Aaron Rodgers the Game Manager

Aaron Rodgers

Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks? Much has been made of new Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and his relationship with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers this off-season. After hearing of his estranged partnership with previous coach Mike McCarthy, questions have arisen about Rodgers’ recent leadership style and ability to be coached. Although many of these accusations have seemingly been blown out of proportion, one thought remains: that Rodgers trusts himself more than the offensive scheme he has been running. Who’s to judge the two-time MVP, future Hall of Fame quarterback for checking out of a first down run to throw a 40-yard bomb? These are the plays that have been a staple of Rodgers’ career. But there is still room for growth as he enters his age 35 season. Rodgers should adapt his style of play to better manage the game under the guidance of his new head coach.

Aaron Rodgers the Game Manager

Head to Head With Head Coach

The thought that Rodgers is “uncoachable” should be put to bed. He had been playing in a stale offense that showed little to no adaptation over the past several years. McCarthy’s lack of ability to embrace the new motion and route combinations of today’s NFL led to his undoing. Rodgers’ willingness, or lack thereof, to adhere to play-calling was a coping mechanism for playing in an outdated scheme. But now there’s a new head honcho in Titletown. The 39-year-old LaFleur brings insight from Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay who run two of the league’s most explosive offensive systems. His one year as a play-caller with the Tennessee Titans had mixed results, but there is optimism that LaFleur could be the one to bring the Packers’ offense out of the stone age.

There have already been reports that Rodgers wants to call more of his own plays at the line of scrimmage. LaFleur’s offense should cater to Rodgers’ strengths, though. LaFleur’s concepts utilize a power run scheme and quick passing game to open up play action. Rodgers should be able to either get the ball out of his hands fast or hold it and look for the deep shot down the field. Those long passes Rodgers is always looking for are part of the problem with the Packers’ offensive inefficiencies the past few years though.

Rodgers Should Adapt

It may be an unpopular opinion, but Rodgers should play within the offense more in 2019. Over the past three seasons, the Packers finished in the bottom six in rushing attempts per game with a last-place finish in 2018. They haven’t had a ton of talent in the backfield in years past, but now Aaron Jones looks to be the real deal. Many clamored for McCarthy to start feeding Jones after he returned from a two-game suspension last year. Jones has averaged a robust 5.5 yards per carry in his first two years but has never recorded 20 carries in a single game. That should change with LaFleur’s run-heavy scheme.

LaFleur is going to call many more run plays. The Titans were ninth in the NFL in rush attempts per game last year. Obviously, the passing game in Green Bay is a huge step up, but it shouldn’t cause LaFleur to deviate from repeatedly calling runs on early downs. It is Rodgers’ job to keep the offense in rhythm. That means keeping the first and second down run calls to set up third and short. He needs to play within the offense and take what the defense gives him. Too many times last season, Rodgers would look for the 40-yard pass on first down before an ineffective run on second down pushed the team into third and long situations. You could probably count on one hand the number of times the Packers executed back to back run plays last season. As Rodgers climbs up in age, he should embrace the run game like several of his other elder statesmen in the league.

How the Offense Could Look

If Rodgers reins in the audibles and things go according to plan, the Packers could have one of the most balanced offensive attacks in 2019. With a familiar zone-blocking scheme, the Packers should commit to running the ball early in the season while Rodgers and his young receivers pick up the new offense. Several quick screens and jet sweeps could invigorate the run and short passing game. The play action rollout should be a staple of this offense. Even with the propensity for big plays, Rodgers must be more patient and take what the defense offers.

One thing that irritated Packers fans last season was the lack of completed check down passes. Jones continually released into the flat without a defender in the area and rarely received the ball. Rodgers would dance around in the pocket looking for his receiver downfield and almost refused to check down to Jones for an easy seven to 10 yards. Not only will the running backs be more impactful in the receiving game, but LaFleur loves to utilize his tight ends. Jimmy Graham had a measly two touchdown receptions last year. He appeared to lose his previously superior ability to win jump balls in the endzone. He was still very effective on shallow crosses where he was able to get the ball in space and turn upfield, though. There should be plenty of opportunities on short passes for Graham to prove that he still has some gas left in the tank at age 32.

The Packers should be running a lot of base 21 or 12 personnel groupings on offense with two primary receivers and either an extra back or tight end. Adding an emphasis on the run and play-action game should give Rodgers more chances for schemed deep shots to his outside receivers. Rodgers should focus on nickel and diming his way down the field in 2019. Rather than look for the touchdown on first and ten from the 35, Rodgers should work to strategically plan when to go for the long bomb. LaFleur’s offense has simplistic concepts that create different outcomes from similar formations. Rodgers must learn to play to the offense’s strengths. After hitting the short pass again and again, the play changes to a deep shot down the field. If Rodgers and LaFleur are able to get on the same page and make the offense work early in the season, there is serious reason to believe Rodgers could put together his third MVP season and the Packers could return to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

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