The Packers Without Rodgers: How Much Do They Need Him?

What happens when you have to replace a top NFL quarterback?

They say one man doesn't make a team.

I tend agree with that, but I believe that statement needs at least one qualifier: One man doesn't make a team, but he sure can cover up a lot of mistakes. And the best example of this today has to be the 2013 Green Bay Packers with and without Aaron Rodgers.

In what has been an up and down year for the Packers, it only got worse when they lost their key star to a fractured collarbone. How bad? Well, let's take a look at the replacement quarterbacks to get a snapshot of how the running game and defense has handled the extra pressure to preform.

Replacing Rodgers

Before his injury, Rodgers had an 81.40 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) total. While you could check out the numberFire glossary for a nice detailed definition of NEP, you can also think of that number as a replacement value. Rodgers contributed 81 points more than an average quarterback would have in his nine starts, ranking fourth in the league at the time of his injury.

While Ted Thompson has preached a "Next Man Up" philosophy since 2005, this hasn't been the case at the quarterback position this year. Here's a look at how Rodgers and his replacements have fared on a week to week basis this season.

QuarterbackWeekPass NEP
Aaron Rodgers113.79
Aaron Rodgers225.11
Aaron Rodgers3-6.29
Aaron Rodgers57.56
Aaron Rodgers63.30
Aaron Rodgers716.17
Aaron Rodgers821.83
Seneca Wallace9-11.69
Seneca Wallace100.78
Scott Tolzien10-3.83
Scott Tolzien11-2.14
Scott Tolzien12-3.44
Matt Flynn123.13
Matt Flynn13-10.42
Matt Flynn14-7.77

Rodgers was on his way to another great season season, contributing positive points in every game except one (vs. Cincinnati). Then an injury forced an unprepared Seneca Wallace into action in Week 9 against the Bears, a game where he effectively lost 11 points for the Packers.

Then came Scott Tolzien in the middle of Week 10, all of 11 and part of 12. During that time, he made a net contribution for the Pack of -9.41 points. He was then replaced by Matt Flynn, and, well, we know that story.

The only positive contributions from the replacements came when Wallace barely played a series against the Eagles and when Flynn finally took the reigns from Tolzien in the Vikings game. He struggled to get anything going against the Lions defense the next week though, and continued to struggle against numberFire's worst pass defense, Atlanta. The Packers still picked up a win against the Falcons, but it certainly had nothing to do with what Flynn did on the field.

This begs the question: If the quarterback position has floundered with three different guys, how has it affected the rest of the team?

Running Into a Brick Wall

Packers Rush NEP with Rodgers

WeekOpponentAdj. RNEP

In Week 5, the dynamic of the Packers offense started to change; the Eddie Lacy show had started. While initial success was minimal, the Packers found balance on their team and started moving away from a pass-heavy offense. We see that in the shift of their pass-to-run ratios. The Packers went from P/R ratios of 2.05, 1.92, and 1.57 in the first three weeks to nearly a 1-to-1 ratio after the bye.

Despite limited action in the first game (14 carries) and essentially missing two games, the Packers started pounding the rock with their rookie. While Lacy became the workhorse, the Packers were able to counter with James Starks as a nice change-of-pace back. There was balance to the team and fans were ecstatic, hopeful, and ready for a run at the Super Bowl. After the bye, the team started to perform above expectation, in terms of NEP, on a consistent basis. But that all changed when Rodgers took a massive hit from Shea McClellin that put him out indefinitely.

Packers Rush NEP without Rodgers

WeekOpponentAdj. RNEP

Based on the performances from Weeks 5 to 8, the thought was that the Packers could stay afloat for a few games with their one-two punch at running back. Despite two games that were weighted slightly more towards the run with Rodgers, the Packers had to abandon that idea after the Bears game, Week 9 in the chart above. Lacy and Starks were given plenty of carries to help ease Seneca Wallace into play and the Rush NEP metric, which is adjusted for strength of schedule, shows their success. But pressure on an inexperienced quarterback plus a poor defensive showing negated the great effort by the rushing duo. When Wallace was called upon to throw the ball, he failed miserably.

The running game didn't fare much better with Tolzien or Flynn either. The Vikings game allowed it to gain traction, but it didn't seem to matter in the Lions tilt.

Against the Eagles, Giants, and Lions, the team would abandon the running game when their opponent built a lead. Game flow was a huge issue. The balanced attack that was there before Rodgers got hurt disappeared. The pass-heavy offense re-appeared.

Another reason Lacy and company had a hard time running the ball against the same teams was due to various defensive looks. The Packers kept seeing multiple types of stacked boxes. NFL journalist Andrew Garda details some of these looks in his Week 12 Recap.

With ...Tolzien under center, the Packers could expect a lot of stacked boxes, but they ran the ball with Lacy 14 times ... The Giants were not shy about stacking the box ... Lacy saw a six man front just once, and a seven man five times. He saw an eight man front three times, a nine man front four times and even a ten man front. The reason he kept seeing the high-number fronts was because the Packers have a tendency to put a receiver out wide, but then pull him inside at the snap. Of course, a defensive back comes with him—so now instead of a seven man front you get eight defenders or instead of eight you get nine. The Packers never accounted for this and kept running Lacy into the teeth of the defense where there was no room.

The Packers were facing tough defenses, but were hurting themselves as well via their scheme. Opponents were respecting the Packers' running game, forcing an inexperienced at quarterback to beat them. It's fairly obvious that the defenses that can stop the run well are going to create havoc for the Packers sans Rodgers. The silver lining: their remaining opponents are 27th (Cowboys), 24th (Steelers), and 32nd (Bears) against the run. While it wouldn't be easy without Rodgers, this would give the Packers a fighting chance for the division title and a playoff berth.

From Cheddar to Swiss Cheese

One more element for the Packers has to improve for a playoff push without Rodgers: the defense. Let's see where they ranked with Rodgers and where they are now.

Packers Defense Before & After Rodgers

WeekAdj Def NEPRankAdj D PNEPRankAdj D RNEPRnk

The Packers pass defense has been horrible all year, but Rodgers could make up for most of the mistakes in the win column. Defending the running game has been the Achilles's heel, however, over the last few weeks without the star quarterback.

To put these numbers and rankings in perspective, the run defense - after being adjusted for strength of schedule - had given up nearly 8.5 points less than an average team would have in their first eight games. But now, at this point in the season, the Packers have given up almost 12 points more than an average defense, a swing of 20 points in essentially six games.

There have been injuries, sure, but since the Packers offense was struggling in many games without Rodgers, the defense was on the field more than usual. Unlike 2010, the Packers have not been able to handle their injuries well. If this team had been healthy, we are looking at a legitimate Super Bowl contender; ravaged with injuries, the Packers just become "another team" fighting for their playoff hopes.

Can the Packers Make the Playoffs?

The Packers' playoffs hopes are tied to three things:

Rodgers Returning

The feeling before the Falcons game seemed to be he could return against the Cowboys this week. Now, many are afraid the recovery is coming along too slowly and he may not return the rest of the season. There are concerns for his shoulder, but recent participation in practices have indicated he might be close to playing; only time will tell.

Winning the Division

It's really the best and only shot for the Packers with three weeks left in the season. There are a few different scenarios that could take place to help them in the wild card race, but given the 11.1% chance the numberFire metrics give the Packers, the division title is the easiest route to the playoffs.

Hoping the Lions Lose

To win the division title, they must win out and hope the Lions stumble at least one more time. If the Lions lose once more, the NFC North is there for the taking.