Aaron Rodgers Just Keeps Thriving Despite the Packers' Injuries
Things started poorly for the Green Bay Packers Thursday night in the injury department. Then it got worse. And worse. And the floodgates just started spilling.
But through it all, Aaron Rodgers kept on cooking. He didn't bathe in yardage, but he turned his 26 attempts into 4 touchdowns and no interceptions on a night where the offense around him looked nothing like it did on preseason depth charts. It's something he has been dealing with all year, leading the team to a 3-1 start despite a laundry list of injuries.
We've all seen how great Rodgers has been this year, watching him slice defenses seemingly at will. But can we quantify just how good he has been in the circumstances? We absolutely can with the help of numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), a metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players. NEP gives us the context to know that a three-yard completion on 3rd and 2 is infinitely more valuable than that same three-yard completion on 3rd and 4.
So just how good has Rodgers been this year? Let's see what the numbers have to say.
A Crumbling Foundation
The injuries didn't start last night for Green Bay, though they certainly took a spiral in the wrong direction. The team's bell-cow back, Ty Montgomery, left with broken ribs, his backup, Jamaal Williams, injured his knee shortly after that and did not return, and receiver Davante Adams was injured in a scary collision and taken to the hospital for evaluation. Those are just the injuries that happened during the game.
That means we're not even talking about David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, the team's two starting tackles, both of whom were inactive. Bakhtiari hasn't played since Week 1 due to a hamstring injury, and Bulaga has been held to 47 snaps due to various ailments.
You would assume that would leave them with the backups at each position. But those guys aren't healthy, either. Tackles Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs and swingman Don Barclay are all on injured reserve, meaning the Packers are essentially rocking with their sixth- and seventh-best options at tackle right now. This is where the injuries have been most apparent.
Through four games, Rodgers has already lost 27.00 expected points due to sacks. They entered Week 3 ranking 31st in this category, ahead of only the Houston Texans, who are starting a rookie quarterback while their left tackle Duane Brown continues a contract holdout. That's not great company for the Packers.
For context on those 27.00 expected points out the window due to sacks, the Packers lost just 58.48 points in that category last year, ranking 13th on a per-drop back basis. The New England Patriots lost 32.05 for the entire season, and the 2017 Packers are already almost there through just four games. And yet they've still managed to squeeze out three victories.
numberFire's Passing NEP metric includes deductions for sacks, meaning Rodgers should look pretty poor in the catch-all statistic with all the injuries up front. That hasn't happened, though, as he's still easily outperforming the league average there. Success Rate is the percentage of drop backs that lead to an increase in expected points for the drive.
|In 2017||Passing NEP per Drop Back||Success Rate|
The Success Rate is a bit lower, but sacks will come into play there, too, and Rodgers has already been sacked 15 times. It's superbly impressive the numbers he's displaying.
And it's not just the offensive-line injuries, either. Before Adams went down in Week 4, Rodgers had to play almost all of the team's Week 2 matchup without Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb missed part of that game and the full contest in Week 3. Yet Rodgers has still managed to have success when he has gotten the pass off.
If we take sacks out of the equation for a second, Rodgers has racked up 56.50 Passing NEP on 159 attempts. That's 0.36 Passing NEP per attempt. That would have been tied for the fourth-best mark in the league last year when removing sacks for all passers, trailing just Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, and Dak Prescott. It's clear that being without those key assets hasn't hurt Rodgers on his throws, either.
Even with some pretty daunting circumstances, Rodgers has managed to post above-average efficiency marks and sling it when he remains upright. Now, they get 10 days to rest up before back-to-back tough road contests with the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings.
Rodgers has shown that he can thrive despite tough circumstances this year. That could mean great things for when the team gets guys like Bakhtiari and Bulaga back, which could happen as early as Week 5. That would seem to be a scary proposition for their NFC North opponents.
This is also a great example of why context is so important with quarterbacks. Rodgers' surface-level stats for this year won't blow you away, but the more you dig, the more impressive he becomes. It's hard for a quarterback to thrive when the pieces around him are falling by the wayside, so it's crucial to factor in team health when judging a quarterback's performance.
So far, Rodgers is passing with flying colors and keeping his team afloat. The road ahead is tough, but if the Packers can start to get some of their banged-up assets back, this team could do some scary things going forward, and Rodgers will be fully deserving of any praise he receives.