After Rodgers

One week ago, Packer fans were flying high after the dramatic 35–31 win over Dallas that showed how great a quarterback Aaron Rodgers is.

That point was proven again, inadvertently, by the Packers 23–10 loss to Minnesota Sunday. The far bigger loss was Rodgers’ season-ending injury, the second broken collarbone in his career. This one is far worse, though, because while Rodgers was able to come back before the end of the 2013 season after his left collarbone injury …

… this injury will undoubtedly end Rodgers’ season, and, given that Tony Romo’s collarbone break moved him to the broadcast booth, could end Rodgers’ career.

Readers will be happy to know I stoked the speculation about who would replace Rodgers, such as …

  1. Romo. (He grew up a Packer fan in East Troy.)
  2. Colin Kaepernick. (He also is from Wisconsin, though suing your employer for collusion when no team wants to sign a subpar quarterback who also is more trouble than he’s worth off the field makes him unlikely to wear the green and gold. Besides that, the Dolphins lost their starting quarterback for the season, Ryan Tannehill, and signed Jay Cutler instead of Kaepernick.
  3. Brett Favre. (He’s 48, and while George Blanda played until he was 48, Blanda was a kicker the last few seasons of his career.)
  4. Other former Packer quarterbacks, who are either far too old (Lynn Dickey) or were Quarterbacks in Name Only (Green Bay native Jerry Tagge, Scott Hunter, Jim Del Gaizo, and others from the Gory Years), plus former UW quarterback Joel Stave, who is not currently employed by the NFL.

The only suggestion that had any chance of occurring, at least as of now, was, or is, possibly acquiring Tayvon Hill from the Saints. Hill looked good in training camp, but the Packers weren’t able to cut Hill and then sign him to the practice squad because the Saints (perhaps ironically, Sunday’s opponent) signed him away.

One of this blog’s political maxims is that doing nothing, policy-wise, is better than doing the wrong thing. That is true more often than not with acquiring quarterbacks. The number of pickups that work out (Y.A Tittle to the Giants, Ron Jaworski to Philadelphia, Jim Plunkett to the Raiders, Doug Williams to Washington, Trent Dilfer to the Ravens, Brad Johnson to Tampa Bay, Carson Palmer to Arizona, Peyton Manning to Denver) are dwarfed by those that do not (Bobby Layne to Pittsburgh, Fran Tarkenton to the Giants, Joe Namath to the Rams, Bert Jones to the Rams, Jim McMahon to the Eagles and Vikings, Jay Cutler to Da Bears, Carson Palmer to Oakland, Jeff George to anywhere, and one particularly bad acquisition whose anniversary is Sunday). And every single listed acquisition that worked took place in the offseason, not in the middle of the season.

Backup Brett Hundley, who didn’t look good at all after Rodgers’ injury, will start against New Orleans Sunday. The Saints rank 20th in pass yards given up, but eighth in run yards given up, which is bad news for a team that probably would like to run the ball and take some pressure off their new starter. The Saints are 21st in scoring defense, but given that they appear to be better on run defense than pass defense, the Packers are probably going to have to beat them through the air with their new quarterback.

The upside is that it’s much, much harder for quarterbacks to come into a game and play well. Well, everyone except for …

I could watch this 100 times and still be entertained by (1) Favre’s pass to Sterling Sharpe, which occurred despite Sharpe’s rib injury; (2) Favre’s perfect touchdown pass to Kittrick Taylor, Sharpe’s replacement who the announcers didn’t know; and (3) Chris Jacke’s extra point that occurred despite his holder, Favre, not holding on to the football.

That clip doesn’t show how Favre’s day began, with five quarterback sacks and three lost fumbles. The Packers had more fumbles (seven) than points (three) in the first three quarters, and a comeback seemed so unlikely that radio announcer Jim Irwin was laughing when he pointed out before the Packers’ final drive that the Packers could win with a touchdown and an extra point.

Though this doesn’t help …

… it’s easier to prepare for a game when you have all week to prepare for a game, instead of a minute or so.

So what will the Packers do Sunday? Former Packers defensive back Matt Bowen:

Gone is the security blanket of the league’s best player. I’m talking about that comfort level for not only the Green Bay offense, but also those guys who play defense and cover kicks for a living. And they will also question how, or if, their roles will be impacted moving forward.

Remember, Rodgers could create instant magic. That’s something you can’t replace. And in those first 24 hours after the injury, the emotions of the team ride all over the place. Up, down, sideways. Once the squad gets through that period, however, the coaching staff can start to revive hope. …

The job of McCarthy now is to develop a custom call sheet that fits Hundley, one that will maximize his ability within the core offense and also hide his weaknesses. The staff can’t ask him to play like Rodgers. And it starts by sitting down with the quarterback to identify the concepts that make him comfortable.

What does Hundley like, and what does he want thrown in the trash? And break it down by field position and game situation. Ask him for his favorite red zone routes, the deep ball shots he loves or play-action concepts he can execute. And don’t forget about the quick game. Throw slant-flat, curl-flat. And get the ball out.

From there, it’s about packaging those concepts with the complete game plan. McCarthy doesn’t want his young quarterback to throw the ball 40 times a game, so we should expect a more balanced call sheet. Run the rock with Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones. And commit to it.

But also show more spread looks, sprinkle in the run-pass options to create open windows and call for some QB-designed runs. He brings another dimension to the offense with his athleticism that can generate some stress for opposing defenses. And that includes movement passes.

The Packers can widen the field and get away from those static formations by using shift/motions. Force the defense to declare coverage (zone or man) and give Hundley the exact matchup he wants. With the arm strength to push the ball outside of the numbers and attack the deep middle of the field, Green Bay can mix alignments to create some big-play opportunities.

In a way, the Packers can expand a bit from a play-calling perspective. And they can do that without limiting Hundley. Forget about reducing the call sheet or being conservative with the No. 2 under center. This is an opportunity for McCarthy to be aggressive while massaging that game plan to fit Hundley.

Hundley is the guy for at least the next 10 games and into January, if the Packers extend the season into the playoffs. Yes, McCarthy promoted Joe Callahan from the practice squad, but he is adamant that he’s rolling with Hundley. The former UCLA star is his new No. 1.

Now, the Packers have to help Hundley succeed. Again, he’s not going to be Rodgers. No one is. But with a loaded group of Jordy NelsonDavante Adamsand Randall Cobb at wide receiver, the big body of Martellus Bennett in the middle of the field and a run game that can provide real balance, Hundley is in a pretty good spot. And even with the slight transition period, Hundley can give the Packers a chance to compete in a wide-open division.

Remember: Matthew Stafford is banged up in Detroit. Sam Bradford has taken only 89 total snaps for the Vikings. And the Bears are playing rookie Mitchell Trubisky. Hundley and the Packers are a threat in the NFC North.

I am pretty sure Sunday is going to be Hundley’s audition. If he doesn’t play well, with the bye week coming up next week, there will be intense pressure on the Packers to get another quarterback, or fans will rightly conclude that the Packers are throwing in the towel on the season, despite their already having won more games than I had figured to this point. (I had them losing to Seattle and Dallas on the way to a 11–5 season.)

 

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