Rodgers Leads Assault by Ground and Air

Running. Passing. Championship belt wearing. Can Aaron Rodgers be stopped? Judging by his six-touchdown performance against the Broncos, it would be tough to say yes.

At times on Sunday at his postgame news conference, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hardly sounded like a guy who had just sliced and diced the Denver Broncos. Here are some excerpts:

"I think I've probably played some better games…"

"I thought our tempo offensively was a little bit slow today…"

"It felt a little funny starting off…"

Was he being serious? Did he realize he just put up a historic performance? Does he know his team scored 49 points and put up 507 yards in total offense?

Fo Rodgers, the standards have become astronomically high. So, while his most prolific day as an NFL quarterback left he and his teammates and coaches satisfied, he would stop short at calling his offense unstoppable — even though it appears that way through the first four games this season.

"Anything can be stopped," said Rodgers. "It just depends on what you want to do."

If the Packers are to be stopped on offense, no one has found the answer this season. That goes for the Broncos, who tried to take out the Packers' most imposing pass-catcher and in return got a quarterback who made them pay in every other way. The result was a 49-23 Packers victory.

When it was all said and done, Rodgers became the first quarterback in NFL history to post at least 400 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, and two rushing touchdowns in the same game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"Aaron Rodgers is a special player who played extremely well today. Four touchdowns through the air and two rushing touchdowns, that's as fine a quarterback performance as I think I've been a part of, statistically," coach Mike McCarthy said.

To be precise, Rodgers threw for 408 yards, a regular-season career high, on 29-of-38 passing. As bold as his performance was and has been this season, much of it on Sunday was dictated by what the Broncos were doing defensively against the Packers' spread attack.

"Today, their main focus you could tell was stopping Jermichael (Finley)," said Rodgers. "Every time he was split out, they made sure they had a guy high and a guy low. They were dropping down a defensive end on that side to stop him."

Finely, who caught three touchdowns last week in Chicago, had just three catches for 28 yards against the Broncos. But the attention the Broncos paid to him opened up the game for just about every other weapon on the Packers' offense.

Rodgers completed at least three passes to six receivers, led by Greg Jennings who caught seven passes for 103 yards. Jordy Nelson opened the scoring for the Packers with a 50-yard touchdown off a play-action pass in the first quarter. And Jennings capped the first-half scoring — to put the Packers up 28-17 — when Rodgers found him for a 17-yard touchdown. On the play, safety Brian Dawkins rolled to help cover Finley on the perimeter, leaving a soft spot open in the defense for Rodgers to find Jennings.

But where Rodgers was really at his best was making throws that few other quarterbacks can make. He hit rookie Randall Cobb for a 61-yard gain and James Jones for a 16-yard touchdown, throwing through extremely tight windows in the defense.

"Those are the things we've done in practice before," said Rodgers. "The one to Cobb was a play that we thought about during the week as far as making a little flash fake there and hoping he was going to get down the middle. Now, the formation was actually incorrect on that play but I was glad that Randall had a good idea what was going on. He was actually supposed to be the outside receiver, but he ran the route he was supposed to. When I threw the ball, I was a little bit nervous that the defender was going to get a hand in there but Randall made a great play and almost broke it for a touchdown.

"The one to James is a concept we run in the red zone a lot. As I dropped back, I looked down the middle and out of the corner of my eye I saw James, who had gone outside of the guy. Usually, we say go inside, but I talked to him on the sideline afterward and he said, ‘I didn't think you were going to come to me because I outside released.' But I'd rather actually have him outside release on that play because it turns the defender away from the quarterback. In that situation, you're throwing to a spot where your guy can get it and no one else can and James made a nice catch."

The Broncos' defense and up-field pass rush left open spots for Rodgers to run out of the pocket. His nine running attempts (for 36 yards) nearly equaled his total (10) from the first three games. They included 11- and 8-yard touchdown runs.

So, where did he rank those touchdowns on his list of accomplishments for the day?

"Right at the top probably," he said. "I took some shots, though. I ran the ball more than I have. I was looking at the numbers last week and I was kind of happy I was at 17 rushing yards and hadn't really done a whole lot with my legs. I'd rather throw the ball. But today they played a lot more man coverage with two high safeties and that means nobody's really on me. I enjoy those times to try and make it look semi-athletic. I didn't enjoy that hit about a yard in the end zone from (Brian) Dawkins (on the first touchdown run), but I had to make some plays with my legs today."

More often than not, however, Rodgers makes plays with his arm. His 1,325 passing yards — in the year of the pass in the NFL — are the most in Packers history through the first four games of a season, eclipsing Brett Favre's 1999 total by just 10 yards. A guy who played nine years with Favre and 13 years total in the NFL had this to say about the 2011 Packers on offense:

"This is the best offense I've been a part of in my career," said wide receiver Donald Driver, who returned from a knee injury in the second half to catch an 8-yard touchdown. "To have so many weapons on offense to where the ball is spread all over the place so that everybody can make plays… Aaron is like a tool box. And he has so many weapons in that box, so many tools in that box that he can go out there, if he needs a wrench, he's got a wrench, if he needs a hammer, he's got a hammer, and that's what you have to have. It shows. It shows in every position."

Rodgers' 124.6 passer rating leads the league. For the season, he has completed 73 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions, one coming on a deflected pass on Sunday that he admitted he was disappointed about. But it made little difference in the outcome. Just ask Broncos coach John Fox.

"He is playing as well as any quarterback that I have seen and this is my 23rd season," said Fox. "He has a pretty good supporting cast, and Mike McCarthy and his staff do an outstanding job. They are pedal-to-the-medal and they execute very, very well."

Even when it might not feel like it.


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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