Photo: Benny Sieu

The sucking of the ass.

A big question heading into the second half of the Green Bay Packers’ season is second year starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers and whether he can help reverse the team’s fortunes and make the Packers – now in second place in the NFC North at 4-4 – a playoff contender again.

Rodgers is having a great season on paper. He’s the fifth-ranked passer in the NFL at 103.3 points and has thrown for more than 2,200 yards and 16 touchdowns so far this season. But Rodgers’ team is mediocre at best right now and quarterbacks are judged first by their team’s record.

The Denver Broncos’ Kyle Orton is a perfect example. Orton is the league’s 14th-ranked quarterback, he’s thrown for 417 fewer yards and five fewer touchdowns than Rodgers. Yet, every time you see the Broncos play, commentators will comment on what a great season Orton is having, primarily because his team is 6-2 and exceeding expectations.

Rodgers, while he has all the physical tools, is receiving no such praise right now.

Rodgers is partly to blame for the offense’s biggest problem right now – its league-worst 37 sacks allowed. As evidenced again in the Packers’ pathetic 38-28 loss at Tampa Bay last weekend, Rodgers holds the ball way too long, way too often. He also showed a knack for making poor decisions down the stretch, resulting in three interceptions against the Buccaneers.

Needless to say, the guy’s taking a beating this season – both physically and now mentally as the criticism pours in like defenders breaking through Green Bay’s offensive line. How will he react? How will he perform?

This is one of Rodgers’ first real tests as a starting quarterback. His solid play in the face of difficult circumstances last season gave him a get out of jail free card, so to speak. The Packers went 6-10 but last season was considered a rebuilding year of sorts following the retirement/departure of Brett Favre.

NFL scouts still think Rodgers has skills, and Favre had many ups and downs in his career before he became a future Hall of Famer. In fact, so has the Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Romo, the quarterback the Packers face this weekend. Both Romo and Favre have managed to keep their jobs through it all, so there’s no reason to expect Rodgers will be any different.

“Even the great Peyton Manning had his “big-game” critics, stemming all the way back to college, until he finally won the Super Bowl,” the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Pete Dougherty writes in his latest column. ” About the only quarterback in recent memory who seems to have escaped baptism by hard times is New England’s Tom Brady, who won the Super Bowl in three of his first four years as a starter. So, Rodgers has hit a rough time, and it won’t be the last. The question isn’t as much how he got there, but how he comes back.”

I was quite concerned by Rodgers’ performance in the first half of the Minnesota Vikings game at Lambeau Field a few weeks ago. He looked like a deer in the headlights, and his fundamentals went out the window as the game got more and more out of hand. I wasn’t too impressed with his decision-making against Tampa Bay either, with the three picks and his inability to get anything going for the Packers the last few possessions of the game.

But this kid’s got talent, and from what he’s shown so far, I think he has the mental stamina and toughness needed to weather this storm. If he can just get an offensive line that can block for him, he’d be set.

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