Aaron Rodgers pressured, hurried key to upset hopes

September 21, 2018

ASHBURN D.J. Swearinger has faced Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice in his career. And he’s not shy in stating what his record is in those games, either.

“I’m actually 2-0 against A-Rod, you know,” the Redskins safety said, which includes a wild overtime win in the 2016 playoffs when Swearinger was a member of the Arizona Cardinals.

But the odds are against Swearinger and the Redskins to prevail Sunday against Green Bay. Despite Rodgers dealing with a knee injury, the Packers (1-0-1) are three-point road favorites and have a good chance of sending the Redskins into the bye week with a subpar 1-2 record.

That being said, there’s a formula for the Redskins to pull off the upset but the franchise must play much better than they did in last week’s loss to the Colts.

Pressure, confusion is key

The game often looks effortless for Rodgers. The quarterback will stay calmly in the pocket, flicking his wrist for a 20-yard gain just before the defense gets to him. Other times, Rodgers will scramble to the outside firing his cannon of an arm for another big gain.

There are so many ways for Rodgers to pick apart defenses, and seemingly fewer for teams to stop him.

“The teams that have had success which aren’t very many they’ve been able to pressure him,” coach Jay Gruden said. “And that’s the key.”

Defensive linemen Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, in particular, will be counted upon to generate pressure up the middle. Rodgers was sacked four times last week against the Minnesota Vikings, and his mobility was limited because of his injury. Swearinger added the Redskins must confuse and disguise coverages at the line of scrimmage to keep Rodgers consistently off guard.

Keep Rodgers off the field

After last week’s offensive setback, the Redskins have stressed the importance of extending drives and that will particularly be key against Green Bay. Even with Rodgers’ hurt, the Packers offense is still explosive. They’ve scored the 10th-most points in the league, so far, and have scored on 41.7 percent of their drives, which ranks eighth. That means the Redskins will have to keep pace in one of the two ways: force a shootout or eat the clock.

The second method is what the team prefers. They can do that by re-establishing the run and setting up manageable distances by gaining more yards on first down. Last week, The Redskins averaged just 4.52 yards on first down, and that number shrunk to 3.57 when the franchise ran the ball.

“Teams like that you’ve got to keep those guys off the field,” receiver Paul Richardson said of the Packers. “That’s a part of operating an offense like that, that can score pretty much at any time. ... We’ve got to do a good job on offense, taking care of the ball and not turning the ball over. You’ve got to put pressure on them.”

Stay aggressive

The Redskins were too content to sit back and throw check down after check down against the Colts’ zone defense. Green Bay, Gruden said, primarily plays man, so Washington should have more opportunities to open up the passing game. But the Redskins can’t let off the gas, especially with Rodgers having 12 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career.

Keep Smith upright

It’s not looking good for guard Shawn Lauvao to play Sunday. He was seen in a walking boot Thursday and Gruden said he was still “pretty gingerly” after missing his second practice in a row. Washington allowed three sacks last week and must do a better job of keeping Smith off the ground. Chase Roullier will shift over to left guard and Tony Bergstrom will start at center.

Don’t do anything dumb (see: Hail Mary)

With the Packers expected to run plenty of no-huddle, Gruden wants to limit on the field substitutions unless “somebody’s tongue is falling out of their body.” The Redskins must avoid mental mistakes like getting caught with too many men on the field or out of position when the ball snaps against Rodgers, who excels in punishing teams for those types of plays.

That extends to being aware of Rodgers’ mastering of the “Hail Mary.” Incredibly, Rodgers has successfully completed three touchdowns off the play. And it might not be a coincidence.

“He just gets out of the pocket and lets it rip,” Swearinger said. “Most quarterbacks can’t do that from the other 30.”

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