Aaron Rodgers has overcome a lot of obstacles in his career, and still plays with a chip on his shoulder from falling to No. 24 in the 2005 NFL draft.
He’ll have some more motivation next Sunday at the Los Angeles Rams, courtesy of Las Vegas oddmakers.
The SuperBook at the Westgate Las Vegas opened the Green Bay Packers as 8.5-point underdogs in Week 8.
If the line stands, it would represent the largest total by which Rodgers has been an underdog in his career, per ESPN Stats & Information data, and biggest since the Packers were 8-point underdogs to the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. Green Bay was an underdog to the Arizona Cardinals by 7 in 2015, to the New York Jets by 6 in 2010 and to the Atlanta Falcons by 5.5 in 2016. All but the Jets game came in the playoffs.
That 2010 meeting with the Jets was the previous biggest regular-season spread as an underdog for Rodgers; the Packers visited New York as 6-point underdogs and won (and covered) 9-0 in Week 8.
The Rams are undefeated (7-0) and have been favored by at least 6.5 points in every game so far this season, going 4-2-1 against the spread.
The 3-2-1 Packers, off in Week 7 for their bye, will enter the game as underdogs for the third time this season. They are 2-4 ATS.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — There’s good news and potentially bad news for Aaron Rodgers.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback could have his top three receivers back together for Monday night’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, but he might be a little less mobile than he’d like.
Rodgers experienced what he called a setback with his ailing left knee during last Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions, when he took a hit from linebacker Christian Jones on the game’s opening drive.
For the first time since he was injured in the season opener, Rodgers wore a smaller, lighter brace against the Lions. Now there’s a chance he may have to go back to the larger brace that he wore in the three games immediate following the injury.
“I hope not,” Rodgers said. “The goal would be to wear the same brace I wore last week, but I have a lot of faith in our training staff and we’re going to [use] the brace we feel is most safe and allowing me to do exactly what I’m able to do on Monday.”
Rodgers did not practice on Thursday, the Packers’ first of the week in advance of the 49ers game. That followed the same pattern as the last month. He said he hoped to practice on Friday; the past two weeks, he has taken part in that full-pads workout (which is normally on Thursday in advance of a Sunday game).
He did, however, call what happened against the Lions a setback. He threw for 442 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions but was done in by two first-half fumbles on strip sacks, marking only the third time in his career that he lost two fumbles in a game.
“Yeah, kind of a setback last week, the beginning of the week,” Rodgers said. “Got to be in the rehab group again today, got a lot of good work in with [assistant trainer] Nate [Weir] and just hoping I get back out there tomorrow and have a feel-good Friday and a practice [Sunday] and be good to go — hopefully back to where I was in Detroit.”
While Rodgers worked with the trainers, receivers Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison were surprise participants at practice on Thursday after missing the Detroit game. Both had hamstring injuries; Allison also was diagnosed with a concussion. Coach Mike McCarthy said before Thursday’s practice that Allison had cleared the concussion protocol, but indications were both receivers would be in the rehab group.
Instead, they went through at least part of practice, meaning the trio of Cobb, Allison and No. 1 receiver Davante Adams are on the verge of a reunion. The trio hasn’t played together since Week 3 because Cobb missed the previous two games.
Against the Lions, it was Adams and three rookie receivers. Two of them, Marquez Valdes-Scantling (seven catches for 68 yards) and Equanimeous St. Brown (three for 89) made contributions, but Adams (nine for 140 and a touchdown) did the majority of the work.
“I think we can be one of the best in the league,” Adams said of the trio of himself, Cobb and Allison. “I honestly think that because obviously you know how I feel about myself and my game. Randall’s been doing this thing for a long time, longer than I have. I have the utmost respect for him, and G-Mo goes about his business as good as anybody else in the league. So the sky’s the limit for him. I feel like he has not even come close to reaching his potential. He’s shown flashes, but he can do a lot for us.”
