Friday, September 27, 2013

On Aaron Rodgers and 4th Quarter Comebacks

After a 34-30 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Aaron Rodgers has come under huge criticism again for failing to lead the Packers to a game winning touchdown drive with the game on the line.

Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar wrote a ridiculous piece on why Rodgers cannot be considered a top quarterback because of his failures in close games. It is embarrassing that a Football Outsiders writer would cling to a narrative like that, since that website is supposed to go beyond those cliche narratives.

"Clutch" is probably the most overused narrative in all of sports. A football game is 60 minutes long and plays in the first quarter can have just as big an impact as plays on the final drive. It is just lazy analysis to look at a final drive and say that is why a team won or lost.

The Packers' loss to Cincinnati on Sunday is a perfect example. The Packers did not lose that game on the final drive. The game was lost in the first half due to not taking advantage of turnovers and by Rodgers' two killer interceptions before the final drive.

The Packers' starting field position on their first six drives of the game was the 50 yard line and they got a grand total of nine points out of that. Combine that with Jeremy Ross' fumbled kickoff and that is essentially where the game was lost.

However, the Packers still managed to take a 30-14 lead in spite of all of that, but Rodgers' interceptions let them back in the game. The first was James Jones' fault, as he did not work through the defender on a slant pattern leading to an easy pick. The second one occurred with the Packers driving up 30-21 and looking to put the game away. Rodgers threw one of the worst passes I've ever seen him throw to Randall Cobb with Leon Hall draped all over him on a wheel route.

With the loss, Rodgers fell to 5-24 when trailing in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead. In games decided by four points or fewer, Mike McCarthy has a 9-20 record over the course of his Green Bay head coaching tenure, and Rodgers is 5-16 in those games as the starting quarterback. Of course that is an arbitrary number, as McCarthy's record is 27-27 in games decided by seven points or fewer, and Rodgers' is 18-21.

Rodgers played one of the worst games I have ever seen him play against Cincy and deserves criticism for that. However, win-loss record is a team statistic and not a quarterback statistic. Why doesn't Kacsmar write an article about Josh Sitton's record in comeback situations?

It is ridiculous to just blame the quarterback when not watching the film and the other circumstances of the whole game. So, since David Bahktiari did not execute his cut block against Michael Johnson, Rodgers is not clutch? How absurd is that?

Jason Lisk of The Big Lead, did some great research on Rodgers record in comeback situations. It is much less biased and tells the story how it should be told. Rodgers and the Packers have only won nine of the 16 games (56%) when Rodgers has led them to a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. In comparison, Matt Ryan (88%), Tom Brady (93%), Eli Manning (80%), Jay Cutler (90%), Drew Brees (80%), Peyton Manning (96%), Tony Romo (83%), Joe Flacco (75%), Ben Roethlisberger (77%) and Phillip Rivers (85%) all have at least an 75 percent winning percentage in that situation.

If the Packers had maintained Rodgers' leads at a normal rate he would be right up there with all of those quarterbacks. A combination of defense, coaching and Rodgers not doing enough to maintain those leads have all been factors in this. It's not just Rodgers. Mason Crosby has missed four game winning kicks that would have been a comeback win for Rodgers and the defense has let up 20 game-winning drives since 2008, which is the third most in the NFL.

According to Lisk, Rodgers' numbers since 2008 when trailing by eight points or less in the final five minutes of the game are 63-104, 60% completion percentage, 868 yards, 8.3 YPA, 7 TD's to 5 INT's and an 89.7 passer rating. Of the quarterbacks I previously mentioned, Rodgers is third in completion percentage, third in TD to INT ratio and second in passer rating. His stats stack up very well with the other top quarterbacks in the NFL when trying to make a comeback in the final five minutes. His subsequent poor record in these situations is stunning when comparing his stats with the other quarterbacks.

What does this mean? Rodgers has been incredibly unlucky in those spots. The Packers' recent failures in close games has a lot more to do than Rodgers. If his leads were held at the same rate as all the other quarterbacks he would not have an "unclutch" reputation.

Anybody remember when the Packers were up 28-25 in Super Bowl XLV  and facing a 3rd-and-11 on their own 25 with under six minutes to play? The Steelers had all the momentum, and without Charles Woodson and Sam Shields they were likely to win the game if the Packers didn't convert.

Rodgers proceeded to throw an absolute dart just over Ike Taylor's fingers to Greg Jennings for the conversion. That was one of the greatest throws I have ever seen with the Super Bowl on the line. He isn't "clutch" or something though. Also, never mind the fact that he played an amazing game on that stage and was the clear Super Bowl XLV MVP. Who cares though.

All I know is that Rodgers can be the quarterback of my team in any situation and I would feel comfortable. Yes, that includes on any game winning drive.


  1. Excellent take, unfortunatelly the QB will take the responsability of the entire team, in the bad and in the good.

    1. Rodgers had the ball with the Packers behind late in the fourth quarter twice this season- in SF and Cincy. In both cases, the Packers went three-and-out. Both times, sustained, time consuming drives could have meant a Packers win. When the game was on the line, Rodgers didn't come through. Because Rodgers is the catalyst fir the offense. The ball and the game were in his hands, and he didn't get the job done. This is ricky saying this, because I won't hide behind anonymity.

  2. Ricky, I appreciate your candor and not being a sycophant. I have clearly seen the same thing through three games. I run a business, we own over 460 real estate properties. Maximizing cash flow and minimizing risk are my specialties. I do not make many judgment errors, but, when I do, I own up to them.
    First, I believe Aaron Rodgers is a helluva a QB. That being said, he has to prove he can lead comebacks in the 4th quarter. To date, he has been uninspiring in that regard. I truly hope in the future, he changes this perception and reality.