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Aaron Rodgers avoids interceptions, but he leads the NFL in bad plays

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 16: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is sacked by Khalil Mack #52 of the Chicago Bears in the first quarter at Soldier Field on December 16, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still the best in the NFL at avoiding interceptions. Unfortunately, too often he’s avoiding interceptions at the expense of making productive plays.

We’ve noted before how Rodgers is throwing the ball away more than any other quarterback in the NFL, but there’s more to it than just that. Rodgers’ accuracy is hurting even when he isn’t trying to throw the ball away. In Sunday’s loss to the Bears, he twice missed open receivers for what should have been touchdown passes. He’s scattering the ball around the field in ways he hasn’t before, and the result is that Rodgers has thrown more incompletions than any other quarterback in the NFL.

Rodgers also avoids interceptions by taking sacks too often. In fact, if we add up every quarterback’s interceptions, incompletions, sacks and fumbles and compile them all into one stat we’ll call “bad plays,” Rodgers is actually the worst in the NFL.

Here are the quarterbacks ranked by the most bad plays in the 2018 season:
255 Aaron Rodgers
230 Case Keenum
223 Eli Manning
221 Jared Goff

It’s worth stating the obvious, that the leaders in “bad plays” are not actually the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. In fact, to lead the league in bad plays you’ll probably have to start every week, just to get an opportunity to throw that many incompletions, and the really bad quarterbacks are the ones who don’t start every week because they get benched. But a quarterback with a lot of bad plays has certainly not had a great season, and few would argue that Rodgers, Keenum and Manning have all been disappointing this year -- and Goff has rapidly become disappointing after getting the season off to a great start.

Simply avoiding interceptions should not be the goal of a quarterback, and when we praise Rodgers for his league-low two interception rate this season, we’re overlooking all of his other bad plays. As Paul Noonan wrote at SB Nation’s Packers site, there is such a thing as being too careful with the ball, and that’s what Rodgers has looked like this season: He so badly wants to avoid throwing interceptions that he’ll either take a sack or throw the ball away rather than try to hit his receiver in a tight window. And hitting his receivers in a tight window is one of the things a great quarterback needs to do.

Rodgers is 35, and if his down year is just a natural part of a quarterback getting older, that would be understandable. For as impressive as it is that Tom Brady and Drew Brees continued to play at a high level long past age 35, not every quarterback ages the same way. Maybe Rodgers just isn’t destined to be as good a quarterback in his late 30s as he was when he won the Super Bowl MVP at age 27, and the regular-season MVP at age 28 and again at age 31. It happens.

The problem for the Packers is, they can no longer afford for Rodgers not to be great. Rodgers was previously on a very affordable contract, but the Packers decided this year to rip that contract up and give him a new, much more lucrative contract, even though he still had two years on his old deal. That decision now looks like a mistake, as the Packers are on the hook for a deal that sees Rodgers’ cap hits grow to $26.5 million next year, $32.6 million in 2020 and $33.5 million in 2021. It won’t be easy to build a better team around Rodgers while he’s taking up that much of the salary cap. Especially if, as he gets older, he continues to struggle with accuracy and avoiding the pass rush.

So the Packers need Rodgers to stop making so many bad plays. Even if that means throwing more interceptions.