It’s Packer Week for the Minnesota Vikings, and once again, the question remains the same: How are you going to stop Aaron Rodgers?
“I’ve been in the NFL 20-some years,” said head coach Mike Zimmer, “and I can’t remember a guy that does the things that this guy does.
“When you combine everything: his arm strength, his intelligence, his escapability, the way he sees things — I think they should trade him.”
The Green Bay Packers have made the playoffs each of the past eight seasons, and Rodgers has been at the core of their success. Minnesota is a mere 6-12 against Green Bay since Rodgers took over for Brett Favre, yet they are still faring better than their other two divisional opponents.
Rodgers is 13-3 against the Lions with 34 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is 15-4 against the Bears with 42 touchdowns and nine interceptions. And, of course, 12-6 against the Vikings with 39 touchdowns and six interceptions.
To tally it up, that’s a 40-13 divisional record (.755) with 115 touchdowns, 21 interceptions.
Rodgers has a .660 winning percentage against the league as a whole, but his NFC North winning percentage is nearly 100 points higher. His touchdown to interception ratio is a shade over 4:1 for his career. Against the North, it’s 5.5:1.
“If we have a choice of watching an opponent defense,” said quarterback Case Keenum, “and we see who they’re playing, most of the time we’ll look, ‘OK, they’re playing Green Bay, let’s go watch the Green Bay game.’ We’ll watch plays, and there’s no words to describe the kind of plays that he can make, so I’ve got a lot of respect for him and what he does, and we’ve got to keep him off the field on Sunday.”
In 13 of 18 career games against the Vikings, Rodgers has been interception-free. In 10 of the 18 games, his completion percentage was 70 percent or better.
He’s also rushed for 307 yards against the Vikings, more than he has against any other foe. As usual, the Vikings will have to remain disciplined in their rush lanes.
“We’ve just got to bring our A-game going against these guys,” said cornerback Xavier Rhodes, “stay in great coverage with Aaron Rodgers coming out of the pocket, trying to contain him in the pocket, make him stay in the pocket and make throws, even though he’s still dangerous there, too.”
The Vikings have had a bit more success recently against the Packers, splitting with them each of the past two seasons. In their wins, they allowed 13 and 14 points, respectively, and sacked Rodgers five times in each of those games. They typically sent four pass rushers early on and got bolder with blitzes in the second halves thanks to late-game leads.
In Week 17 of the 2015 season with the division championship on the line, Minnesota led the entire second half and sent extra pressure on eight occasions, including the play where Rodgers was stripped of the football and Captain Munnerlyn returned it for a touchdown.
In Week 2 of 2016, Minnesota also led the entire second half in their regular season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. They blitzed Rodgers 11 times in the third and fourth quarters and brought six men on the game-sealing interception by Trae Waynes.
As Zimmer said Wednesday, there’s a “fine line” when it comes to pressuring the future Hall of Famer.
“If you’re rushing four guys there’s going to be a spot, and even in the past when we’ve rushed five they’ll bail out. One guy will get a little too nosy, and he’ll bail out of there. He’s just good. He’s got a great spin to get out of there when he feels the pressure.
“There’s a fine line, you either turn it loose and let it go and if he gets out, he gets out. Or you’re careful with him, and then it’s going to slow down your pass rush. You’ve got to kind of pick your poison with everything.”
Even a defensive mastermind like Zimmer gets kept up at night by Rodgers. Despite the solid performances mentioned above, the Vikings have also allowed the Packers to score 42, 30 and 38 points, respectively, in three games with Zimmer calling the shots. In those games, Rodgers threw nine combined touchdowns and no interceptions.
But those are normal numbers for Rodgers. Especially against the NFC North.
“He’s the best quarterback in my opinion,” said Everson Griffen. “He’s very good. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due.”