I’ve always defended Aaron Rodgers’ leadership both on the field and off. He can be chippy with teammates and vocal with the coaching staff on the sidelines. None of that is a problem with me. The man that many argue is the only quarterback that has played the position better than Rodgers, Tom Brady, has had some pretty notable arguments with players and staff on the sidelines. Rodgers is fiery. He wants to win.
But is he a leader?
Leadership is a funny thing in sports. When you’re winning, no one questions it. Well, almost no one. As a fan I defended Rodgers because, well, they were winning. If the quarterback wasn’t the leader we expected, how could they have so much success?
But then stories started coming out. Former players were questioning Rodgers’ leadership.
First, it was Greg Jennings. And we all dismissed it because, well, Jennings was a bitter ex-teammate that was jilted by the Packers. Jennings, speaking about Rodgers, said, “But when you hear all positives, all positives, all positives all the time, it’s hard for you to sit down when one of your teammates says, `Man, come on, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable for this.’ It’s hard for someone to see that now because all they’ve heard is I’m doing it the right way, I’m perfect. In actuality, we all have flaws.”
But that was Greg Jennings. Many ignored it, rightfully so. Until another voice spoke up.
Donald Driver, beloved by the Packers fan base, weighed in as well. And his comments were a little more disconcerting.
Driver said, “Sometimes you ask Aaron to take the pressure off the guys so we won’t look bad, but he didn’t want to do that. He felt like if you did something bad, you do it. But I think that’s the difference. You want that leadership, and I think sometimes you may not feel like you got it. You have to earn that respect at the end of the day, and I think that’s what Greg was probably referring to.”
But the Packers were winning. Still. So many of us ignored the concerns.
Then this stretch happened. A stretch where the Packers are 0-3. Rodgers put up just 77 yards in the air against Denver. Then against the Lions, Rodgers just looked off. He missed passes. He didn’t seem to be on the same page as his receivers. All of this left us scratching our heads. And it left me wondering where the leadership is.
In his post game press conference, Rodgers was asked about the obvious offensive shortcomings.
The quotes I use here are based on my transcription of the press conference so please forgive slight inaccuracies.
A reporter said that he was sure Rodgers was “beating himself up” about the performance in the last couple of weeks.
Rodgers’ response? “I’m not.”
When asked about what was wrong with the offense?
“We’ll look at the film. We’ll make some corrections tomorrow.”
Seeing that the point wasn’t getting across, another reporter got right to it (forgive me for not knowing exactly who, the Packers audio is notoriously sketchy, but I believe it was Jason Wilde). “We haven’t seen you play like this, so what’s going on?”
Rodgers: “I don’t understand the question.”
Rodgers was asked about the two point conversion to tie the game. While he said they had the right play called, he remarked, “I didn’t see the end of it. I got knocked down.”
Rodgers was also critical of his teammates and the enthusiasm they showed in the game. The quarterback said, “I felt like we were ready to play, but the energy wasn’t there to start.”
Finally, over four minutes in, Rodgers finally took some level of accountability.
“We had some opportunities. I missed some throws.”
This press conference is exactly what Driver, and yes, Jennings were talking about. For a player that gets all of the accolades, it is important for him to take blame. To lead. Even when it’s not his fault. In the loss to the Lions, Rodgers was clearly at fault. He didn’t play well. He missed not just “some” throws, but many. Some of them critical.
The thing about leadership is that it really counts when things are rough. When a team is winning, leadership is rarely questioned. Results speak volumes. But when the team hits a rough patch, it needs its leaders to step up. Rodgers had that opportunity. He passed on it.
Instead of telling us that he has to “look at the film” before he tells us that he had a bad game, just come out and say it. Don’t make it sound like he has to see who is to blame. Take the blame. Even if he doesn’t really think it is his fault.
Publicly, take the heat off a struggling offense. Place the blame on your own shoulders. Don’t tell us you don’t understand a question that everyone in the listening audience understands. Admit fault. Don’t take disguised swipes at your offensive line by saying that you didn’t see the end of a play because you were knocked down. Don’t question your teammates’ energy publicly, even if it is a valid issue.
This is what Jennings and Driver were talking about. The almost physical inability to accept blame is worrisome. Rodgers could come to the podium and tell the crowd assembled that he had a bad game. He could take all the blame. None of us would believe that it was all his fault, but we would understand. He is taking some accountability and refusing to disparage his teammates. But that’s not what he does.
Time and time again, Rodgers tells us that there are problems, and that they have to review tape. He tells us, essentially, we have to find what the problems are. Maybe that’s true. Even if it is, many leaders would stand at that podium and take the fire. They may rant and yell in the meeting rooms behind closed doors and insist on teammates playing better, but publicly, they take the heat.
Rodgers isn’t willing to do that. It makes me wonder how hard some of these players want to play for him.
Driver was telling us that Jennings was right. Rodgers needs to take some of the pressure off of his teammates by accepting blame even when he doesn’t think it is his fault. This is from Donald Driver, one of the more affable players you could ever meet. He is also the veteran of several NFL campaigns. He sees the problem.
After watching that press conference, I am more concerned than ever. Scheme can change. Play calling can change. Even talent can change. Can Rodgers change his leadership approach? Is he even willing? That might be what holds this team back more than anything on the field.
Thank you for reading. Chris Kristofco is a lead writer and lead editor at Titletown Sound Off. You can follow him on Twitter @TTSO_Chris. For even more Packers content, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.