Perhaps that will help the Packers get off to a faster start, something Rodgers has identified as a goal. Although they’re 10th in the NFL in total offense, they are tied for 18th in scoring and tied for 19th in red-zone touchdown percentage. They have been outscored 42-13 in first quarters this season and 76-43 in first halves, while averaging just 23 points per game.
“It’s definitely below, and we’ve kind of been stuck at that number,” Rodgers said. “Scored that a couple of times — 22, 24, way up to 29 in Week 2. Not quite the standard that we’ve set here over the years with the type of offense we think we can have and the type of offense we think we could have coming out of training camp.
“I told you guys Week 1 it’s going to be a work in progress; I don’t think we’re far off. I feel kind of like after Washington a couple of years ago [2016, Week 11]. We are very close to getting things going and like I said then and I’ll say again now, I feel like if we can get off to a better start on offense, it makes the entire squad play with a different type of confidence.
“We need to lead from the front as an offense and as a team and give our defense an opportunity to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback and make them a little more one-dimensional.”
A full complement of receivers and the smaller knee brace could help.
Bowles and Rodgers are close friends, having coached together previously with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins. When Bowles was hired by the Jets in 2015, he named Rodgers his defensive coordinator.
“Obviously, we’re all thinking about him,” defensive end Henry Anderson said. “All of us were hit pretty hard when we heard the news. He’s such a good dude. I’m hoping everything works out and he’s back as soon as he can. We miss him, for sure.”
Rodgers was the defensive playcaller. Bowles will handle that responsibility when the Jets (1-3) face the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium.
Bowles will be without one of his top players, as cornerback Trumaine Johnson was ruled out with a strained quadriceps. He was injured Thursday in practice, and the early indication is that he could miss multiple games.
Asked if it’s a potentially season-ending injury, Bowles said, “Not at this time, no.”
The Jets probably will move nickelback Buster Skrine into the starting lineup, opposite Morris Claiborne. When they play nickel, Skrine will slide inside to the slot, his customary spot, with Darryl Roberts playing on the outside with Claiborne.
“Anytime you lose a starter, it’s a big deal, but we have guys who have played the last couple of years that we like — Roberts, Buster, [Parry] Nickerson, as well as [Juston] Burris,” Bowles said. “We’ll go from there. Next guy up.”
The Jets signed Johnson to a five-year, $72.5 million contract in free agency, which includes a $34 million guarantee — the third-largest in team history. He got off to a sluggish start, surrendering a 67-yard touchdown reception in last week’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — There’s progress with Aaron Rodgers‘ left knee.
For the first time since the Packers quarterback injured his knee in Week 1, he will practice before the team’s weekly Saturday session.
Coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers will be limited in Thursday’s practice, which is typically the team’s longest workout of the week. The Packers don’t practice on Fridays but instead hold a short on-field session about 24 hours before game time.
“Any time your quarterback [doesn’t practice] — I don’t care what team you’re on or wherever I’ve been, when your quarterback doesn’t practice — it’s different,” McCarthy said this week. “I mean, Aaron Rodgers brings a tremendous amount of — forget about the game plan or the scheme you’re running that week. The competitive nature. When you talk to defensive coaches, and I had one recently with one of the newer guys on our staff about other places and different [things]. When you feel a quarterback on the field, that’s huge as far as his cadence, his presence, the competition. That’s such a big part. Those are things that don’t show up in a scouting report or that you can see on video.
“So I think clearly any football team that doesn’t have their starting quarterback, especially the greatness of Aaron, it’s definitely different in practice. And obviously if we didn’t think it was important we wouldn’t practice. But it’s part of your preparation.”
Rodgers indicated Wednesday that his lack of practice time didn’t affect his performance in Sunday’s 31-17 loss at Washington, but whatever work he gets in on Thursday will mean his most prep time since the season opener, which is the Packers (1-1-1) only win of the season.
Rodgers has played every snap in the two games since his injury but missed a total of five practices, including Wednesday’s session — the first in advance of Sunday’s game against the Bills at Lambeau Field.
