Defenders preview the dangers of Rodgers

Vikings defenders sound well-versed in the talents of Aaron Rodgers and know what they have to do. Now, can they do it?

There has never been any question that Aaron Rodgers is in the discussion for top quarterback in the NFL. He’s won a Super Bowl. The Packers have had a stranglehold on the NFC North title since 2010 and he has helped make stars of not-so-highly regarded college players in the NFL.

Rodgers is a true anomaly in that he replaced a legend and hasn’t allowed there to be a letdown. He has been an elite quarterback since 2010 and, in 2014, he may be having his best season as a pro.

Since starting off 1-2 and having Packers fans climbing out on the ledge, in the last seven games, Rodgers has thrown for 2,051 yards and 23 touchdowns, including three or more in six of seven games.

To most observers, Rodgers is dialed in like never before. But, to veteran Vikings like defensive end Brian Robison, this isn’t anything new.

“He’s always playing his best ball,” Robison said. “It doesn’t matter what part of his career you look at, he’s played great ball. I think these last two games have just showed that their offense is really gaining steam and we’ve got to make sure that we’re clued into our keys and take care of our assignments. If we do that, if they beat us they beat us, but it’s not going to be because of anything we do.”

The respect the Vikings have for Rodgers has been earned because he forces defenders to each do their jobs at a high level. If they make mistakes, Rodgers is adept at making them pay for it.

“We know he doesn’t hold the ball in his hands long,” linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. “He’s one of those mastermind guys of the game. We have to take care of our responsibilities. If we’re not on the same page in our coverage, he’s going to expose you.”

Those tormented most by Rodgers’ amazing skill set are defensive backs. He has a knack for turning a near-sack into a 50-yard bomb to a wide open receiver who breaks of his route when he freelances outside the pocket. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes hasn’t played Rodgers often, but he has been burned and is wary of what Rodgers is capable of.

“He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game,” Rhodes said. “He throws accurate passes that take advantage of guys who can get open and get free of coverage. You have to stick with guys longer because he’s a good a runner and can extend plays and put pressure on us to stick with our man longer than we usually have to.”

The problem Rodgers poses for defensive backs is his ability to extend plays like few others. If defenders get their hands on even greats like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, in most cases they aren’t going anywhere other than down.

Rodgers can throw darts on the move and, when he escapes the pass rush, the back end of a defense is put on DEFCON 1 when he’s on the move because it is an item in Rodgers’ tool box that most of the elite quarterbacks lack.

“He can make all the throws,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He can run. He can hurt you with his feet. He can keep plays alive. The thing with him is that we have to try to eliminate the big plays, keep the receivers in front of us and make plays on the ball.”

It is Rodgers’ ability to give the idea that he might run that makes him lethal for defenders – and the primary reason why the defensive front is being cautioned to keep him bottled up in the pocket.

“He’s got very good poise in the pocket and he’s at his most dangerous when he’s on the move,” Robison said. “He’s not a scrambling quarterback, but when he runs, he’s effective. What makes him dangerous is that he never takes his eyes off his receivers downfield. He can look like he’s going to run with the ball and then zip a pass. Our job is going to be to contain him in the pocket and not let him get outside because he can kill you when he’s on the move.”

Given the roll the Packers are currently on, the best that the Vikings can hope to do is contain Rodgers and not give up the backbreaking big plays that have been his signature moments. To prevent Discount Double Check moves being made, the Vikings defense will have to be assignment-sound. The fewer options Rodgers has, the better.

“It’s going to take a complete team effort,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks out there and he’s got a lot of weapons around him. We’re going to need to have everybody working together and taking care of their job because you know he’s going to be playing at a high level.”

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