Aaron Rodgers: I need to be better on third downs

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For Aaron Rodgers, it wasn't really a guarantee or a promise. He just stated it like it was a fact.

Given the many areas where the Green Bay Packers' out-of-sync offense is deficient right now, the quarterback had a smorgasbord of issues to choose from. But to him, his and his team's biggest problem is clear-cut following back-to-back losses: converting on third down.

And he's going to fix it this week against the Detroit Lions.

The reigning NFL MVP is having one of his least-productive seasons on third down, so it's not surprising that the Packers enter Sunday's game having converted just 34.1 percent of the third-down situations, ranking them 27th in the 32-team league and putting them on pace for their least efficient season in Mike McCarthy's 10 years as coach. In fact, only once have the Packers been under 40 percent in third-down efficiency under McCarthy: In 2006, McCarthy's first season.

So when asked specifically what he must improve on to help awaken the offense from its doldrums, Rodgers' answer was a no-brainer.

“We have to convert third downs. I have to be more accurate on third downs and give us more opportunities,” said Rodgers, whose team was an anemic 3-of-14 on third down in last Sunday's loss at Carolina and is just 8-of-31 [25.8 percent] in its past three games. “When we're converting those third downs, it gives us a chance to run the football again on first and second down. It gives us a chance to take some [downfield] shots in the [play]-action game.

“So I need to be better on third downs. And I will this week.”

Since Rodgers ascended to the starting job in 2008, the Packers have never converted on fewer than 41 percent of their third-down situations. From 2008 through this season, the Packers have picked up third downs at a 43.8 percent clip.

Meanwhile, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers has completed just 33 of his 58 third-down passes (56.9 percent, the lowest of his career) this year for 448 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 91.7. He's also absorbed 12 sacks -- as many as he took on third down all of last season.

Until now, Rodgers has always excelled on third down, having completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 8,757 yards with 79 touchdowns against only 19 interceptions (110.4 rating). During Rodgers' two NFL MVP seasons, the Packers were at their best on third downs, and so was he: When he won his first MVP in 2011, the Packers converted third downs at a 48.1 percent clip (third-best in the NFL) and Rodgers' third-down passer rating was 113.3.

Last year, when he won his second MVP, the Packers were again third in the league (47.2 percent) and Rodgers' third-down passer rating was 121.7.

“I think the biggest thing is not to overreact -- and I definitely don't see that from Aaron,” McCarthy said. “I see Aaron reacting like our football team, but probably even at a different level, reacting [more] like the coaches. His time that he spent in here [on Tuesday] getting on to the next opponent and making sure to get an earlier start and a heightened sense of urgency is what I see.”

The Packers would certainly help themselves by having more success on first and second downs, making their third-down situations more manageable. They rank 30th in average first-down gain (4.82 yards, ahead of only San Francisco and Cleveland), and against the Panthers, 11 of their 14 third-down situations were 8 yards or longer -- a “big issue,” Rodgers said.

“It's going to be tough to convert those when you have those long-yard situations. You need to have more third-and-1 to [third-and]-5s, where we have a better chance of converting,” Rodgers said. “That gives you more opportunities, obviously first downs, more plays. You have more shots and can tire the [opposing] defense out and keep our defense on the sideline.”