“Practice?” Rodgers said Wednesday, channeling his inner Allen Iverson. “What do you want to talk about? It’s practice. I do love to compete. There’s no doubt about it. It is difficult and different for me to not be out there. I’m one who always loves being out there because you’re not just competing but you’re working on things with the guys and working on the game plan especially on days like Wednesday and Thursday. So that’s been obviously a struggle for me. But I’ve been putting a lot of good work in with Nate and our training staff. That’s how I’m able to play. That’s the tradeoff — not being out there for practice but the tradeoff is I can actually get out there and play on Sunday.
“It’s three weeks now, 2½ games of dealing with this, so I feel good about my movement. I’m getting better. And hopefully at some point I’ll be able to practice again before Saturday. But other than that, just getting ready to play.”
McCarthy also said tight end Jimmy Graham, who did not practice on Wednesday, will return in a limited fashion. McCarthy said Graham (knee) was held out because of “maintenance” and did not have an injury of concern. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who left Sunday’s loss with a back injury, also is in the limited practice category. However, right guard Justin McCray (shoulder) is not expected to play this week. Veteran Byron Bell is expected to start in his place.
A hobbled Aaron Rodgers is more valuable to the point spread than a healthy Tom Brady or any other NFL quarterback. That’s the viewpoint of oddsmakers, who define their opinions by their risk of losing millions, rather than clamoring for hot takes in the GOAT conversation.
“New England has always overachieved with a backup quarterback,” said Ed Salmons, an oddsmaker at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. “Green Bay is in a class [by itself] because they’re obsessed with getting horrendous second-string quarterbacks.”
Therein lies the root of this discussion. The drop-off from starter to backup plays a definitive role in this conversation as well.
“It’s hard to get a worse backup quarterback than [Deshone] Kizer because he just can’t play without making mistakes. If the backup were Colt McCoy, then Rodgers wouldn’t be worth as much,” Salmons said.
While Rodgers is still valuable on one leg, other injuries require caution. “Carson Wentz is going to be a guy with a huge knee brace on that’s not going to be able to run the way he did last year,” Salmons said. “It’s hard to give a Wentz number right now because the current version is going to be a lot different than the version of next year when he’s 100 percent healthy.”
After Baker Mayfield led Cleveland to a 21-17 win on Thursday night, Salmons updated his numbers on the Browns QB situation. “The Browns were getting much worse with Tyrod Taylor, who was a competent QB in his career,” Salmons said. “The current version of Taylor is top three bad. Obviously with Mayfield they are a much better team. That’s worth three points to me.”
Formulating a player’s exact worth is much more complicated than simple math. The nuanced process hinges on the original game line, because NFL oddsmaking relies so heavily on the key numbers of three, four and seven — the most common margins of victory.
ESPN asked Salmons to assess a point spread for every team playing on the road against the Rams, which are his highest-powered team. Then, he determined a point spread with the team’s backup QB in the exact same situation. Below are the tiers of line changes, given the backups. As for the Rams, they would hypothetically play at New England, which is the closest team in Salmons’ power rankings.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The hope, of course, is that Aaron Rodgers‘ injured left knee improves as the season goes along.
The concern, however, is that the more the Green Bay Packers quarterback plays on it, the worse it gets.
“Yeah, obviously that’s a concern,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “Hopefully it goes the other way though.”
Rodgers made it through all of Sunday’s 29-29 tie against the Minnesota Vikings while playing with a large brace on his left knee, which he injured in the previous week’s season-opening win over the Chicago Bears.
He admitted that his knee “obviously it won’t be 100 percent, so I’ll just adjust accordingly to how I’m feeling and try to get through.”
“It just depends on how the week goes with the rehab and the recovery,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, I’d love to be better than I was last week as far as health-wise but there’s some factors that are out of my control.”
That likely means another week without much time on the practice field. Rodgers did not practice last week until Saturday, when he took part in the hour-long session that coach Mike McCarthy typically holds the day before games.
