Rattle QB Rodgers? Yes, It’s Possible
Aaron Rodgers is the master of the fourth quarter miracle. The Packers quarterback has led so many comebacks that Sbnation.com wrote an article this week about 11 of them just against the Bears and Lions.
The story was prompted by last Sunday night’s mythmaking rally against the Bears in Green Bay’s opening game of the season. A national NBC television audience watched a gimpy Rodgers, unable to put much weight on his left knee, lead the Packers to a 24-23 win, after the Bears had built a 20-0 early second half lead.
Since 2008 Rodgers has shown a flair for the dramatic, sometimes even the impossible. Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber watched Sunday’s game with a feeling that when the Bears had a cushy lead it wasn’t going to last.
Leber told Sports Headliners this week that he probably would choose Rodgers over anyone else to lead a comeback if his team was in a bad spot. “He has an uncanny way of finding throws and finding seams,” Leber said.
Rodgers played with a left knee sprain and it affected his mobility. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer could see that as he watched tape this week of the game. “He didn’t move quite as well, but he did move and make some throws,” Zimmer said. “He didn’t really get outside the pocket after that. The guy is incredible. He makes every throw, gets the ball out quick, sees pressure. …”
Even hobbling around on one solid leg Rodgers may have been better than any other quarterback in the NFL. His arm strength is reminiscent of former Packers and Vikings legend Brett Favre.
“He’s learned how to manage a game and throw balls down the field even just throwing off one foot—whether it’s his back foot or a front foot,” Leber said. “If he didn’t have that arm strength, he would not have been as effective with that bad knee.”
The Packers have been coy this week about whether that injured left knee will keep the quarterback sidelined when the Vikings play at Green Bay on Sunday. Today official word will come whether he is “okay, questionable, doubtful or out” for the game between the two clubs who are the most likely to win the four-team NFC North Division title that also includes the Bears and Lions.
The news could cast a pall over Packer Nation. If Rodgers can’t play, the Packers would be at a huge disadvantage against the Vikings, who are superior to Green Bay in just about every way except at quarterback. Football is the ultimate team game but the Rodgers-led Packers are kind of a one-man band.
Even if Rodgers can play, there has to be concern in America’s Dairyland and all over Packer Nation. Their hero will be 35 in December and he is looking more vulnerable. In an early season game last year against the Vikings, Rodgers broke his collarbone on an infamous play. He missed most of the year and his absence ruined the Packers’ chances of being a playoff team.
This year Rodgers is hurt again. What if he plays this Sunday but takes an early blow to his knee? Can he withstand that? Rodgers is all about guts and courage but his mobility is a prime asset in his skillset.
Leber said even a healthy Rodgers is not an impossible assignment for the Vikings who have won four of the last five games against Green Bay. He suggested if the Vikings do things like play enough tight coverage on receivers, knock down passes and hurry throws, Rodgers can get frustrated, even rattled.
What Rodgers wants to do is hit the Vikings with long strikes down the field. The Vikings can frustrate Rodgers if he doesn’t have those opportunities. “I think that he gets antsy,” Leber said. “He wants to stay aggressive, and I don’t think he likes playing that game where he has to dink and dunk (short passes). I think he wants to sit in the pocket and throw the ball down the field.”
The formula for playing against Rodgers includes wearing him down during the game. “..I would say like every quarterback, nobody likes to get hit,” Leber said. “If you can constantly pressure him, and get him rattled—I mean he’s not immortal.
“But he is a much tougher quarterback (than most) to go against because he is a strong quarterback. He’s tough, he’s mobile. He’s extremely smart and savvy, and always thinking one step ahead.”
Zimmer is among the sharpest defensive strategists in the NFL but don’t expect him to create some grand design for Rodgers that will confuse the quarterback. Leber played 10 seasons in the NFL and he knows his X’s and O’s, too. “…As far as coverages go, and schemes, no, there is really nothing that he (Rodgers) hasn’t seen. It just comes down to his offensive line executing and giving him the time to throw.
“But I don’t think you’re going to go into a game ever thinking, ‘Hey, we’ve got something so cool and so creative that it’s just going to blow his socks off and he’s not going to know what to do.’ ”
How Rodgers plays Sunday—if he does—will have a lot to do with his supporting cast, of course. During the offseason the Packers released wide receiver Jordy Nelson, a longtime Rodgers favorite. Leber thinks the move results in a “dip in talent” for the receiver roster because Nelson was so effective in finding openings to catch passes from Rodgers. Leber likes the group of running backs and wants to see more of the offensive line before making evaluations.
Against the Bears the Green Bay offensive line struggled to contain star Chicago pass rusher Khalil Mack. When the Vikings come to town Rodgers and his protectors will have to contend with a defense that could be the NFL’s best. Minnesota has playmakers in every position including bring-the-pressure defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter.
Even against the mythmaker Rodgers, Leber forecasts a Vikings win on Sunday, 24-20.