“Aaron is playing out of his mind right now. He’s on fire.”
That was New York Giants’ coach Ben McAdoo earlier this week talking about Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Giants, of course, travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers on Sunday in the opening round of the NFC playoffs.
Rodgers is headed to the Hall of Fame. He is one of the most pinpoint passers the league has ever seen, and he is on one of the best runs of his career. Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 10, tossing 18 touchdown passes in that seven-game span. During the Packers’ six-game winning streak, he has completed 71 percent of his passes, only once having a passer rating below 100. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for December.
And then he does stuff like this, escaping trouble like few can and making an impossibly perfect throw.
No QB from here on out should ever be called "The Next Aaron Rodgers." Stop it. You will never see another player like him ever. pic.twitter.com/rlu0ycyr1a— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) January 2, 2017
How do you deal with that?
“You can't replicate playing against a guy like Aaron Rodgers,” Giants defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said this week.
The Giants are as well-equipped as any team to handle a high-flying offense. They have one of the league’s best defenses, perhaps the best of any playoff team. The Giants finished second in the league in scoring defense, allowing only 17.8 points per game.
That defense features a deep secondary filled with players who can cover man-to-man. The Giants don’t have a single dominant pass rusher with double-digit sacks, but they have a talented defensive line and an aggressive, creative coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo who creates pass rush a variety of ways. The Giants stop the run and force teams into passing situations.
The first time the teams played, a 23-16 Green Bay victory at Lambeau, Rodgers had his worst day of the season. He completed 23-of-45 passes, a season-low 51 percent, and was intercepted twice by Janoris Jenkins. That was Green Bay’s fourth game and Rodgers was struggling at the time, completing more than 60 percent of his passes only once in those four games. He was also coming off a career-worst 2015 season and some were wondering if, at 33, he had begun to lose his magic touch.
The Rodgers the Giants will see Sunday is a different guy. This version of Rodgers is playing as well as he ever has.
Since that first meeting, Rodgers has completed at least 60 percent of his throws in all 12 of the Packers’ games. In five of those, he has been above a 70 percent completion rate.
Rodgers said this week that whispers of his demise were “a little premature.”
The Giants’ pass defense faces it’s stiffest test of the season Sunday.
A plethora of weapons
Chris did a full “When Green Bay has the ball” breakdown, so I will only touch on this.
Rodgers has a multitude of players to throw to. Jordy Nelson (97 receptions), Davante Adams (75) and Randall Cobb (60) are the big three. Cobb missed the last two Packer games with an ankle injury, but is practicing this week and could play Sunday.
Still, the most difficult matchups for the Giants might be with tight end Jared Cook and converted running back Ty Montgomery. The Giants are 26th in the league covering tight ends, and the Packers are 8-2 in the 10 games Cook (30 receptions) has played. Montgomery, drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft as a wide receiver, converted to running back due to Green Bay’s injuries and has become a dual threat running and receiving.
Still, it’s about Rodgers’ precision and movement
With little in the way of a ground game for much of the year, the Packers have put everything on the right arm of their franchise quarterback. In the last 13 games, Rodgers has averaged an astounding 39.7 passes per game. That means a lot of time chasing receivers for the members of the secondary, and a lot of time chasing Rodgers for the pass rushers.
“As a defender, it’s difficult at times, but as long as you’re doing your job and as a safety if you’re keeping everybody in front of you. If he throws it up and he usually throws it across the field all over the place, so you usually can make a play on the ball and make sure their not catching the ball and stuff like that,” safety Landon Collins said. “It’s definitely difficult because you don’t know if he’s going to take off or what he sees because you’re not in his eyes and really just trying to play the field.”
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week, put it this way:
“Aaron Rodgers' himself, you can't take nothing from him. You've got to give him credit, he makes it happen. They've definitely got some guys that have a skill set at receiver. The most important is, you've got to have eye discipline,” he said. “Once you get outside that pocket, you can't be looking to see what Aaron Rodgers will do because like that (snaps) he can throw it off his back foot, 60 yards down field. It comes down to eye discipline and being focused on your man, and don't try to do anything else.”
Jenkins, who will likely have responsibility for Nelson, was more succinct. And colorful.
“Basically just stay with your man,” Jackrabbit said. “Follow him everywhere you go. Even if he goes to the bathroom, follow him.”
Because, yeah, even in a port-a-potty with two people inside Rodgers can probably find a window to throw the ball into.