This season started with Aaron Rodgers as the early, no doubt MVP. Drew Brees gave him a challenge, but the season still ended with Rodgers as the no doubt MVP tonight, powered largely by his all-time best single-season passer rating of 122.5.
For much of the year Rodgers was part of the group threatening Dan Marino’s lofty single-season passing record of 5,084 yards, but the sheer volume of his first seven games couldn’t be maintained. Prior to Green Bay’s Week 8 bye Rodgers was already nearly halfway to Marino with 2,372 yards on the strength of six 300+ yard games. His 2,271 yards the rest of the way is a fade only by elite standards, and Rodgers had one less game to work with after he was benched for the Packers’ final game of the season that became meaningless.
At the midway point of the season Rodgers was on pace to shatter Marino’s mark and finish with 5,238 yards, and it’ll be disappointing if there’s any focus whatsoever on his inability to maintain that pace. There was far more to Rodgers this year than yards that did or did not accumulate.
Passing yards are valuable, but they’re an inefficient measuring tool when assessing a quarterback. Yes, the deep ball has its place, but an ability to connect consistently with receivers and mount sustained drives while making few mistakes is far more valuable than a number that accumulates.
Rodgers was behind only Brees in completion percentage (68.3 to Brees’ 71.2) after having seven games with a percentage of 70 or more. The separation between Rodgers and Brees begins in their interceptions, areas where both excelled, but Rodgers was a bit more trustworthy in the pocket. Rodgers threw just six picks while throwing 45 touchdowns, and he didn’t have a game with more than one interception. Brees threw 14 picks with five multi-pick games, and one with three.
Beyond the picks and the passer rating–another area where Brees was far behind with his 110.6–Rodgers also added another dimension to his game by being a far superior rusher. Brees’ efficiency was almost strictly contained to the pocket, while Rodgers often rolled out, and when he did he wasn’t afraid to tuck and run.
That ability led to 257 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while Brees only had 86 rushing yards. Tonight’s awards only consider the regular season, but it was Rodgers’ running that kept Green Bay’s divisional round loss to the Giants remotely close. Rodgers ran for a career-high 66 yards, averaging 9.4 yards per carry.
As we debate the always vague and confusing question of value, and which player had more value to his team, the moronically maniacal voices that follow the scripture of Skip Bayless will point to Matt Flynn’s six touchdowns and 480 passing yards against a poor Detroit secondary in Week 17, and call Rodgers a system quarterback. Those are the same voices that made an honest and sincere argument for Tim Tebow to be the MVP. By that standard we can also lower the respect we give to Tom Brady’s accomplishments, since only a few years ago Matt Cassel thrived in the same system after he didn’t even start at USC.
Every team has an offensive system, and some are better than others. Every team has a quarterback that has to execute that system, and many are better than others.
Aaron Rodgers was the best quarterback and the best player to execute one of the NFL’s best systems during the 2011 season.