Packers Notebook(Oct. 11)

Bill Huber

Resurgent Rodgers

On the heels of two relatively ho-hum seasons by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers shocked the football world in April by moving up in the first round to select Jordan Love.

In his first nine seasons as the team’s starter, Rodgers had only two seasons with a passer rating of less than 100. From 2017 through 2019, Rodgers fell short of the century mark all three seasons. Age and a decline in play had general manager Brian Gutekunst thinking of the future, rather than the present, in adding Love to a team that had reached the NFC Championship Game.

So much for that decline in play. Rodgers has been nothing short of sensational in leading the Packers to a 4-0 record at the bye. He’s second in the NFL with a 128.4 passer rating with an incredible 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s an impossible pace of 52 touchdowns vs. zero interceptions. No quarterback in NFL history has been as good at avoiding interceptions as Rodgers. Even the last two seasons, he had 25 touchdowns vs. two interceptions in 2018 and 26 touchdowns vs. four interceptions in 2019.

“We have complete confidence that he’s going to go out there and play at a high level every time he touches the field,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Tuesday. “He makes great decisions and he’s proven that over the course of his career. I think there’s so many other variables that play into whether or not a guy throws a pick. It takes everybody on that field. It takes the offensive line providing great protection, which they have done. It takes our backs stepping up and picking up blitzes, which they have done. It takes receivers and tight ends being in the right place at the moment, which for the most part they’ve done. And there’s just so many variables. Can a guy go an entire season? I don’t know.”

It’s not just the lack of interceptions. Green Bay is the only team in the NFL with zero turnovers. Running back Aaron Jones fumbled at the sideline in week one at Minnesota but the ball bounced out of bounds. That’s been it.

“That’s the biggest thing that you look at from the start,” Rodgers said after throwing almost as many touchdown passes (four) as incompletions (six) vs. the Falcons. “The beauty in that is there really haven’t been opportunities. There haven’t been a lot of turnover-type plays. So, we’ve been doing a really good job taking care of the football, but then a little more opportunistic this year so far. I think Matt’s been really aggressive and plays have been there to make.”

Pressure package

After a quiet start to the season, Za’Darius Smith had, in his words, “video game” production against Atlanta.

Last season, Smith had 13.5 sacks and league highs of 39 quarterback hits (official stats) and 93 quarterback pressures (Pro Football Focus). In the first three games, Smith had two sacks, three quarterback hits and five quarterback pressures, putting him on pace for 10.7 sacks, 16 quarterback hits and 26.7 pressures.

Against the Falcons, Smith had three sacks, five quarterback hits, seven pressures and eight tackles. All of those figures met or exceeded his season production. For his efforts, he was given the game ball by LaFleur.

“It’s big, man, to be able to get this because he challenged me earlier this week to bring my all in this game,” Smith said. “I’m going to continue to do it because I started out slow but, as you can see, I’m back on track now to continue to be great.”

LaFleur said “not at all” when asked if Smith needed some prodding.

“Your captain on the defense, he gets voted that for a reason, and it’s not only because he’s a great player and he produces for us, but he’s an inspiring player, an inspiring person, and he brings a lot of juice and energy,” LaFleur said. “In order for us to perform at our best as a whole defense, he’s got to be playing at a high level. It’s awesome to see him respond and the effort that he played with. Obviously, the production speaks for itself.”

Alexander Island

In 2018, cornerback Jaire Alexander made the All-Rookie Team. In 2019, he was a Pro Bowl alternate. To start 2020, he’s played like an All-Pro.

Against Atlanta, Alexander pitched a shutout against Calvin Ridley, who entered the game ranked No. 1 in receiving yards per game, receiving touchdowns and receptions of passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield.

Alexander has the talent and experience. Now, he has the state of mind via meditation.

“Mentally, I think I’m in a better place – a much better place – now,” he said. “Meditation helps slow down the game for me and yoga keeps me stretched out, loose and ready to go. I’m in a much better place, I’m feeling confident and the sky’s the limit. Or the stars is the limit or the galaxy or anything beyond that.”

Time for bye

With four resounding wins, maybe the Packers would rather keep playing. But, with a beat-up roster – receiver Davante Adams, defensive tackle Kenny Clark, outside linebacker Rashan Gary and tight end Marcedes Lewis were inactive on Monday and cornerbacks Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan were knocked out by injuries – the time away will let the team get healed for a week six showdown at Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A week five bye is the earliest possible, and it stands in contrast to last year’s Week 11 bye.

“Certainly, we don’t have the sample size that we did a year ago, but it’s a good chance to look back on some of the things you did well and how you can build off those and then things that you need to improve upon, and also take a look at what you got in front of you in the upcoming games,” LaFleur said. “And I know that we’ve got a great challenge right in front of us with Tampa Bay. You talk about a team that’s really loaded in all three phases. It’ll be a great test for us. They’ve got a great defense. They’ve got a great offense led by a Hall of Fame quarterback, led by really good skill positions and on special teams, as well.”