Aaron Rodgers’ 2022 season presents an unclear picture of his future potential

Now that the New York Jets have finalized the trade with the Green Bay Packers that gives them Aaron Rodgers, Gang Green has — in theory, at least — the greatest quarterback in franchise history. Although, with apologies to everyone from Joe Namath to Richard Todd to Mark Sanchez… well, it’s a pretty low bar. The Jets are not a team noted for great quarterback play, and the thought here is that the current team is set up everywhere else for a deep playoff run, and Rodgers just puts them over the top.

Hypothetically, that is absolutely the case. Rodgers at his peak was the best pure thrower of the football I’ve ever seen, and his peak lasted quite a while. He was doing stuff in the early parts of the 2010s that bordered on optical illusion, and given what the Jets are spending on this deal, they clearly believe he’s still got more than enough in the tank at age 39 (he’ll turn 40 on December 2), to do what Tom Brady did in the 2020 season and Matthew Stafford did the next year — become the final addition on a team ready for the Lombardi Trophy.

That’s great in theory. What we are dealing with in Rodgers’ 2022 season are numbers that are well below what he have come to expect. Rodgers completed 350 of 542 passes for 3,695 yards, 26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a passer rating of 91.1. That’s his fifth-lowest completion rate (64.6%) over his career as a starter since 2008. It’s his third-lowest touchdown rate (4.8%), his fourth-highest interception rate (2.2%), his lowest Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (5.95), and his lowest passer rating.

Of course, we’re talking about a “bad” season from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, so the Jets would take that every day, and several times every Sunday. But when we look at Rodgers’ future, even with a good team, it’s worth diving into the tape to see exactly where he is at this point in his career, and what he still has to offer.

Thumbthing was wrong in 2022...

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

In late November, Rodgers made it clear that he had been dealing with a broken thumb on his throwing hand that he estimated happened on his final play of the Packers’ 27-22 Week 5 loss to the New York Giants.

That was a sack in which Rodgers was trying to make something happen, rolled all around the pocket, and found himself poleaxed by two Big Blue defenders.

So, it’s worth going through the splits to see how Rodgers’ overall performance was impacted by this injury. In Weeks 1-5, he completed 114 of 168 passes (67.9%) for 1,157 yards (6.9 yards per attempt), eight touchdowns, three interceptions, and a passer rating of 95.8. In Weeks 6-18, Rodgers completed 236 of 374 passes (63.1%) for 2,358 yards (6.8 YPA), 18 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a passer rating of 89.0.

Not a massive difference, and we’d have a better idea of the true impact if the sample size was closer pre- and post-injury, so it’s time to look at the tape to see how much this was actually an issue.

Rodgers missed throws he normally doesn't.

(Syndication: The Post-Crescent)

Rodgers’ per-game completion percentage started dropping after the injury, and it bottomed out in Week 9 against the Detroit Lions, as did everything else. In that 15-9 loss, Rodgers completed 23 of 43 passes for 291 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, and a passer rating of 53.5 — the fourth-lowest of his career in any game in which he threw at least 10 passes.

Before this game, Rodgers had thrown just eight interceptions inside the opposing 10-yard line. In his entire career. Against the Lions, he threw two — in the first half.

Let’s start with the first, which came with 4:25 left in the first quarter. This was the one where Rodgers’ throw bounced off the helmet of Lions linebacker Derick Barnes. And while that certainly impacted the play, this was more than just bad luck on Rodgers’ part. He was trying to hit receiver Allen Lazard on a crosser from the left slot, and the end zone copy tells you that had the ball gone where Rodgers wanted it to go, it was probably going to be behind Lazard in the timing of the route. Rodgers had a clear lane to his left, and Lazard coming open against cornerback Will Harris, but it’s that extra millisecond that causes trouble even without the doink.

Onto the third pick, which came with 9:23 left in the third quarter from the Detroit 22-yard line. So, we’re out of the red zone issues, but this was bad. The Packers were in empty against the Lions’ Cover-4 with Barnes dropping into coverage, and Rodgers inexplicably tried to hit tight end Robert Tonyan from the inside slot, though Barnes carried Tonyan to safety Kerby Joseph, and that’s where the coverage was clumped.

If Rodgers had wished to avail himself of intermediate one-on-ones to either side, he had them — Jeff Okudah on Watkins to his left, and Harris on Lazard to his right. Again, it seemed that Rodgers was in “first-read-or-bust” mode, and that’s what we expect from rookie quarterbacks who are on the verge of getting benched.

“Frustration and [misery] are two different emotions,” Rodgers said after the game, regarding how things are going, and if he regretted his decision to return to football for the 2022 season. “So, when I decided to come back, it was all-in, and I don’t make decisions and then hindsight, 20/20 have regrets about big decisions like that.

“So I was all-in, and this is a lot of life lessons for sure this year, but luckily it’s not over. There’s still a lot of games left. We’ll be counted out, probably, by many, and we’ll see how we respond.”

Things got weirder as the season went along.

(Syndication: Journal Sentinel)

The Lions game may have been the nadir of Rodgers’ 2022 season. Or, it might have been parts of the Packers’ 27-17 Week 11 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Rodgers’ stats weren’t nearly as bad — 24 of 39 for 227 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 94.7 — but it was this game that had people wondering what the heck was going on.

“I couldn’t tell you, point to one thing,” Rodgers said after the game. “I’m not going to make excuses about my thumb, it’s been the same since New York. I don’t know. I gotta go back and look at it. It felt like fundamentally I was in a good spot. I just didn’t have the same type of consistent grip and ball coming out the same way. I threw a lot of kinda wobblers tonight. There was some wind. I just missed a few throws I shoulda had.”

He did, indeed. Howlers like this incompletion to Allen Lazard with 10:43 left in the third quarter are not what we expect from Rodgers, even under pressure.

How did Rodgers look when he was healthy?

(Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch)

Well, there were times when Rodgers would make those “Yeah, I’m HIM” throws, and you knew he still had it. This 35-yard completion to Randall Cobb against the Giants, in which he peppered the ball perfectly through multiple defenders in a window that was a needle’s eye? Yeah… that’s what we’ve come to expect from this guy.

Okay, so what does this mean for the Jets?

(Syndication: The Post-Crescent)

Let’s split the difference and assume that 40-year-old-and-older Aaron Rodgers won’t ever be what he was when he was bending the Matrix with ridiculous stuff a decade ago, but that he’ll provide better than average plat at worst, Top 10 quarterback play most of the time, and the occasional “OMG” shot that reminds us all just how amazing he has been.

To do so, we must understand that while the Jets’ receiver group is an improvement over what Rodgers had (and famously complained about) with the Packers, he might have a new offensive line ready to give the same level of agita in a different fashion. Now, the switch from Zach Wilson to Aaron Rodgers will improve any offensive line exponentially, so let’s assume that as well.

Here’s the thing — we are making a lot of assumptions here. We are assuming that Rodgers will stay healthy throughout this upcoming season and beyond. We are assuming that his mechanics will not break down as they did in the second half of last season. We are assuming that he will find an instantaneous connection with his new receivers. Even for a quarterback of Rodgers’ historical caliber, it’s a lot to ask in practice, though it’s all well and good in theory.

The Jets were probably right to take this risk, but it’s not the absolute slam-dunk reward scenario it might have been even a season earlier.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire