Rodgers shows top form in dismantling Eagles

Eric Baranczyk and Pete Dougherty
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The Green Bay Packers rode Aaron Rodgers’ feet and arm to a win Monday night.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA, November 28, 2016. Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin/@jmatthe79

Throughout the Packers’ 27-13 victory at Philadelphia that ended a four-game losing streak, Rodgers kept long drives alive by converting third downs in almost every way possible.

He broke the pocket and scrambled. He did it once on a designed run. He made quick-rhythm throws. And sat in the pocket and waited for a receiver to break open.

One of his most telling stats from this game, along with his 116.7 passer rating, was Rodgers’ average per pass attempt: 8.0 yards.

He’s below seven yards in that stat this season and last, and it’s a sign that Monday night he was making big plays even though the Packers used primarily a quick-rhythm, short passing game. The 8.0 yards also is in line with his career average of 7.9 yards and an indication that he was back playing like the quarterback who put up a 64-23 record and won two NFL MVPs from 2009-14, not the one who was 8-12 in his previous 20 regular-season games.

When Rodgers gets the ball out of his hands fast, he’s as difficult to stop as anyone in the league. On Monday night he delivered the ball in rhythm and on target (30-for-39 passing). Some of his throws, including an impressive 20-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams at the back of the end zone in the second quarter, were in tight windows. This was Rodgers at his best.

At age 32 – he turns 33 on Friday – Rodgers remains an excellent athlete and runner. He ranks No. 5 in rushing among NFL quarterbacks this season, behind Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick, Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles and ahead of Cam Newton.

Rodgers got the Packers off to a good start Monday because of that running ability. On the Packers’ first drive, he methodically moved the offense downfield, mainly with quick throws. But he made two huge third-down conversions with his feet.

He converted a third-and-one early in the drive by turning a bootleg to his right into a 16-yard gain. Picking up the first down was big, but gaining a nice chunk of yardage made it even bigger. Several plays later he scrambled to his left for a nine-yard gain.

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McCarthy also pulled out a couple of new formations that will get upcoming defensive coordinators even more to game plan for. On one, he lined up Rodgers in the pistol with Ty Montgomery, Randall Cobb and Jared Cook in the backfield and did something most unusual: He had Rodgers run a true triple option.

Rodgers put the ball in Montgomery’s stomach on a dive but then pulled it back out and ran for the corner himself. He had Cobb trailing for the potential pitch, but when defensive back Malcolm Jenkins played Cobb, Rodgers turned up field and picked up four yards for the first down. That was something new, and it showed Rodgers remains an excellent athlete.

Rodgers also threw more in rhythm this game than he has for probably a calendar year. Every quarterback has a play or two each game when he held the ball too long or saw something that wasn’t there or didn’t think a throw was worth the risk. And then when he watches the video he wishes he’d have let it fly. In this game, though, Rodgers consistently got the ball out fast or hung in and made the throw even as the pocket was collapsing.

Many of them weren’t big plays, but collectively they show an offense with good rhythm and timing.

There was his first touchdown pass of the game, to Adams. Rodgers caught the snap, then 1-2-3 the ball was out on a line to Adams on a slant for the 12-yard score. The window was tight because linebacker Jordan Hicks drifted that way in zone coverage, but Rodgers just stayed with the play and confidently fired the dart right on time and target.

A couple of throws in the second quarter had the same kind of rhythm. Rodgers converted a third-and-two with a quick throw to Cobb on an out from the slot for a four-yard gain. Nothing spectacular, just catch the snap, turn and throw. How many times has he not thrown that ball, maybe looking for something better elsewhere first? The completion kept the drive alive.

A few plays later, on a third-and-seven, the Eagles blitzed Jenkins from the slot. Rodgers made the hot read and immediately threw to Jenkins’ man, Cobb, who picked up the first down. This was the old Aaron Rodgers. Great timing, no hitch, just recognize and throw.

And on the second touchdown pass to Adams, the 20-yarder in the second quarter, Rodgers hung in the pocket just long enough for the play to develop. He stood tall as the pocket collapsed and threw a remarkable touch pass just past cornerback Nolan Carroll’s ear for the score. Rather than bolt the pocket, Rodgers trusted the play and threw.

If the 5-6 Packers have any chance to come from two games back to win the NFC North in the final five weeks, they’ll need their quarterback to play at this high a level.

Line item

One of the key stats in this game was zero, as in Rodgers was sacked zero times. While a lot of that was because he was got the ball out quickly, the Packers’ offensive line played an important role as well.

Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox is one of the best inside rushers in the NFL, and the Packers' interior blockers (guards Lane Taylor and Jason Spriggs, and center Corey Linsley) kept him from being disruptive. Outside rushers Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin basically didn’t get a sniff of Rodgers going against left tackle David Bakhtiari and right tackle Bryan Bulaga.

That made for the shutout.

Maybe the most impressive pass blocking was on a key third-and-12 with 5:45 left in the game. The Packers blocked the Eagles’ four-man rush for about six seconds, which gave Rodgers time to find Jordy Nelson wide open over the middle for a 22-yard gain. That helped keep alive a drive that killed a little more than eight minutes of the fourth quarter while the Packers were protecting an 11-point lead.

Extra points

» With Blake Martinez (knee) and Jake Ryan (ankle) not cleared to play Monday night, the Packers started Clay Matthews at inside linebacker to play alongside Joe Thomas. It was the right move, but it makes you wonder what Carl Bradford still is doing with the team. He’s in his third season either on their roster or practice squad. He’s on the 53 now, but if he’s not going to play in this situation – he played only three snaps after Matthews left the game temporarily with a shoulder injury – then why not try somebody else? It’s hard to believe the Packers can’t find an inside linebacker on another team’s practice squad who’s worth a look.

» Jordy Nelson’s back-shoulder catch for 21 yards that converted a fourth-and-five was vintage Nelson. He doesn’t have the speed to run by cornerbacks anymore, but on that play he gave a just-subtle-enough push on cornerback Jalen Mills to not get called for a penalty, then snagged the ball, tapped his toes on the ground and fell out of bounds.

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