Should We Still Relax About Aaron Rodgers' Slow Start in 2016?

Rodgers has long been one of the NFL's best passers. That hasn't been the case in 2015 or 2016.

It's never a good problem to have a struggling quarterback, but for some players, "struggling" means being still pretty good.

That was the case for Aaron Rodgers last season, who had to play without star wide receiver Jordy Nelson for the entire 2015 campaign.

By just about any measure, Rodgers had his worst season to date for the Green Bay Packers, but they weren't exactly cataclysmic based on his advanced metrics.

However, he isn't quite back to his old ways yet in 2016, and in Week 6, his Packers got outclassed by the Dallas Cowboys 30-16.

What's going on with Rodgers and the Green Bay offense? Is it really as bad as it might seem?

The Analytics

At numberFire, we have a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP), which we use to indicate how many points above expectation a player provides for his team.

Think of it this way: a 10-yard completion on 3rd-and-8 to enter the red zone doesn't result in actual points on the scoreboard, but it's a more important 10-yard gain than on 3rd-and-20, and it boosts the team's chances of putting points on the board. Players should be rewarded for that. They won't be with just yards and touchdowns, but NEP helps show who is improving his team's offense and who isn't.

Passing efficiency has trended up in recent years, given rule changes and shifts in philosophies, but among 83 passers with at least 1,000 drop backs since 2000, Rodgers' 986.47 Passing NEP ranked fifth entering the 2016 season.

On a per-play basis, Rodgers added 0.23 points above expectation in his career, second only to Peyton Manning's 0.26.

In terms of Passing Success Rate, the percentage of drop backs that improved his team's chances of scoring, Rodgers ranked ninth entering the season at 50.11%. That suggests he hasn't relied on big gains to buoy his performance. He's just been good. Let's not forget that too quickly.

Struggling Since 2015

Perhaps the most impressive part of those stats is that they still grade out so well despite his pretty bad 2015 season.

Last year, he owned a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.06, the first time he's been under 0.16 since 2008, and the first time he underperformed relative to the league average rate (which was 0.11 last season).

His Passing Success Rate of 42.39% was the first time since 2010 that he was below 50%. It was also the first time he underperformed relative to the average Passing Success Rate since 2008.

His 2016 metrics are already an improvement over his 2015 season, but he still hasn't gotten above league-average level, where he lived comfortably for seven straight seasons prior to 2015.

Season Drop Backs Passing NEP/P NFL Average Difference
2008 570 0.16 0.04 0.11
2009 590 0.21 0.04 0.17
2010 506 0.22 0.05 0.18
2011 537 0.43 0.05 0.38
2012 604 0.22 0.06 0.16
2013 311 0.32 0.05 0.27
2014 548 0.34 0.08 0.27
2015 618 0.06 0.11 -0.05
2016 190 0.13 0.13 0.00

Rodgers has basically been a league-average quarterback this season, something that isn't quite good enough for a player of his caliber on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

But he's far from a league-worst passer as his completion percentage or yards per game (234.0, 25th in the league) might suggest. In fact, his Passing Success Rate isn't too far off the league average mark this year.

SeasonPassing Success RateNFL AverageDifference

When adjusting for schedule strength, the Green Bay passing offense ranked 14th entering Week 6, per our metrics, as they faced off against the Jacksonville Jaguars (8th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play), the Minnesota Vikings (3rd), the Detroit Lions (32nd), the New York Giants (19th), and Dallas Cowboys (26th).

Not all of those are stout pass defenses, but this Packers' passing offense is still roughly league average, and we can't pretend like things are terrible just because we're used to a certain level of play from Rodgers.

The main concern, perhaps, is that Rodgers owns a Passing NEP per drop back of just 0.07 when playing with a lead and a Passing Success Rate of 39.51%. While playing from behind, his marks are 0.15 and 52.50%.

Last year, quarterbacks playing from ahead posted marks of 0.15 and 49.66%, basically Rodgers' splits while trailing this year.

You can take this as sign that Rodgers is no longer Rodgers, or you can assume that his efficiency is going to improve when the team's game scripts improve.

Moving Forward

Continuing the "average" theme, Rodgers' primary pass-catchers are underperforming, which is to be expected when they're tied to a mostly average passer.

Jordy Nelson owns a Reception NEP per target of 0.63, which is shy of the league-average of 0.67 for receivers. Entering the year, Nelson owned a mark of 0.93, tops among all receivers since 2000. Again, you can expect his 2016 rate to improve -- or you can take the five-game sample as a sign of things to come.

Randall Cobb also has a 0.63 Reception NEP per target through Week 6. His career rate entering the year was 0.79, which was bogged down by a 0.53 rate on 129 targets last year.

There are clearly concerns in Rodgers' metrics and the passing offense as a whole. There's no doubt about that.

But this was still a top-five offense in terms of Adjusted NEP per play entering Week 6, mostly thanks to the efficient rushing game behind Eddie Lacy and despite James Starks' NFL-worst efficiency.

I can't say we should relax and not worry about this offense, but maybe it's not full-on panic time just yet.