Cardinals’ task gets even tougher against Packers’ Aaron Rodgers

Nov 29, 2018, 4:18 PM
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers warms up before an NFL football game against the Minnes...
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers warms up before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Philip Rivers is a really good quarterback. Nobody would ever deny that. He’s 15 years into his NFL career and yet to show any signs of slowing down. The Chargers are a legitimate playoff contender this season with him at the helm, and they’d probably be getting even more buzz if they didn’t share a division with Patrick Mahomes and Chiefs.

Rivers will definitely get serious Hall of Fame consideration when all is said and done. But he isn’t Aaron Rodgers.

That could be a problem for the Cardinals. They just watched Rivers convert 28 of 29 passes against them, setting single-game records for completion percentage (minimum 20 attempts) and consecutive completions (25 in a row). And now they get to face Rodgers. In Lambeau. On his birthday, no less. Great timing.

Much like Arizona though, the Packers aren’t exactly having the season they were expecting to have. Their first 11 games have been a blend of frustration, close calls and missed opportunities. At 4-6-1, they’re still technically in the playoff race … but they also only have two more wins than the Cardinals.

Fair or not, Rodgers has been forced to shoulder some of the blame for that record. And it has even prompted some to question if he’s still the elite quarterback that he’s been up to this point in his career.

Those people don’t seem to be actually watching Green Bay play. Or even taking the time to glance at his stats, for that matter. Because his game still passes the eye test.

“That’s what I see,” defensive coordinator Al Holcomb chuckled. “I see 20 touchdowns and one interception. And the one interception was a tipped ball, just to clarify that. Still playing at an extremely, extremely high level. Still has great command of the offense. Still mobile. Still pinpoint accuracy, he flicks his wrist and that thing can go 70 yards down the field, on point. So I don’t see any drop-off at all, no.”

In fact, the Packers’ struggles and the perceived rift between Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy could actually work against the Cards here, if they’re not careful. Some players perform worse when they’re frustrated, while others use it as fuel to re-focus and get more dialed in. Rodgers is clearly in that second group. How long did he carry a chip on his shoulder after inexplicably slipping to No. 24 in 2005 draft? And then use that chip to help drive him to two MVPs, a Super Bowl win and a Super Bowl MVP? That’s Michael Jordan-level self-motivation.

Of course, channeling all that energy doesn’t mean anything if the skills aren’t still there. That’s not the case here, though.

“I know that he can make any throw at any position,” Budda Baker pointed out. “Falling back, he can make any type of throw. His back shoulder’s crazy, perfect passing almost every single time. It’s going to be really cool going against him.”

The question now is how can Arizona stop Rodgers? Or at least slow him down enough to give Josh Rosen and the offense a chance to steal this one? Baker is still listed as questionable on the injury report, but there’s optimism he’ll play. Having him back would be a huge boost.

The 2017 second-rounder missed the last two contests, and his absence was glaring. In fact, just having him on the field might have been enough to get the Cardinals a win over Oakland in Week 11.

With or without Baker, there’s going to be tremendous pressure on the secondary when Sunday morning rolls around. But the guys up front can help alleviate some of that pressure.

“It’s tough for the back end,” Patrick Peterson explained. “That’s why we rely so heavily on our front four or front three – whoever’s rushing the quarterback – to make sure they contain him. To not let him create those extra seconds in the passing game, because that makes the defensive backs’ job that much harder.”

There won’t be much margin for error, especially given the environment Arizona’s walking into. The Packers have win this or they’re done, and the weather forecast for Sunday calls for snow showers. Not exactly what the Cards are used to.

That said, one of Arizona’s better games under Steve Wilks came three weeks ago in Kansas City, when they held Mahomes and the Chiefs’ electric offense to a season-low in points. Granted, that was still 26 points, and the Cardinals still ultimately lost. But that may be the best blueprint to follow against Rodgers — the guy people are already starting to compare Mahomes to.

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