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Don't Blame Aaron Rodgers for Green Bay's Playoff Failures

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Aaron Rodgers is 4-2 on the road in the postseason and in those two losses, Green Bay scored 45 and 31 points respectively.

In those same games, his defense gave up 51 and 45 points and in Green Bay's only other playoff loss under Rodgers, the New York Giants scored 37 points, routing the Pack.

To be sure, this is two straight Divisional Round games where Rodgers hasn't looked sharp. In fact, his state lines from both last Saturday's game and the 2011 loss to the G-Men are eerily similar.

Against the Giants, Rodgers was 26/46 for 264 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Last Saturday, the Green Bay quarterback was 26/39 for 257 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.

But no team can give up 40 and expect to win a playoff game, especially not on the road.

Jason Lisk over at The Big Lead, did an analysis of the value of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning to their respective teams in the playoffs as a way to show that it has been Manning's defense that has primarily been driving Manning's playoff failures.

In that case, Manning's value to his team in the passing game is +6.8 points - we can think of this number similarly to how you think of a value added statistic or even wins over replacement player. Brady, on the other hand, and the passing offense is worth + 4.7 points over his playoff career.

The difference between them is the other phases of their respective teams. The aggregate value of Manning's teams is just .7 whereas Brady's is 4.9. In other words, both are the drivers of their teams' success, but only Brady gets added help from his team. The value of the rest of Manning's teams in the playoffs is -6.1, while Brady's team has a +.2 value outside his passing.

I asked Lisk to compare that to Rodgers in an admittedly smaller sample size. In eight games, Rodgers has an astonishing +10.6 value with his passing offense, whereas the rest of his team is a pathetic -7.9.

In other words, if Rodgers were even just simply as good as Brady or Manning in the playoffs, his team would almost never win. Instead, what we've seen is a super hero act.

Going even deeper, there have been just seven quarterbacks in the last 20 years who won Super Bowls in their first five years as the starter. Of those seven, only Troy Aikman has completed a higher percentage of his throws or had a higher passer rating than Rodgers. Only Kurt Warner averages more yards per game, while only Aikman and Tom Brady threw fewer interceptions per attempt.

Rodgers has accounted for the most touchdowns and despite attempting the second most passes, has the second highest touchdown per attempt ratio of the group to Troy Aikman.

That is a lot of numbers to say that in his first five years as a starter, he's been one of the best playoff quarterbacks in a generation. His game against Atlanta in 2010 is among the greatest playoff performances in NFL history, and his game against Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense is one of the best by a quarterback in Super Bowl history.

He didn't play well against San Francisco and yet his team scored 31 points. You can say one of the touchdowns was a defensive touchdown and another was in garbage time, but it was only garbage time because Green Bay's defense had no idea how to stop Colin Kaepernick. Rodgers had already come back from 21 down in a playoff game before, it wasn't like this was uncharted territory.

You don't have the play the 'what-if?' game to validate Rodgers' career in the playoffs. The numbers and the Lombardi Trophy speak for themselves.

Truly, the bigger problem for Green Bay is a defense that has given up 133 points and 1530 yards in three playoff losses. In playoff losses since Aaron Rodgers became the starter, Green Bay is averaging 32 points per game and 29 points per game in playoff wins. Interesting that Green Bay actually scores more, on average, in losses, but the numbers are more or less equal.

But the defense is allowing 44.3 points per game in losses and 17.2 points per game in wins.

This speaks to the above value analysis and you can start to see just how disparate the performances are between the Packers' passing offense and the rest of the team.

As Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press Gazette points out, it is Ted Thompson - as opposed to the popular scapegoat Dom Capers - who has failed to arm this defense with sufficient talent. There's no true 3-4 defensive end on the team, leaving Ryan Pickett to play out of position next to B.J. Raji.

Nick Perry, who Green Bay drafted with high hopes out of USC, was lost for the season with injury. His athletic abilities - he ran a 4.6 40 at the combine in what SI's Tony Pauline called a 'workout for the ages' - could have made a huge difference in containing Kaepernick last Saturday.

The loss of Desmond Bishop cannot be understated as he was the team's most adept pass-rusher outside of Clay Matthews and provided some force inside.

Green Bay's defense seems to be stuck between identities defensively. The Packers are neither a power team, nor a speedy finesse team, although they have some players who fit one bill or the other. There is no position on defense where you can say the Packers don't need to upgrade with the possible exception of nose tackle, where they are set with Raji who, late in the season, re-asserted himself as one of the best interior linemen in the conference.

It actually seems as though Green Bay might be better suited to play a 4-3 defense - which is the only situation where I could see Dom Capers being fired - with Raji and Pickett inside and Nick Perry sliding back to his more natural defensive end position. Desmond Bishop becomes the true middle linebacker, Clay Matthews plays the Von Miller role as an outside linebacker and you have Brad Jones, who is already the best cover linebacker on the team, to move back outside.

Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have done a tremendous job building an offense and despite spending the offseason trying to rebuild this defense, the efforts from the Packers have come up short.

But be clear, it is the failures of this defense to play well enough to win which have hamstrung the Packers and precluded them from reaching the heights we've seen them reach in the past. Aaron Rodgers has done his part and then some.

More to the point, if history is a guide, Rodgers is just entering the prime of his career. Green Bay can't afford to waste it with more defensive stinkers.

Rodgers has shown in the past, even with just a mediocre defense, he can be good enough to where Green Bay is pretty much unbeatable. You don't win 19 straight games in the NFL by accident. Green Bay did it because they have Aaron Rodgers and a dynamic stable of weapons in the passing game.

If they had much of anything else, we wouldn't have to sit and wonder, "What's wrong with Green Bay?" because the answer to an opposite question would be obvious, "What's going right with Green Bay?"

Aaron Rodgers.

Peter Bukowski lives in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter. Follow him on Twitter @BukoTime

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