Aaron Rodgers never stopped being good. But, for various reasons, he suffered from a performance drop in the late part of the 2010s. After years of complete dominance, Rodgers had four seasons with passer ratings below 100 between 2015 and 2019 and wasn’t selected to All-Pro teams between 2014 and 2020.
It was the final part of the Mike McCarthy era as a head coach, the last years of Ted Thompson as the general manager, and an overall decline in roster quality that resulted in the drastic changes to promote Brian Gutekunst and hire Matt LaFleur.
But there was also Rodgers himself. Whether it was because the Packers selected Jordan Love or not, the future Hall of Famer needed to find his old self to come back to the top. And the answers were in the most obvious place: the 2010 film and the people who helped him develop from the strange throwing mechanics of the 2005 preseason to Super Bowl MVP.
Four months after the Packers had selected Love in the first round, Rodgers said he was watching the 2010 film to find possible reasons for his declining numbers. And he did.
“It kind of hit me,” Rodgers said. “And I know it was 10 years ago, but the next day I went out to practice and started working on what I saw on the film, and the last couple days kind of happened.”
It certainly wasn’t the only factor, but it probably helped Rodgers elevate his passer rating from 95.4 in 2019 to 121.5 in 2020. He won his third MVP award in 2020, the second-best statistical season of his career behind 2011. After the year, Rodgers revealed the details of what he watched on the Pat McAfee Show.
“The rhythm in my hitch, and the synching into the hitch,” Rodgers said.
The hitch is a passing technique typically used on deeper drops or three-step drops from the shotgun. The bounce forward after the final step during the dropback helps the quarterback synchronize the timing with his route tree and gives the passer more torque to throw where he wants.
The technique was very clear during many of Rodgers’ passes in the Super Bowl, including the one for Greg Jennings, which helped Green Bay secure the win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rodgers has great respect for many of his former coaches. One of them is Tom Clements, a former CFL quarterback who was integral to Green Bay’s successful run early in Rodgers’ career. And now he is back to work with his protégé.
“Aaron’s impact on that decision was, that’s part of the conversations he’s part of,” Gutekunst said in February after hiring Clements. “We’re excited to have him back and see how he affects that group.”
Clements was the quarterbacks coach on McCarthy’s initial staff in 2006. Therefore, he was the second position coach in Rodgers’ career after Darrell Bevell in 2005. The connection between Rodgers and Clements was intense, and Clements was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2012 when Joe Philbin left to be the Miami Dolphins head coach.
McCarthy promoted Clements to assistant head coach in 2015 and spent two more years in Green Bay before his first retirement. The second was after the 2020 seasons and two years working with Kyler Murray in Arizona. His desire to return resulted from his close relationship with Rodgers and, in part, the chance to replicate the schematic and technical factors that helped Rodgers become an elite quarterback in the first place.
“Looking at it from afar, I thought he was playing a style more like when he was younger because he’s playing more under center, play-action passes,” Clements said in his first presser after being hired.
“In the later years that we were here, it was more of a not-too-much-under-center (offense), exclusively shotgun, more of a spread offense. And in the early years, we relied on the running game and the play-action pass and got in the shotgun more on third-down situations like that, and that’s more the style that I saw. When you can run the ball, it opens up a lot of things, and there’s been a lot of explosive passes over the years off the play-action pass game, and hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Rodgers will be 39 years old in December and is in the twilight years of his career. But the prime of his time in the NFL can be the best model for him to keep playing at a high level – and maybe secure a second Super Bowl ring before it’s time to go home.