GREEN BAY – Jim Hostler knew the number that was prompting the question: 60.6.
That’s the percentage of Aaron Rodgers’ passes this season that have been completed through eight games — far below the 65.1 percent career completion percentage he brought into the 2018 season, and on pace to be the worst of Rodgers’ 11 seasons as the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback. It also ranks Rodgers 29th among NFL quarterbacks this season.
For Hostler, the Packers’ offensive passing game coordinator, the idea that Rodgers’ drop in completion percentage equates to his accuracy eroding is, well, inaccurate. Having coached quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends during his 19-year NFL coaching career, Hostler knows how many variables go into a productive passing game, and he sees plenty at work in Rodgers’ reduced completion rate.
From an astronomical number of intentional throwaways, to an unacceptably high number of drops, to the way Rodgers’ left knee injury in the season opener limited his mobility thereafter, to an offensive scheme that doesn’t create as many wide-open opportunities as some of the trendier systems being run elsewhere in the league – all of that has contributed to fewer completions.
“There’s a lot of factors,” Hostler explained at midweek, as the 3-4-1 Packers prepared for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins at Lambeau Field. “We had some drops. That’s one aspect of it. (Rodgers) obviously has been hurt and hasn’t been able to move around and create as much out of the pocket as he has in the past. We’ve gotten more throwaways this year than he’s had in the past — (but) our throwaways are going down as he gets more healthy.
“And we’ve got to do a better job as coaches, getting guys in the right spots, making sure they know what they’re doing, aligning them, making sure we’re giving him completions and the ability to have easy completions during the game. That’s our responsibility (as coaches), and we haven’t done a good enough job in that area, too.
“(Rodgers’ completion percentage) was what we studied when we were on the bye week, (and) those factors have been part of why our completion percentage is down.”
This is not to say that Rodgers is absolved, of course — it’s not as if he’s put every one of his 327 throws this season exactly where he wanted them. And while he’s thrown just one interception this season, he has acknowledged that he has missed some throws, along with missing some open receivers at times. He admitted it again after last Sunday night’s loss at New England, when he went 24 of 43 (55.8 percent) for 259 yards and two touchdowns (89.2 rating) in the Packers’ 31-17 loss to the Patriots.
“We know how talented he is,” Hostler said. “That’s his response because obviously that’s the kind of player and leader he is. He’s going to take his responsibility. But I think the other (issues) are more of the factors.”
To Rodgers, there’s no correlation between his completion percentage and his ability to hit his marks.
“I don’t think you can draw a complete equal between completion percentage and accuracy. When I’m throwing the ball, I’m throwing the ball where I want it,” Rodgers said. “If I say I missed a throw, that means that I missed a spot by 6 inches or by however much I missed it by. We’ve just had a number of throwaways based on the coverages. We’ve got to keep finding ways to get guys into one or two spots, open on time and when they’re open, I’ve got to make the throws.”
The throwaways are a large part of the issue. According to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers has intentionally thrown the ball away 39 times this season. To understand how ridiculous that number is, consider this: He’s already set a single-season career high in that department — and he’s only halfway through the season.
The quarterback with the next-most throwaways is the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff (19), and Rodgers has already surpassed his highest full-season throwaway total of 37, set in 2015. Only twice in his career has Rodgers had more than 25 throwaways in a season.
“I’ve had an unnatural amount of throwaways this year. I would say the majority of those are coverage throwaways. I think that’s been a big contributor to the completion percentage,” Rodgers said. “But yeah, it’s lower than we’d like.”
Asked why his throwaways have spiked, Rodgers replied, “I think it’s guys being open. If a guy’s open, I’m going to pull the trigger. But if guys are covered, and I can’t extend it, then you have to find a place to go with the ball that it’s our guys’ or nobody’s.”
Both Hostler and McCarthy suggested that missing practices while rehabilitating his knee didn’t help matters, either — especially with Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown playing more because of injuries to Cobb (hamstring) and Geronimo Allison (concussion, hamstring and now a core muscle injury that has landed him on injured reserve).
“It’s always a combination of things. If it was one thing, trust me, we would have adjusted by now,” McCarthy said when asked about Rodgers’ numbers. “We’re playing different guys in the perimeter, we’re fighting through some young guys, injured guys. If you look at Aaron’s practice throughout his career, even going through the (offseason program), he’s practiced more than any quarterback that I’ve ever worked with. But that’s a big part of what we do, too, because of the responsibility he has.”