McCarthy altered his usual practice schedule in advance of Sunday’s game at Washington. He cancelled Wednesday’s practice, although not necessarily because of Rodgers’ injury. The Packers’ overtime game against the Vikings was played in 80-degree heat with 71 percent humidity. That followed a Sunday night season opener against the Bears.
“I think it’s obvious we came off of a Sunday Night game, played an overtime game in unusual heat for this part of the country, so just trusting our numbers,” McCarthy said. “That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Rodgers said the warm weather on Sunday actually helped his knee get loose as the game went on.
“The heat and the adrenaline definitely helped, but it’s just going to be something you’ve got to deal with for a while,” Rodgers said. “Take it week by week. It doesn’t seem like there’s a major setback at this point, so just being smart about it and trying to get ready to play Sunday.”
He ran three times for 8 yards (with a long run of 7 for a first down). One of them was a read-option keeper in overtime when he fumbled. He completed 30-of-42 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions. However, the Packers converted just one of five red zone trips into touchdowns.
“We’re still in a day by day mode, I mean, just how he’s progressing,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “So we’ll see how the team responds out of this format that we’re in today. They’ll be, there’s a number of players obviously, there’s players that have played a lot of reps the first two weeks. So, what we want to get done with them and how we practice them tomorrow will be based off the information that we go through tonight as a staff. So, he’s obviously in that group from an injury standpoint.”
The other major injury of concern is to cornerback Kevin King, who dropped out against the Vikings because of a groin injury. Although McCarthy did not think it was a long-term issue, he said King would be “hard pressed” to play Sunday at Washington.
ASHBURN, Va. — They traveled different roads, yet forever will be linked. The San Francisco 49ers once upon a time opted for Alex Smith instead of Aaron Rodgers with the first overall pick, a move that looks far different with 14 years of hindsight.
Smith embarked on a journey in which he played immediately, got benched, got hurt, got traded — twice — and yet still remained a starter. Meanwhile, Rodgers sat for three seasons behind Brett Favre, became the starter, won a Super Bowl, recently signed a four-year, $134 million contract and remains in the discussion as the best quarterback in the game.
“At the time there was no comparison because he wasn’t playing, but once he started rolling … he and I will always be paired together,” Smith said. “Doesn’t help that we look alike.”
It got so bad the people bussing the tables wanted him to move. Why Rodgers fell on draft day.
Their careers also are a case study in how to train a young quarterback. Smith was 20 years old when drafted in 2005 and started 30 games before he was 23; Rodgers, who is five months older than Smith, didn’t start until 2008, when he was 25. This year’s touted rookie quarterbacks are on different sides of that case study, with two starting (Sam Darnold and Josh Allen) while three others sit (Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson).
Smith and Rodgers will start against one another for the fourth time Sunday when the Redskins host the Green Bay Packers. Smith started twice vs. Green Bay while with San Francisco and once with Kansas City. Rodgers and the Packers have won two of the three meetings.
But it’s not as if Smith feels like there’s anything to worry about in living up to being drafted ahead of Rodgers.
“That’s 14 years down the line,” he said.
Rodgers was a focal point of the 2005 draft because he was considered a possible top overall pick and spent the day sliding down the draft board. Going into that draft, his thought process was that he was destined to go to San Francisco.
“I just thought it was the perfect situation,” Rodgers told ESPN’s Rob Demovsky last year. “California kid who had been a lifelong Niner fan. I thought at the time I was the most NFL-ready quarterback coming out of college because I played in a pro-style system.”
But the 49ers liked Smith’s size (6-foot-4) and athleticism.
“Obviously that was a mistake because [Rodgers is] a Hall of Fame quarterback,” Mike Nolan, the 49ers coach at the time, said this summer. “What we saw with Alex, we thought over time he would get better because he was so young, which he has done. That’s what we were banking on. What we missed on is that they [the Niners] didn’t give us enough time to stay around. Had we used his skill set like we should have, then we would have bought ourselves time.
