Rodgers is in tune
A year removed from the distractions of Brett Favre’s annual unretirement saga and with No. 4’s latest comeback 280 miles west in Minneapolis, Rodgers has been sharp and looked comfortable in two exhibition wins.
“We’re doing some really good things. I think the key is it starts up front. I think the guys—in two games, I haven’t been sacked, really haven’t been touched—and it gives you a lot of confidence as a passer,” Rodgers said after Green Bay’s 31-21 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night.
Rodgers, who says indie rock and country music are his favorites, watched HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” the behind-the-scenes look at Bengals’ training camp instead of Favre’s debut with the Vikings on Friday.
Then he came out Saturday night showing all the reasons the Packers were elated when he dropped into their hands in the first round of the 2005 draft as Favre’s eventual replacement.
While the focus this preseason has been Green Bay’s transition from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a more versatile 3-4 set to take advantage of its deep linebacking corps, Rodgers and the offense have scored early and often in the first two exhibitions, building leads of 14-0 and 21-0.
“Starting fast is always a priority (of) ours,” running back Ryan Grant said. “We’re doing pretty good on third down and being able to finish drives. We want to do that to help our defense out.
“If we start fast, we kind of feel like it’ll put the other offense on their heels and give our defense an opportunity to get turnovers.”
That defense has come through with nine takeaways in two preseason games and has shown a variety of blitzing schemes that has left two opponents without an answer against Green Bay’s starters.
“They certainly showed us some nonconventional looks,” Bills wide receiver Lee Evans said. “They obviously have a lot of good athletes.”
Rodgers has led the first-team offense to five touchdowns in six drives. He went 8 of 9 for 98 yards and two TDs against the Bills and his only incompletion came when Donald Driver dropped a pass.
Driver immediately made amends, making a 5-yard TD catch on the next play after Rodgers rolled out of the pocket and eluded defensive tackle Marcus Stroud with a pump fake.
“When he jumps out of the pocket and makes that play for the touchdown to Donald Driver, that tells you something about his individual playmaking ability,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “For him to put that ball where he put it and for Donald to keep his feet in bounds, that’s exciting. Those are the type of plays that win football games.”
One of Rodgers’ biggest assets is his ability to limit his mistakes, something that hurt Favre at times. Beside throwing for more than 4,000 yards last season, Rodgers completed 19 TD passes without an interception inside the opponent’s 20-yard line despite last season’s 6-10 mark.
So far in the preseason, it’s been more of the same for Rodgers in the red zone, going 2 of 3 for 10 yards and two touchdowns.
“We just keep staying after him to be consistent,” McCarthy said. “I think he’s primed for a big year.”
The rest of the offense could follow suit.
Tight end Jermichael Finley made three catches for 46 yards, and all of last year’s rotation of receivers caught at least one pass against Buffalo.
Grant, meanwhile, ran for 43 yards on 10 carries and scored a touchdown, while undrafted free agent Tyrell Sutton, battling for a spot on the team, added 49 more yards rushing and another score.
In two preseason games, Sutton has gained 140 yards on 27 carries for a respectable 5.2 average per carry and the Packers have rolled up 338 yards rushing.
Grant said all the success goes back to Rodgers.
“He’s got a year under his belt. I think he feels more comfortable every day,” Grant said. “He’s on the same page with all the guys, that’s been big for us.”