The numbers almost defy belief, because they put forth the proposition that Green Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has played the position about as well as it can possibly be played over the last calendar year. In the last 16 regular-season and postseason games he's started and finished, Rodgers hasn't seen a loss, and he's completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,895 yards, 45 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
The only game he didn't finish in that time was a 7-3 loss to the Detroit Lions on Dec. 12, when Rodgers was sent from the game with a concussion in the second quarter and relieved by Matt Flynn. Before he was taken out, Rodgers had completed 7 of 11 passes for 34 yards and interception, which leads some to believe that if there's one team that has the secret to the otherwise unsolvable Rodgers, it's these Lions.
And what is that secret? According to mega-defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, there are two ways to go. "He's playing at a very high level, but the way to stop him is to continue to hit him," Suh told Shutdown Corner last week. "We had a great game plan against him last year -- he wasn't able to come back in the game, and that's one way to take care of business. Another way is to continue to be in his face and cause him problems — just don't allow him to get in a rhythm."
Well, that will keep the league posted, and you can bet that the game's officials will be all over what they deem to be Detroit's ancillary activity in the area of the quarterback. Rodgers had no trouble remembering what Suh and his buddies did to him last time.
"They gave me a concussion," Rodgers said with a laugh on Tuesday. "No, you know what, we started off hot against them at home, and then they really tightened it up and got a couple turnovers. They're a stout defense. They've got as good a front four as you're going to see in the game and they're improving everywhere else. So, you know, you see the improvements they've made and now you have an offense to help out that defense."
And that's the hidden narrative of this Thanksgiving reunion at Ford Field — as much as Rodgers can absolutely light it up against any defense with his weapons and ridiculous efficiency, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford happened to pass for five touchdowns in the last three quarters of Detroit's 49-35 win over the Carolina Panthers last Sunday. That could be bad news for a Packers pass defense that has struggled uncharacteristically this season.
"Matt's playing really well," Rodgers said. "Obviously [he has receiver] Calvin [Johnson] and a lot of weapons over there. So, when you've got an offense like they do, and a defense that can get after you and get after the passer with their front four and make some plays on the back end, I'm not surprised at all at the record [7-3] that they have right now."
Rodgers presents a different set of challenges to any defense daring to pressure him — if you go after him, you'd best get him, because Rodgers can be even more efficient when he's on the run. He's become one of the best mobile quarterbacks in recent years.
"Well, I like to be a pocket bouncer," Rodgers said. "I just think the ability to move around the pocket is just kind of an extra aspect of my game that, you know, to use mainly as a necessity. When we're protecting well and throwing the ball on time, we can be effective. You know, it's those times when you move around the pocket that you have to gauge whether you can make a good play with your feet or whether you should throw it away."
The efficiency is something that stands out to Mike McCarthy, Rodgers' head coach and one of the best play-callers in the business. The Packers are one of the most formation-diverse teams in the NFL, and it takes someone with a complete command of the quarterback position to run that system.
"Aaron is clearly playing at the highest level of any quarterback that I have been associated with," McCarthy said on Tuesday. "It is really just a combination of a lot of hard work, his maturation as a player, the system, and the relationships that he has with his fellow teammates. So it's a group that has been together now for a number of years and just really playing well together.
"He is very well-rounded," McCarthy said, when asked what it is about Rodgers that makes him so good. "He would grade out high in all the areas you are looking for in a successful quarterback. The one I have a great appreciation for is his discipline and his decision-making. He is very diligent on where he goes with the ball and when he pushes the envelope. I would clearly say his decision-making is his greatest asset."
Still, with all the confidence Rodgers gives them, the Packers understand that getting past the Lions will be no small undertaking. "They are playing good team ball," McCarthy said. "They are scoring points — scored a bunch of points this last week against Carolina. [They're] playing very well on defense. I think anytime you line up and play against a defense that is No. 1 in the league in third down, that tells you something about the success they are having. Special teams are always a challenge. It is a different venue coming over there in Ford Field. It is a tough place to play. We are expecting a hostile crowd. They want the crowd noise and this will be a big challenge."
The biggest challenge might be keeping Rodgers upright and coherent. It's all uphill from there.
- Aaron Rodgers