Rodgers: Pretty Well … And Then Some

GREEN BAY, Wis. ? Tom Clements is a notoriously tough grader. So when the Green Bay Packers veteran quarterbacks coach was asked before the bye to assess the play of Aaron Rodgers, his lukewarm response wasn?t exactly surprising.

After all, this is the same tough-love coach that gave Rodgers a minus grade for his performance against Chicago, a game in which Rodgers completed 28 of 38 passes for 297 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a ?season-low? 111.4 passer rating in a game his team won on the road.

?He?s playing pretty well,? Clements said. ?Pretty well right now.?

Pretty well?

Rodgers enters Sunday?s game at San Diego having completed 71.55 percent of his passes (171 of 239) for 2,372 yards with 20 touchdowns and only three interceptions (a 1.26% interception percentage) for a passer rating of 125.7. Those numbers project to 5,422 yards with 46 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, meaning he is on pace to break the NFL single-season records for completion percentage, yardage and passer rating and within striking distance of the record for touchdown passes.

Pretty well?

?Outstanding,? Clements said, amending his answer.

That?s the consensus around the football world, as evidenced by this week?s issue of Sports Illustrated, which has Rodgers and his six top receivers on the cover (the fifth time Rodgers has been on the magazine?s cover) and inside projects Rodgers to be the NFL MVP and all-pro quarterback in its midseason report.

While Rodgers pooh-poohed such talk Wednesday ? ?It’s Week 9,? Rodgers said, ?(so) I think we’re a long way from any of those awards or anything? ? it is abundantly clear to others that he is on top of his game.

?Aaron?s always been a great quarterback, ever since he first became the starter here. He?s always been very good, always done the right things preparation wise. But since I?ve been here, I?ve seen a definite progression with him,? backup quarterback Matt Flynn said Wednesday. ?I think he plays the position the way it?s supposed to be played. There?s really no weaknesses that stick out. He can scramble, he can sit in the pocket, he?s smart, he?s accurate, he?s got a big arm ? he?s just progressed so much since I?ve been here, and he started out being real good already. He?s playing the best of anybody in the league.?

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers concurred: ?There?s no doubt, Aaron?s playing the best football of probably anybody in this league. Hands down.?

All of which begs an obvious question: As someone who has drawn motivation from a lifelong theme of being overlooked ? by Division I schools who didn?t recruit him, by NFL teams who allowed him to fall to No. 24 in the 2005 NFL Draft ? how is Rodgers handling all the accolades and attention?

“I still have a great memory,? Rodgers replied. ?The goals I set for myself change, I think, every year a little bit. I try and improve on the previous year and learn from the mistakes I made. But when I got drafted, I had a chip on my shoulder, and I’ve still got it there. So there’s a lot of motivation left in that chip.?

That?s no line, either, according to Flynn.

?I think he?s always played with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder ? in a good way. I think going back to not getting recruited in high school even. He?s always been overlooked,? Flynn said. ?But he?s always been a confident player ? confident in himself no matter what people were thinking about him or what people wrote about him or thought about him. Now, obviously, he?s getting a lot of credit, as well he should be. It?s well deserved. But I still think that chip?s always going to be on his shoulder, and he?s always going to feel like he has something to prove, and that?s a scary thing, being that he?s playing so well.?

And yet, both Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that Rodgers still has plenty of room for improvement.

?There?s always room for growth, regardless of how you?re playing,? Rodgers said. ?This offseason, one of my goals was to decrease the space between a good game and a poor game. I’m looking forward to doing that and improving on that. I just feel like for 60 minutes, we all can play a little bit more consistently.”

?Aaron?s like every player on the team, there?s always little thing specific to his responsibility that he can continue to improve on, whether it?s footwork or certain concepts or getting different looks,? added McCarthy. ?But he is playing at an extremely high level. The numbers speak for themselves. But this week will be a challenge for us in San Diego.?

While those numbers are impressive, the number that matters most to him is three, as in the number of total turnovers he?s committed. One of the reasons the Packers rank tied for fourth in the NFL in giveaways (eight) and fourth in turnover differential (plus-8) is that their quarterback is ultra-cautious about taking care of the football. (The Packers are also tied for the NFL lead in takeaways with 18.) Two of Rodgers? three interceptions have been off of receivers? hands, and he recovered his lone fumble this season (at Chicago on Sept. 25).

That reflects two things: That Rodgers makes good decisions in the passing game and he?s focused on making sure he doesn?t make the kind of mistakes that don?t give his team a chance to win.

?He?s an excellent decision-maker. He always has been,? Clements said. ?He just keeps getting better and better the more experience he gets and the more understanding of our offense and the defenses he?s facing. He generally makes the right decision, and that?s a credit to his preparation and his ability to process a lot of information in a short time in the heat of battle.?

As for turnovers, Rodgers said his goal is to keep his total turnovers to 10 or fewer. If he can do that, then the most important number ? victories ? will be high, he said.

?I?m touching the ball every play, so it?s important for me not to turn the ball over. That gives us the chance to win every week,? Rodgers said. ?If we?re not turning the ball over we?re going to be tough to beat because our defense is leading the league in takeaways.

?I think as a quarterback, taking care of the football should be your top priority. If you look at the teams that are playing the best right now, Alex (Smith) in San Francisco is doing a great job. He?s thrown two interceptions this season and he?s keeping them in the game. He?s moving the ball effectively. Matt Stafford in Detroit has thrown, I believe, four interceptions in eight games. That?s excellent. When you?re not turning the ball over you?re giving your team a great opportunity to win those games. If we?re not turning the ball over, we?re going to be tough to beat.?

RODGERS, BY THE NUMBERS A look at where the Packers quarterback?s projected numbers would rank Highest Passer Rating, Season 121.1 Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 2004 117.2 Tom Brady, New England, 2007 112.8 Steve Young, San Francisco, 1994 > Rodgers: 125.7

Highest Completion Percentage, Season 70.62 Drew Brees, New Orleans, 2009 (514-363) 70.55 Ken Anderson, Cincinnati, 1982 (309-218) 70.33 Sammy Baugh, Washington, 1945 (182-128) > Rodgers: 71.55

Most Passing Yards Gained, Season 5,084 Dan Marino, Miami, 1984 5,069 Drew Brees, New Orleans, 2008 4,830 Kurt Warner, St. Louis, 2001 > Rodgers: 5,422

Most Touchdown Passes, Season 50 Tom Brady, New England, 2007 49 Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 2004 48 Dan Marino, Miami, 1984 > Rodgers: 46

Lowest Pct., Passes Had Intercepted, Season 0.41% Damon Huard, Kansas City, 2006 (1 of 244) 0.66% Joe Ferguson, Buffalo, 1976 (1 of 151) 0.81% Tom Brady, New England, 2010 (4 of 492) > Rodgers: 1.26%