GREEN BAY, Wis. – The question was posed to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers like this: "Diagnosing what's wrong with Aaron Rodgers has turned into a cottage industry. When you look at yourself, what do you see … that you would like to do better?"
Rodgers boiled it down to one thing.
"I think it's just accuracy," he said this week.
Can that fully explain why Rodgers, a two-time NFL MVP, is off to one of the worst starts of his career? Or why it's been 11 months since his last 300-yard passing game? Or why the Packers have an unsightly 8-9 record in their last 17 games, including playoffs?
To find out more about what's wrong with Rodgers, we asked a foursome of analysts who coached and/or played in the NFL the same two questions:
Question No. 1: What do you see?
Timing and rhythm
The West Coast offense is a timing system and even though Packers coach Mike McCarthy has modernized it in his 11 seasons in Green Bay, few things are more important than timing.
Herm Edwards, former NFL player, coach and current ESPN analyst: "He doesn't keep the train on schedule. A quarterback is about keeping the train on schedule, and there's windows of opportunities when he hits his back foot to throw it and he's not throwing it. He's waiting for the big play. We always talk about how he extends plays and his arm talent; he's looking for the big play. [He's saying], 'I can hit the slant, but that's only going to give me 5 yards. If I wait, maybe I'll hit the next window, and it'll be a 20-yard gain.' So the train's not on schedule."
Tim Hasselbeck, former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst: "What I see a lot is him not playing in rhythm. He'll be in a shotgun, and he'll throw a slant. But he'll catch the football, and he'll take two steps and hop around a little bit and then he'll try to throw a slant. It's like, wait a second, if you're going to throw a slant out of the gun, that's really late. A lot of people coach it where you catch it, you get a grip and the ball's got to come out. That's the way that offense is designed to run, and he's not playing that way. The majority of the snaps aren't played that way. The majority are played like backyard football and like it almost doesn't matter what the play call was."
Without Jordy Nelson around last season, Rodgers lost his security blanket and was left with a group of receivers who struggled to get open.
Troy Aikman, Hall of Fame quarterback and FOX NFL analyst who worked Sunday's Packers-Cowboys game: "What I see is a quarterback that's frustrated and a quarterback that has been frustrated for a while going back to last year. There was a time when teams were playing a lot of coverage against them and they couldn't run the ball. They couldn't get people out of the two-deep looks. Then when they played Denver last year, Denver came up and matched up outside and played single-high safety and just dared their guys to beat them. They were obviously without Jordy, and it made it tough on them. Then teams started doing that a little bit more. There just wasn't enough guys winning on routes, from what I saw a year ago. This year it's been a little bit different, but what I've seen is Eddie [Lacy] was running the ball a little better and they get Jordy back and there was this belief that they would pick up right where they were in 2014. It obviously hasn't turned out that way."
McCarthy stresses fundamentals as much as any coach in the NFL, and it was a staple of his renowned offseason quarterback school. But since the new CBA of 2011, every team has lost valuable offseason work days.
Matt Bowen, former NFL safety and current ESPN analyst: "Technique flaws from his footwork to his core to his balance to his shoulders to his release point. One thing about Aaron Rodgers is, you don't want to take away the magic. He can make throws from, the scouting term is multiple platforms. What I'm seeing on the film, for example, the pass that he missed to Richard Rodgers [against the Cowboys], which was going to be a big play, number one, he looks impatient in the pocket, and this is a very clean pocket. Two, when he throws the ball, his shoulders are open to the target, so he's almost parallel. His feet are in cement. He's not following through, and it's all arm. And because of that, the ball is thrown behind the intended target."
Edwards: "He's a little bit like your guy [Brett] Favre as far as fundamentals; he's gotten away from it. You wouldn't put him on a teaching reel, right? It's kind of like he's gotten away with it for so long."
Aikman: "There's also been some times where we've seen Aaron miss some throws, and whenever he misses someone who's remotely open, you do a double take just because he's been so accurate. Some people want to get into mechanics, and I'm not one of those guys, just because Aaron has a footwork that's unique. It's a footwork that he likes and he's comfortable with. I don't see mechanically anything different; I just see the results and him missing some throws. Then I also see at times where, in years past, he would really cut a ball loose, and he's not doing that like he did and really trusting that he's really going to get the ball in there and the guy's going to win on the route. Then there's times when there's protection but nobody's open.
"So it's all of that. As an offense and as a quarterback, you start losing confidence, and it's hard then to play loose and make the throws and see the things the way you once did. And that's just not on Aaron; that's on an offense."
Question No. 2: How do you fix it?
Only those in the Lambeau Field meeting rooms and on the practice field know what McCarthy and his staff are doing to help get Rodgers back on track, but McCarthy regularly talks about going back to the fundamentals no matter the problem.
Edwards: "When you're struggling, you go back to basics -- fundamentals, footwork, whatever it may be. I'm sure Mike's telling him that. Whether or not he's listening, I don't know. You've got to go back to the core of how you play the position, regardless of who you are. That's what makes [Tom] Brady so doggone good -- is that the fundamentals of how to play. Aaron, because he's gotten away with it for so long, well, now it's bad, and you've got to go back to that.
"So you show him the tape and say, 'You missed this one. Now why did you miss it? Was it because you anticipated something? Did the guy break the route off? Or was it your footwork?' And what you've got to do is maybe take 10 clips of it of previous games and say 'Aaron, this is why your accuracy isn't where it should be. Watch your footwork and say, we can fix it, but this is what you've got to do.' It's not like he's lost his talent. He can be fixed, but he's got to look at himself and say, 'OK, I need to do that.'"
Bowen: "Take every one of these plays and watch the film from the end-zone angle and say, 'How do we get this fixed?' Because it can be fixed. You've still got to have your technique. That's what I'm seeing. It's mostly technique stuff and getting the ball out on time. That's why routes have breaks at certain depths."
Hasselbeck: "I think what you say is, 'No more going off the reservation.' That's what Mike Holmgren would say. That's what Andy Reid would coach. The general philosophy is, if you're going to go off the reservation, you better be right. I think what happens is, so many times he goes off the reservation, and it's one of those "did you see that" throws to the end zone and everyone's excited. Now all of a sudden it's like we're going off the reservation, and we're not having any success. So everyone needs to dial it back in and say, 'This is West Coast 101, and this is how this offense works.'"
Aikman: "I think it's all momentum and everybody regaining some confidence as far as the short-term solutions. As quickly as you can lose your momentum as an offense, you can just as quickly get it back, and there's been times you think, 'OK, now it's going to happen,' and it just hasn't been sustained. You come out and you try to hit some quick passes and get some completions and get people feeling confident in things. But there is no easy fix."