GREEN BAY – Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is well aware that his public comments could be met with criticism. From postgame remarks after three straight losses, to expounding on the need for more receiver responsibility on the radio, the Green Bay Packers quarterback hasn’t been shy about openly criticizing his teammates this week as the Packers fell to 3-4 with a sputtering offense. .
“People don’t think I need to air that stuff out, that’s their opinion, but I’m doing what I think is the best interest of our guys,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “I’ve tried a lot of different things from a leadership standpoint this year. And I was just relating my personal feelings on the situation.”
On the Pat McAfee radio show Tuesday, Rodgers said, “Guys who are making too many mistakes shouldn’t be playing. Gotta start cutting some reps. Maybe guys who aren’t playing give them a chance.”
On Wednesday, Rodgers declined to name possible replacements, stating instead, “there should be accountability with our guys,” before also mentioning the hope they’d see veteran Sammy Watkins and rookie Christian Watson (both dealing with nagging hamstring issues) return to full form sooner rather than later.
“We got to get our best 11 on the field,” he said. “If that means going to different personnel groups, then we will have to do that, but we can’t have the same you know, double-digit, 15- plus mental errors and expect to move the ball efficiently.”
It is fair to wonder if this is divisive talk that will split a locker room, but some veterans are giving full-throated approval to their quarterback’s public criticism.
“This is a business and if you’re not performing or executing or doing the things that you’re supposed to be doing, then I’m with Aaron,” receiver Sammy Watkins said Wednesday. “If I’m not playing well and I’m freaking out and busting plays, then get me out of the game ’cause that’s not helping the team. And I think that’s a wake-up call to everybody, a wake-up call to myself.
“Maybe guys will block more, block harder, do their details correctly. I feel like everybody’s on the hot seat right now, even myself. I gotta go out there and make plays and do anything to get a dub, whether that’s run blocking… catching balls, deep, short, whatever it is, we have to do it as a collective unit.”
This is all on the heels of a 23-for-35, 194-yard performance from Rodgers (he had two touchdowns, both to running back Aaron Jones) in which drops, off throws and inaccurate routes are the name of the game. The Packers went 0-for-6 on third down.
Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur preached patience all offseason with this young wide receiver corps. But patience has been wearing thin as the Packers offense has been inconsistent and lethargic. With that comes warranted criticism.
“We’re always correcting stuff,” Rodgers said. “We meet with the receivers, we’re going over certain things, we’re detailing up the plan. But it comes down to being able to execute the moment and I think that’s some of the growing pains playing with young players.
“But we all should be able to handle criticism. That’s the nature of our job. You know, everything we do is scrutinized for myself on down to the young players, and getting used to dealing with that in a positive way is important whether it’s coming from one of you people (media) or from me or from Matt. We need to be able to be coachable, all of us.”
Public or not, what Rodgers is counting on is the conversations that are happening in private. Those have multiplied this week at 1265 Lombardi, including the weekly Thursday meeting with Rodgers and receivers being moved up to Wednesday, allowing for extra evaluation.
“I’m not saying anything on Pat (McAfee) that I’m not saying to those guys,” Rodgers said. “So maybe that’s talking about a conversation behind closed doors in public. But you know, the level of accountability is the standard here.”
His coach is taking the message to heart as well, starting with himself.
“I think what he was trying to get across,” LaFleur said of Rogers’ comments, “it’s just everybody’s got to be on top of their game.
“And it starts with us, as coaches, first and foremost, making sure we’re on the details, making sure that not only do we communicate the finer intricacies of whatever it is − is the fundamentals, the plays − but putting our guys through those , so that when you get into a game situation, it’s not the first time they’ve ever seen it.”
Twice during his weekly meeting with the media, Rodgers referred to the truth being necessary but something a lot of people don’t want to hear. It echoed what LaFleur said earlier Wednesday, that “we have to be truthful with each other. And sometimes the truth hurts.”
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Rodgers and LaFleur are hoping that this internal debate begets healing as opposed to fracturing.
“I enjoy those conversations,” Rodgers said. “You know, I enjoy any type of conflict like that because I know the resolution on the other side is gonna make us a better unit, a better friendship, better cohesion on the field.”
“I thought that was important,” he said. “Just as much as I need to do some treatment on my thumb, that was more important to be down there with the guys so they could hear my voice.”
The Green Bay Packers are taking a long look in the mirror this week, forced to do so by their quarterback. It may be painful for the time being, but as Matt LaFleur believes, it could be worth it in the end.
Said LaFleur, “I think you have to get to the root of the truth. And that gives you an opportunity to learn and grow. And we can’t run away from that ever.”