Yes, it’s only the preseason, but there’s never a downside to ranking No. 1 in the NFL in something.
For the Green Bay Packers, they entered this week’s slate of preseason games ranked No. 1 in yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed per game and first downs allowed per game.
And they’re No. 2 in yards allowed per play, rushing yards allowed per game and points allowed per game.
And they’re No. 3 in passing yards allowed per play and interception percentage.
While much of the focus throughout training camp has been on how Aaron Rodgers hasn’t played in the preseason, the play of the defense has been largely ignored.
What’s interesting to consider is the possible link.
In the days leading up to the home games against Cleveland and Oakland, Rodgers operated the scout team. That meant for those four practices, the defense was matching up against Rodgers rather than undrafted rookies Joe Callahan and Marquise Williams, who typically would have been operating the scout team.
For as good as Rodgers is physically, with his ability to zip cross-the-field passes and heave the ball 60 yards, it’s the mental challenge of facing that could pay the biggest dividends for a young defense.
“It helps tremendously,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Aaron knows our defense, he knows our calls, he knows where he’s going to go with the football. He’s great at the line of scrimmage with the cadence. So, for young guys he’s going to bait them. He does a great job in your zones because Aaron can look over here and throw the ball over there. Not many quarterbacks can do that. So tempo, no huddle, speed of the game, it’s really, really good work for us in terms of preparing for the season.”
The Packers face a gauntlet of quality quarterbacks this season. In Week 1, it’s Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, who threw for 4,428 yards last season. In Week 3, it’s Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, who threw for 4,262 yards. In Week 5, it’s the Giants’ Eli Manning, who threw for 4,432 yards. In Week 6, it’s Dallas’ Tony Romo, who missed most of last season with a twice-broken collarbone but led the NFL in passer rating in 2014. In Week 8, it’s Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who threw for 4,591 yards. In Week 9, it’s Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, who missed most of last season with an injured kidney but threw for 4,761 yards in 2014. In Week 10, it’s Washington’s Kirk Cousins, who threw for 4,166 yards. In Week 13, it’s Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who threw for 4,024 yards and led the league in passer rating.
In all, the Packers will play seven games against quarterbacks who threw for 4,000 yards last season — plus matchups vs. Romo and Luck.
Getting extra practice reps against Rodgers certainly can’t hurt that preparation.
“The last three, four years I’ve been here, you don’t get any better looks than him,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “He knows all of our defenses, all of our calls. If we make those calls, he knows what we’re doing, so we’ve got to disguise it. Sometimes, he’ll tell us we’re doing a good job of disguising. Sometimes, he doesn’t know what we’re in. That’s a compliment to us. Having the best quarterback in the league not knowing what we’re in a times, that’s pretty good. Going against him, he just makes us better. Then there’s his no-look passes and all that stuff. You can’t beat that as a scout-team quarterback that you’re going against.”
That especially true for rookie inside linebacker Blake Martinez, who is on pace to be the team’s every-down player at the position. Martinez has spent time talking to Rodgers about Rodgers’ matchups with former Bears great Brian Urlacher. Now, it will be Martinez matching wits with the likes of Manning, Luck and Ryan.
“It’s unreal to step out there and get those scout-team reps against one of the best quarterbacks in the league,” Martinez said. “One of my big things throughout my whole life is I love video games that are strategy games and just seeing how, ‘OK, how could I make this easier for myself?,’ whether it’s making my bed to understand an NFL offense.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.