Aaron Rodgers is not to blame for the Packers’ predicament

With the New York Jets positioned for an AFC East title and Green Bay’s playoff hopes on life support, some are seriously questioning the wisdom of the Packers’ decision to trade Brett Favre instead of giving him his starting job back. The thinking is that since the Packers made the NFC Championship Game last season and Favre is the most significant subtraction from that team, then his absence is the reason the team is struggling. While this is logical line of reasoning, it doesn’t paint an accurate picture of what is going on in Green Bay.

Back in July, I urged the Packers to bring back Brett Favre. At the time, they had two choices: (1) go with the known quantity or (2) roll the dice on the young guy. Given that the Packers were an overtime interception away from making the Super Bowl, at the time it made sense that the team should go with the proven commodity.

But things have changed. Aaron Rodgers owns the league’s 8th-best QB rating (91.2), and is 9th in yards (241.4) and 6th in touchdowns (20), meeting or beating Favre in all three categories. Some football purists might say that he doesn’t have the swagger or the moxy of his counterpart, and at this point in his career, he doesn’t. But much of that confidence and leadership comes with experience, so it’s not fair to hold it against him.

The bottom line is that Rodgers is not to blame for the Packers 5-7 record. Last week against Carolina, he threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns, but the Packers were done in by poor defense (4.8 ypc allowed) and poor execution in the running game on their second-to-last drive, when they couldn’t convert on two carries at the Panthers’ goal line. They had to settle for a field goal, and on Carolina’s next possession, Jake Delhomme’s 54-yard bomb to Steve Smith set up DeAngelo Williams’ go-ahead touchdown.

Are there areas in which Rodgers can improve? Absolutely. On the Packers’ final drive, he had 1:19 to play and two timeouts. Instead of just moving the chains, Rodgers tried to force a long pass to Donald Driver. It was picked off and the game was lost. In that situation, Rodgers needs to take a page from Favre’s book and just keep moving the chains. It’s fairly easy to do that when you’re down four because the defense is guarding against the big play. Get yourself on the Panthers’ side of the field and put yourself in a position where you can take three or four shots into the endzone. But, as we learned in the NFC Championship Game, even 38 year-old veterans are not immune to ill-advised passes in crunch time.

In these situations, Rodgers will improve with experience. After all, he is only 25 and is in his first season as a starter in the NFL. Still, despite the pick against Carolina, he has shown comeback ability this year. In Week 10 at Minnesota with the Packers trailing by one and 2:15 remaining, he threw a beautiful 19-yard pass to Driver to put Green Bay in position for a game-winning field goal. Even though the Packers were still at the edge of Mason Crosby’s field goal range, they got conservative and called two Ryan Grant runs, which totaled three yards and eventually led to Crosby’s 52-yard missed field goal. Is that loss somehow Rodgers’ fault? Of course not.

Just take a look at the defense. The Packers are 17th in total yards allowed. Last year, they were 11th. They are 27th against the run. Last year, they were 14th. They are 22nd in points allowed. Last year, they were 6th. The only area in which the defense has improved is against the pass (11th in 2007 to 5th this year), and that’s because they are so bad against the run. Oakland and Indianapolis are also in the Top 8 against the pass but are 29th and 25th respectively against the run. There are teams that are good against the pass and then there are teams that seem like they are good against the pass because they are so bad against the run.

So if Favre were still in Green Bay, the team would probably be 5-7, or 6-6, or maybe even 4-8. QB play has very little to do with the defense, other than to put the unit in a tough position by throwing bad interceptions (and Favre has thrown more picks than Rodgers). We could also point a finger at the special teams, which allowed Mark Jones back-to-back 51-yard and 45-yard kick returns that set up two fourth-quarter touchdowns for the Panthers. Throw in Crosby’s missed field goal against the Vikings and there’s clearly plenty of non-QB blame to go around.

Finally, you have to think about the future. If the Packers had brought back Favre, Rodgers wouldn’t have re-signed. He would have looked for an opportunity elsewhere, especially when Favre inevitably started his whole retirement dance the following summer. So, removing the names for a second, which QB would you rather have?

QB1 – 39 years-old, 90.4 QB rating, 20 TD, 14 INT

QB2 – 25 years-old, 91.2 QB rating, 20 TD, 10 INT + a second-round pick

Assuming the Jets make the playoffs, that’s how this trade is going to work out.

Despite the team’s current predicament, the Packers made the right decision.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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