Mobility will remain the key for Packers' surprisingly nimble Aaron Rodgers
GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers wasn’t expected to run Sunday. Stand in the pocket and sling missiles around Lambeau Field, sure. The two-time MVP quarterback can do that on one leg.
Running wasn’t in the game plan.
Rodgers participated in the Green Bay Packers' walk through Saturday just to show he had at least a modicum of mobility, enough to not get crushed. Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t include a single quarterback run in the practice. He wanted to limit the contact Rodgers absorbed as much as possible.
Then the pocket collapsed on a third-and-7 against Minnesota, and instincts took over. Rodgers pumped once before crossing the line of scrimmage, trying to buy an extra yard or two. Then he went for it, tucking and running and scaring every Packers fan until diving under safety Harrison Smith’s tackle.
He crashed at that invisible, yellow line indicating the first-down marker, getting exactly enough yards to extend the drive. It ended with a touchdown, giving the Packers a lead they held until the game’s final minute.
“He kind of showed everyone he’s not crippled when he ran for that first down,” left guard Lane Taylor said. “So that was kind of good for, I think, kind of everyone to see that he’s not hobbling out there on one leg.”
No, Rodgers certainly wasn’t hobbling around on one leg. The Packers couldn’t have hoped for more mobility from their quarterback. Rodgers had said he simply wanted to move around in a small circle, negotiating the pocket.
He did much more than that.
“I was definitely surprised,” McCarthy said, “to see him move the way he did.”
By now, it’s clear Rodgers’ injury isn’t going away anytime soon. A sprained knee needs time and rest to heal, and the regular season affords neither. The Packers will compensate by scaling back their offense. Rodgers took snaps from the shotgun or pistol Sunday. He won’t be under center anytime soon.
Each piece of the game plan will be implemented with Rodgers’ preservation in mind. Just because he could navigate the field Sunday doesn’t mean he’ll stay that way. The 34-year-old quarterback is one hard or awkward hit from seeing his mobility regress.
“I’m taking a lot of risk at my age,” Rodgers said, “every single time I step on the field. But there’s no greater feeling than being out there with those guys. So that kind of trumps everything. As long as I can move in a circle, and (Sunday) I actually moved a little better.”
Even Rodgers was surprised how good his knee felt. By the fourth quarter, he let McCarthy know it was strong enough to call some bootleg passes. Early in the week, the expectation was Rodgers would have to stay inside the pocket.
No matter how limited the Packers must make their playbook, it’s certainly better than not having Rodgers at all. Rodgers’ mobility was most impressive on his third-and-7 scramble, but there were other subtle movements that were every bit as important.
On the same drive as his 7-yard run, Rodgers flushed the pocket left before finding tight end Jimmy Graham for 8 yards. Three plays later, Rodgers initially found nobody open. He dropped back 2 yards deeper, buying time. As left tackle David Bakhtiari guided a rusher wide, Rodgers hopped twice to the left and finally found receiver Davante Adams for 13 yards.
Those are the plays — the movements in a circle — Rodgers must do to be effective. If he can continue to escape the rush, the Packers' offense should be functional.
“Aaron’s going to be Aaron no matter what,” Taylor said. “He can be out there with half a collarbone or one knee or whatnot. He’s going to be mobile, he’s going to move. He’s going to play his game.
“You know he’s laying it on the line. I don’t expect any less. He’s out there, he’s going to compete. He’s a warrior. He’s proven it on multiple occasions that he’s going to give you everything he can."