Unlike Jay Cutler, Packers’ Aaron Rodgers avoids unnecessary risks
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org December 11, 2012 10:35PM
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is fifth in the NFL in passer rating at 103.7. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is 24th at 80.9. | David J. Phillip~AP
Quarterback G Sks
Aaron Rodgers, Packers 13 42
Philip Rivers, Chargers 13 37
Andy Dalton, Bengals 13 32
Andrew Luck, Colts 13 32
Jay Cutler, Bears 12 31
Tony Romo, Cowboys 13 31
Joe Flacco, Ravens 13 31
Sam Bradford, Rams 13 31
Cam Newton, Panthers 13 31
Mark Sanchez, Jets 13 30
Updated: December 12, 2012 11:03AM
Aaron Rodgers is not infallible. But even his mistakes have redeeming value.
The reigning MVP of the NFL took an ill-advised sack Sunday against the Lions. In the third quarter of a tie game, Rodgers stepped up and into the arms of defensive tackle Nick Fairley for a seven-yard loss that turned a 44-yard field-goal attempt into a 51-yard attempt that Mason Crosby barely missed.
By failing to make a last-ditch effort to avoid the sack, he cost the Packers a field goal. But he also avoided the risk of taking an awkward or blindside hit that might have spelled even bigger trouble.
Bears fans don’t want to hear it, but Rodgers’ risk-avoidance is a big reason why he has the Packers on a roll while Jay Cutler is struggling to stay upright heading into this Sunday’s NFC North showdown between the Bears (8-5) and Packers (9-4) at Soldier Field.
Rodgers takes his hits, but he avoids taking too many dangerous ones. That’s why he has been sacked 42 times — 11 more times than Cutler — yet has missed only one play because of injury.
And his three-year apprenticeship watching Brett Favre make ridiculous throws for bad plays seems to have conditioned Rodgers to avoid being stupid with the ball. Rodgers’ 1.8 interception percentage is the lowest in NFL history. He has thrown one pick-six in 2,551 passes over eight NFL seasons. That can’t be all luck. Nobody in NFL history is even close to that ratio. The Patriots’ Tom Brady has twice as many attempts and eight times the number of interception touchdowns.
Rodgers’ 46 career interceptions have been returned for 311 yards. Cutler’s 16 picks over his last 16 games have been returned for 333 yards and two touchdowns. Even worse, two of those interception returns have resulted in key injuries — Cutler’s broken thumb against the Chargers last year and Lance Louis’ season-ending torn ACL against the Vikings. It seems like the fewer mistakes you make, the better your luck.
Cutler’s toughness is laudable, but it sometimes gets him in trouble.
He suffered his latest injury — a stiff neck — when he tried to throw as he was being sacked by Jared Allen and was clobbered by Everson Griffen. Cutler’s last-split-second pump fake in the open field left him vulnerable to the big hit by Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins that caused a concussion.
Many Bears fans loathe any comparison between Rodgers and Cutler, claiming that — although Rodgers was the 24th overall pick in 2005 and Cutler the 11th overall pick in 2006 and cost the Bears two first-round picks — Rodgers has a built-in advantage in the Packers’ offensive machine.
But they’ve been on a much more level playing field this season.
Rodgers has been sacked 42 times behind a disjointed line to Cutler’s 31 sacks behind a disjointed line. While Cutler has the incomparable Brandon Marshall, Rodgers’ No. 1 target, Greg Jennings, has missed eight games with a groin injury. Jordy Nelson has missed two. Rodgers’ top targets have been Randall Cobb (71-777 yards, seven TDs) and James Jones (46-562, 9 TDs).
Rodgers has a running game that ranks 18th in the NFL. The Bears are 10th. And according to ProFootballFocus.com, Rodgers has been victimized by receivers’ drops even more than Cutler (38-30).
Yet Rodgers is fifth in the NFL in passer rating (103.7) and tied for third in touchdown passes (29).
His receivers fall down and run the wrong route and drop passes, too. Rodgers just has a knack for preventing a bad play from turning into disaster. If only that quality were as measurable as arm strength.