterback and State Farm Insurance pitchman enters Sunday’s game ranked No. 1 in the NFL in passer rating.
One reason for his success is his significant improvement throwing the long ball.
Why has he been so much better this season?
“I'm so glad you asked that,” Rodgers said in the accompanying video. “I've always wanted to say this: Chicks dig the long ball, as we saw and learned from those great commercials back in the day by the Atlanta Braves pitchers.”
The Packers certainly are digging his long ball. According to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers is No. 1 in the NFL with 25 completions and 980 yards on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield.
This season, 27 quarterbacks have thrown at least 20 deep passes, according to PFF. Nobody’s gone deep more often, with Rodgers and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady tied for first with 58 deep attempts. Rodgers is fourth with a 122.5 passer rating and eight touchdowns. His lone deep-ball interception came last week.
What’s striking is Rodgers’ improvement in that phase of the game. According to PFF, Rodgers’ adjusted completion percentage, in which the one drop was counted as a catch, is 44.8 percent. His passer rating, even with that drop, is 122.5. Compare those numbers to his past five seasons and then his prolific 2011 through 2014 seasons.
2020: 44.8 percent, 122.5 passer rating.
2019: 37.6 percent, 111.2 passer rating.
2018: 40.7 percent, 124.0 passer rating.
2017: 43.5 percent, 90.4 passer rating.
2016: 38.1 percent, 82.7 passer rating.
2015: 39.1 percent, 99.7 passer rating.
2014: 51.8 percent, 125.0 passer rating.
2013: 52.8 percent, 112.0 passer rating.
2012: 53.2 percent, 115.3 passer rating.
2011: 60.7 percent, 130.6 passer rating.
As he said during training camp but declined to elaborate upon, Rodgers on Wednesday mentioned something he picked up watching some old film as a reason for his improved deep-passing accuracy.
“It's just something that I've worked on over the years,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “I think when I got in the league, I really had Level 1 balls figured out. I'm talking about lasers. I could throw the ball all over the field, but there wasn't a lot of touch at times, so I really had to learn the Level 1 and the Level 3 trajectories. It's something that I worked really, really hard on. I still work hard on it, trying to match the muscle memory with the feeling, with the result, and I've felt good about a lot of those throws this year. A lot of it has been some of the work I did in the offseason, some of the things I've picked up in training camp watching some of that old film, and then just tying it all together and being markedly more accurate this year.”