Rodgers vs. Backup? The Ultimate Mismatch

The Packers pretty much like Aaron Rodgers’ chances against any quarterback. But going up against a backup from the opposing sideline? Now that just doesn’t seem fair. Not surprisingly, the numbers would seem to support that. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY)

Like Jay Cutler against the Green Bay Packers, Mark Sanchez would appear to stand little chance of walking away with a victory this Sunday at Lambeau Field.

After a 55-14 thrashing last Sunday night, Cutler saw his record as quarterback for the Chicago Bears fall to 1-10 vs. the Packers, which is close to the same rate for backup quarterbacks against a healthy Aaron Rodgers since 2009.

To be fair, Sanchez has had more experience and maybe more success than any of the backups the Packers have faced over the past seven years. Before he came to Philadelphia, he was a four-year starter for the New York Jets. During that time, the Jets advanced to the AFC Championship Game twice.

But this week the Packers are focusing on what will help them win Sunday – that is, the Eagles’ offensive system and Sanchez’s last two games since taking over for the injured Nick Foles (collarbone).

“I think you really have to pay attention to what they’re doing with the whole scheme, the whole system,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy of facing the up-tempo Eagles. “You look at the game (Sanchez) played against Carolina (a 45-21 win), how much pressure was he under, what are the things they did with Mark. He looked good in space. I thought he threw the ball; you can see the athletic ability. So, those are the kind of things we’re focused on. Conceptually, there will probably be a wrinkle or two but we don’t see a big change there, hopefully.”

Quite expectedly, the Packers, with Rodgers healthy, have feasted on backups over the past six years. Going up against quarterbacks who were not the preferred starters at the beginning of each of those seasons, Rodgers is 14-3 (including the playoffs and a 2009 game at Arizona in which Kurt Warner started but the Cardinals treated like a preseason game with playoff positioning locked up). The point differential in those games has been a staggering plus-235 for the Packers, with 10 wins coming by at least 14 points.

The secret to a backup getting a win over the Packers may just be knocking Rodgers out of the game. Last year, the Bears and Eagles took advantage of Rodgers’ broken collarbone with wins from Josh McCown and Foles. In 2010 at Detroit, Rodgers left with a concussion in the second quarter and the Packers lost to Drew Stanton and the Lions, 7-3. And going back to 2008, the Packers lost a game at Tampa Bay with Brain Griese at quarterback when Rodgers was hampered by an in-game shoulder injury (the Packers were just 2-2 vs. backups that season).

Just three backups since 2009 – Josh Freeman, Colin Kaepernick and Kyle Orton – have been able to beat a “healthy” Rodgers. Freeman, making his first career start against the Packers in 2009, threw three touchdowns to give the Buccaneers their first win in eight games. Kaepernick had a coming-out party in a 2012 divisional playoff game in San Francisco gashing the Packers for 181 yards rushing. And Orton starred in the infamous 2011 game when the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Packers to end the Packers’ chances at a 16-0 regular season.

Orton, who was claimed off waivers in 2011, threw for 299 yards on 23-of-31 passing in his first start for interim coach Romeo Crennel. It was an exceptional performance considering the Packers under Dom Capers have limited backup quarterbacks to a 66.7 passer rating with 30 interceptions and 53 percent completions in 20 games.

Kaepernick went 7-3 as a starter in 2012 (including the playoffs) for the 49ers. While not quite at that rate, the backups the Packers have faced have generally had much more success against other opponents. Though they have just the aforementioned three wins in 17 starts vs. Rodgers (a .176 winning percentage), they were 43-44 (.483) against the rest of the NFL those seasons.

So, the Packers have generally taken care of business with the odds in their favor. In their only game against Sanchez (2010), they had success, too, beating the Jets, 9-0. Sanchez was just 16 of 38 with two interceptions and a passer rating of 43.3, the 10th worst mark of his career in 70 games (including playoffs).

But this time around, Sanchez is 2-0 for the first-place Eagles (7-2).

“Mark’s done a really nice job. He’s always prepared like he was going to be the starter which I think every backup should do,” said Eagles coach Chip Kelly. “He was extremely supportive of Nick (Foles) when Nick was playing and then we he got his opportunity to play, he was prepared for it.”

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


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