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How the Pack­ers might scheme of­fense if Rodgers is lim­ited

Green Bay — Ten years ago, Aaron Rodgers sprained his throw­ing shoul­der. The Green Bay Pack­ers were non­com­mit­tal all week whether he’d play that Sun­day in At­lanta. He was a firstyear starter, far from the all-world su­per­star he is now.

They took their de­ci­sion down to the wire, hav­ing Rodgers toss foot­balls in the pri­vacy of the Don Hutson Cen­ter be­fore de­ter­min­ing he could play.

There was one thing coach Mike McCarthy de­cided he ab­so­lutely would not do. With Rodgers nurs­ing that shoul­der, the Pack­ers weren’t go­ing to throw deep. Just dink and dunk, shal­low, easy passes to keep the of­fense mov­ing.

The only ver­ti­cal pass play McCarthy had on his call sheet that week, he said, was for a third-and-1. It might as well not have been there. McCarthy was de­ter­mined not to call it.

Early in the sec­ond quar­ter, the Pack­ers had third-and-one.

Re­flex­ively, McCarthy sent the call onto the field: “Fake 94 Bob X Read.”

“As soon as I called it,” McCarthy said Mon­day, “I thought, ‘I wasn’t sup­posed to call that.’”

Then Rodgers reared back and threw a 44-yard touch­down pass to Don­ald Driver.

That’s the predica­ment McCarthy has of­ten found him­self in with Rodgers over the years. Last month, the Pack­ers coach asked re­porters to write how Rodgers couldn’t play past 40. No bet­ter way, McCarthy fig­ured, to en­sure that he does. Tell Rodgers he can’t ac­com­plish some­thing, and he al­most cer­tainly will. It’s al­ways been that way. With Rodgers i n the l ocker room Sun­day night test­ing his sprained left knee, McCarthy ex­pected the Pack­ers would fin­ish their opener against the Chicago Bears with backup DeShone Kizer. Un­til, of course, he saw Rodgers jog­ging out of the tun­nel to start the sec­ond half.

The Pack­ers find them­selves in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion this week. Just like 2008, Rodgers’ avail­abil­ity for Sun­day ’s game against Min­nesota could go down to the wire. Don’t be sur­prised if the two-time MVP quar­ter­back wills his way onto the field against the Vik­ings, just as he did Sun­day night.

“We’re still col­lect­ing all the in­for­ma­tion, his spe­cific sit­u­a­tion,” McCarthy said. “I know Aaron wants to play, and is al­ways driven to play, but that’s all I have for right now.”

If Rodgers does play against the Vik­ings, his mo­bil­ity will be sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced. McCarthy has his­tory to draw on when de­vis­ing his game plan for a hob­bled Rodgers. Dur­ing the 2014 play­offs, a strained left calf ef­fec­tively lim­ited Rodgers to one good leg against the Dal­las Cow­boys and Seat­tle Sea­hawks.

Vet­eran cor­ner­back Tra­mon Williams said Rodgers’ per­for­mance Sun­day night re­minded him of that play­off run. Ex­cept, of course, Rodgers was try­ing to come back from a 20-point deficit to the Bears in the sec­ond half. The Bears built their lead with their de­fen sive front at­tack­ing Rodgers, sack­ing him twice in the first half. The of­fen­sive line kept Rodgers’ jersey clean in the sec­ond half.

Williams said it re­minded him of how the of­fen­sive line ral­lied around Rodgers dur­ing the 2014 NFC Cham­pi­onship Game, hold­ing a vaunted Sea­hawks de­fense to one sack.

“The way they kept those guys off of Aaron,” Williams said, “it was a to­tal team ef­fort, and I saw the same thing last night. It was like ev­ery­thing just shifted when that hap­pened. The game plan changed, and every­body just came out and ex­e­cuted per­fectly with what they were sup­posed to do: keep the guys off of Aaron.”

Schematic ad­just­ments can help the of­fen­sive line. Rodgers spent much of Sun­day ’s first half hold­ing onto the foot­ball, search­ing for the big gain. Un­able to ex­tend plays as long be­cause of Rodgers’ re­duced mo­bil­ity, the Pack­ers switched to a quick-hit­ting pass at­tack.

In some ways, Rodgers’ lack of mo­bil­ity made things eas­ier for the of­fen­sive line. With their backs to Rodgers, line­men of­ten have to guess where their quar­ter­back will be. In Sun­day ’s sec­ond half, they knew Rodgers was con­fined to the pocket.

It also means Rodgers doesn’t have the same elu­sive­ness to evade pass rush­ers when line­men are beaten.

“I think there’s a dou­ble -edged sword to it,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “There are times that I thor­oughly en­joy 12 bail­ing me out of sit­u­a­tions, and be­ing able to feel the rush and evade it, and then there are times when he’ll evade some rush right into my block. Or he’ll be run­ning around like a chicken with his head cut off.

“So I think it’s good and bad on both ends.”

Once again, Rodgers’ in­jury is on his left leg. That should help Rodgers drive the foot­ball down­field be­cause as a right-handed quar­ter­back, his right leg is re­spon­si­ble for gen­er­at­ing l ower­body power on throws. (Rodgers played through a strained right calf in 2016). With a good right leg, Rodgers was able to get enough from his lower base to fling a 39-yard touch­down pass to re­ceiver Geron­imo Al­li­son, a ball he re­leased from the 46-yard line to the op­po­site cor­ner end zone.

The Pack­ers also can limit Rodgers’ mo­bil­ity pres­nap. They put Rodgers in pis­tol and shot­gun for­ma­tions against the Bears, pre­vent­ing him from drop­ping back un­der cen­ter. That will likely con­tinue Sun­day against the Vik­ings. So long as Rodgers plays in the fore­see­able fu­ture, his mo­bil­ity will be lim­ited.

But Rodgers can still be ef­fec­tive in the quick-pass­ing game.

“That’s what the of­fense is built off of,” Bakhtiari said. “We love the ex­tended plays and all the mirac­u­lous things he can do be­cause he can do it any­where from any point in time on the field. It doesn’t mat­ter what the sit­u­a­tion or the fun­da­men­tal flaw he’s in, he can drop a dime any­where he wants.

“With (the quick-pass game), it’s keep­ing the de­fense more on its heels, and I think that’s where those big plays can come from.”


If Aaron Rodgers has mo­bil­ity is­sues, Pack­ers head coach Mike McCarthy will have to tinker with his game plan.

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