Aaron Rodgers 'set the bar high' with no INTs

Ryan Wood
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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers surveys the field in the first half against the 49ers at Levi's Stadium.

Aaron Rodgers smiled as he tilted his head back, thinking. The notion was absurd, of course. There are 16 games in a season, some 500 passes.

Eventually, there will be interceptions.

Except Rodgers hasn’t thrown any this season. Through four games, he has 11 touchdown passes and 123 attempts overall without throwing the football to an opponent. Going back to last season, he hasn’t thrown an interception in six straight games.

Go back further, to the start of last season, and it’s been 17 of his past 20 games without throwing a pick.

So, Rodgers was asked at his locker Wednesday, is it possible to play an entire season without throwing an interception? He had to think about it.

“That’s a tough one to answer,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know if it’s possible. I don’t think it is, but I enjoy the streak.”

The streak is nothing unusual for Rodgers. Since becoming the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback in 2008, efficiency has been his greatest trait. No quarterback does a better job avoiding interceptions.

Rodgers’ touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4.1 is the best in NFL history … 1.3 touchdowns better than second place. His 106.7 career passer rating is also higher than any quarterback in history … 9.1 points higher than second. His 1.6 career interception percentage is the lowest in history … and his 6.6 career touchdown percentage is highest in the Super Bowl era.

“Yeah,” Rodgers said, “I set the bar pretty high. I’m happy to even raise that bar a little bit.”

He’s been raising the bar almost on a weekly basis to start this season, and he’s doing it with receiver Jordy Nelson out for the season with a torn ACL. Rodgers, a two-time MVP, had never opened with no interceptions in the first four games. Really, Rodgers remembers, only one throw has even come close.

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In the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs, Rodgers threw a pass intended for receiver Randall Cobb. He didn’t see Chiefs linebacker Josh Mauga, who dropped in coverage and had Rodgers’ pass in his hands, an open path to the end zone in front of him.

When Rodgers’ pass bounced off Mauga’s hands hit the ground incomplete, Lambeau Field collectively gasped.

It’s been 20 games since Rodgers threw an interception in his home stadium. The last came Dec. 2, 2012 against the Minnesota Vikings. Since then, Rodgers has thrown an NFL-record 577 passes.

“I’ve never been around a guy who’s like that,” Cobb said, “so it’s special. You know he’s going to put you in a good position. You know he’s going to be very cautious of where he puts the ball, and where he places it. It’s just on our end to make the plays.”

As a college quarterback, Packers rookie Brett Hundley was never prone to throwing many interceptions. He finished his junior season at UCLA with 22 touchdowns and five picks, a 4.4 ratio. Still, he never went four straight games without throwing an interception.

Hundley said there’s a balance every quarterback must find. A quarterback is taught to be aggressive, taking chances downfield, but never careless. Rodgers, Hundley said, traverses the two ends of that spectrum better than anyone he’s ever seen.

“He takes his chances and his shots when he needs to,” Hundley said, “but he’s very good at doing so. Obviously, 10 years in the league, you grow up with a basic understanding of this game. He’s just really good at knowing where to go with the football.

“It’s a balance between knowing when to push the ball and when to take your chances, and knowing when to just take what the defense gives you.”

Rodgers could cross the 600-pass mark when the Packers host the St. Louis Rams for a noon kickoff Sunday. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald knows the challenge ahead of him. No, the odds of Rodgers’ interception drought ending Sunday aren’t in the Rams’ favor.

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That doesn’t mean Donald’s defense won’t try.

“When you play against a great quarterback,” Donald said, “you’ve got to play smart. You’ve got to play gap-sound because he can read defenses and take advantage and take things away from us. We’ve got to play together and keep getting after him. Don’t let him get too comfortable but it’s going to be tough. He’s just a good player and he’s got good players around him.”

While it’s become folly to predict Rodgers will throw an interception anywhere – much less at Lambeau Field – the Rams’ defense might have a better chance than most. Historically, defenses that can consistently use four defensive linemen to pressure Rodgers – dropping seven players in coverage, no blitzing – have been problematic for the Packers’ offense.

Rodgers threw two interceptions last season at the Buffalo Bills, which have one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. A few years ago, the New York Giants’ defense gave the Packers’ offense fits while limiting its blitzes.

Donald is one of the NFL’s best interior pass rushers, the leader of a defense that’s tied with the Packers for second in the league with 17 sacks. Unlike the Packers, who blitz off the edge with a variety of outside linebackers, the strength of the Rams’ pass rush is their defensive line. Donald has 3.5 sacks this season, while defensive ends Robert Quinn (3) and Chris Long (2) have combined for five.

Together, they’ll try to make Rodgers uncomfortable Sunday in his home stadium.

“That’s something we gotta do,” Donald said, “because … he’s a mobile quarterback. He can take off and run. He can move great in the pocket, and he can throw on the run. Just keep him contained, not letting him get too comfortable back there. Because when a quarterback is back there, the type of quarterback he is, if he gets comfortable back there it’s going to be a long day.

“So we just have to collapse gaps and don’t give him any step up lanes or throwing lanes to get free. If we do that and keep him bottled up, we should be fine.” and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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