GREEN BAY – Even during his deepest struggles as a passer this season, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could run.
He is on track through 11 games to run more times this season than ever before. He has been productive, almost matching his career high with 6.2 yards per carry. It has put Rodgers on pace to cross the 400-yard rushing mark for the first time.
Rodgers’ running has helped carry the Packers' offense when other facets have been broken. He has 20 rushing first downs this season, nine fewer than Eddie Lacy, James Starks and Aaron Ripkowski have combined. Until Monday night, he was the only Packers player with a rushing touchdown this season.
So a hamstring injury that threatens to steal Rodgers’ mobility could remove a significant piece of the Packers' offense. Namely, he is the only semblance of a consistent rushing attack the Packers have had through three quarters of their season.
And that doesn’t even factor in Rodgers’ ability to extend plays with his legs, buying time for receivers to get open.
“There’s no question,” Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing said, “it will definitely help out if he can sit in the pocket and doesn’t really feel like running. Because there’s nothing more defeating than on third down covering everybody, having everyone doing your job and everything’s set, and then the quarterback runs right by everyone for the first down because he’s the guy you don’t account for as numbers and matchups.
“If it limits him, obviously that’ll be a big plus for us. There’s no question about that.”
Rodgers merely said “it’s improving” when asked how his hamstring felt Wednesday. He injured it early in the third quarter Monday night at the Philadelphia Eagles, and felt well enough to finish the game.
With any soft-tissue injury, it’s the next day that’s really telling. The Packers returned from Philadelphia at 3 a.m. Tuesday, abbreviating their week. Coach Mike McCarthy canceled Wednesday’s practice to give all his players extra rest, but Rodgers stands to benefit most.
Rodgers might have been limited as the Packers started installing their game plan against the Texans had the team held regular practice. Instead, the Packers were exclusively inside their conditioning, rehab and instruction center, going through the same installation phase Wednesday, but only at walkthrough speed.
“When you look at everything from a schedule standpoint,” McCarthy said, “not only are we coming off a Monday night game on the road on the East Coast, the week before was a Sunday night game on the road. Stress, it adds up. It’s something that when you evaluate the course of your season – frankly, this plan was in place in the spring when the schedule came out. We knew this was going to be a difficult stretch for our football team. Accompany that with the health of our football team.
“This clearly is our biggest challenge from a mental standpoint of our 16-week season. We’re playing on a short week. Obviously, the stress of the Sunday night and Monday night game, we’re playing an uncommon opponent, we’re playing an uncommon opponent that does a lot schematically. The classroom time and commitment and focus needs to be increased anyway, just because of that.”
Add Rodgers’ treatment and rehab, and it won’t be an easy week for the Packers quarterback. McCarthy was blunt Wednesday, saying he expects his quarterback to be on the field against the Texans, but that doesn’t mean the two-time MVP will have his full arsenal.
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