“He was out there with not a great surrounding cast. We were trying to build something from absolutely nothing and that made it doubly hard on Alex.”
But Nolan said one aspect stood out about Rodgers.
“I loved the arrogance and confidence he had,” Nolan said. “You talk to [ex-players] like John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino. All of them have some cockiness to them. Even Drew Brees, who is as respectful a man as there is, he has tremendous confidence.”
The struggles dented Smith’s confidence. The 49ers weren’t good and he had to try to rescue the franchise. Injuries had an impact in three of his first four seasons, and he missed all of 2008 with a broken bone in his shoulder. Smith played for three full-time head coaches and seven offensive coordinators in his first seven seasons. Meanwhile, Rodgers has played for two head coaches in Green Bay.
“I don’t know if there were many pros for me playing early,” Smith said. “I feel like I dug myself a pretty deep hole that rookie year.”
Smith said in the offseason he dealt with some anxiety early in his career, born out of dealing with his situation.
“He was 20 when we drafted him,” Nolan said. “That might have been part of the anxiety. But had we done a better job of utilizing his skill set, he would have had less anxiety because he would have been more comfortable.”
Smith was drafted by a team seeking a culture change; Rodgers went to one with a system already in place. Last year, the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes, sat him behind Smith for a year and gave him the job this season. Mahomes leads the NFL with 10 touchdown passes in the first two weeks.
Smith likes the way that teams are embracing the individuality in quarterbacks these days.
“I came in as a spread guy. I had to play most of that year under center,” he said. “I do think now there’s an appreciation for letting some of these guys do what they did well in college. It’s fun to watch young guys come in and use their skill set.”
But there’s no benefit to a what-if game.
“I don’t give that much thought,” he said. “What’s the point? It does me no good dwelling on that. I’m very thankful for where I’m at right now and the road I did have to go down. Certainly, there were tough times, but no, you can’t go back and change it. So, why dwell on it?”
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers practiced Saturday for the first time since he sprained his left knee in the season opener, increasing the Green Bay Packers‘ chances of having their starting quarterback on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
It’s a significant step, but it doesn’t guarantee Rodgers’ return.
That decision won’t be made until the team is sure that Rodgers came through the one-hour session without any setbacks. That likely means waiting to see how Rodgers’ knee feels Sunday morning.
Rodgers, who was listed as questionable on Friday, did not practice Wednesday or Thursday — the team’s two longest on-field sessions of the week. Unlike most teams, the Packers don’t practice on Fridays but instead hold a light on-field session on Saturdays before a Sunday game.
Coach Mike McCarthy said Friday that he would have no problem playing Rodgers even if he did not practice at all this week.
“Don’t really need to see anything [from Rodgers on Saturday] because the classroom work and participation from both Aaron and DeShone [Kizer] is all part of this preparation process,” McCarthy said. “So we’re just going to keep working through that, and we’ll be ready to go.
“He could play with no reps,” McCarthy added. “We’ve established that point some time ago in his career. So I think it’s no different. You’d like to walk off the field Saturday and have your plan set, but this is the National Football League, things happen. Guys get sick on Saturday, too. That’s all part of our process where we work the practice squad guys in and everything. So we’ll be ready for anything, but I know he wants to play. So we’ll see how it goes.”
Rodgers left Sunday night’s opener against the Bears in the second quarter after defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris fell on the quarterback’s left leg. Rodgers said it was fair to call the injury a sprain, but he wouldn’t say what exactly was sprained.
It’s most likely that he sprained one of ligaments other than the ACL. An MCL, LCL or PCL sprain could heal without surgery but any damage to the ACL would not. He said he has had three previous surgeries on his left knee — in high school (arthroscopic surgery), college (ACL reconstruction) and after the 2015 NFL season (arthroscopic).
Rodgers said he did not take any painkilling injections or medication before he returned last Sunday against the Bears and threw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to rally the Packers from a 20-3 deficit to a 24-23 win.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — No, Aaron Rodgers can’t walk on water, regardless of what Mike Zimmer says.
