Packers notebook: More mobile Aaron Rodgers takes it on the run, but knee still an issue
GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers’ troublesome left knee might’ve felt better Sunday, but given the Green Bay Packers quarterback’s irritation with what he felt was his team’s offensive ineptitude, he certainly didn’t sound all that happy about how much better he seemed to be moving.
But while Rodgers vented about his group’s relative ineffectiveness following the Packers’ 22-0 shutout win over the Buffalo Bills at Lambeau Field Sunday – “It was as bad as we’ve played on offense with that many yards in a long time,” he said of the 423-yard effort – perhaps the best sign to come out of the game on that side of the ball was how much more mobile he seemed to be.
Rodgers dismissed that notion following the game, saying the knee didn’t feel “a whole lot different” and credited his movement to the way his “adrenaline kicked in” early in the game. He also said his decision to take part in Thursday’s practice – his first midweek practice since injuring his knee in the Sept. 9 season opener – was not because the knee was feeling better.
“It wasn’t like I was feeling tremendously better,” Rodgers said. “(I) just felt like we needed a little jolt, so I should practice.”
Asked if practicing had helped him at all, Rodgers replied curtly, “No.”
It certainly looked like it did. Rodgers scrambled five times for 31 yards, including a 15-yard run, and was able to extend plays and get out of the pocket more like he has in the past. Of course, he also botched an attempted slide on one scramble and looked like an awkward Little Leaguer at the end of the play.
“I slid and a bunch of grass got in between the brace and my knee. I tell myself, ‘When you get out, slide right foot down,’ but I’ve been sliding like that since I was 6 years old playing baseball.”
Coach Mike McCarthy said that while Rodgers has been “gutting it out” on his knee, he did see enough from his quarterback to add to his call sheet this week and call a keep pass (a designed play-action roll-out) early in the game.
“Maybe a couple of things. I called a keep early in the game as opposed to waiting to see as he got going,” McCarthy said. “We’re working through that. But we still have a full menu to play doubleheaders if we need to. I think he’s moving along.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said at midweek that he was probably “a little saltier” because of his group’s up-and-down performances through three weeks, but apparently, Pettine was also more creative with his midweek presentation in an effort to fire up his guys. According to several players after the game, Pettine put up a PowerPoint slide presentation in which he juxtaposed how good the Packers defense has been at certain points in games and how bad the group has been at others.
“It was interesting to see the stats,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “I think we were 32nd in the league in first-quarter yardage, and third-quarter yardage, we were No. 1 in the league. So it goes to show, ‘Hey, you can do it.’”
Last week’s loss at Washington was a perfect example, as the defense surrendered 323 yards while digging the Packers a 28-10 hole, then held the Redskins to just 63 net yards and three points during the second half.
“When we turn it on, we can be a dominant defense,” said third-year outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, who led the defense with three sacks – all in the second half. “It was really an emphasis coming into this game to put a whole game together, and I think we did a great job of doing that.”
No longer running on empty
McCarthy went into the game wanting to ramp up the run game, and he succeeded, as Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery carried a combined 27 times for 110 yards. Including Rodgers’ runs, the Packers amassed 141 rushing yards on 32 attempts, with Jones (11 carries, 65 yards) leading the way.
“We wanted to give Aaron about 12 or so carries (and) we wanted to be north of 30 running the ball as a team,” McCarthy said. “I like the way our three guys are playing. Aaron’s dynamic when he gets the ball. There’s no question. But it’s a long year. There’s a lot of football to be played. I thought it was good to get those rush attempts up where they needed to be.”
Jones was clearly a difference-maker on the Packers’ first touchdown drive, as he accounted for 50 of the Packers’ 83 yards on the drive, including a 30-yard run, a 17-yard catch-and-run and a 3-yard touchdown run.
“I want to be a spark spark-plug player, and just create momentum,” Jones said. “In games, it’s (about) momentum. You see it every week in and week out. Once a team gets momentum, it just carries over and keeps rolling.”
Rodgers was clearly unhappy with rookie wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a third-quarter fourth-down incompletion that was nearly intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Bills cornerback Ryan Lewis. But later in the game, Rodgers found Valdes-Scantling for a 38-yard third-down completion in the fourth quarter to keep the clock running.
“(I) probably wasn’t real friendly,” Rodgers said when asked what he said after the near-pick. Asked if it was important to go back to the rookie, Rodgers replied, “He was open, so I decided to give him a chance on a go ball.”
Meanwhile, inside linebacker Blake Martinez apologized for the 15-yard penalty he drew for removing his helmet while arguing with a host of Bills players after thinking he’d forced a fumble by quarterback Josh Allen.
“Obviously I was mad,” Martinez said. “Names were being called, things were being said – I obviously don’t want to repeat ’em – but obviously I pulled my helmet off extremely energetically, to say the least, and it happened. At that point, I knew what I did wrong, and I obviously won’t let that happen again.”
Graham makes the leap
Tight end Jimmy Graham did his first Lambeau Leap two weeks ago, after what he thought was a 12-yard touchdown. The score was wiped out by a questionable Lane Taylor holding penalty, though, so Graham looked around to make sure there were no flags after Sunday’s 3-yard scoring catch.
“This one feels good. To have that first one taken away was pretty tough,” said Graham, who has 16 receptions for 169 yards and the one TD on the season. “Usually they come in bunches so hopefully this is the beginning.”
For the first time all season, Clay Matthews accomplished two things: He was involved in a sack that actually counted, sharing a first-half takedown of Allen with Nick Perry; and he was not flagged for roughing the passer, having drawn three such penalties – including two questionable ones the past two weeks.
“That doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Matthews said of avoiding a penalty. He was, however, watching to see how the two sacks Rodgers absorbed were officiated, as he thought cornerback Taron Johnson would have been flagged in previous weeks, before the NFL’s competition committee spoke up at midweek in hopes of reducing the number of questionable calls.
“It was interesting to see the sack on Aaron, I believe, because you hope that’s how they’re going to call it move forward,” Matthews said. “Obviously, you never want to see your quarterback get hit, but it looked like years prior as far as hitting the quarterback and good football. So, hopefully, that’s how it’s called moving forward. Because I didn’t see any (flags) today, which is great.”
The Packers played without veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb, who was inactive after suffering a hamstring injury during Thursday’s practice, and lost Geronimo Allison to a concussion during the second half. That left them with only Davante Adams and three rookies (Valdes-Scantling, J’Mon Moore and Equanimeous St. Brown) at receiver and dangerously thin going into next week’s game at Detroit.
Asked what it does to the Packers’ depth if Cobb and Allison can’t play, Rodgers furrowed his brow and replied, “It shrinks it.”
The only other injury reported by the team was to cornerback Jaire Alexander, who left the game with a groin injury and did not return.