A lot has been made of the gauntlet of franchise quarterbacks the Vikings have faced over the last month. From the dart-throwing accuracy of Tom Brady to the mad bombing of Drew Brees to the field vision of Matt Ryan, the Vikings defense has faced some of the best quarterbacks the NFL has to offer.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer knows it, too, saying this will be the third straight week that the Vikings face a “first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
Thursday night the Vikings are going to be facing the quarterback that many rate as the best in the league in Aaron Rodgers. He had to wait his turn for three years behind Brett Favre, but he has developed into one of the most deadly quarterbacks in the NFL and has earned the respect of his opponents.
“There’s no questioning that he’s either the best quarterback in the league or one of the best,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “He can do so many things. You can beat your man and have him lined up for a sack and he makes a move on you and leaves you on the ground and him throwing a pass downfield. He has an amazing ability to extend plays, so the bottom line for us is that we have to get to him and wrap him up because if you give him time, he can pick you apart.”
It took longer for Rodgers’ NFL career to get started, but once it did, he’s never looked back. His Packers went 6-10 in his first season as the starter. In the five years since, the Packers have won the NFC North title every season and won 11 or more games three times.
The personnel has changed a lot over that span, but the one constant has been Rodgers. He has enjoyed as much team success as any quarterback in that span, including a Super Bowl championship, but along the way he has enjoyed as much individual success as any QB as well.
Rodgers became the fourth fastest player to reach 25,000 passing yards, accomplishing the feat in 98 games, behind only Dan Marino (92), Peyton Manning (97) and Kurt Warner (97). He did it against the Bears last week, a game in which he completed 22 of 28 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns to compile a passer rating of 151.2.
One of elements that makes him different is his mobility in the pocket. Not known as a scrambler, Rodgers is extremely elusive and has the ability to extend plays. Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson said that with most quarterbacks, a clock goes off in his head in coverage that he needs to stick with a receiver for five to seven seconds. With Rodgers, he upped that total to eight to 10 seconds – and cautioned that you never, ever, sneak a peak into the backfield when in coverage.
“You always have to believe that Rodgers got away,” Rodgers said. “Our coach is always stressing don’t look at the quarterback because he’s like Medusa. He’ll turn you to stone. We’re always trying to keep our eyes on the receiver, especially with this quarterback.”
For the last couple of weeks, Vikings defenders have been chatting up Captain Munnerlyn about Brees and Ryan because Munnerlyn is intimately familiar with both of them, having played against them twice a year. This week, the shoe is on the other foot. Munnerlyn has played against Rodgers, but his teammates have faced him twice a year (three times in 2012) and they were sharing their own war stories.
“We all have a ton of respect for him because he has so many ways to hurt you,” Munnerlyn said. “He can beat with his arm. He can beat you with his feet. He can beat you with his accuracy. Everything he does he does at a high level and he does so many things well that it’s very difficult to defend against it.”
Even fellow quarterbacks have nothing but good things to say about Rodgers. Rodgers isn’t always a textbook quarterback who sets his feet to make a throw. He will break the rules and get away with it.
“He’s talented,” Christian Ponder said. “He’s got one of the strongest arms in the league. The throws he makes – I’ve never seen a guy jump up in the air and throw the ball as much as he does. He’s just really talented, super-accurate and he runs that offense very well. He’s a great player.”
For his part, Rodgers knows he will have to pull out all the tricks in his arsenal because, while he is very familiar with the Vikings, they have a new look on defense and he knows that Mike Zimmer and his staff have been preparing for him and will show him things he hasn’t seen on film, which will force him and his teammates to get back to the basics and make sure they make the most out of every play.”
“It’s just about execution,” Rodgers said. “When you’re playing a Mike Zimmer defense, he’s going to give you a lot of different looks. They’ve got some young players who are playing pretty well and they’ve some veteran guys they’ve added to the mix. (Xavier) Rhodes is in his second year. He’s gotten a lot better. They added Captain Munnerlyn. You know Harrison Smith is back after a couple years of being hurt and he adds a lot to their defense as he roams around makes a lot of plays on the ball.”
The Vikings have been facing Pro Bowl and Super Bowl quarterbacks for the last three games, but Rodgers may be the stiffest test of them all. He is the total package. Robinson is fresh off of games against Brady, Brees and Ryan, but when asked if Rodgers is the best quarterback he’s ever faced, those other guys had to take a back seat to Green Bay’s No. 12, which stokes the competitive fire of the Robinson and his Vikings teammates.
“Definitely,” Robinson said. “This is the one I’m always going to look forward to, because I know he’s going to bring his ‘A’ game.”
Vikings secondary focused, but not on Rodgers
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