But the Green Bay Packers quarterback can play like, well, Aaron Rodgers even in the immediate aftermath of injuries.
Rodgers did not practice on Wednesday and said he would have no trouble playing even if he didn’t practice all week, but he could not commit to playing Sunday against Zimmer’s Vikings a week after he sprained his left knee in the season-opening comeback win over the Bears.
“He walks on water, so I’m sure he’s going to play,” Zimmer said on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field.
Perhaps Zimmer is working off history.
Only three times since he became a starter was Rodgers unable to play the week following an injury: both broken collarbones (2013 and last season) and his 2010 concussion (when he missed one game).
Rodgers not only has come back the next week from other injuries, but on most occasions he has turned in masterful performances.
“I have a great treatment regimen with these guys in here and the stuff I do outside the facility and then just being ready mentally,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “Even though I’m not out there practicing today, I’m aware of the game plan and I’m doing what I always do, watching film, taking notes, thinking about adjustments, just getting ready to rock n’ roll and hopefully my body will be ready to go.”
Here’s a look at how Rodgers has come back the week following injuries:
Injury: Separated right shoulder at Tampa Bay, Sept. 28
Next game: vs Atlanta, Oct. 5
It wasn’t until a workout on the morning of the Falcons game that coach Mike McCarthy knew Rodgers would play. And even after Rodgers got the OK, McCarthy assured him that he wouldn’t call any deep throws.
“We were actually just laughing about that game last week where I told him, I wouldn’t throw any deep balls,” McCarthy recalled this week. “We had one deep ball on the call sheet and it was a third-and-1 call, and I said, ‘We’ll wait ’til you get going and you tell me when you’re ready if we can cut it loose.’
“And shoot, I think it was the second series, it was the perfect down and distance, perfect hash, and I called the play — ‘Fake 94 Bob X Read’ — and as soon as I called it, I thought ‘Oh Christ — excuse me — I wasn’t supposed to call that.’ And he went back and let it rip and then everything was fine after that.”
Rodgers threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns and “Fake 94 Bob X Read” became the stuff of legend even though the Packers lost the game 27-24 on the way to a 6-10 record his first season as a starter during which Rodgers did not miss a game.
Injury: Left calf strain at Tampa Bay, Dec. 21
Next game: vs. Detroit, Dec. 28
Rodgers didn’t miss a snap against the Buccaneers, but he reinjured the calf in the first half against the Lions. His calf seized up as he scrambled on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 2 minutes, 24 seconds left before halftime. He missed the final possession of the second quarter and the first one of the third quarter, giving way to Matt Flynn. During that time, the Packers’ 14-0 lead evaporated.
“I didn’t know if he could come back from that,” Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga said after that game. “It looked pretty bad, like he got shot how he went down on that touchdown pass.”
Rodgers not only returned, he completed 11 of 13 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown (for a 133.7 passer rating) after the injury. In the fourth quarter, he even scored on a 1-yard run to clinch a 30-20 win that gave the Packers the NFC North Division title and a first-round playoff bye.
Still bothered by the injury, he played a masterful game in the divisional playoff round to beat the Cowboys and send the Packers to the NFC title game.
Injury: Left hamstring pull at Philadelphia, Nov. 28
Next game: vs. Houston, Dec. 4
The injury against the Eagles introduced the world to the now-famous blue tent, where Rodgers hid while receiving treatment. It also was the start of the “run-the-table” winning streak that sent the Packers to the NFC Championship Game after a 4-6 start.
The next game against the Texans proved to be challenging. The combination of wet, snowy field and the fear that it might worsen his injury forced Rodgers into a conservative mode. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-13 win.
He managed to run three times, including an 11-yard scramble, and both of his touchdowns came from outside the pocket. After the game, Rodgers said his hamstring felt “not better than [it] did coming in, but I feel good where I’m at. Had decent movement and didn’t do anything to create a major setback.”
