Rodgers and Packers seeking perfect game plan to top Rams
The last time Aaron Rodgers was at Los Angeles Coliseum, he was almost perfect.
Leading his seventh-ranked California team against Southern California, he tied an NCAA record by completing his first 23 passes. He finished with 267 yards on 29 of 34 passing and nearly led the Golden Bears to an upset over the eventual national champions before stalling in the red zone on his final drive.
Back in the venue Sunday for the first time since that game, Rodgers might need comparable heroics to help the Packers hand the Rams their first loss.
It’s not hard to spot several of the stumbling blocks ahead for the twotime MVP with the Packers facing the longest odds (nine-point underdogs) in the quarterback’s career as a starter. Green Bay has yet to exceed Los Angeles’ scoring average of 33.6 points in any game, and the team’s 22nd-ranked run defense could have a tough time slowing MVP front-runner Todd Gurley. And by dropping back on 71.4 percent of their plays, the Packers have made it clear to everyone, including opposing pass rushers, they’re content to leave the offense’s well-being entirely to Rodgers.
Rodgers said he hopes to lose his knee brace soon, and he sported a smaller one than the version he has traditionally worn in games since suffering the injury in the opener. That could allow him to play a more freewheeling style and liberate the offense from the slow starts that have plagued the team.
Los Angeles has given up nine passing touchdowns in its last four games with cornerback Aqib Talib sidelined. Davante Adams looms as a particularly troublesome matchup for Marcus Peters and the rest of the secondary after hauling in 19 catches for 272 yards and 3 TDs in the last two games.
But the Rams boast the biggest game breaker in Aaron Donald, who logged four sacks last week and has eight in his last four games. Even with a solid performance, Green Bay’s offensive line likely won’t be able to limit his disruptiveness on its own. The Pack need a renewed commitment to the run via more carries for Aaron Jones, who is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and has shown himself ready for a heavier workload.
More matchups that will define NFL Week 8.
Eagles QB Carson Wentz vs. Jaguars secondary: Wentz has been handed few favors from a running game that mustered 58 yards on 24 carries last week as well as an underachieving receiving corps that lacks a dynamic deep threat. But the star quarterback has had his struggles, losing four fumbles in five games and posting an 88.7 passer rating in the fourth quarter (ranking him 23rd).
The Jaguars defense ranks second with 6.3 yards per attempt, but the unit could be at a tipping point after allowing 90 points in a three-game losing streak. Cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Tyler Patmon have already been ruled out, while D.J. Hayden is listed as doubtful. Wentz could find opportunities against a short-handed secondary. Tight end Zach Ertz is Wentz’s favorite and likely most important target, as in three of his last four games he has recorded at least nine catches and more than 100 yards.
Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Ravens’ front seven: Cam Newton and Carolina haven’t been able to establish a deep connection this year, completing just 3 of 16 attempts that went at least 20 yards downfield. Facing a topranked Ravens defense that has allowed just 280.6 yards and 14.4 points per game, the Panthers might be afforded even fewer opportunities to generate big plays. That means McCaffrey might need to take a leading role in assisting Newton and providing a spark.
McCaffrey has just 15 carries in the last two weeks. But he is tied for second among running backs in receptions with 40 and should be frequently targeted. The Ravens, however, have yet to allow a running back to record more than 35 receiving yards in a game, so the game could hinge on whether McCaffrey can force missed tackles in the open field.
Vikings WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs vs. Saints secondary: The danger of Minnesota’s pass catching duo won’t be lost on the Saints, who will be looking for a response after last postseason’s Minnesota Miracle in which Diggs raced to a 61-yard gamewinning score. New Orleans, however, looks even more vulnerable this season with a 28th-ranked pass defense that has given up a first down on a leagueworst 42.7 percent of opponents’ attempts through the air.
Saints coaches haven’t said whether they plan to work recently acquired cornerback Eli Apple in the lineup, but the former Giants first-round pick says he expects to play. Whichever one of Thielen and Diggs is covered by someone other than top cornerback Marshon Lattimore could be in for a big day. Thielen is looking to tie Calvin Johnson’s record of eight consecutive games with 100 yards receiving. Safeties Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell should be integral to New Orleans’ coverage plans, especially if Bell ends up matched up against Thielen in the slot.
Seahawks RB Chris Carson vs. Lions’ front seven: After 0-2 starts, Seattle and Detroit have snuck back into contention thanks to the reanimation of once-dormant running games. The Seahawks have averaged 172 rushing yards in the last three games, but it hasn’t been a one-man show. Carson remains the top threat, though Detroit will also have to account for Mike Davis and firstround pick Rashaad Penny.
In the Lions’ three wins, the team didn’t allowed more than 110 yards rushing. In the three losses, they were gashed for more than 165 yards. It followed, then, that Detroit traded for perhaps the NFL’s premier run stuffer in defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison. He’ll be counted on to patch the holes up front for a unit that has averaged a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) celebrates a touchdown pass with Davante Adams against the 49ers at Lambeau Field.