Injury: Right calf strain vs. Seattle, Dec. 11
Next game: at Chicago, Dec. 18
Rodgers said he hurt his lower right leg against the Seahawks on the third play of the game — a 66-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams on a roll out to his right. He said he believes the calf injury may have been because he had been compensating for the hamstring injury.
In advance of the Bears game, the Packers’ concern over Rodgers’ injuries prompted them to sign rookie Joe Callahan off the practice squad to be the third quarterback behind backup Brett Hundley.
Rodgers was noticeably hobbled but got some big-time assistance from the running game, which totaled a season-high 226 yards. However, Rodgers made a key throw when he needed it most — a 60-yarder to Jordy Nelson that traveled 52 yards past the line of scrimmage for his deepest completion of the season to set up the game-winning field goal at the gun in a 30-27 victory.
“We know he’s playing,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “I don’t know if he’s mobile, I don’t know if he can run — we don’t know anything. We’re just going to go in [with] the game plan that he’s running, and we’re going to go out there and execute our assignment.”
If he does play, Sunday’s version of Rodgers may look different than the elite on-the-run improviser who has thrown for a league-high 62 touchdowns from outside the pocket in 127 regular-season games dating back to 2009, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A less mobile Rodgers is still dangerous. He can get the ball out quickly and sense pressure, forcing the Vikings to scheme for every possible way he could attack their defense.
“Aaron is going to be Aaron,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “I’ve seen Aaron sit in the pocket and still drop dimes. He’s going to adjust to the game. If he can’t be mobile, he’s going to adjust to it. They’re going to run route concepts for him to get the ball out fast. They’re going to figure out our defense — we have to adjust to their offense.”
Once Rodgers returned in the second half against Chicago, he didn’t venture much outside the pocket. He didn’t have to with an average time of 2.82 seconds to make his throws. That’s the third-highest time he’s had to make passes from the tackle box since 2011.
Against the Bears, he was 8-for-12 passing for 222 yards and three touchdowns when he stayed in the pocket upon returning from injury, which Rodgers described Wednesday as a sprained left knee. Rodgers completed 28 passes total from the pocket on Sunday night.
Under these circumstances, the trade-off for Rodgers is fewer completions for bigger plays. Since 2011, Rodgers’ completion percentage from the pocket with at least 2.5 seconds to throw is just under 60 percent. But he’s averaged 9.4 yards per attempt and 11.3 air yards per attempt on those throws. That number dips significantly (down to 7.1 yards per attempt and 5.1 air yards) when he had less than 2.5 seconds to throw in the pocket.
“That’s a good thing that they’re getting the ball out quick,” Griffen said. “If they’re checking the ball down every time, that means they’re scared to throw the ball downfield. That means they can’t take big shots. In that case, they’re scared of our pass rush. If a team comes in scared of our pass rush each and every week, then we’re in good shape.”
Minnesota’s defensive line notched 26 pressures in its season-opening win over San Francisco on Sunday, with a combined 15 coming from Danielle Hunter and Sheldon Richardson. The interior push created by Richardson was a main component of how the Vikings were able to keep Jimmy Garoppolo off balance and force him to get rid of the ball quickly. Might that be the strategy they want to replicate this week against an elite pocket passer such as Rodgers?
“That’s every week. You want your interior linemen to push the pocket, making sure he doesn’t step up to make easier throws,” Richardson said. “This is one of those guys who can actually beat you with his arm. You just want to bottle him up and contain him as best as you can.”
Keeping Rodgers contained to one area and closing in on him that way is easier said than done. His sprained knee won’t hinder his ability to release the ball quickly, which is something the Vikings have faced before. If Green Bay adjusts its scheme with formations that call for Rodgers to get the ball out quickly, he limits the amount of time the pass rush has to get to him, marking the importance of preparing for every version of Rodgers they could get.
“It’s all hypothetical to this point,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, “but our biggest thing is that you have to prepare for every scenario. If he doesn’t move well, try to do these things, and if he looks like he’s moving pretty well, then we have to adjust to some other parts of the game plan.”